Chapter 20

For some reason, as I leave the little room, I feel a little better. At least now I've got some way out of this place and someone who cares about me is helping, not just some court-appointed lawyer.

But, of course, when I get back to the art room, Jared senses my happiness and tries to do his best to crush it. I mean, that's his job, right?

“Hey, Daniel!” Ugh, that annoying voice. And my real name. He's outdoing himself today. “Your boyfriend come to see you again?”

Most of the time, I ignore him, but I feel good enough right now to try a comeback. “Too busy with your mom, Jerry.”

Before I know what's happening, he's hoisting me up by my shirt collar and shoving his face in mine. He narrows his eyes. “Don't. Call. Me. Jerry.”

“Well, don't call me Daniel.” I'm not intimidated. There are guards all around if things get rough – and besides, it feels good being the antagonist for once.

He drops me, glares at me one last time, then stalks off to his girls. I dust myself off and go back to my seat, grabbing a pencil and a fresh sheet of paper.

I draw Melissa. Not the way she looks now, but a younger version. She had lighter hair when she was little and she cut off one of her pigtails, so her hair was lopsided for a long time. I like the way my drawing comes out and I fold it up and put it in my pocket.

This one I'm keeping.

More days pass. I try to keep track of dates, but it's hard without a way to tell the days apart.

Jared hates me even more now and so does his gang. If he's as annoying as Owen, his girls are a close second to Cheryl. We race more and I actually win once, though just barely. I thank “Jerry” for the good time and then hurry away before he can get his breath back.

They've decided I should have a therapist now so every other day I go to see her. She's a pretty nice Asian woman named Dr. Joi, but she treats me like I'm one of the other kids. I may be messed up, but I'm not that messed up.

Then again, I still see the gas cloud thing at night right before I go to sleep. Maybe I am that messed up.

I'm in the middle of eating lunch (alone, of course) when the same cop calls my name. Maybe he's assigned to me. Probably not.

He escorts me to the room with the glass and the desks again. There's a couple of other people talking this time, softly enough that I can't make out any words.

I look at the other side of my own desk, expecting Wood. Or Rock and Melissa again. Or anybody.

It's just Rock. He looks agitated and picks his phone up before I do.

I pick up mine. “Hey. Where's Melissa?”

He sighs. “I...didn't tell her I was coming. She's coming next week though, don't worry.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Why didn't you tell her you were coming?”

He doesn't look at me. “She's upset, Dash. Really upset. She almost never stops crying and barely talks...”

She sounds worse than I am. Poor thing. “Do me a favor?”

He nods.

“Can you tell her that everything in my nightstand cabinet is hers?” He looks confused, so I add, “Please?”

“Sure.” He half-smiles.

“Thanks.” I glance at the people two desks down. It looks like my scary bunkmate is trying to talk to his dad. Or to some older guy who looks a lot like him. “ else did you want to tell me?”

He's getting nervous. His fingers are twitching around his neck, avoiding the faint bruises. “Oh, nothing important,” His voice is overly casual too. “Just something about Owen and Cheryl.”

“Did anything?” A bunch of worse-case scenarios run through my mind. “Like cause problems?”

“No more than usual, no,” He sits on his hand to stop the drumming. “It's just they have, y'know? It looks a lot like the one in the book you lent me.”

My eyes widen and I look around instinctively, though I know nobody was really listening to us. “That's...weird.”

“Yeah, I thought it was...a coincidence.” He leans back, the hard part of his visit out of the way.

I almost grin. “Dexter.”

He rolls his eyes and smiles. “So anyway, are you still okay?”

I nod. “Better, sort of. Amelia's my lawyer and she's working on my case...hey, speaking of which, how's Wood?”

He shrugs. “He's not home a lot. He's...doing something. I talked to him for a minute once...he's trying to get rid the law that got you in here. A lot of political work and everything.”

I'm so proud of my uncle. I guess that makes up for him not visiting.

“We introduced him to Tanya too.” He chuckles softly. “They get along really well, actually.”

