It was a silent walk to the van for Virgil. His mother barely even looked at him as the two walked out of the building and down to the parking lot. Virgil felt nauseous. When they were a couple of feet from the van, she stopped, turned around and glared at him. She placed her hands on hips and shook her head. At five-foot-ten, his mother towered over him, even in her flats. She struck an imposing figure that Virgil didn’t dare challenge. He hung his head, refusing to look. His mother sat down in the driver seat but waited a few extra seconds before unlocking Virgil’s door. He got in silently. The van screeched out of the parking lot.
“Mom, I’m so so–”
“Shhhhh!” she snapped. “I don’t want to hear your voice right now.”
Virgil sat tight, gazing out the window. He couldn’t have felt worse. He’d made a fool out of himself in front of the whole school. He had broken his promise to his sister about not getting in trouble. He’d been suspended from school. And worst of all, he had pissed off his mom. The woman that loved him the most, now wanted to choke him. She thought that he was an idiot. And the girl that he loved, thought that he was a suicidal nutcase. The weight of it all kind of made him wish he had used a real dagger.
He glanced over at his mother and saw tears forming in her eyes. She wiped them away before they could fall. “How could you?” she finally said. “I mean, how could you bring weapons to school? You know better. And not going to class?”
“Mom, I brought those to school on accident. I forgot they were in there. I wasn’t planning on using them on anybody or anything,” said Virgil.
“That isn’t the point! The point is, you could’ve been expelled today! Luckily Mr. Goodman is such a nice man. He didn’t have to give you a second chance. I have to get back to work. I’m going to drop you off at the house and you’re going to write Mr. Goodman a thank you letter, thanking him for not expelling you.”
“Yes Mom. And Mom, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for all of this to happen. It all started as just a joke. It wasn’t supposed be…” Virgil buried his face in his hands and sobbed.
“I know, sweetie. I know,” said Pam, reaching over and caressing Virgil’s hair with affection. “And you’re not an idiot. I’m sorry I said that. I was just mad. But you do have to start using better judgment, okay? I like Vanessa, and I wouldn’t mind seeing you two get back together, but if she doesn’t want to, then you have to let her go. If she doesn’t want you, it’s because she doesn’t deserve you.”
Virgil straightened back up and wiped his eyes.
“I’ll do whatever the school wants me to do. The community service, the night school, the whole nine. Just please don’t send me to military school.”
“I heard you and Dad talking about military school last night.”
“That was for your cousin, Chad. He’s thinking about going. We’re not going to send you away, Virgil. No matter how much you want to get away from us.” She smiled at him.
He smiled back.
Virgil finished the extra chores that his mother had given him as quickly as he could. He relaxed in his freshly cleaned room and decided to browse the internet for a while. He had no new messages and he’d watched all of the new Parkour videos that morning. Out of sheer boredom he clicked on a local news story. The screen went black for a split second before an advertisement popped up. Virgil almost walked away, hoping to grab a pop before the actual video loaded, but the image of a scantily clad woman appeared on the computer screen, luring him back to his seat. The woman crawled toward the camera on all-fours, a rose gripped firmly between her teeth. The scene flashed to another woman dancing on a pole. She climbed up the pole, then flipped upside down, holding herself in place and spreading her bare legs wide. She made a kissing face at the camera. A voice came through the speakers:
“Come down to the hottest club in the Denver area: INTRiGUE. There’s dancing, drink specials and girls. Lots and lots of girls. Come on down to INTRiGUE, located on E Colfax, in Aurora. Must be eighteen to enter, twenty-one to drink. INTRiGUE.”
A couple of images of people dancing followed and the commercial concluded with a beautiful woman planting a firm kiss on the camera and leaving a perfect, lip-shaped lipstick stain on it.
That was the first time in Virgil’s life that he ever wished a commercial had been longer.
The news story followed.
“Hi Jim, I am around the corner from Sheridan Blvd in West Denver where it appears police have found the cellphone of Nicole Harris. As you know, if you’ve been following the story, she is the teenage girl who disappeared a couple of nights ago. Police have just discovered the cellphone that she used to call 911 on that fateful night.”
The screen flashed to a subtitled image of the 911 conversation.
