A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Joint Ventures"
"You're fucking with me," Caleb says a little later, in Walberg's classroom, when you show him the hair dryer you brought from home. "You're not putting that in—"
Into the time capsule, to replace the joint? Yes, you are. It's the only thing you could find at home during a frantic, last-minute search for a substitute submission. Besides, it's busted. It can either go in the trash or into the time capsule.
"Well, we've got another problem," you friend sighs. "I was scoping the scene out yesterday. After you ran out on me," he adds with a growl. "Dane Matthias has detention in here in after school."
"Yeah, I know."
"You know?" Caleb frowns.
"What's the big deal?"
"The big deal is we can't—"
He glances around the classroom, which is filling up rapidly, then leans over to mutter at you. "We can't do the switch while Dane's in here. He'll see and he'll say something to the teacher."
"Dane won't narc on us."
"It's Dane. He'll giggle and prattle and Walberg will know that something's up. So, we need a third man on the job. The desk man, the look out, and someone to keep Dane distracted."
"Spencer Osbourne," you interrupt Caleb. He frowns at you. "I need to talk to Spencer after school anyway. He'd totally be up for a thing like this, and he knows Dane."
"No," Caleb says. "No fucking way am I getting Osbourne involved."
"No! We'll just get Keith. That's what I was going to tell you."
You give up with a shrug.
* * * * *
But privately you don't drop the idea, and instead of going to your third-period blow-off class (Career Planning) you go looking for Spencer. He's on his way to being a dropout, and you figure you've got a pretty good chance of finding him skipping classes behind the school.
There's a circle of scruffy guys squatting out in front of the old, ratty portables, right where you'd expect to find Spencer, but most of them have their backs to you, so you cautiously approach them in a wide circle. You're still peering at them, trying to recognize Spencer by the back or side of his head, when one of them spots you and calls out. "Hey, Prescott! You skipping Peters today?"
You give a little start, then recognize the guy—a chimp-faced lout in a muscle shirt with long blonde hair tucked under a trucker hat—from your Career Planning class.
"Yeah!" you call back. "You?"
He and his friends only guffaw. It takes all your courage to squeak out a follow-up: "Any of you guys seen Spencer Osbourne around?"
That provokes an even louder burst of laughter. "Yeah, he's back there," says monkey-boy, "giving Roth a hand job." He jerks his thumb toward the portables.
"Blow job," corrects one of his friends.
You freeze, uncertain how to proceed. Monkey-boy laughs again, then lifts a cigarette to his mouth and crinkles his eyes at you through the wafting smoke. "You lookin' for that kind of action?"
"I just want to talk to him."
"You can talk and get a hand job at the same time. Talk and give a hand job at the same time."
You grimace and shift from foot to foot. "Well, how long's he gonna be?"
"Shit." Monkey-boy leaps to his feet. "Well, you just gonna fucking stand there, man?" he jeers as he turns toward the portables. You pale. Then, cowering a little under the glances of Monkey-boy's friends, you hurry after him, into the narrow alleys between the portables.
Monkey-boy leads you in a winding loop between them, smoking and muttering to himself. When he comes back out where he started, he turns and plunges back into the cluster, brushing impatiently past you. "Hey, Roth!" he shouts. "Osbourne!" He bangs on the door to one of the portables then stalks on to bang at another door without waiting for an answer at the first. After making another circuit without success he gives you a baleful glower, takes a quick hit on his cigarette, and tells you to look in the portables if you're that "fucking stoked" to get a cock massage. Then he trudges off.
You're left standing awkwardly at a corner where four portables cluster, and trying to figure out how to get past Monkey-boy and his friends without them seeing you, when you hear a hiss behind you. "Hey! Prescott!" You glance back. Spencer is peering out at you through a crack in the doorway of one of the portables. "Up in here," he murmurs, and pulls the door open another inch. You hurry up, and Spencer lets you in.