“That's...great!” I mean it. That's about five of my major problems gone.


There's a slightly awkward silence.

“How's school?”

“Not really different. People are kind of getting over your arrest and stuff, but Owen and Cheryl bug us a lot.”

Suddenly, my bunkmate and his dad get into a screaming match in Spanish or whatever and the cops hurry everyone out of the room, in case the psychos can make a weapon from desks bolted to the floor.

I don't get to say goodbye.

The next time Amelia visits, I’m not all sad and depressed. Still a little crazy, maybe, but not depressed. Things haven't been that bad. I've beaten Jared three times now, my bunkmate got moved to a different room and I have evidence that might send my worst enemy here.

Amelia sets down her folder and sits down. They gave us two chairs this time and I take the other one.

She speaks first. “Wood says he's sorry he couldn't come. He wrote you a note...” She fishes it out of her pocket. “I've talked to security about it. You can take it with you.”

“Thanks,” I take it. “Can you tell him I’m proud of him? For what he's doing.”

She smiles. “Sure.”

“Thanks again,” I fold up the note and fiddle with one of the corners. “I think I have something for the case.”

She pulls a pen out of the folder and clicks it. “Go.”

“Owen and remember who they are, right?” She nods. “Well, they have a cat...I mean, it looks like a cat, but it's actually a Nonextant. I think they got it from someone at the gym.”

“How do you know it's a Nonextant?” Her pen is scribbling across the paper.

I squirm. “Can you just take my word for it?”

She looks at me solemnly. “The judge won't.”

I sigh. “It's in a book. My friend has it. Is there any way for you to get it without getting him in trouble?” The last thing in the world I want is Rock in here.

“I think I can do that. What's his name?”

I tell her. “Plus, the book is from the public library, so it isn't like it was his. Or mine.”

“Okay...” Her pen's moving even faster now. I wonder if she's actually taking notes or just doodling.

She writes for a while and my thoughts start to drift. “Is Wood paying you for this?”

A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. “In a way.”

Gross. “But not money, right?”

She shakes her head. “Money's always been tight with him, you know that. Besides, there's a strike at the lab, so he's not exactly getting paid.”

“Ah,” Maybe he was the one who organized it.

There's a long silence before she looks up from her notes. “Is there anything else you want to tell me? About your case.”

I shrug.

“Anything about your parents?”

I stiffen instinctively at the words.

She notices. “I'm sorry, I’m sorry. It's just...well, Wood's almost never around and he doesn't like talking about them either and what I can find in the news and stuff isn't very...personal, you know?”

I nod and force myself to relax. “Yeah. It's fine, I can talk about them. But I don't know that much.”

“Well, tell me what you do know.” She clicks her pen again.

I take a deep breath. “I remember in our house there were lots of Nonextants around. The backyard was filled with my dad's and my mom had a weird looking clown-thing that would help with the housework,” Hey, maybe that's why I’m afraid of clowns. “They were always really nice to me, the animals. And they were always helping my parents. Sometimes one would get a little wild – one burned me once – but my parents were always able to get it under control. They died in an accident, a huge Nonextant fell asleep on top of them.” I'm aware of how comical that sounds. “But if they were here, they would both know it didn't do it on purpose. They're not dangerous, Amelia.”

She stares at me during the entire speech and when I finish, she nods slowly. “I know. I've met yours.”

Relief and anxiety hit me at the same time. “You did? How is she?”

“Fine. Scared, but fine.”

A thought occurs to me. “Is there any way we could bring her to the trial? To show everyone that she really is harmless and – ”

She's already shaking her head. “They're still illegal. Besides, you know her well. Would she really be okay in front of all those people?”

I look down. “Maybe not.”

“Hey...” She lifts my chin and smiles at me. “It was a good idea.”

I smile back. “Thanks.”

“Now, I have to go.” She stands up and gets her things together. “With what you've given me today, I’m almost positive we'll win.”

Suddenly my paranoia kicks in. “Um...Amelia?”

She pauses. 'Yes?”

