“Eyes are upon you, young man!” screamed Miss Tilley.
“Watch it, kid,” whispered the blue-haired girl.
Virgil awoke from his nightmare. It was getting more vivid, more people were showing up in it, but what did it all mean? It felt like a warning of some sort. He reached into the drawer of his nightstand table and pulled out the bottle of pills the psychiatrist had given him. He poured one of the pills into his hand and paused for a moment. Nah, he thought, putting the pill back in the bottle and placing the bottle on top of the nightstand. This was exactly what his mother was afraid of; that a psychiatrist would try to fix all of his problems by placing him on some sort of medication. Maybe she had a point. He got out of bed, smoked a joint.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Lee all day. What if they had gotten him and they were doing something terrible to him right now? He couldn’t leave his friend to such a fate. It took him all day, but he finally formed a plan.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good plan.
But it was all he had.
He took off running as soon as the school bell rang.
“Hey, no running!” said Principal Goodman. He walked over and placed a hand on Virgil’s shoulder. “You’re doing really good, these days, Virgil. I want you to keep it up. I hear you skipped gym yesterday, but I trust you’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Good,” added the principal. “Now run along—walk along.”
“Are you sure?” asked Jay. “I mean, these are serious allegations.”
“I’m sure of it,” said Virgil, attempting to keep his voice low so that others in the Coffee shop couldn’t hear their conversation. Jay sat across from him, sipping a large, black coffee. He was off duty and in his civilian clothes, looked more like a college kid searching for a frat party than an officer of the law.
“He was a cop, Denver PD. He led us into the construction site and that’s where it all happened. And that was the last time I saw Lee.”
“And, you’ve gone by his house already, I take it,” said Jay.
“Without a warrant I can’t go onto the construction site. It’s private property. I don’t know if I’d be able to get one just on the strength of what you’ve told me, but I’ll see what I can do. Give me a description of this cop that you said was there,” said Jay.
Virgil gave the best description he could remember from the darkened corridor.
“One more thing. Why is Ben a person of interest?” asked Virgil.
Jay took a sip of coffee. “According to guys I’ve talked to, he was on the scene of one of the disappearances. He isn’t a suspect but we think he saw something. They interviewed him, but they said he was incoherent and kept going on about something that didn’t make any sense. He was probably high on something because they said he was saying some weird stuff.”
“I don’t think Ben is crazy,” said Virgil. “I’m telling you, what I saw that night was weird.”
“I don’t want you getting mixed up in this stuff anymore. I’m serious. This is not ‘Jay’ talking, this is your Uncle James talking. I want you to go home and just forget about all of this. Let me handle it. Let the police handle it. We’ll find your friend, I promise. Now, I need you to promise me that you’ll stay out of this.”
“I can’t,” said Virgil apologetically. “If you were my mom or dad I would promise, but I don’t want to lie to you. This is really eating at me and I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until I at least find out what happened to Lee. I promise to be careful.”
Jay made a face. He sat stirring his sugarless, black coffee for a few minutes. He sighed and looked up at Virgil.
“Let me take you home.”
Rona rolled out of bed and made it to the bathroom of her own volition. She hopped in the shower and contemplated the day’s move while the water poured over her. Searching for the kid wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped. Then again, she had been foolishly optimistic. It was time to change tactics. Perhaps if she could find the demons who hunted the kid, before they got to him, she could kill two birds with one lucky stone. Perhaps they had better leads than she did. They might even lead her right to the kid. But how would she find them? Well, she thought, maybe she could find one of the kids who went missing. She didn’t know where to begin, but perhaps there was someone who could help. An idea popped into her head.
Outside of the shower she heard rustling.
She moved the curtain to reveal Clive and Dave attempting to get a peek at her in the shower. They ran off when she spotted them.
About ten minutes into English class Rona complained that was having trouble understanding and requested to be sent to ESL. She sold the lie by speaking in somewhat broken English. The teacher amiably obliged and Rona headed down to the ESL classroom. Miss Tilley was looking down at some large, rectangular, electronic device that Rona had never seen before. She greeted Rona with a big smile.
“Were you having some trouble in class, today?” asked Miss Tilley, looking up at Rona with youthful, sympathetic eyes.
“Something like that,” said Rona. “I was wondering if you could help me with something; something kind of unrelated to school. Could you show me how to find information?”
“Certainly!” said Miss Tilley. “What’s the issue?” she said as the two of them made their way over to the computers in the back of the room.
“I’m just interested in learning how to do it,” said Rona.
Miss Tilley sat down behind one of the computers while Rona stood next to her, watching over her shoulder. Miss Tilley did a bunch of clicking around with that thing called a “mouse” then suddenly something called “web pages” started opening up. It was mind boggling to Rona.
“What did you want to look up?” asked Miss Tilley.