Operator: “911, what’s your emerg–”
Harris: “Help! They’re going to kill me! Please, somebody help!”
The sound of the girl screaming sent a chill down Virgil’s spine.
The screen flashed back to the reporter on the scene.
“Police are examining the call as we speak. They are also scouring the area for clues that might help them with the search. There is a $10,000 reward being offered for anyone who can give information that can lead to the discovery of this young woman. For live updates log onto www–”
Virgil closed the video when he heard the doorbell ring.
“What the hell, man?” said Erk, walking through the front door and shutting it behind him.
“I know, I know. This is the part where you say ‘I told you so,’ right?” said Virgil as the two made their way up the stairs to Virgil’s room.
“I was going to, but you just stole that glorious moment from me,” said Erk. “Wow it’s pristine in here.”
“Yeah, part of my punishment is to do some housework,” said Virgil, as he sat down in the office chair next to the desk. Erk sat down on the bed. He told Erk the whole story of what happened in the cafeteria and the resultant consequences.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” said Erk, shaking his head. “The good news is, I talked to Vanessa and I think I was able to smooth things out with her. I let her know it was a joke and that she shouldn’t get too worked up over it. But, V-man, I really think you should just let it go. Give her some space.”
“You’re probably right,” said Virgil.
Erk let out a mock gasp. “Are you…agreeing with me?”
“I don’t think I could face her anyway. She can do better.”
“Aww, come on, bro, don’t talk like that. You’re the man. There’s other girls out there and you’ll find one sooner than you think.”
“You wanna’ here something psychotic? Sometimes I imagine that the school is burning down and Vanessa is trapped in one of the classrooms by herself. I run up the stairs, brave the flames and rescue her. Then she gives me one of those ‘my hero’ kisses, ya’ know?” said Virgil, his eyes drifting up to the ceiling.. “I wish I was some kind of hero. People would look at me different. Vanessa, my mom and dad. It would give Celeste a reason to look up to me.”
“She has a reason: you’re her big brother.”
“I know. I just wish I was something special, sometimes. Something more.”
Erk launched a pillow at Virgil’s head. Virgil deflected it, but before he knew it, Erk was on him, hitting him with another pillow.
“Quit being a douche!” yelled Erk, as he pelted Virgil with the pillow over and over.
“I’m pouring my heart out to you, butthole!”
“Well—stop! You’re fine, bro. You don’t need to change yourself for some girl,” said Erk.
Virgil gave his friend a pound then changed the subject. “So how’d your test go, anyway?”
“I’m pretty sure I bombed it. I kept wanting to write: ‘Steve Spielberg,’ as an answer for everything. Problem was: it was a math test,” said Erk.
Virgil laughed. “Yeah right, you don’t fail tests.”
Erk shrugged as he walked over to the window and gazed out of it. “You’ve got a good view here. I bet you could almost see inside one of these girl’s windows.”
“You’re a creep,” said Virgil.
“Oh please. As if you don’t own a pair of binoculars,” said Erk.
Virgil smiled. He opened the drawer next to the bed, pulled out a small pair of binoculars, and tossed them to Erk, who caught them expertly.
“You heard that Brittany and Ashley are getting a foreign exchange student?” said Erk as he peered through the binoculars.
“I couldn’t care less. That has nothing to do with me,” said Virgil.
“Maybe she’ll be hot. Maybe she’ll be the one to make you forget all about Vanessa. Maybe you’ll be able to see into her room from here,” said Erk with a laugh.
Virgil ate dinner in his room. He checked his FaceSpace profile. Vanessa was logged in. Everything in Virgil wanted to send her a message and apologize, but he fought back the desire and instead looked at other posts. He was about to log out when Vanessa messaged him.
“Hi,” she said.
Virgil didn’t want to answer back too eagerly, so he waited a few minutes. When he felt enough time had passed, he messaged her back. “Hey.”
“I’m sorry for freaking out at lunch. I know you were only joking,” Vanessa messaged a few minutes after she received Virgil’s message.
“Yeah, I’m sorry it wasn’t funny, lol. I didn’t mean to scare you,” wrote Virgil.
“I know. It was just the thought of you doing something to yourself that I couldn’t deal with,” said Vanessa.
“I miss you. You haven’t been answering my texts or calls,” said Virgil.
