“We should go, we need to get back to my place... retrieve the Book, and then....” Clearing said.
Bugs and Cary both went rigid, waiting.
“Then what?” Cary said after the moment dragged on.
“Then...I just don’t know. I suspect, you will have to figure that out, Cary.” Clearing said. Cary blinked in bright-eyed, misty confusion.
How am I supposed to figure it out?
A loud wailing echoed from outside the school. Like a fire alarm given vocal cords.
“Come on. We have to go, NOW.” Clearing said urgently, once again springing into action like a man of much smaller girth and greater agility. His stun gun came out like a regularly used appendage. He led them through the darkened hallways of the school, out into the parking lot, arms held before him, aiming towards the darkened halls beyond.
“We should stay on foot, we can hide better that way,” Bugs said. Clearing murmured “No.” and messaged for quiet. “Hush.” the teacher whispered. A moment of silence later he said, “Speed is more important now, Bugs. They are on our trail. We must outrun them.” They crossed the threshold of the doors into the looming dark. Cary and Bugs eyed each other and mouthed the same word. They? But Clearing hustled them onward before they could talk about it. They crept warily across the parking lot until they piled into Clearing’s car and sped down the quiescent roads of shaded, pre-dawn Happy Endings. The only signs of life were the occasional passing car. Each time headlights came up and passed Clearing tensed and his tension sent shock-waves through Cary. After the fourth time, Cary refused to feel the sudden anxiety anymore. Bugs grabbed his hand and held it tight. Which definitely helped.
Lights appeared behind them. Cary could see the white points in the rear-view mirror. The trailing car sped up, coming faster, and Clearing tried to rev the engine, but his car was woefully incapable, it accelerated far too slowly. A red light flashed on the dashboard and stayed lit. Clearing swore. The lights behind them grew brighter, flooded the backseat with aurora. Both Bugs and Cary twisted around to stare at the approaching vehicle. Cary saw it was a pickup truck.
For a sped-up, gruesome moment Cary was sure who it must be. Lana and Pastor. He realized he should be frightened to death of them, but he could not summon the fear, something inside him was keeping him calm. Bugs’ hand was warm and tight against his own. Cary noticed something.
“There are people hanging out of the windows...” Cary murmured, half to himself. Bugs leaned closer to the back glass. “That’s Troy Smalls’ dad’s truck. I saw him driving it last week.”
Why is Troy Small’s dad’s truck chasing us?
Clearing swore again, and the car swerved as the teacher took a sudden, slamming right turn. Cary tumbled into Bugs, lost his grip on her hand as he pressed against the sedan’s ceiling. Both of them slid into the door. Tires squealed and the lights following were gone, but they came right back and began gaining again.
“We can’t out run them...” Bugs said, her face glued to the back window. “I wonder why Troy Small’s dad’s truck would be chasing us?”
Clearing swore yet again, tapped his EMP gun against the steering wheel. “I guess there’s no choice...” the man grumbled. The car slammed to a stop, Cary and Bugs both flew forward into the back of the front seats. Both were momentarily stunned and could hardly move. Clearing was not, he jumped out of the car and was gone into the night. When he was able, Cary disentangled from Bugs, got out and ran after the teacher. A car door slamming behind told him Bugs followed. Almost reflexively, Cary reached into the pocket of his jeans and wrapped his hand around one of Clearing’s marbles. He was sure he saw Bugs do the same, out of the corner of his eye.
Clearing was far ahead, a hundred feet or so down the umbraged road. Dawn was coming fast, but the area was still shaded. Clearing had turned down a side road before they exited the car: into a deserted area, lined with a few warehouses and two self-storage facilities. Cary had seen the road, but had never been on foot there before. Still, he wondered: why Clearing had chosen such a quiet, out of the way place?
Troy’s dad’s truck stopped and four people-shapes rushed out of the vehicle. Something about they way they moved was odd. Jerky, like they were being pulled by strings as opposed to moving themselves. They cawed, howls like Cary heard at the school earlier. Yet the noise was strange, as if it were coming from the mouth of a dog on film; Cary was sure no sound had escaped the mouths of the four boys coming at them. He saw their faces clear enough now.
Troy Smalls. Tommy. Eric. And Jonathan. Only something was off about those faces. A lump went down Cary’s throat at the sight of Jonathan, but was subsumed rather quickly. Clearing had reached the foursome first. Watching a man with a hundred pound stomach move like a dancer was off-putting. Clearing spun in a lazy circle and his arm got under an out-reaching one of Troy’s, jabbed the boy under his diaphragm. Clearing fired his stun gun, it looked like a white flash struck the teenager, there was no sound, Troy flew into the air and backwards ten or fifteen feet until he landed on the concrete with a loud, crunching smack. This did not turn the others away, they converged on Clearing. He was surrounded.
“We have to help him!” Bugs urged.
A ball of shadow descended over the portly teacher as the other three teens leaped on him at once. Bugs gasped.