“I was wondering if we could look up some information on the recent disappearances in the area,” said Rona.
Miss Tilley looked puzzled. “Why are you interested in that? Are you interested in working for the school newspaper or something?”
“Yes,” said Rona. “I’m very interested in doing that.”
Miss Tilley kept typing and like magic, information started popping up all over the screen. Different newspaper articles, as well as pictures, and short summaries were everywhere. Miss Tilley clicked a few articles while Rona took notes. These missing kids didn’t seem to have anything in common—at least not to the human eye. But Rona did notice something about all of the kids—they were all great at something. Teachers raved about one girl who was valedictorian of her school. Another girl was a star athlete. One of the boys was a violin prodigy. One of the kids was the son of two famous parents. The more Rona read, the more disturbed she became. This was not a process of elimination. These demons were starting a collection. But they were still looking for the crown jewel. Super-talented individuals who were being plucked from the streets and possibly stored somewhere in the city. Perhaps she was looking for a similar wunderkind here at Les Freakly high school. Miss Tilley continued to scroll down until something caught Rona’s eye.
“Stop. Could you click on that with the mousey-thingy?”
Miss Tilley clicked on the image and it grew to full size. It was a picture of a church, close to downtown. It was a catholic church, whose grandeur stood out among the surrounding buildings. Rona had seen that church the day before when Brittany and her friends had taken her on an impromptu tour of the city. Apparently one of the missing girls, Nicole, was a member of that church. A lead, possibly? However flimsy, it was a start.
When the bell rang, ending classes for the day, Rona walked briskly through the hallway. She rounded a corner and almost walked into a tall balding man in a grey suit.
“Hello,” said the principal. He had a look of surprise on his face at the sight of Rona. “I’ve never seen you before. Are you new here?”
“I am,” said Rona.
“Welcome to Les Freakly high school. Consider yourself a Lemur now!” said the principal. “How are you enjoying it so far?”
“It’s great. I’m going to miss my bus,” said Rona impatiently.
“I apologize. I just make it my business to get to know each and every student individually. I’m Principal Goodman. And you are?” he said sticking his hand out for Rona to shake.
“I’m–” began Rona, extending her hand.
“Hey, no running!” said the principal to another student. He took off in pursuit, leaving Rona standing there.
“—out of here,” finished Rona with a shrug.
“Hey, Rona, we’re going to the mall. You coming with?” said Brittany.
“No, there’s something I need to do right now. I’ll catch up with you guys later,” said Rona.
“More silent reflecting?” asked Brittany.
Rona blew her a kiss and kept walking. She boarded a bus and headed towards downtown.
After riding down the bike path under Speer Blvd where many homeless people were known to camp out, and then riding by the homeless shelter in LoDo, Virgil finally found Ben at the end of Sixteenth St Mall, seated at a table with a chess board in front of him. A look of alarm crossed his face when he saw Virgil walking his bike up to him.
“It’s just me,” said Virgil. “I just came to talk. No guns.”
Ben motioned to Virgil to have a seat on the other side of the table. Virgil pulled a one-dollar-bill from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of Ben. Ben took the money with a smile, and then started the clock on the side of the chess board. Virgil made the first move. It was answered more swiftly by Ben who blocked Virgil’s pawn advance with his own. The pace of the game quickened as the two moved almost simultaneously, alternating starting and stopping the clock. During the course of the game, Virgil found himself down a couple of pieces and with less time on his clock than Ben had. He heard the time ticking away as he searched for a move that could get him back in the game. He made an impulsive move. It caused him to end up trading his queen for a rook. Against a player of Ben’s caliber, this was an insurmountable disadvantage. Virgil went to tip his king, and forfeit, but Ben stopped him, encouraging him to play on. Virgil did so, but the game was a lost cause. Eventually Virgil heard the buzzer on his clock sound as his time ran out. He had lost to Ben, yet again.
“Which is the most powerful piece on the board?” asked Ben.
“The queen,” answered Virgil.
“Wrong; the king,” said Ben, picking up the queen and twirling it in his fingers. “The queen can do amazing things. Things that the king himself can’t do. And yet, the queen’s main purpose is to protect the king. If she fails in that mission then all is lost. If you lose your queen, the game is not lost. Learn to play without her. Learn to understand the power of the king. Then and only then, will you be able to appreciate the power of the queen.”
Ben was disheveled. His dark face had ashen spots of dry skin. His salt-and-pepper beard was dirty and unkept. His clothes were filthy and torn. They looked like they’d been sewn together from the remains of several different outfits. Yet, there was something dignified about him. Something that suggested to Virgil that the man in front of him was not crazy. Virgil nodded slowly in acknowledgement of his wise words. He could trust what Ben said.
“We went to the construction site that night, just like you said. They came after us. My friend, Lee, hasn’t been seen since that day,” said Virgil. “I’m looking for him.”
