Chapter 9—I Got Lost
Down on the second floor, where Lucas thought he was until he almost plummeted from a fourth story window, Carl led him to a room in the middle of the opposite end of the hallway from where he had tried to make an escape. The thick man’s meaty fist not-so-gently encouraged Lucas to sit in a parlor chair that faced a very large and ornate desk.
A man stood before a set of tall windows, studying the view of the city that spread out for miles below Mendacium. Lucas hadn’t realized they were so far up. He caught a glimpse of the river and tall buildings on the other side, the white hospital reflected in the water.
Carl stood behind Lucas and waited in silence. The man by the windows didn’t move, his hands clasped behind his back. He wore a suit like Carl, but silver instead of black, and he was normal human size.
“Carl, you may go.” The voice was warm.
Grunting, Carl turned and walked out. Lucas listened first to the heavy footsteps sinking into the carpet, and then to the door as it clicked softly shut.
He was alone with ‘the boss.’
The man turned around. He had a smooth face, clean-shaven, with middle-aged wrinkles around his upturned mouth. For some reason, Lucas expected his eyes to be black and evil, like Vanessa’s and Carl’s, but this man’s eyes were a clear, bright blue.
“Welcome to Mendacium, Lucas. I usually make a point of greeting all of our new residents when they arrive, but I was busy last night when Ms. Robinson brought you by. I am Mr. Zagan, the headmaster.”
Lucas realized he was staring and looked down at his hands on his knees, letting his bangs fall in front of his eyes.
“Yes,” Mr. Zagan waved a hand toward the top of his desk, “I was just looking over your paperwork. Dad’s sick, no other family. You must be quite anxious about him.”
“Yes, sir,” Lucas lifted his eyes a little to study the woodwork of the desk. It was dark, polished and shiny, with inlaid panels on the front. Except for looking relatively new, it matched the rest of the overdressed house.
“Carl believes you were trying to run away.”
Lucas’s head snapped up. “What? No, I was looking for the laundry room. Got lost, you know?”
“You’re not lying, are you?”
“N-no, definitely not lying.” Lucas thought of the drop out of the fourth story window and shuddered.
“At Mendacium, Lucas,” the blue eyes pinned him in the chair, “we look for Truth, which I know can be rather ugly sometimes.”
“Quaere Veritatum. It’s on the crest in the foyer. It’s Latin for seek truth. Perhaps here, you’ll find it, Lucas.” Mr. Zagan watched Lucas fidget for a moment, trying to get comfortable. “I trust you’ve met some of the other kids?”
Lucas shrugged, “Sure.”
“What do you think?”
“Um,” his eyes darted around the room, avoiding Mr. Zagan’s direct gaze. The walls were lined with shelves, and the shelves were completely covered in books, bindings of all colors packed tightly together. To his right, a ladder on wheels was hooked to a rail near the ceiling. “They’re okay, I guess.”
“Who’s your roommate?”
“Brandon.” Lucas saw something move in the shadows behind the worn rungs of the ladder. He looked more closely.
“Brandon, huh? He’s a…creative fellow. Likes to draw.”
“Uh-huh.” There they were, the eyes.
Lucas watched them blink twice, then the face appeared, smiling. Baby cheeks, small horns, and a hint of glossy black curls.
“Lucas?” Mr. Zagan’s voice echoed off of the bookshelves. Lucas looked up.
“I asked how you’re getting along with Brandon.”
“Oh,” Lucas squirmed in the chair and adjusted his jeans. “Brandon’s alright. We’re fine.”
“Good,” the man smiled, but Lucas didn’t see if it reached his eyes. He saw something move on the other side of the room to his left, and turned to see another shape in the shadows where the bookshelves met the carpet. It was a skinny, twisted thing, half eyes with tall, pointy ears and a hooked nose. It gave him a wicked smile, revealing oversized sharp teeth.
Lucas swallowed and gripped the arms of the chair.
“You see them, don’t you?”
“What?” Lucas panicked. “See what?”
“The shadows.” Mr. Zagan had a very matter-of-fact tone, his face calm.
I’ve been around as long as you’ve had a shadow, the face’s voice grated in Lucas’s mind. He flipped his head around, looking behind the ladder. The face was still there, grinning.
“What is going on?” Lucas demanded, standing up. He looked around the room as he backed away.
“We’ve been waiting for you.” Mr. Zagan did not move, did not even blink.
“For me?” Lucas hovered in the doorway as things formed out of the shadows in the room. The little twisted creature with the sharp teeth he had seen a moment ago jumped up onto the shoulder of a large devil that towered behind Mr. Zagan, a long barbed tail flicking out from behind him across the windows. Another one slithered through the legs of the chair Lucas had been sitting on, the head of a dog on the body of a snake. A forked tongue flicked out of its snout from between large front teeth.
Lucas reached behind him, feeling for the doorknob. Instead of the grooves of the decorative panels on the door, his fingers found something soft. He patted his hand up a few inches and found a button. A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. Lucas sucked in his breath to scream and turned, then let out the air in a rush. Carl glared down at him with his dark eyes.
“Do you need me to show you where the laundry room is?”
Lucas blinked and looked around. Mr. Zagan was standing calmly behind his desk, sunlight streaming over hundreds of books on the library office shelves. The wood in the room gleamed with polish, and the light sparkled off of the dust in the air.
“Oh, yeah,” Lucas tried hard to remember what it was he had been doing. “I got lost looking for my laundry.”
“I’ll show you where it is. Follow me.”
With that, Carl headed down the hallway. Lucas took a final glance into the headmaster’s office before following the thick man in the black suit. Mr. Zagan stood looking out over the city through the room’s tall windows.
As he turned to go, Lucas thought he caught the flicker of a barbed tale in the reflection off the glass.
Tune in later this week when Lucas hears Tate sing!