It's dim inside the portable; the only light has to filter in through the tiny, murky windows. The interior smells of dust, grime, and old wood, with notes of mildew and paper. The floor sags toward one corner of the narrow portable, and the place is empty save for a teacher's desk that squats, like a sacrificial altar, at the far end of the room.
Spencer grips your shoulder as he shuts the door. "The fuck are you doing back here, man?" he asks.
"I'm looking for you."
"Thought you didn't want to talk to me," he sneers.
"I changed my mind. I need your help after school. You know Dane, right? He has detention after school—"
"The fuck are you babbling about?" Spencer demands with a deepening frown.
"Me and a friend need to break into Mr. Walberg's desk after school. When he leaves to go to the john or something, we're gonna sneak in and break into his desk to get something out. But Dane's in there and we need someone to distract him while we do that, and I thought, you know, you knowing Dane, you could—"
"Shit." Spencer brushes past you to stalk over to the teacher's desk, and stares at the floor behind it. "Are you fucking with me, man?"
"I figured you'd be up for a prank."
He glowers at you for a long moment, then snorts.
And then he changes the subject. "That book I bought off you," he says. "You still interested in it?"
"'Cos why would you want it back?"
"Well, my dad wants it back, and—"
"So what does he know about it?" Spencer's tone is quarrelsome and peevish.
"Nothing! Just what I told you. It's a trick book with a secret compartment—"
"There's no secret fucking compartment, man, so ditch the bullshit. Did you look at it, try reading it?"
"It's Latin. I don't—"
"You know how to find an online translator, don't you, dipshit?"
You bristle. "Yes. But there wasn't much to translate."
His eyes narrow. "You translate the bit about signing it with blood?"
The air in the room seems to chill. You'd actually forgotten all about the book, save for the fact that the pages were glued shut, but it comes back to you now: that single sentence that had mysteriously appeared, telling you to "sign" with blood.
Spencer's voice drops to a soft hiss. "You didn't sign it, did you?" You shake your head. "Pussy," he sneers.
Then he seems to change his mind about something, and gestures you over to join him at the desk. "Come take a look at what you passed up on," he says, and returns to staring at the floor behind the desk.
Your knees don't want to unlock, but you force them, and creep cautiously over. You suck in a sharp breath when you see what's there.
It's a person, sprawling there on his back with his head your and Spencer's feet. You have to tilt your own head to make out his features, and it takes you a moment to recognize Justin Roth, one of the class-skipping stoners who hangs out in this part of the school grounds. His eyes are open but unseeing, and he doesn't move.
"The fuck?" you breathe. "What's—?"
"Keep your shit together, man," Spencer warns. "He's just passed out is all—"
Your jaw freezes as a blue glow encompasses Justin's face. Spencer grabs your elbow. "Just in time," he murmurs, and from the corner of your eye you see him consult the screen of his cell phone. "Just under eleven minutes."
You're too fascinated to ask what he means. The glow fades, but it has left Justin's face distorted: smooth and flat and featureless. Spencer's windbreaker crackles as he squats by Justin's ear and plucks at his face. You suck in a sharp breath as he pulls Justin's face off—
Oh, but it's not his face, you realize with a start. It's a mask. A smooth, blue-tinged mask, the same size and shape and with the same frozen blank expression as a tragedian's mask. Justin's face, now exposed, is unchanged, except that his eyes have fallen shut.
But how did the mask get there? It wasn't there a moment ago.
Spencer nudges you. "This is what the book makes," he says as he shows you the mask.
"What is it?"
His voice drops. "A magical disguise. Look," he adds. "See? Justin's face is inside it."
The statement baffles you until you see it. Though the mask is featureless, it gleams in the darkness, and the highlights form another face, like a holographic image inside the mask. It's the face of Justin Roth.
"I'm not showing you this for shits and grins, man" Spencer says. His voice is tinged with threat. "I'm showing you this 'cos I figured you knew about it, or figured something out about it." His grip on your elbow tightens. "Well, did you?"
Next: "Spencer Explains"