Ben gave Virgil a grave look. “If they got him, then you will not find him.”
“How do you know?”
“What would they have done to him?”
“What he allowed them to do to him.”
Virgil gave Ben a puzzled look. “What does that mean?”
“It means you should give up your search.”
“I can’t. No one else is looking for him. Not even the police. If you know something, please tell me,” pleaded Virgil. “He’s my friend.”
“He was your friend,” said Ben, as he reset the chess board.
“What does that mean?” said Virgil, slamming his fist down on the board and knocking over the freshly set pieces.
Ben didn’t seem to get angry. He just went back to setting them up. “There’s an old Indian proverb that says ‘When you go out hunting tigers, you better be prepared to find one.’ Be careful when you search for something that you might not want to find. What are you planning on doing if you find him? One of them is a police officer, is he not?”
Virgil didn’t answer.
“There will be no one you can call to help you. These are not human beings that you’re dealing with. They’re something out of your worst nightmares. I wouldn’t worry about your friend if I were you.”
“Because they’re coming for you.”
Virgil’s heart rate quickened. He stared at Ben. There was no glassy or faraway look in the man’s eyes. He knew what he was saying and he believed every word.
So did Virgil.
“How do you know…”
“You’ve seen the Eyes haven’t you? They’ve seen you too. They’ll come. They’ll come for you and everyone you care about.”
“What can I do?” said Virgil. Tears beginning to well up in his eyes. The thought of them coming for him and his family scared him to no end.
“For yourself? Nothing. Once you’ve seen the eyes it is too late for you. Get as far away from here as you can and maybe you can spare those you care about.”
“I…have nowhere to go…” said Virgil, biting his lip to prevent it from quivering.
Ben slammed his fist down hard on the table, leaned forward and growled, “The eyes are upon you!”
Virgil fell backwards out of his chair. He scrambled to his feet. Ben began calmly resetting the chess board.
“There’s no one that can help you,” said Ben, a twinge of sympathy in his voice.
Virgil hopped on his bike and rode away.
Rona ran her hand across the wooden door, took hold of the knocker and knocked loudly. She waited, then knocked again. No one answered. She pushed the door gently, opening it just enough to peek inside. There was no one there. She crept inside, admiring the Michelangelo-like paintings on the ceiling. It had been a long time since she’d been inside of a church. The stained glass depicted images of angels battling demons or fables from the bible. Churches, since the renaissance have been a place for artistic expression, however limited to depictions of religious iconography. A statue of Jesus Christ hung from the cross at the front of the church. Rona walked towards it, entranced by the image. Churches were interesting, if not always pleasant places.
“Can I help you?” asked a young priest dressed in white.
“Yes, I’m looking for Father O’Neal,” said Rona.
“Why may I ask are you looking for him?” asked the young priest, a skeptical look on his face.
“I wanted to talk to him about one of the members of the congregation that went missing last week. Nicole Harris,” said Rona.
The young priest narrowed his eyes at Rona. He didn’t like her. It was written all over his face. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come back some other time. Father O’Neal is very busy and doesn’t have time–”
“Matthew. Who is that?” asked an older man with an Irish accent, coming out from the back.
“I don’t know, Father, she came in off of the street. I was just sending her away,” said Matthew, never removing suspicious eyes from Rona.
“Oh, nonsense,” said the Father. He came up to Rona and extended a hand. Rona was sure to shake it gently, seeing how frail the old man looked. He had a slight hunch, and white hair that matched his white robes. “Come in child, have a seat.
“Thank you, Father,” said Rona. “You are Father O’Neal?”
“What’s left of him,” said the old man, before letting out a long wheezing laugh that suddenly became a cough. “Some water please, Matthew. And for our guest as well.”
Matthew obliged, begrudgingly.
“My name is Rona. I want to talk to you about Nicole Harris.”
Father O’Neal shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“Are you a reporter?”
“With the police department, then?”
“No. Nicole was a friend of mine and I’m really worried about her.”
Father O’Neal eyed Rona suspiciously. He exchanged glances with Matthew as he received his water. Matthew offered Rona a glass, but she waived it off politely. He gave Rona a sideways look before walking away.
“You’re lying, child,” said Father O’Neal, calmly, as he took a sip of his water.
“I am,” said Rona. “But I have good reason to.”
“There is no good reason to tell untruths in the house of the Lord,” said Father O’Neal.
“Very well,” said Rona. She leaned in a little closer to Father O’Neal. “Do you believe in demons, Father?”
“Of course! I am a priest, ya’ know,” said Father O’Neal with a chuckle.
“No, I mean do you really believe in demons?”
“You must be referring to the recent influx of demon activity in the city,” said Father O’Neal matter-of-factly.
“I am,” said Rona, arching her eyebrows in surprise. “I have reason to believe that Nicole’s disappearance was the work of demons.”