“I miss you too. I’m sorry, I’ve just been really busy,” said Vanessa after what seemed like a long time. Before Virgil could begin typing a response, she added “But I think we should take a break from each other.”
Virgil’s heart sank. “What do you mean? You don’t want to talk to me anymore? You’re like my best friend and the most important person in my life.”
Eternity came and went before Vanessa responded.
“I don’t mean forever. I just want to take a break. I need some time and some space. You’re heading down a bad path, Virgil. You’re cutting class. You’re high every time I see you. I worry about you. I don’t mean to hurt you, but I think we’re on two different trajectories. I’m sorry. I care about you but you need to get yourself together. Please don’t message back. I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad. Just give me time, okay? Thank you. Good night. Sorry. Take care.”
And with that, she signed off.
Virgil slammed his laptop shut.
“Virgil Mcfeeney, wake up!” said Miss Tilley. “You think you’re special?”
Virgil opened his eyes and glanced around the classroom. The clock said it was after school hours. He must have been in detention. There were some familiar faces there, and others that he didn’t recognize. Miss Tilley was leaning against her desk at the front of the room. She was wearing a sultry red dress that fit tightly to her a-bit-too-slender body. Her short black hair was styled perfectly. She gazed at Virgil with sensual green eyes.
“What are you going to do if I don’t?” said Virgil, defiantly. “Give me detention?”
“Pay attention, Virgil! She’s just trying to help,” said Erk. He was seated adjacent to Virgil. There was an intense look on his friend’s face. Miss Tilley made her way over to where Virgil was seated. Her hips moved side to side like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Her movements were so erotic that Virgil couldn’t look away even if he’d wanted to. He placed his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. Miss Tilley placed her hands down on his desk and leaned her face so close to his that their noses nearly touched. Virgil’s eyes wandered involuntarily to her cleavage.
“Oh, Virgil, what am I going to do with you?” asked Miss Tilley, her voice sweet and alluring.
“I could think of a few things,” said Virgil, his eyes still staring down the top of her dress.
Miss Tilley snatched Virgil from his desk by his throat. Virgil made a futile effort to pry her hands away as his eyes met hers. Only they were no longer the beautiful green they once were. They’d become inhuman. The pupils had shrunk almost to the point of nonexistence, and they glowed. The room became darker. All of the students in the room fixed glowing eyes on Virgil. They bared their teeth hungrily. Even Erk. Virgil felt like a cornered deer surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves. Fear shot through him. Miss Tilley smiled wider and her eyes became even more intense. She squeezed Virgil’s throat tighter. Virgil couldn’t muster the breath to call for help. The pain and fear was overtaking him.
“The eyes are upon you!” said Miss Tilley in a deep and hollow voice. A voice that could come from no human. “Young man!”
Virgil awoke in a cold sweat.
Virgil didn’t go back to sleep after the dream. This was the third day in a row that he’d been unable to get a full night’s sleep. The fatigue was beginning to wear on him.
Also, he was out of weed.
He could tell this was the beginning of what was going to be a long day. At least he didn’t have to walk Celeste to school today since his mother didn’t trust him, even with that. He took a shower and slipped into some clean clothes. He walked downstairs to an empty house. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and ate casually as he waited to begin his community service duties. A key turned in the front door, and in walked Brian McFeeney. He was fully clad in military garb, and toted with him a small duffel bag.
“Hey Dad, you forget something?” asked Virgil, between mouthfuls of cereal.
“No,” said his dad, placing his bag down and pulling up a chair across from Virgil. “Actually I wanted to have a quick word with you. Your mother and I are a little bit worried about you. You’re not really contemplating…”
“No! It was a joke, Dad,” said Virgil.
“Oh, okay, just making sure. You know I’m here for you if there’s anything you ever need to talk about. But I need you to keep your nose clean. Stay out of trouble. I don’t want you to end up getting into a mess that no one can help you out of. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you, is all.” He paused. “Have you ever thought about military school, son?”
Virgil’s jaw dropped in horror. “Mom said that you guys weren’t going to send me away.”
