Some hours later, Cary was awoken by Clearing gently stroking his shoulder. This was nothing like the rough manner which Bird or Lana would use, though the teacher did have very calloused hands. Cary blinked and rubbed his eyes as he shot up.
“Wha’s... OK?” he mumbled. Clearing chuckled.
“Everything’s OK for now, Cary. But it’s time for you two to get up and keep watch. Don’t let me sleep more than three hours. We MUST find the tablet soon....” Left unsaid was: It’s our only hope. Dark shadows under Clearing’s eyes seemed menacing.
An urgency surrounded Cary, as if the walls were breathing in slow, dolorous breaths ;making the air around oppressive. Clearing went to wake Bugs, but Cary said, “No, let her sleep. I need to concentrate and see if I can figure out how to find the Book...”
Clearing yawned, nodded, and left to crash in Bugs’ parent’s room. Cary wandered into the living room and sat on the floor, with his back to the sofa, so he wouldn’t fall asleep. He crossed his legs like he had seen people do when meditating, tucking his feet under the opposing knee, hands on the knees. He had no real idea what he was doing, only that he needed to make this happen more than anything he had ever tried. I have to find the Book. Something vital is at stake, more than just strange dark things chasing us, more than just Lurlene wanting to capture me, more than Pastor’s awful touch, and more than the curiosity about my... origins.
Something huge and menacing is coming, like night about to descend ...the image sharp in Cary’s mind.
With legs crossed, Cary closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. His mind’s eye went blank, until images came flying unbidden. Memories of the past few days, altered in the jeweled fashion of dreams and nightmares: bright sparkling images of Bugs, and Clearing. Also, one of Jonathan which alternated like a neon sign switched on and off at random, fuzzy intervals. There were also darker images: hate filled eyes dissolving into empty onyx blackness. The anger-twisted face of Beverly Jenson. Bird’s drunken, swaying walk and the the sound of beer cans rattling in the bed of his truck as he drove away, angry and on a mission. Shadow-winged blobs descending, sharp, glittering claws flashing.
The images kept coming, shifting with Cary’s errant thoughts, and every time he managed to blank his mind, the images went away, only to resurface without permission once he stopped trying to hold the emptiness. Cary found a stubbornness inside and refused to leave it be. Again and again he tried, and again and again he failed, though it took progressively longer to reach failure. He was getting better at blanking his mind rather quickly, but nothing else seemed to happen. There was a moment when he almost had it, when a simple peace descended on him and left him disconnected from himself, as though the part that was him could float away from a body which only contained that part. Then...
Bugs’ voice intruded.
“Care?” her voice said, as from a great distance. Cary tried to push the thought away.
“CARE?” the voice grew closer, concerned and shrill. Understanding flooded in and Cary’s eyes snapped open. There was Bugs, kneeling in front of him, her hands on his shoulders shaking him, concern in her expression.
“I was afraid, I thought...” Bugs said, thick with troubled emotion. She swallowed back whatever she had been about to say. She smiled sleepily. Cary was frustrated at her for a brief moment, but he channeled the emotion away, surprised at how easy it was. Maybe the nasty voice made me stronger! Cary wanted to laugh at the thought. He smiled at Bugs.
“What were you doing?” Bugs asked as she plopped down next to him.
“Um..” Cary flushed with embarrassment before he realized, yet again, it wouldn’t matter to Bugs. “Meditating. Trying to figure out how to find the Book.”
Bugs’ eyes apertured and she nodded. “My bad, right?” Cary snickered. "It’s OK, it wasn’t really working anyway.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Cary looked away, unsure.
Is there any way she could help?
But maybe there is?
I hadn’t been able to do it myself after all.
Cary explained what he had been trying.
“I tried clearing all the thoughts from my mind... and ...images kept popping into the blank space. Strange things. Jonathan...”
Bugs nodded until he said, she harrumphed. “Jonathan.” Bugs waved the teenager’s name away. “I mean..he’s not your friend, Care.”
“I know, B. It was hard...I kept fighting it...”
But do I?
“Well, don’t fight it Cary. Let the images stream by, just don’t pay attention to them. You know? If you can’t fight something, use it to make you stronger.”
This made such easy sense Cary reached an arm around Bugs and hugged her. “You’re so smart, B.”
Bugs beamed at him, leaned her head on his shoulder and grabbed his hand.
“We’re going to get through this.” Bugs said, not a question.
Cary’s spine chilled, in descent, as though her words were in some way he could not fully understand, deeply prophetic. Bugs must have felt it, she stiffened, released his hand.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, I ...” Cary stammered. “I’m just nervous.”
“OK. Well. Try again. Concentrate, Care. ’Give in to yourself. And don’t fight yourself.’ I read all that in a book once.” Her tone made clear she had not thought much of the book she referenced, a thought which ordinarily might have made Cary want to laugh.