“How many other cases have you done?”

She tucks her folder under her arm. “None. This is my first.” She waves and closes the door behind her.


I cringe. I must have accidentally walked in front of Jared again.

He stalks up to me. “You got lucky last time.”

I sigh. “Sure, Jerry, sure.”

He lunges for me, but I’m already running, grinning at him over my shoulder. He curses and tries to catch up, but I've already got a huge head start and he wasn't prepared. Besides, my legs are super toned because of all those races he made me run. I stay ahead of him for a couple of laps and just when he starts to catch up with me –

“Daniel Chamall?”

I stop, flat-soled shoes sliding a little on the slick floor. After making a face at my distinguished opponent, I jog over to the person who called my name.

It's not a cop, but some kind of social worker or something. That means I've got therapy, not a visitor. The therapy schedules are kind of weird since there aren't really any time limits on the sessions.

Dr. Joi's office is pretty small and, of course, gray. There's her desk, which takes up most of the room, and a cliché psychiatrist bed/couch thing. I never figured out how to sit on it without feeling weird...usually I just sit upright on the side, with my feet on the floor.

I do that now. “Hi.”

Dr. Joi smiles at me. “Hello, Dash. How are you?”

At least she calls me the right name. She says she does it to make me more comfortable, but I think she thinks it's just cool.

I lift one shoulder. “Pretty good.”

We talk for a while, but I more or less tune it out. According to her, I feel guilty for owing Wood so much and so I took care of Tanya to ease that guilt. Maybe she has a point, but I don't really think about it that hard.

As I stand up to go, she smiles again and tells me I’m a good kid.

I thought psychiatrists weren't supposed to give labels.

It's later, right before bed, that I remember Wood's note. I dig it out of my pocket, reading fast before the lights go out.


First of all, I’m sorry for not visiting. I should have, but I've been really busy with all this junk. That's not really an excuse though, so sorry.

I've organized a strike at the lab and things are pretty hectic. If, by some stretch of the imagination, it doesn't work and I get fired, I've got a teaching job lined up. I've also been drawing up a petition and so far, I've showed it to the town and county courts. I’m not sure how far it'll really go though.

I want them to realize how harmless (The next word is smudged and I can't read it) really are. I know how hypocritical that sounds, after decrying them for years...I was just scared something would happen to you like what happened to your parents.

But they were right about these animals. I met yours. And I think it's appropriate that you named her after Tanya. They both have the same fiery temper.

There's more, but the lights go off before I can read it. I try squinting at the words, but the darkness is pitch black. I sigh and sit back, staring at the top of the bunk where I tucked the sketch of Melissa. I start composing a mental reply to Wood, but I’m just as bad as he is when it comes to writing.

My thoughts start to drift and I’m only snapped back to reality when I hear a low moaning noise to my left. I roll over and see the gas cloud thing again, huge eyes blinking at me.

“What are you looking at?”

It makes the noise again and moves a little closer. Ordinarily, I'd be terrified, but I've seen this thing way too many times for it to be shocking. I look at it expectantly. “What?”

It moves even closer and I notice it's glowing gently. It's not that bright, but maybe...

I unfold the note again. There's just enough light for me to make out the words.

But they were right about these animals. I met yours. And I think it's appropriate that you named her after Tanya. They both have the same fiery temper.

I hope Amelia's doing okay as your lawyer. This is her first case, after all. She's a smart girl and she has this way of making people like her whenever she talks. I know you're going to win.

I’m sorry this letter is so horrible. It sounds like I’m writing a political speech. (I smile. “That it does, unc.”)

I miss you. I never realized how different it is when you're not here. The dishes haven't been washed in forever and it's so quiet without your guitar playing.

I’m going to get you back, Dash.

I promise.


I finish, read the last couple of lines again, then turn to the gas cloud. “Thanks.”

It blinks once, then slowly fades out of view.

I tuck the note next to my sketch and roll over, facing the wall. “You'd better get me, Wood.” I whisper. “My only friend here is made of vapor.”
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