“We’re not going to send you if you don’t want to go. I’m just asking if it’s something that you would consider. You know, to get away from it all. Plus the discipline and skills that they would teach you there would go a long way. I did it and so did my brothers and sister. Your cousin Chad is doing it. It can be very beneficial,” said Brian.
Virgil sat in silence.
“Just something to think about,” said his dad. He walked over, gave Virgil a hug around the neck, kissed the top of his son’s head, then left.
Virgil took the bus to school and waited for the van to take him to community service. It wasn’t long before a blue minivan pulled up and Miss Tilley stuck her head out of the passenger window.
“Hey Virgil, you ready to get started,” she said, her voice as sweet and mellow as ever. Virgil was a little bit apprehensive, given the dreams he’d had about her recently. However, the kind-faced sunglasses-clad woman in the van barely resembled the woman from his dream. Her hair was more disheveled and she was wearing a Metallica T-shirt. Virgil climbed into the van and found a seat by himself in the middle.
“Hey McFeeney!” shouted a familiar voice from a couple of seats behind. Virgil didn’t turn to acknowledge the source of the voice. “Hey McFeeney, I heard about your little reenactment of The Last Samurai in the cafeteria, yesterday.”
Virgil gave him the finger. “Shut up, Mowry.
“Oh, my love! If thou doust not want me, then I shall taketh mine own life,” said Andy Mowry in a mock thespian voice. He plunged an invisible dagger through his heart and pretended to fall forward onto the shoulder of Julio, who was seated next to him.
“Oh, how romantic!” said Julio, the tall, lanky brown-skinned kid next to Andy. The two of them laughed heartily.
“Why don’t you shut your mouth,” said Virgil, his blood beginning to boil.
“You do know that Darrin is tapping that, right?” said Andy, with a smile that exposed his chipped front tooth.
“I’m pretty sure I could hit that too,” said Julio.
Andy laughed. “I would like to have it added to the record, that my buddy Julio can also hit that if he chooses.” The two began making loud, obscene sucking and moaning noises.
“Cut it out, you guys,” said Miss Tilley.
“What are you going to do? Give me detention?” said Andy.
Virgil’s blood went cold for a moment. Just a dream, he thought.
Their first assignment was downtown picking up trash on the side of the Sixteenth Street Mall. It was an outside mall with only pedestrian traffic, or the occasional bus or trash vehicle passing through. The group had spread out in order to do their garbage collection. The weather wasn’t bad and Virgil found himself daydreaming. In his fantasy he was again rescuing Vanessa, this time from an evil kidnapper that looked a lot like Andy Mowry. Virgil was awoken from his thoughts by a female voice.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” said Virgil.
“That guy, Andy is a bit of a tool, huh?” she said.
“You have no idea,” said Virgil.
“What’s his deal, anyway?”
“You ever have, like, a nemesis?” said Virgil, as he choked an invisible Andy. The girl laughed. “Well, he’s mine. The worst part is, our dads work together, so they think we’re best of friends.”
“Wow, that’s rough. I’m Heather, by the way.”
Their next stop was at a construction site of the mostly-finished new building rising into the Denver skyline. It had already overtaken the World Trade Center as the tallest building in the city despite the fact that it was a couple of months away from completion. Besides the fact that a few cranes still stood around the site and the entrance was still fenced off with a “Do not enter” sign, the building looked mostly finished.
“Okay, everybody fan out. Be careful. Don’t touch any of the construction materials. Stick to the outside, and don’t go onto the construction site,” said Miss Tilley.
Virgil gazed around at all of the dangerous equipment surrounding the site. So this was how Miss Tilley was planning on killing him? By making it look like an accident. Most of the construction workers didn’t seem to notice the students, and those that did regarded them as a nuisance. But there was one worker that just stared at Virgil. Really stared. The look on his face was blank. The look in his eyes was eerie. It creeped Virgil out so much that he looked away. He chanced a glance back to see if the worker was still staring.
“Hey Pete, you wanna’ give us a hand?” said another worker. The staring worker slowly turned around and walked away.
“I’m not going anywhere near that site,” said Virgil sternly.
“Why not? It looks so safe for a couple of kids. What could possibly go wrong?” said Heather sarcastically.
“I wish I’d smoked up before I came out here today. I’d settle for a cigarette,” said Virgil. Heather reached into her pocket and pulled out a pack.