Cary nodded, pulled his arm away, closed his eyes. He blanked his mind, automatically, it came easier now, despite his questioning:
should I not do that?
How do I give in to myself?
The questions kept coming. For a while Cary regressed in time to only a few weeks back, when he could not keep his thoughts straight, when the flood of them would incapacitate, making him unable to speak. Back to when he would stare, eyes stuck, at the floor, in a silent stammer. Cary saw a perfect mental image of himself standing in a crowd of people, his mind racing with thoughts, but his mouth unable or unwilling to speak any of them. As if summoned, Cary’s thoughts raced faster, and faster still. Cary squeezed his eyes tighter. Let his barriers go. His thoughts raced harder. For the first time ever, he made no effort to stop or slow them, or even understand them. He simply rested his consciousness within the river of imagery, willed that river to carry him along.
A strong current swept him away into an ocean of sparkling, twinkling light. It was everywhere around him, flooding the vision of his mind’s eye. The thoughts and questions still raced inside, like angry spirits dancing mistily in a circle. But instead of being daunted, feeling overwhelmed, Cary found it easy, held up by the pressure of the current around him. Mind blanked, Cary could think of nothing else. His mind was emptied.
Amid that sea of flooding lights there was something, like a beacon. With his mind in this state, the impossibility of a beacon of light within a sea of light did not register as in anyway incongruous. Cary drifted speedily towards that beacon, finding it was easy to let the current carry him along.
The only thing which made it different to his mind’s eye was a swirling, seemingly at the corner of his vision, a vortex which could suck him to some other place. And he knew.
This is it. THIS is what I’m looking for!
Cary reached out some appendage, it wasn’t a hand, he didn’t have hands inside his mind, he didn’t know what it was. He thought of it as a hand, but whatever it was, it touched the spinning beacon, avoided the vortexes at the edge of vision. A clear note reverberated through him, like a bell struck in his core, near his heart.
Cary’s eyes snapped open. An easily discernible tug just under his breastbone, as if birthing from his heart, a wind-drawn kite with a delicate string attached, being ever so gently, insistently pulled.
“I found it.” Cary breathed in a rapturous huff. Bugs’ expression was all amazed, wide-eyed gladness.
“You found it? You know where the Book is?”
“Well, no, but we can find it. I can feel the direction...” Cary touched the spot where the tugging sank into his chest. Bugs tentatively reached out a finger, touched the spot, as though she could somehow feel it that way as well, same as him.
It can’t work that way, can it? I think it’s just for me. Both Cary’s inner voices said in unison.
“It’s... cold, Care.” Bugs said when her two fingers touched the spot on his chest. Her touch tingled, felt, disturbing in some way Cary didn’t understand. He over-reacted, pushed her hand away. Cary touched the spot again, but felt no difference of temperature.
What is she talking about?
“It doesn’t feel cold to me....” Cary said, looking up to see hurt on her face. He realized he had been a jerk. “Sorry, B. I... I don’t know what’s happening.”
Bugs, nodded, and arched an eyebrow, asking to touch him again. He nodded yes. This time her full hand pressed palm down against the spot over Cary’s heart. She smiled beneficently, locked eyes with him. “I know this sounds really strange, Care, but I can feel you.”
Cary blinked at her. “Feel me? Of course you can. You’re touching me.”
“I know, right?” Bugs said dreamily. "It’s more though! I feel an echo, a shadow maybe, of what you’re feeling here, I think. I can’t explain it yet, but it’s like I see a light, far off, but surrounded by brighter light.”
Cary shoved her hand away again in shock, he took his eyes off her, stared resolutely at the carpet, anything other than meet her eyes, unwilling to see her hurt expression again. He was freaked out. Bugs gasped. “It’s OK, Care!” Slowly, fighting the panicked nonsense the nasty voice spewed in his mind, Cary looked back up at her. As he looked at the expression on Bugs’ face, he knew his feelings, the warmth, his very soul, was safe with her, if no one else. And he knew she knew. It doesn’t matter if she can see inside my thoughts. She’s my best friend! The nasty voice retreated with wordless snarls. Cary met her eyes.
Is this what love is supposed to be?
But I thought I liked boys?
“What time is it?” Cary said, meeting Bugs eager grin and trying to fill the space between them with something.
“Um, like eight in the morning, right?” Bugs replied, looking at her watch.
“We’ve got to wake Clearing. He said only three hours, but two will have to be enough. We need to find the tablet and use the Book.” Cary said with utter certainty, also hoping to not be alone with Bugs right then. Long enough that he could sort his thoughts out.
They went to wake the teacher. He snored like a ravaging beast, lying on his back, his stomach a vast, rounded hill heaved with each tearing breath.
