“You saw the Eyes?” said Virgil, grabbing Celeste’s shoulders firmly. “When? When did you see them?”
“A couple of nights ago,” said Celeste, through sobs. “They were outside my window. They’re terrible, Virgil! Mommy told me there’s no such thing as monsters, but they’re real. They’re gonna’ get me! Please don’t go.” She collapsed into her brother’s arms. He hugged her tight and rocked her gently as she cried.
“I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m scared. They want to hurt me. I know it!”
“No one is going to hurt you, I promise. I’m going to stop it. I’ll stop it. I’ll find a way to stop it. Everything is going to be okay. I promise. Do you believe me?”
Celeste nodded, her little head rubbing against Virgil’s chest.
“Virgil!” his mother called him from downstairs.
He went to rise but Celeste grabbed his shirt and shook her head, pleadingly. He smiled at her, and wiped the tears from her eyes. He placed his hand under her chin and tilted her head up so that he could look her in the eyes. “I’ll be back, okay?”
“Hey, Virgil, your uncle Jimmie is here,” said his mother.
“You know I hate that, Pam. How would you like it if I called you Pammy?” said Jay.
“Oh, shut up. You’re just like Dad sometimes,” said Pam. “You hungry?”
Jay shook his head.
“Hey, J—Uncle James. What’s up?” said Virgil.
“Take a ride with me.”
Jay sipped at a cup of coffee. Virgil sat in silence, as they cruised down I-25. “Because of your testimony and your friend’s— I forget her name, Jen?—I wasn’t able to get a warrant, but I am able to use reasonable suspicion in order to check it out. So, I can go by the construction site, but I can’t go on the property unless I have a good reason or they invite me on. So we’ll swing by and check it out. If I hear anything than I’ll go on and investigate. How does that sound? You okay, Bud?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. That sounds good,” said Virgil.
His mind was wandering again. He had just made his sister a promise that he didn’t know how to keep. He didn’t know how to stop the Eyes or the Hoods. Although he felt safer riding with Jay to the construction site, he, in all honesty, didn’t think that Jay could stop them either. At least he had a gun. And that could give him a chance. Then again, Lee hit one of the Hoods at point blank range and it just pissed him—it—off . They pulled up to the curb beside the construction site.
“You ready?’ asked Jay.
They walked up to the fenced off courtyard area. Everything seemed much like it had been that night he had come there with Lee. Virgil listened closely, but there was no sound. No chanting. Nothing. Virgil looked at Jay and shook his head. Jay shrugged. They continued looking for signs of life, but the site looked empty.
“I don’t know, Jay. Last time it was–”
“Shhhh!” snapped Jay. “I heard something.”
Virgil’s heart sped up. Uh oh. Suddenly coming there seemed like a stupid idea. When you go out hunting tigers…
Jay tilted his head, motioning for Virgil to get back to the car. Virgil obeyed, going back to the car and getting in. He watched Jay from the passenger side window. Be careful, he thought.
Rona’s pant leg snagged on a wire of one of the building’s frames. She tried to tug herself free without tearing her clothes, but it didn’t work. She tried to undo the snag carefully.
“Hey!” said a commanding voice. The figure shined a flashlight in her direction. “What are you doing?”
The light was blinding, but Rona could tell by the man’s voice and his outline that he was a police officer.
Crap! She raised her hands in surrender. “Me? Um, what am I doing? I’m just . . . a teenage dumbass getting into mischief, like we do. Please don’t shoot.”
“I’m not going to shoot you,” he said with a sigh. “Come out of there, please.”
It was an order.
Rona scaled the fence, attempting not to be too impressive as she did. She landed on the other side, face-to-face with a tall, good-looking cop with hazel eyes and dark hair.
“What’s your name?” asked the officer.
“Rona. I go to, like, Les Freakly high school. I’m, like, so scared right now. Please don’t, like, arrest me, or like call my mom or anything. I would get in, like, oh so much trouble, dawg! OMG!” She attempted a disarming smile.
He gave her a puzzled look. “I only understood about half of that. In any case, this is private property. You can’t trespass here.”
Rona nodded. “Gotcha.”
Virgil peered out the window. That was that blue-haired girl from school. What was she doing there? This was starting to be deja vu. Investigating, hear a strange noise, then discover someone innocent-looking, then they take you inside and then….
He had to warn Jay. He took out his phone and sent a text message: “Whatever you do, don’t go anywhere with her!!!!!”
The officer’s phone beeped. He snatched it from his front pocket and looked at the screen. His expression changed to one of confusion, and he glanced in the direction of his squad car.
