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Lucas folded his arms and stood alone after Max left the rec room.
You’ll see. That was all Max said about whatever was wrong with Dee. Lucas looked at the girl again. I’ll see what? Is she going to die? A shiver went down his spine.
Ami and Tate sat where they had been before. Well, Ami sat with her book, and Tate stretched out on the floor and looked at her as if she were the only other person in the world. As nervous as he was about having spied on them, Lucas went over and waited for Ami to notice him.
She looked up from her reading and smiled, “Hello, Lucas.”
He blushed inside. “Hey, Ami. Tate.” He crossed his legs under him and sat down. The carpet was thicker than it looked, but it carried the formaldehyde smell. “What are you reading?”
Ami held the book out for Lucas to see the title. The book was old but small. Red leather, worn at the edges to a brown. It had a title on the cover, gold embossed in pointy gothic letters.
“Par-a-di-se Lost,” Lucas puzzled out the words. “What’s that?”
Ami pulled the book back to her lap. “It’s a long poem about angels who get banished from heaven and plot the demise of mankind.”
“Oh,” Lucas didn’t know what to say. He’d never heard of a book like that, and right now, he wished he had taken the time to read heck of a lot more than he had. His experience with angels were the ones he had seen in the stained glass windows of the cathedral that he thought of when he heard Tate singing.
Leaning in, Ami cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered, “It keeps Tate’s mind off of stuff that worries him.”
Tate. Lucas looked at the tall, awkward boy lounging on the carpet. He didn’t seem to be worried about much. He smiled, a dazed look on his face. It wasn’t the look of happiness that he had worn when Lucas saw him in the music room, but close enough. Oddly the boy looked even uglier than before, his adam’s apple jutting out from his throat like a growth, the tendons of his neck stretched out from his shoulders. His feet were bare and his khakis stopped well above his bony ankles.
“So,” Lucas wanted to keep the conversation alive somehow before Ami went back to reading the book, “How long have you been here?”
Ami looked at him with her big blue eyes, “We’ve been here longer than most.”
Lucas hadn’t been asking about Tate, but it was clear Ami included him in her ‘we.’
“Are you and Tate, uh, related?”
Ami looked over at the big kid and Tate smiled back. “After a fashion.”
A small sense of relief washed through Lucas. Related.
She put her finger between the pages and closed the book, hugging it to her chest. “It looked like you and Max had a good talk. Making friends?”
“After a fashion.” Lucas smiled and Ami returned it. Tate smiled, too, crooked teeth jutting out through his wide lips. “Max was helping me get an idea who everybody is.”
“Oh, well they all seem nice, but…”
“But what?” Ami set the book down.
“I don’t know,” Lucas looked down at his sneakers. He hadn’t taken them off since he got lost looking for the laundry. “This place is just different. Not used to it, yet.”
“You just got here last night. Give it some time.” She put her hand on Lucas’s shoulder.
“I guess.” He kept his face down, his bangs hanging to hide the blush he could feel flooding his cheeks.
“What kinds of things do you like to do?” Tate’s voice was like melodic, even when he wasn’t singing.
Lucas glanced at the boy. It was hard to match the beautiful sound to the pockmarked face.
“Um,” Lucas used to like doing a lot of things, like soccer and board games, but lately all he did was skip school with Manny and sneak a few drags off of a cigarette. “I don’t know. Stuff, I guess.”
Stuff? She must think I am so lame. He curled his arms around his knees and hung his head lower. Ami took her hand off of his arm and someone poked his other shoulder.
Lucas looked up. Brandon’s nose hovered centimeters from his. The boy leaned over, nearly bent in half to whisper in Lucas’s ear.
“Here,” Brandon handed him a folded piece of paper. He hugged his sketchbook to his chest, his pencil gripped tightly in one hand. The brightly striped beanie slid down over the mess of bleached hair and threatened to fall off.
Lucas took the paper and stared at it, confused. The feeling of forgetting pressed on his chest. Brandon leaned closer, “It’s the note for Ami. I didn’t give it to her because you didn’t get away.” He whispered loudly enough for the whole room to hear, but only Ami and Tate looked at him as he unfolded the sheet and read it.
gone to see my pa. I’d like to get to know you
if they make me come back.