“Got two left,” she said.
They snuck away and lit up.
“Ah,” said Virgil, blowing smoke from his nostrils. “You rock.”
“I know,” said Heather. “So, what ya’ in for?”
“A failed Seppuku attempt. I tried to a convince my ex-girlfriend to either get back with me or allow me the honorable death of impaling myself with chopsticks while she severed my head with a butter knife,” said Virgil, dryly before taking another puff of his cigarette.
Heather nearly fell out laughing.
“Needless to say, she refused,” said Virgil.
“That’s hilarious! She didn’t laugh?” asked Heather.
“Nope. I got sent to the principal’s office.”
“Well I think it’s hilarious. I would so have definitely taken you back,” said Heather with a smile.
Virgil smiled back as their eyes met. She was a petite girl. Slim and cute, if not remarkably so. Her brown eyes matched her brown hair. “So what are you in for?”
“I called Mrs. Brown the ‘C’ word,” said Heather. “Apparently that’s frowned upon, ‘round these parts.”
“Where you from?” asked Virgil.
“Down south. I moved here a couple months ago with my mom. This city blows.”
“That it does.”
“You’re like, the only cool person I’ve met since I moved here. You want to do something tonight?” asked Heather.
“I can’t tonight. I have to go to night school.”
“Ditch,” said Heather nonchalantly
“I can’t. I actually have to do what I’m supposed to do and be where I’m supposed to be or it’s off to military school. I really have to clean up my act so I don’t embarrass my family anymore.”
“Okay,” said Heather, a hint of disappointment in her voice. “But give me your number and we’ll do it some other time.”
Virgil was about to give Heather his number when Andy bumped into him from behind. Virgil pushed him in retaliation, but the shove barely moved the larger boy.
“You want to try again, McFeeney?” said Andy.
“Ooooohhhh, I think he’s getting mad,” said Julio, covering his mouth with his fist.
“Come on. Do something. Show me some of those ninja moves,” said Andy.
“That’s enough!” said Miss Tilley, stepping in between them.
“Yeah that’s what I thought,” said Andy.
Virgil stormed off in the direction of the van. He climbed in and sat in silence until everyone was loaded up and the van pulled off. The van dropped them off at the school and Virgil began walking home. Rain fell from the sky in little droplets, threatening that a much larger storm was eminent. Virgil was halfway up the block from the school when he heard a car horn. Miss Tilley pulled up in her electric powered car. The engine had been so silent that Virgil hadn’t heard her pull up. She beckoned him into the passenger seat.
“Crazy weather we’re having,” said Miss Tilley once they were on the road. Virgil didn’t say anything. She continued. “Climate change. Freak storms like these are happening more often. Tornadoes, typhoons, hurricanes. We have to do something.” She looked over at Virgil. “Did you know that all it would take is one lightning strike in the right place to wipe out power to downtown?”
“Nope,” said Virgil, still staring out the window.
“It’s true. One bolt of lightning can produce an electromagnetic pulse—or EMP, I know how you kids just love acronyms—that can fry wires and blow electrical equipment.”
“Cool,” said Virgil nonchalantly.
Miss Tilley dropped him off at home. “Virgil, I think you’re going to do great things someday.”
“Thanks,” said Virgil as he shut the door.
After dinner, he got himself together and took the bus to night school. The night crowd at the school was different. It was evident that most of them were troubled teens, older students, or teen parents. Virgil felt somewhat out of place amongst them. He didn’t belong there. He wasn’t a troubled teen, was he? Class was as boring as ever. The nighttime teachers seemed disinterested. As if they had a day job that paid the mortgage, and taught on the side just to cover the car payments. It was of little consequence to Virgil, who was just there to do his time and be done with it. Learning wasn’t the goal. But, man did going to night school make him miss day school. During the break between classes, he went down to the edge of the school campus, to what had been dubbed “the smoker’s corner” to see if he could bum a cigarette. Virgil was about to ask one of the kids for a cigarette when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey, Whiteboy!” said Lee. Virgil whirled around to see Lee standing behind him with a big smile on his face. A mix of emotions overtook Virgil. Lee was Virgil’s oldest friend. The two of them had been in the same class back in the fourth grade, despite the fact that Lee was a couple of years older. He’d been held back once when he first immigrated from Korea, then again a couple of years later. Lee was the first person Virgil had ever smoked weed with. He had given Virgil his first cigarette from a pack that he had stolen from his alcoholic father while he slept off a hangover. Everything that Virgil knew about Asian culture, he had learned from Lee. Since Virgil had been adopted by white parents, Lee had made it his mission in life to introduce Virgil to his “real” heritage. Since they didn’t know the specific nationality of Virgil’s birth parents this meant: Korean music, Japanese movies and Chinese food—hoping to cover all bases. He had given Virgil the nickname “whiteboy.” Despite the fact that Virgil did have white parents, and felt no shame of that fact, it was still a nickname that he didn’t care for—though he had never said so to Lee.