Rona followed his eyes. She could swear she saw movement in the car but couldn’t make out a face.
The officer cleared his throat. “You didn’t happen to hear any weird noises or see anything strange while you were over there, did you?”
She took her eyes away from the cruiser. “Why no, officer. I’m just a girl out for a night on the town. Nothing interesting about me.” She grinned and shrugged.
As the cop stared her down, a noise came from inside the construction site. A man walked out of the building, and the officer turned his flashlight on the stranger.
Rona straightened, ready to fight.
The man was dressed in construction attire. He shielded his eyes from the light. “Is there a problem, officer?”
“No, sir. I was just doing a routine inspection. Making sure no dumbass teenagers cause mischief.”
Rona hung her head bashfully.
“Well, you’re doing a fine job, officer. Thank you.”
“Working late?” the officer asked him.
The construction worker nodded. Rona couldn’t shake the feeling that something seemed very wrong about the construction worker.
“I’m sorry to bother you. Have a good night, sir.” The officer turned to Rona. “I’ll give you a ride home. Where do you live?”
Think fast, Rona. “Um, no thank you, officer. I try to avoid riding in the back of police cars if I can help it.”
“Fair enough. But go straight home, young lady. Your night on the town is over, capiche?”
“Si, capisco e me ne andrò a casa subito,” said Rona, nodding vigorously and drawing an “X” over her heart.
The officer’s eyebrows shot up. “Um, yeah . . . okay . . . whatever.” He made his way back over to the cruiser, got in, and drove off.
“It’s not suspicious that a construction worker would still be at the site at this time of night?” asked Virgil as they pulled onto the highway.
“Sure it is,” said Jay with a shrug. “But not enough to warrant an investigation. Look I’m not giving up, but I have to be smart about this. My job could be on the line if I do something stupid. He seemed pretty odd. Looked like he got in a fight recently. He had a mark over one of his eyes.”
Virgil recalled the night he had escaped the site. He had hit one of the Hoods solid on the eye with a flashlight. Could it have been him?
“We’re going to call it a night, but don’t worry, we’ll find your friend,” said Jay.
That construction site was boiling over with demonic energy. Rona could feel it as soon as she touched the ground in there. To her it felt as tangible as a chill wind. And that construction worker was odd. He may have fooled that cop, but he hadn’t fooled her. He was hiding something. She didn’t want to rush into this without a plan. Or without a weapon, for that matter (on that note, she would have to keep checking the mail. Assuming the Mechanic had mailed her dagger.). She bedded down and planned for the next day.
The next day at school, Andy walked up to Rona in the hallway. “I just need to know one thing. Does the carpet match the drapes?”
“I’m going to pretend I don’t know what you mean by that and allow you to walk away from me now.”
Rona had had about enough of that kid.
The bell signaling the beginning of lunch period was a welcome sound. Lunch was quickly becoming her favorite part of this whole high school thing. Not because the food was good or that she enjoyed hanging out with teen-faces, but because math was hard. English was boring. History was often inaccurate, at least according to Rona’s memory of past events. And science…well, Rona thought there would be more things blowing up.
Lunch seemed like the only class she might actually pass.
She got her food and then looked around for a place to sit. She noticed that kid that she ‘d seen on the bike the day before. She’d heard his name was Virgil from Brittany. Apparently he was her neighbor, and that could make him a potential. Angelica could have arranged that to give her proximity to him—but then again, there were a dozen houses in her cul-de-sac, and several teenage neighbors. But still, this kid was worth a look. She sat down next to him. Virgil looked startled by her presence. Erk gave her a big smile.
“Heeeyyy, Rona,” said Erk.
“Hi, Erk,” said Rona, returning his smile. She turned to Virgil. “I don’t think we’ve officially met yet. What’s your name?”
“Why do you want to know my name?” said Virgil, giving her a dubious look.
“Because that’s the kind of information you exchange when you meet someone,” said Rona with a shrug.
“I don’t want to meet you,” said Virgil harshly. “I don’t want to know you.”
“Virgil, what’s your deal?” said Erk.
“Why do you need my name? So you can write it down in your notebook with all of those other people? She’s got you in there too, Erk. Why don’t you show him the notebook, Rona? Show him what you’ve been writing down,” said Virgil.
“I’m just trying to be friendly and get to know people,” said Rona, getting increasingly irritated with Virgil.
“Oh really? Well, I don’t know what passes for ‘friendly’ where you’re from, but you’re coming off as deranged,” said Virgil.
“You’re kind of an ass, huh Virgil?” said Rona.
