Something was wrong.
Margaret said we would be out of the motel and back in our own home in no time. She said there was no point in getting comfortable because the second we did it would be over.
That was five days ago. Five days of silence.
I was starting to have doubts.
Whenever I asked her for details about the extermination Margaret was either vague or changed the subject. I couldn’t decide if she didn’t know or didn’t care. But what I really couldn’t understand was how when I remembered something I forgot to pack she produced the item or a replacement before the day was out. No argument.
My car came first, appearing without me having to move a muscle. Margaret said she asked a coworker to drive it over for us. I guess I was supposed to forget that Margaret has never asked for help from anyone, ever.
After that my gym shoes, favorite book, and a bunch of unimportant things, things that surely could have waited for us to return, found their way to our motel. It didn’t take long to surmise that whatever was happening at our house wasn’t going to resolve itself quickly.
And then the weird followed me to school.
My stuff started to move. The books in my locker wouldn’t be stacked the same as I had left them the day before. The trash in my car, after being left in the school lot for an afternoon, looks almost organized like someone has divided crumpled napkins evenly across the back seat. One day a piece of gum I rolled in tissue and stuffed in my pocket disappeared when I left my jacket in the library third period.
Honestly, I thought I was losing my mind. Then I saw the car.
It was black and that universal body style that old people and gangsters like, four doors, trunk and a big front hood. I was on my way back to the motel the first time I noticed it. The windows were tinted super dark. You couldn’t see through it at all which is what made me zero in. People get windows that tinted for privacy but the truth is it’s like painting a target on your car. Everyone is drawn in to relentless staring wondering who you are and what you are hiding.
The more I noticed it in my mirror, and with everything else that was going on in my life, the more convinced I became that it wasn’t a coincidence. So I turned. At the first chance I drove around the block as fast as I thought I could get away with, hoping to turn the tables. It didn’t work. Minutes after I hit the main drag, the car was behind me again. It was like he anticipated that maneuver, which was an unsettling thought.
I drove through town working out what to do next then steered my car towards the bus station. There is a multi level parking garage across the street from the station that, because of all the bus activity, is easy to miss. As soon as it was directly to my right, I ducked in. I raced up four levels and parked in the first available spot. With the car off and me slunk down low in the seat, I waited for the tail car.
Five minutes passed and it didn’t show. I waited a couple minutes more. Still no car.
What a relief that was. I was crazy, that was all. No one was after me. It was just a car. It wasn’t sinister or tied into my life in any way.
I exited the garage on a one way going the opposite direction from the motel and kept an eye out for the car. It wasn’t behind me. I watched for another five or six blocks and the coast was absolutely clear. It was all just me being nuts.
At the next crossroad, breathing easy, I turned back the right way and proceeded homeward
Three minutes later I saw it again.
It was four cars back and hugging the bumper of a semi truck. I didn’t even notice it until the road curved. It was like he was hiding. Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all.
Waiting until the last possible moment, I slipped into the turn lane and flipped my car around one more time. This time I made for the library.
I live in a town of readers; our public library is always packed. The hours between the end of school and dinner are the worst. Usually I avoid the library during peak operation. Too many people. Too much chance someone will get too close. One unwanted touch and some poor slob announces to the world how he steals from his employer, cheats on her husband, kicks dogs when no one’s looking... Contact. One touch, someone’s life gets ruined and I’m in the hot seat again. Contact. No thanks.
But that afternoon I needed the mass of cars and people bustling in and out of the library. It was cover. Luck was on my side and I got a spot near the front of the building. I jumped out and whizzed through the entrance. A minute later I saw the car. He drove slowly, more so than the traffic around him wanted, but he didn’t stop. For the moment I was in the clear.
I had a tail. I had no idea why, but I had a tail and I needed to make sure he didn’t pick up again. I dropped into an empty chair near the magazines and thought about what I should do.
Margaret was going to freak. Then again, she probably wouldn’t believe me, like she didn’t believe me about the gun. Lately though that was something we had in common. I wasn’t finding a lot of what she said all that convincing either.
What was going on? Why was there so much weird everywhere all of a sudden? Why was…
“What the Hell!” I shot out of my chair screaming. Someone touched me. A hand had touched my head.
Eyes everywhere stared. While I waved my arms around like a mad man, the entire library stopped what they were doing and stared.
Behind me came a soft voice. “Whoa Violet, It’s only me.”
I spun around to where a short plump man in little round glasses stood. He had his hands up.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to say hello.”
“Mr. Crabtree?” I must have turned eight shades of red. Mr. Crabtree, the sub hired to take over for poor broken Mr. O’Neal, was about as scary as a cotton ball. In fact with his bald head and the red vest he always wore, he looked a lot like Winnie the Pooh.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to sound cool and hoping to recover some ego.
“Checking out books?” He offered. I felt like an idiot. “Are you OK? You look a little warm.”
“Yes, I um…
“Maybe you should sit down.”
“No!” I shot back, no doubt with too much enthusiasm. Next he’d offer to put a consoling arm around me and all hell would break loose. “I’m just um…”
Mr. Crabtree had a stack of books under one arm. I saw my way out.
“Hey are you heading home?”
“Yes, actually.” He lifted the pile up. “Trying to catch up with you all. The work of the substitute teacher is endless.” He laughed.
“Any chance I could get a lift?” I asked. He looked at me with surprise.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea…”
“Please? My car is out of gas. I made it this far then pfffttt.”
“Oh dear that’s terrible,” he said looking a bit unsure. “But maybe we should call your parents and ask…
“No! I mean, that’s not necessary. My mom won’t mind.” I promised. “In fact I’m late as it is. The sooner I get home, the less she’ll worry. A ride could save my life.” I held up prayer hands.
“Well, if your sure she won’t be upset...”
“Do you want me to take you to a gas station?” Crabtree asked as I walked right by my car without even looking at it.
“No, really just a ride home would be great.” I said, both eyes on the lookout for my tail. The car, was nowhere in sight. I’m not ashamed to say that made me feel pretty smug. I lost him, whoever he was. I lost him all by myself.
Crabtree opened the passenger door for me and I climbed in. He said something stupid about buckling up, but I hardly heard. I was busy wondering why anyone would be following me. It couldn’t be because of what I could do, what I could make people do. No one knew about that. Tommy had tried to tell people I had powers but Margaret shut him down. Lying little asshole. Who would believe him anyway.
Did it have something to do with whatever was going on at our house?
Mr. Crabtree started the car and pulled out of the lot.
“Which way?” He asked.
I pointed left, then had a second thought and with a firmer hand, pointed right.
“Are you sure?” Crabtree asked, frowning. “Looks like you forgot which way home was there for a moment.”
I wasn’t just feeling smug, I was feeling like a bullet dodger again.
“I’m sure.” I told him. “I know exactly where I’m going.”