Trouble followed Lee like a carriage follows a horse. His mother had abandoned the family when he was young, and his father spent most of his days in a drunken stupor, so Lee had been tasked with raising himself. This meant small-time drug dealing and the occasional burglary. He had a rap sheet by the time he was thirteen and had done a couple of months in a juvenile detention center by the time he was fifteen. He had been the one to teach Virgil how to use spray paint to tag walls. Virgil had even gotten quite good at it. But it only took one run-in with the law for Virgil to call it quits and rethink his life. Luckily for him, the arresting officer had known his uncle Jay. Jay smoothed the situation over before Virgil’s parents could find out. Lee wasn’t so lucky. He was sent back to juvie. That was the incident that made Vanessa break up with Virgil. That was when Virgil decided that he and Lee shouldn’t be friends anymore. This was the first time he’d seen Lee since the night they got busted.
“Lee! Hey man, how are you? I thought you dropped out,” said Virgil.
“I did. But I changed my mind; decided to finish. I’m trying to stay out of trouble,” said Lee, offering Virgil a cigarette which he accepted. Lee was an inch or so shorter than Virgil. He wore a Yankees baseball cap, with the brim slightly off center. His jeans sagged just below his waist and his sneakers were of the latest style. Virgil had to admit, Lee had swag. “Did you get in big trouble that night?”
“No, Jay got me off.”
“I wish I had a cop for an uncle,” said Lee. He smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “You still with that fat girl?”
“Vanessa? She’s not fat, man, come on.”
“She’s fat, bruh.”
“No, she broke up with me.”
“Oh, thank god! You don’t need someone like that trying to change you.”
“Good to see that you’re doing good,” said Virgil, changing the subject.
“Yeah. Still broke though.”
“I know the feeling.”
“No. You don’t.”
Vigil took a puff of his cigarette.
“This trying-to-be-good thing is the worst!”
“Are you in night school now?” asked Lee.
“Just for the week.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll be seeing you then,” said Lee.
Catching up with Lee made the next few nights go by quickly. Virgil had to admit, he had missed Lee. Despite the baggage he brought, he was a good person at heart. Virgil was sure of it. One night Lee asked Virgil to meet him down at Sixteenth Street Mall.
“Let’s take a walk,” said Lee once Virgil had arrived. The mall was bustling with activity. Pedestrians moved hastily down the sidewalk, while tourists stopped to take pictures in the street. Bicyclists dodged around sanitation workers as they sped down the street of the outdoor mall. Each store seemed to beckon Virgil in with their bright lights and sale signs.
“What’s up?” asked Virgil.
“I want to do some shopping,” said Lee.
“Well, you’re in the right place.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Um, did you need to borrow some money, because my allowance is frozen at the moment?”
“Nah, bruh, I have a plan to score some cash but I need your help.”
Virgil stopped in his tracks, giving Lee a dubious look. “I’m in enough trouble as it is, man. I can’t be getting involved with anything illegal…”
Lee laughed. “Your uncle would just swoop in and help you out anyway. But no, it’s nothing illegal. Did you hear about the disappearances?”
“I heard about one girl that disappeared.”
“There’s been a string of them recently. The last girl must come from rich parents or something because they’re offering a $10,000 reward to anyone that provides information that leads to them finding her. They must really want her back, cause I know for a fact that if I disappeared, no one would even come looking for my ass, let alone offer money to find me,” said Lee.
“What are you saying?”
“Let’s find that chick and make ourselves some money.”