“Oh, so you do know my name.”
“Your friend just said it.”
“Show him the notebook. What do you have written down about me in there?” said Virgil.
Rona took out her notebook, flipped to an empty page and began scribbling. She held up the page so that Virgil could read it.
“Virgil: Wiener,” it said in big letters.
“Oh, that’s so clever,” said Virgil sarcastically. “And you have terrible handwriting.”
“Really? I’m surprised you can see it since you can’t seem to see where you’re going when you’re running through the hallway. So long, Weiner-boy,” said Rona, walking away.
“What was that all about, bro?” said Erk.
“She was at the construction site last night. All of the disappearances that have been happening around the city, and then this chick shows up, claiming to be a foreign exchange student; and has a notebook full of names in it. And then she just happens to be wandering around the construction site at night, where I know something bad is happening. That’s not a coincidence. She isn’t who she claims to be. I guarantee it,” said Virgil.
While Virgil rummaged through his locker, thunder boomed outside. A moment later an announcement came over the loudspeaker. There was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. It was school policy that if a severe storm was in the area, one that could make travel dangerous, the students were to be held at school until the storm cleared and it was safe to allow them to leave. Virgil’s next class being gym, this was not welcome news. He slammed his locker shut.
“Hey, whiteboy,” said Lee.
Virgil was startled by the sudden appearance of Lee.
“Hey, man! Oh my god, I thought something had happened to you! What the hell man?” said Virgil, embracing his friend.
Lee didn’t return the embrace.
“What the Hell, indeed,” said Lee. There was something unsettling about his demeanor.
Virgil took a step back. “Where have you been?”
“Everywhere and nowhere.”
“What happened to you?”
“I’ve had my eyes opened! I’ve been shown worlds that I never knew existed. I see everything clearly now. I see you for what you really are.” He leered at Virgil.
“What are you talking about? How did you escape, that night?” Virgil, could feel goosebumps forming.
“Escape? There is no escape. Not for you. Not for this world.” Virgil began backing away slowly. Lee laughed. An eerie sound. “Oh, come on, Whiteboy, don’t be scared.”
“What did they do to you?”
“They gave me purpose. They gave me power! Things I’ve never had before.” The gleeful look in his eyes made him appear more sinister.
“Who are they?” asked Virgil.
“You’ll be meeting them soon. Tonight, in fact. I am—we are—offering you a proposition. Submit to us willingly and we will spare your family and friends. If you don’t, then everyone you know will suffer. Including that fat bitch you love so much. Not to mention your crooked-ass, pig uncle and that cute little sister of yours. Oh yes, I told them everything about you. If you don’t give yourself to us, it will be a thousand times more painful.”
Virgil swallowed hard. “Why me?”
“ ‘Why me, why me’ ?” said Lee, mockingly. “Always the victim, huh. Your uncle can’t save you this time.”
“What do I have to do?”
“City Park, tonight at dusk. Come alone, or at least, don’t bring anyone you care about. Oh and don’t think about calling the police, some of them work for us.”
Virgil bit his lip and looked away. He shook his head bitterly. “I thought you were my friend, Lee.”
“I am your friend! That’s why I’m not dragging you out of here as we speak. I can, ya’ know. I have the power, now!” He began laughing intensely. “The Eyes–”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, ‘The Eyes are upon me.’ You guys need a new catchphrase,” said Virgil as he turned and walked away.
“See you tonight,” said Lee.
Virgil flipped him off with both hands as he walked away.
Rona sat on the bleachers with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her palms as she waited impatiently to be dismissed. She wanted out of this school building so badly. Brittany and her friends seemed really happy that they didn’t have to exercise or anything and seemed content just chattering together and jumping at the occasional loud crack of thunder. The female gym teacher—Coach Lawler, a tall, lanky woman, who in Rona’s opinion could pass for The Mechanic’s gangly little sister—was making her rounds checking on the students. She gave Rona a smile and nod, and Rona gave her a small wave in return.
“Coach Lawler, did you talk to Coach Yval yet?” asked Charlene.
“I’ll do that right now,” said Coach Lawler.
Virgil sat with his jacket and hood on. He wasn’t interested in what was happening around him. He was glad that the storm was happening. Maybe he could stay at school all day and never have to go and meet Lee tonight. He tried and tried but couldn’t think of a way around it. He had to go if he was going to protect his family. He knew he was going to have to fight. But how?
“Well well well, fancy seeing you here today,” said Coach Yval. Virgil tried to ignore him, but Coach Yval leaned in closer. “Where ya’ been?”
“My grandma died,” muttered Virgil.
