A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Crises, Small and Tall"
Oh, fuck you, Jack, you think as you look up into Steve Patterson's glacial stare. You know you're making this impossible for me. And—you throw a side glance toward Will, who is staring up at the basketball player with undisguised anger—all so you can piss Steve off.
With a heavy sigh you clamber to your feet. "I'll be right back," you mutter at Parker and Wendy, who are watching with open mouths. "Where—?"
Patterson shuts you up with a hard finger to the back your shoulder, pushing you in the direction of the portables. Freaking stereotype, you think as you stumble along. Patterson keeps his finger pressed into your back, then transfers it to the back of your head. You flush hotly all over. The finger-to-the-back would be Patterson's way of showing that he's not "with" you, but he's forcing you to go with him, and without manhandling you. Not even a star player like Patterson would dare risk being hauled into the school office for "gay bashing," as he probably would be if he hauled you off by the seat of your pants the way he does others.
Still, you don't hold it against him. It's really Jack back there, after all. And it must be mortifying for him.
He prods you past knots of scruffy kids squatting near the old portables. They look up at you with nervous grins, and guffaw loudly after you've passed. Steve pushes you along an alleyway between rows of portables, which sag and smell like old box cars. He's not really going to push me into one of them, you try to reassure yourself. That would look too ... gay ... for Steve Patterson.
And he doesn't. He pushes you past the portables and out the other side, into the wide, weedy field that's technically off of school property. Twenty, forty, sixty yards he marches you out, and when he halts you with a word you are standing on open ground under a cloudy sky, where anyone can see Steve Patterson glaring down at you, with hands on hips, to lay down the law in way that no onlookers will think is gay.
Some of those kids did follow though, right up to the school property line, and are watching. It's for their benefit, you suppose, that Steve jabs you in the shoulder, knocking you back a step.
"So I hung out with Gordon yesterday," he says, "and I got to talk to him and Chelsea and Kendra and a couple of people. Either they're all in on it, or we've got a problem."
"What do you mean?"
"Gordon says he was with Chelsea all last night. And Friday night they crashed a couple of parties. Lots of people would'a seen Chelsea on the other side of town when she was up here with us."
"But we saw her here!"
"And other people saw her at Catherine's house."
You think a moment. "No. She was with us!"
"She was at Catherine's." He grabs you by the hair and forces you to look up at him. "That's why I'm saying we might be in a lot of trouble," he says as he puts a bony finger in your face. "If they're all lying, it's a lot of people to tell a lie, and why would they if they weren't in on it?"
"Alright, you made your point for those assholes who are watching us," you mutter.
He pushes you away, and you stagger back another step.
"Okay, if they're all in on it ... Well, who would be in on it?"
"Gordon for a start. I asked Chelsea this morning what the fucking deal was with her asking me up to the school last night, and I asked it front of Gordon and he got pissy at me and vouched for being with Chelsea all night. So he'd be in on it—"
"He's too dumb."
"Chelsea's too dumb."
You feel your throat tighten. "So it's not really Chelsea. And it's not really Gordon."
"Same as I'm not really Steve?" he asks. His tone is grim.
"Speaking of whom," you mutter, for behind him, from the direction of the Music Annex, you see Will Prescott striding in your direction. "Would Steve be in on it?"
"How do you know?"
You glance past him again at Will, who is coming up fast. "Do they maybe think you're still really Steve?"
"Yeah, that's what got Gordon so steamed at me. It's why I'm not having lunch with them. And it's why I'm—"
"Hey," Will calls out, "so what are you two queers doing coming out here and—?"
Steve wheels and lifts Will off the ground by his belt. "You ever use that fucking word again in earshot of me, you little shit, and I'll teach you to be queer with your own cock, your own mouth, and your own fucking anus."
Will stares back at him. Then, while you're still sucking in a shocked breath, he swings a fist his old body, catching him hard on the side of the head.
Patterson staggers to the side, then falls, dragging Will down with him. There's a quick scramble, some grunts, but it's all over quickly with Will face down in the weeds with Steve kneeling over him, his knee in the small of the back. "Now," he growls, "if you want to know what we're talking about, here's the time to ask. Politely."
"Get off him," you say.
"No. This is the way to do it." Quick as a cobra he strikes, seizing you by the collar and dragging you close. "Steve knows he's got a reputation to live up to. Don't you, Steve-o? You wouldn't want Gordon thinking you—"
"So what the fuck did you find out with him and Chelsea?" Will mumbles with his face in the grass.
"You can ask your— You can ask Will after I've left." There's a red bruise rising on the side of Steve's face, and his eyes glitter like ice. "And if anyone wonders what I was talking to you about, tell 'em I was passing along a message from Chelsea." He gets to his feet, and Will turns over to glare up murderously at him. "The same kind of message she asked you to deliver to Jack Li yesterday. You can tell people I got the impression it didn't take."
He glowers down at Will for a moment, then stalks off.
"You shouldn't have come out here," you tell Will after Steve is away. "And you shouldn't have hit him."
"Yeah, that's exactly what you'd say," he retorts. "But I got the rest of my life to consider, and I'll be fucked if I'm gonna try living it like you." He blows a wad of spit at the ground, and scrambles onto his knees. "Check out those assholes over by the portables. I just scored me more cred in two seconds than you scored since you were in kindergarten."
You feel yourself stiffen all over. "Jack went light on you."
"Lighter than I'd'a gone on you," he agrees. "And he knows what's up." But he doesn't explain himself further, and asks you to fill him in on what Jack told you.
"It fucking makes sense," he agrees when explain that you think that neither Chelsea nor Gordon are who they are pretending to be. "But," he coldly adds, "are you sure you're not in on it?"
You bridle. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, me, Chelsea, Gordon. Top choices for body snatching. Before they do the really smart thing and take off for California or someplace." He glances around with a snort. "And here I am. Body snatched too."
"Jack and I had it done to us first."
"Yeah." He snorts again. "Anyway, you don't got the brains for it either, no more than Chelsea or Gordon do. Man, though, if I could get my hands on whoever's doing this, or how they're doing it—"
He seems to catch himself, and gives you a quick, hooded look.
"So," he concludes, "they're saying Chelsea and them were out at Catherine's the other night. We can always check around, you and me. And Jack. Find out who says they saw her there. No way of checking up on Gordon and Chelsea last night, though."
You agree that would be a plan. But you're not feeling very warmly toward him as you part for the day.
* * * * *
A little discreet talk during your afternoon classes goes a long way toward confirming that lots of people saw Chelsea at Catherine Muskov's house on Friday night, when she was really (as far as you're concerned) meeting with you and Jack here at the school. It leaves you baffled. It can't be that dozens of people are in on a plot to give Chelsea an alibi. You can only conclude that, in addition to knowing how to soul swap people, Chelsea (or whoever she really is) has the ability to be in two places at once.
At the start of eighth period, as you're checking a text, it remember that there's another way of confronting Chelsea other than face to face. That's through her "Clover Mystery" account. You elect to take the direct approach, as maybe you should have been doing all along. I want to meet and talk to u, you text her.
Lol I bet u do, Clover texts back a few hours later, when you're at the grocery store picking up some odds and ends for your folks. Ok if u do me a favor. It makes you want to vomit, but you text back a row of question marks.
The reply leaves you blanching: Dig me up 400 pnds dirt from the masonic cemetery and take it to suffolk wilderness.
That's all for now.