He folded the sheet as quickly as he could and curled it in his palm. I am so lame. Amid the relief that Brandon never gave Ami the note, Lucas felt a kernel of doubt pinch the inside of his stomach.
Why would I leave Ami a note? I was just going to get my laundry…
Pa. It popped back to him now. Running into Carl on the sidewalk, lying about being lost, trying to climb out the window…
That’s it. Just like coming home to find out that Pa was in the hospital after he had lied to Mrs. Farnes about his essay, the lie he told Carl about being lost came true.
He looked up, his eyes catching movement in the corner of the room by the beanbags. When he turned to look at Dee, he saw something else move. From the shadows behind the bean bag reached a jointed leg about the width of a drummer’s stick, curving into Dee’s shoulder and puncturing it. Another leg and then another followed until four of them pulled the creature’s body into view. The round middle bounced; suspended next to Dee’s head, it looked to be the same size, with hundreds of eyes surrounding a set of fangs.
As the spider thing climbed over Dee and hovered on the girl’s legs, Dee seemed to deflate like a balloon with a leak in it, shrinking until she was nothing more than a pair of dark eyes in a sack of gray skin.
“What–?” Lucas looked around. Cassy glanced up once from her magazine and frowned, then shifted to get more comfortable and flipped the page. Only Tom from the crew at the pool table seemed to notice, his face flushing to match his hair. He turned back to the game and played with a striped ball, avoiding the scene by the bean bag.
And then Lucas saw the rest of them.
The room spun as creatures climbed out of the shadows. On the floor beneath the window seat crawled a half-formed serpentine creature with a cat’s head, the head and the long body covered in silver scales. It glanced at Lucas with solid black eyes, then slithered up onto the window seat and coiled up by Cassy’s legs.
Behind Devon and Jayden at the pool table hovered two lanky giants. The gruesome creatures looked like they were made out of semi-solid gray, leathery skin stretched over nothing more than sinew and bone. Horns stretched out of their heads and, like the catsnake curling around Cassy, their eyes were solid black. These two waited like sentinels while Devon and Jayden fought over where the cue ball was supposed to go after one of them scratched on a play.
Tom’s shadow twisted through his legs as the boy watched his friends fight on the other side of the pool table. It was a foxlike thing, with feathers instead of fur and a scorpion’s tale that curved up over its back. The fox’s body was a transparent gray, shimmering in and out of view.
The twins at the laptop had a dual-headed rat perched on top of their shoulders that touched as the two sunk into the center of the beanbag. The rat looked to be as solid as the spider that crawled away from Dee. Lucas watched jointed legs through the space beneath the pool table as Dee’s shadow creature passed behind Jayden and Devon, climbed up onto the windowseat, over Cassy’s legs, and a spider the size of an average dog disappeared out of the window.
Lucas jumped to his feet, anxious. The shell of a human form that was very recently Dee stood on the beanbag with shaking legs, the blue knit sweater falling into a heap on top of her yellow leggings. This thing left behind by the spider did not look completely human. It stood about three feet tall, its head too big for its thin neck and narrow shoulders, like someone had taken parts from two different toys and shoved them together. It was gray all over, with a bald head and solid black eyes, like the creatures in the shadows.
The Dee-Thing stepped down off of the bean bag and dragged itself on oversized feet out of the door to the foyer, its shoulders hunched over limp arms and stretched out hands. Lucas caught a whiff of the smell of formaldehyde.
That’s what Max meant. You’ll see.
And Lucas did see. He saw evil crawl out of the girl’s shadow and escape through the window.
On the floor, Ami read out loud to Tate, keeping his eyes on her. She glanced up at Lucas and winked, but maintained a steady rhythm as she recited from the pages of the small, worn volume. Lucas studied them for a minute, looking behind and around them for a devil or twisted bug or other evil shadow creature.
Nothing. The small shadows that they did have from the light coming in the window were normal, with no hint of eyes or ears or scales.
Something tugged on Lucas’s pant leg. He looked down at the eyes that had haunted him in his bedroom at home while he packed last night, and that morning in the hallway when he tried to climb out of a window that turned out to be on the fourth floor instead of the second floor.
They blinked first, then a smile formed beneath the eyes, followed by the rest of the face.