“Again? Being your grandma must be the most dangerous job in America. Your running short on grandmas and excuses you little punk. You are so lucky this storm is here or I would have you doing jumping jacks until you collapsed. Nothing would thrill me more than to have you doing laps in the rain, but in the pansy-assed state of America, I’m sure that would be illegal. Oh, I miss the army!”
“Coach Yval, can I speak with you for a moment?” asked Coach Lawler.
Coach Yval sneered at Virgil and then walked away to talk to Coach Lawler.
“Wow, and I thought Yval hated me!” said Ali when Coach Yval had walked away.
“I do hate you, Hassan!” said Coach Yval from a few feet away.
“And he’s got super hearing,” said Ali.
Virgil paid his friend no mind. He was a million miles away…
“I’m not saying that she can’t try out for the football team, I’m just saying that she probably shouldn’t,” said Yval.
“Why not? Are girls not as good as boys? Is that your stance?” said Lawler, folding her hands over her chest.
Coach Yval was a short, stout man and he had to turn his head at a comical angle in order to look the much taller woman in the face. “That’s not my stance, that’s God’s stance. Boys are stronger. They run faster. They don’t bruise as easily. This is not a discussion about equal rights, it’s just facts. I’m not saying that females just belong in the kitchen—men tend to be better chefs too—so call off your social justice warriors. I’m just saying that she could get hurt and then you’ll come crying to me about how we were too rough with her. Legally, I can’t say that he can’t try out, but I advise against it.”
Lawler’s face turned red. “Girls can do anything boys can do!”
“They just do it slower. Males are better at sports—also comedy,” said Yval. “In a one-on-one physical contest—barring luck or a miracle—a girl cannot beat a boy. Not in a man’s sport, like, say, wrestling.”
“I’ll take that bet!” said Coach Lawler. She disappeared into her office and returned with a scale. She placed it down on the floor. “We’ll choose a girl and a boy that are the same weight and set up a wrestling match.”
Coach Yval agreed. He searched the crowd of male students on the bleachers and his eyes rested on Virgil. “Mcfeeney! You look like you weigh about as much as a girl. Get over here!”
Coach Lawler went over to the female students. “I need a volunteer.”
Brittany raised Rona’s hand. Rona snatched it away.
“Come on, Rona, you’re strong!” said Brittany.
“No,” said Rona. “This is childish.”
Coach Lawler kneeled down to talk to Rona. “Aren’t you tired of the male-dominated, chauvinistic, misogynistic crap that you keep hearing from men in this world? They keep saying that we’re not good enough; that we should stick to having babies and giving—you know what I’m saying. You have a chance to show them all that we are just as good if not better at everything. What do you say?”
“No,” said Rona.
“You get to beat up a boy,” said Coach Lawler.
“Not interested,” began Rona, until she saw Virgil stepping on the scale. A slow smile crossed her lips.
Students laid down the mats as Virgil and Rona weighed in. Rona was four pounds heavier than Virgil and an inch taller. The coaches agreed upon the rules. Two minutes or until someone got pinned. The coaches took their respective champions to the side for a last minute pep talk.
“If you win, then you can take the whole week off of gym next week!” Coach Yval told Virgil.
“Don’t let him cop a feel. Just because you’re engaged in an athletic activity doesn’t mean that you have to put up with unwanted touching,” Coach Lawler told Rona.
“If you lose, I am going to kill you. Now go out there and pin this girl! And whatever you do, don’t get wood!”
“Do your best, that’s the most important thing. And win or lose, I think you’re awesome for doing this! You’re a true champion of women’s Lib! Go get ‘em!”
Rain from the storm outside beat the roof of the gym as if applauding in approval of the matchup. Virgil and Rona circled each other sizing each other up as the other students cheered and whistled. Virgil didn’t look particularly interested in wrestling Rona. In fact it looked like his mind was somewhere else. That was okay with Rona. She wasn’t going to hurt him or anything, just ball him up a little bit. Teach him a lesson in humility and politeness. She wasn’t planning on humiliating him too badly. She’d allow it to be somewhat competitive so that the kid could keep his dignity, but she did want to show him who was boss. Who did this kid think he was, talking to her the way he did earlier? Ever since he had first run into her…
He’d ran into her.
He had been the first kid she ran into.
A teenager who always seemed to have a lot on his mind, who was always in a hurry, who lived next door to her; why didn’t she see it before? He wasn’t a potential, he was the potential. Holy crap. He was the one she’d been sent to protect.
Suddenly, Virgil’s eyes fixed on her.
And he charged.