“Sir?” Cary said, as he reached out a hand to shake the massive Physics teacher. Bugs shrugged and grabbed one of Clearing’s feet and snatched hard. Clearing jerked up faster than a man with such a mountainous stomach should be able. He executed a roll which landed him off the bed and on his feet, bleary-eyed but alert, with a hands-in-front-of-his-face fighting stance. When Clearing saw it was just Bugs and Cary, his body shrank into itself and relaxed. He fell backwards, sitting on the bed.
“Oh. It’s just you two.” Clearing yawned and rubbed at his eyes, his face of instant alert gone slack. “What time is it... why did you wake me so soon?”
“It worked! I found it, sir. I think can feel the Book.” Cary said triumphant.
Clearing blinked at him. “Are you sure? Well, this is momentous! You DID it, Cary! But how did you...” Clearing waved his own question aside. “Nevermind. We should get to it. While we have day around us.”
They washed their faces, ate a quick breakfast of Pop-Tarts, eggs, and juice. Bugs and Cary changed clothes, Cary wore some of Bugs’ father’s things, though he had to roll the legs of the pants and sleeves of the shirt up considerably. “I need to move fast... maybe I should just put my stuff back on..” Cary said, not wanting to offend her. Bugs tilted her head to the side, looked Cary up and down. Her face radiated.
“I know, right?” she mumbled and ran off towards her room. When she came back, she had a bundle of clothes in her arms. She thrust the bundle at Cary with a malicious grin. He laid the clothes on the sofa and she left so he could change.
“You two ready?” Clearing called from the other room. “It’s time to go...”
They were clearly Bugs’ clothes: in dull colors, almost like a uniform. A pair of khaki pants and dark beige t-shirt. They fit perfectly. Cary had a moment’s oddness knowing he wore girl’s clothes, but when he caught he himself in the mirror in the living room he could not tell they were girl’s clothes. What does it matter anyway? They’re in better condition than any I’ve ever had.
“Ready?” Clearing said, strolling in. He had changed, too, and in an opposite effect. Mr. Edgecombe, who Cary had still never met, was clearly much thinner than Clearing: the man’s shirt bulged over Clearing’s stomach, strained, the buttons almost to popping. The man hardly seemed to care his stomach hung lower than the length of the shirt. He inched his glasses up his nose and smiled emphatically at them, hitched his pants up at the hips, clearly ready to go.
“I hope your Dad won’t mind I borrowed some of his clothes...”
“He won’t care.” Bugs said quickly.
“Great. Let’s go!” Clearing said.
“Yes, sir!” Bugs said, far more chipper than either Cary or Clearing. Cary supposed the sense of adventure had overtaken her again. Her mood was infectious. Combined with the sunlight streaming in from outside, Cary’s mood elevated from the dark of night. He felt ready to take on anything, he beamed at Bugs, most of his momentary confusion about her gone. She squeezed his hand excitedly.
They left Bugs’ house through the backyard again. The sun blazed just above the horizon. It was going to be a warm day. Birds sang, the staccato whir of a lawn mower churned in the distance. Cars zoomed on the streets beyond. All the sounds of a normal day. It took Cary a moment to even remember what day it actually was.
“Well, this is it, Cary...” Clearing said, not looking at him, but off in the distance, towards the school. Cary concentrated, felt the tug under his breastbone. It pulled in a different direction than the school.
“It’s not there. It’s over there...” Cary pointed and turned a few degrees to the right. "Definitely this way.”
“OK. Well, you two stay here, I’m going to get my car. I’ll honk twice when I’m near. Stay hidden and don’t come out until I honk!”
They both nodded. Clearing was off, heaving himself over fences again.
Is it wise in broad daylight to be hopping fences?
“Care?” Bugs said as they crouched against the wall of her house, waiting.
“Promise me something.” Bugs said solemnly.
Oh no. She knows. I hope she doesn’t think I’m weird!
Cary didn’t pause. “Sure.”
“Whatever happens, whatever comes, you won’t ever leave me behind, right. We’re in this together.”
Cary felt that strange frisson again; that these were more than words, they were prophesy or spoken destiny. But the feeling passed quickly. I’m just being stupid, letting my imagination run wild. And with a gulp, he said, “I promise.”
Bugs punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Besides, you wouldn’t be able to figure anything out without me.”
Cary laughed with her.
A double honk of an approaching car sounded. “That’s him, right?” Bugs said. They got up, brushed themselves off and ran for the front of the house. Clearing pulled his car into the driveway and waved at them from inside it. They ran towards it. The squeal of tires followed by the slick sliding clack of bits of metal squeaked. It took Cary a moment to understand that noise and respond with fear.
Bird’s truck drummed down the street toward them.