“We have to help him, Care!” Bugs wailed again.
Cary agreed, but what could they do?
Bugs had stopped just beyond the fray, standing next to Cary. The pile of bodies, the ball of shadow, shuddered and collapsed to the ground. Clearing had fallen. Worse, Troy had gotten back to his feet and approached the beleaguered teacher, swaggered really, wiping his lip clean of blood with the back of his hand, a violent self-rub. Another flash of white, eye-shattering light shone out from the pile and the bodies expanded upward, like a bubble of soapy dark, puffed with air; before it fell back in on itself. The white light was not powerful enough to break whatever was happening, it was overwhelmed.
Cary could hardly credit his eyes. He blinked rapidly.
The four boys were still there, he saw them clearly. Overlaid on each, like a grotesque child piggybacking, was a blob of shifting ebon gloom, coruscating bubbles of darkness. The shadow rose up from each boy, spread out like wings and sank back into the boy’s body, a tongue dipping into ice cream. It was horrifying, and fascinating. Cary stared, transfixed.
“What is happening to them?” Bugs whispered.
“Can you see them, too?” Cary whispered back. “The shadows? Rising out of them?”
Bugs gave him a confused look, not a denial though. He sighed. She took on a lecturing tone, even amidst the chaos. “I see them convulse every couple of seconds...I don’t see any shadows..” Bugs said precisely.
I’m glad she doesn’t sound like she thinks I’ve suddenly gone nuts.
Troy reached the pile and fell upon it. A scream shattered the somnolent air. Clearing. The scream was wordless, full of anger and frustration, hard to decipher.
“We have to do something!” Bugs wailed.
They only had one weapon, so Cary pulled out the marble Clearing had given him. Bugs saw, followed suit. They jogged closer to the pile and with shy, fluctuant looks at one another, threw both the marbles to the concrete, hard.
Bugs and Cary looked at one another, expressions mirrored despair. Neither was prepared when a rush of extremely strong wind pushed them backwards and to the ground with identical thumps. When Cary’s vision adjusted and cleared, Clearing was huddled on the pavement, alone, knees tucked under himself and hands palm-up over the back of his head, as if a great weight pressed him to the cement from above. The man’s head came up and he blinked into the twilit darkness, surprised. The weight seemed to evaporate from around him. "Thank you.” he said, turning Cary and Bugs, “But I told you two to stay in the car. They CANNOT have you Cary!”
The anger in the man’s voice was warmth to Cary. Maybe he truly cares... like more than friend ... like a mentor or something, a brother or a.... father. Cary pushed images of Bird away forcefully, both annoyed and horrified at the thought of the drunkard being his father.
“I’m surprised the stones were enough.” Clearing mumbled as he got to his feet and looked around, then sneered at the limp weapon in his hand. “Well, guess those are gone. My EMP-genner is dead, the quantum foam battery is spent. I don’t know when I’ll be able to recharge it.” Clearing said, giving the gun-like device in his hand a sad glare. He shook, his face weary. The difference in the man from only moments before was striking.
“What ... what were those things?” Cary asked hesitantly, not sure he wanted the answer.
“What exactly did you see?” Clearing asked in return. Cary haltingly described the shadows which had emerged from the backs of the four boys: as wings, the solid black-filled eyes, with no visible pupils or iris. The way they merged into a bubble of shadow until it pressed down on Clearing. Cary glanced at Bugs several times as he spoke and she gently shook her head no, as though she were having an inner debate.
“That’s... not what I saw...” Bugs said nervously, not making eye contact with Cary as she said it. “I just saw the four of them piled on top of you...”
Cary’s face went hot with weird embarrassment.
Did I go crazy?
She thinks you’re lying! The nasty voice said. Cary snarled and pushed it away.
“Well, I think it’s safe to assume Cary can see things we cannot.” Clearing said after a long, torturous pause. Cary breathed a heavy sigh. Bugs squeezed his hand. “After all, he could read the Book of Fates and neither of us could, right?” she said.
See? Cary said silently to the nasty voice inside. She believes me!
“Still, it’s troubling... what you saw, Cary. I don’t know exactly what those things were... but I think I know where they came from....” Clearing paused. This was beginning to annoy Cary, the man’s prevaricating. Bugs frowned. “I told you before dark energy, was alive, that it has consciousness. That was merely an educated guess of mine, a theory, but perhaps you have seen proof of it now, Cary.”
“Will they come back?” Bugs asked looking around, obviously having accepted what Cary had seen, and adjusted her expectations. They hadn’t heard anything in a minute or so. Troy’s dad’s truck sat quietly, it’s headlights still blazing, the cab empty.
“Likely. We should get out of here.” Clearing replied. No argument from Bugs or Cary. They kept silent as the car sped the rest of the way back to Clearing’s house, though both Cary and Bugs kept glancing behind them as if the dark night itself were following.
And maybe it was.