“Aye. As do I,” said Father O’Neal.
“I’ve noticed a trend with the recent kidnappings. All of them were young prodigies of some sort. Do you have any idea why they would want Nicole?”
“Before I answer any of your questions, I need to know who you are,” said Father O’Neal, folding his arms across his chest.
“I understand your concern, but all I can tell you is that I am a high school student from out of town. I’m on your side and you can trust me. I may be the only hope you have of finding Nicole alive. If you care about her, then answer my questions. Please,” said Rona.
Father O’Neal nodded, though he didn’t look entirely satisfied with her answer. “Very well, then.” He took a sip of water. “Nicole had certain abilities. She could see things. She could predict the weather with 100% accuracy. She would have visions from time to time. Visions of terrible things happening in this city. She predicted her own disappearance weeks in advance. She said that it would be the work of demons. Her abilities were kept a secret, known only to Matthew and myself.”
Was it possible that Nicole and the others were oracles?
“What do you know about the demon activity in the city?” asked Rona.
“It’s bad. There’s demon activity in every city, but it’s gotten particularly bad here within the last few months or so. Disappearances, murders, robberies, fornicating—you name it! Much of it seems to be anchored around the new building going up in downtown,” said Father O’Neal. “That is all I know.”
“The construction site?” She’d seen the building the day before when riding through downtown. Brittany had told her that the building was going to be the tallest in the city. “Huh, that’s interesting. I’ll have to look into it. I appreciate your time, Father.”
“And I appreciate yours. Check back here in a few days and perhaps I will have more information by then,” said Father O’Neal.
“I will. Thank you.”
The sun was beginning to set behind the mountains as Rona stepped out onto the church steps. Traffic was still bumper to bumper in the streets. She orientated her map to figure out a way to get to the LoDo. She looked up for a split second and caught sight of a glasses-clad Asian kid, pedaling his bike furiously down the street. She recognized him instantly as one of the kids that went to her school. That kid always seems to be in a rush, thought Rona. She had to remember to get his name and information in the morning. He could be a potential.
She found her way to LoDo. It was the first time she had been in the area on foot. The buildings seemed taller from this angle. Rona always did love cities. She was amazed by skyscrapers and their architectural design. They were half art, half science. The imagination of an architect coupled with the ingenuity of an engineer, had come together to create a magnificent structure. It was hard to imagine that this land, when she had visited it so many centuries ago, would someday become this. Unlike the buildings in New York or Chicago, which were ripe with history, everything in downtown Denver looked new. As if the city itself had just sprang from the soil within the past decade. It was impressive. Rona eventually stumbled upon the construction site that Father O’Neal had mentioned. There were still workers in the area, but it looked like they were beginning to pack it in. She decided to sit tight and wait until sunset.
Virgil snapped to. His family was eyeing him strangely from around the dinner table.
“Are you okay?” asked his father.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Virgil, distantly. He couldn’t get Ben’s words out of his head. “Could you pass me a biscuit?”
“How was school today?” asked his mother.
“School?” said Virgil. He sighed heavily. “I’ve been thinking. I want to go to military school.”
Virgil’s father’s eyes lit up. He smiled at Virgil.
Virgil’s mother shot his father a dirty look.
“What made you decide?” asked his father.
“I just think it would be good for me. I want to get away for a little while. And learn some discipline and skills,” said Virgil, weakly.
“That’s good son! I think it’ll be good for you,” said his father.
“You don’t have to. You don’t need to go to military school just to get away from Vanessa or anybody else at your school,” said his mother, placing a hand on his.
“It isn’t that. It’s something that I want to do,” said Virgil, refusing to make eye contact with any of them.
“That’s great. There’s a good one down in Colorado Springs. I know a guy who works there. I can get you transferred right away,” said his father.
“I was thinking of something farther away. On the East Coast, maybe. New York or Massachusetts, or somewhere around there,” said Virgil.
“Okay,” said his father. “I’m sure we can work something out. I think you’re making the right decision, Son.”
“I know I am,” murmured Virgil.
Celeste got up from the table and stormed off. Virgil’s father sighed, and his mom frowned. Virgil excused himself and followed his sister. She was already in her room, her head buried in a pillow when he got there. He sat down beside her and rubbed her back gently.
“Hey, you,” he said softly. “I won’t be gone forever. I’ll be back checking in as often as I can. I know you don’t understand, but I have to leave.”
“No, you don’t!” said Celeste, raising her head from her pillow, tears in her eyes. “No one is making you!”
“I know it’s hard to understand, but you have trust me, okay? I have to leave. I’m sorry.”
“You can’t leave,” said Celeste, firmly as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“I have to, I’m s–”
“No! You can’t leave me!” pleaded Celeste. “I saw it too!”
“Outside my window. The monster with the glowing eyes!”