XII: Action & Reaction
“Ty?” I bluster. “Ty, where the hell have you been? We’ve been searching all over for you!”
“We?” he asks. “Wait, no. No, no, no, no, no. We are not changing the subject right now. You were just wearing some kind of, like, armor or something. Then, everything was green, and then you weren’t! What the hell is going on, Jim?”
Ty isn’t himself. I can see the dark circles under his eyes. Each time I’ve seen him over the past couple of days, they’ve been more and more pronounced than they were the time before. He’s got this sort of jittery, manic edge to him that’s in stark contrast to his usual cool airiness. Or maybe he’s just shaken by what he saw a few moments ago. It’s not as though either option is preferable, but I can’t keep myself from wondering.
I look over to Bump, hoping that he’ll have some sort of suggestion. He just shrugs his shoulders and gives me something between a frown and a grimace. He’s as stumped as I am.
“Dude, what are you looking at?” Ty asks me. It occurs to me that he can’t see Bump, so to him it just looks like I’m staring off into space.
“Sorry, I’m just a little distracted right now.” It isn’t a complete lie, but it’s far enough from the truth that he can see it in my expression.
“Never did have much of a poker face, ’cuz,” he says. “Look, are you going to tell me what’s going on, or not?”
“You weren’t in school. I was worried.” I try to keep my explanation limited to only telling him fractions of the truth. Hopefully that will make my deception harder to read. It all feels so counterintuitive, lying to him in order to protect him. I’m so caught up in it that I’ve already forgotten what the real issue is here.
“And that little special effects display, just then?” he asks.
That part is a lot harder to explain. My mind races for one second too long, and Ty lets out a heavy sigh.
“Fine, whatever,” he grumbles as he begins to walk away. “Don’t tell me about what I’m just going to assume is dome deep-dark magic hobby that you’ve been hiding from everybody.”
I want to take offense to that comment, but in truth it’s actually dramatically less preposterous than what’s actually going on, so I roll with it. Or, at least I don’t deny it. Instead, I keep grasping at straws in my head, searching for something to say that doesn’t involve the words “ghost,” “imaginary,” “Friend,” or “Boogeyman”. For what seems like the hundredth time today, I choose exactly the wrong thing to say.
“Who is Mr. G?” I ask him. Of course, I know the answer. I need to know what he knows though. But in the midst of my frenzy to speak up, I’ve forgotten that I’m not supposed to know that name.
Ty stops in his tracks, and slowly turns to face me. “What?” he asks.
I can’t seem to avoid ticking time bombs today. Again, the cat catches my tongue as I struggle to figure out how to explain myself. Bump has helpfully decided to retreat to a far corner of the room with his face cradled in the palm of his hand.
“How do you know about that?” Ty demands.
I struggle to find an answer, but before one can come to me he notices the journal laying open on his bed.
“You’ve been digging through my things?” her demands. I’ve rarely seen Ty angry before, and never as angry as this.
“I thought you were missing,” I explain, quickly rushing to my own defense. “I was looking for clues.”
“I’m missing from school for one day—one day—and you jump to the conclusion that I’ve somehow disappeared off the face of the planet? Then, what? Suddenly you’re Nancy-freaking-Drew? Did it cross your mind that maybe I just don’t care about my attendance as much as you do, and that I had something else to do? Why didn’t you just call me?”
“It went straight to voicemail!” I shout, now on the defensive.
“It went straight to—?” Ty digs his phone out of his pocket and attempts to click it on several times before realizing that the battery is dead. He must have forgotten to charge it again. “You know what, that’s not important right now! You can keep your secrets if you want to—go out and buy a goddamn cape and wand for all I care—but you leave mine alone!”
My cousin backs away without another word, silently shutting me down. He doesn’t want to hear anymore, and frankly I don’t blame him. I’m not sure what I’d say anyway. This looks bad. It is bad, but I don’t know how to explain that to him without sounding nuts. He storms out of the room, and I attempt to follow after him.
“Don’t,” he says simply.
It’s becoming obvious that pushing any further isn’t going to end well, so I comply despite myself. Once Ty has turned his back on me again, I nod to Bump who seems to understand my intent without any further prompting. He tails after my cousin, leaving me alone to agonize over just how much stupid I’ve managed to perpetrate over the past few minutes.
I sink into a sitting position atop my bed, massaging my temples with my eyes shut tight. Thankfully, I’m not left alone with my thoughts for long. Just then, I receive a text message from an unknown number.
“any luck?” it reads. Clearly, it must be Tasha.
“How did you get my number?” I text back.
“not important. any luck?”
I roll my eyes, although I should no longer be surprised by anything that this girl does. “Yes, and no,” I answer.
“what does that mean?”
“I found him. It didn’t end well.”
For a long time she says nothing in reply, leaving me to sit in silence for several minutes. Then, three simple words.
“tanner’s office. now.”
“Are you alright?” I ask Mr. Tanner, who’s sitting at his desk in a cold sweat. His skin is clammy and it’s taken on a pale sheen. He’s exuding a lethargy which is in stark contrast to his typical exuberance.
“I’m fine,” the teacher insists. “Hosting Shepherd can just take a lot out of a guy.” He makes his best attempt at jolly, but it falls flat as he gives up on one of his usual dramatic hand gestures halfway through.
“Bump has only possessed me a couple times, but it definitely doesn’t hit me like that,” I point out, nodding toward him.
“It’s a bit different,” Mr. Tanner explains. I’m not really connected to Shepherd the same as you are to Bump, and Shepherd isn’t exactly a human spirit.”
“Fair enough,” I concede. I know next to nothing about any of this, and I’ve learned better than to argue about it.
“So, what’s the problem?” Tasha asks from the corner she’s leaned back in, examining her fingernails.
“Well, there are…a few,” I admit.
“Go on,” says Tanner.
“First, Ty caught me going through his things. It’s going to be harder for me to stick close to him for a while. I sent Bump to keep an eye on him.”
“Sounds more like family drama than an actual problem,” Tasha cuts in. I’m not looking at her, but the eye roll is almost audible in her voice. “As long as someone is watching him, it’s pretty much a non-issue.”
I grit my teeth but carry on nonetheless. “While I was searching, I found a journal that he had written in. The thing was practically plastered from front to back with Mr. G’s name, and nothing else.”
If this was any cause for concern, neither of them showed it.
“Not ideal, admittedly,” Mr. Tanner acknowledged after a while, “It’s not to be altogether unexpected either, though. If we’re operating under the assumption that Mr. G has been the cause of Tyler’s returning night terrors, then it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility for your cousin to potentially remember the name from his dreams.”
I think back on the appearance of the journal. Something clicks in my head that hadn’t fully registered when I’d first seen it. “It looked old,” I reveal, “as though he’s had it for a long time.”
“That’s…interesting,” says Tanner. He considers this information for a moment. “Let’s be sure to proceed with that in mind. That said though, it’s entirely possible that even though the journal is old, he’s only begun writing in it recently.”
“That’s true, I guess.” I’m not a hundred percent sold on this, but that possibility is better than nothing at this point.
The teacher nods, massaging his temples with renewed vigor. “Is there anything else?” he asks.
I pause. I can already imagine the beratement that Tasha is about to rain down upon me. It needs to be said, though. If I’m going to keep Ty safe, then these two need to know everything.
“It’s also possible that Ty may have seen Bump possess me.” For a moment, all the air goes clear out of the room. I hold my breath, awaiting judgment.
“Full possession, or partial?” Mr. Tanner asks.
I’m not completely clear on the terminology here, so instead I just give him a look that I’m pretty sure translates roughly to, “which one is worse?”
Apparently, my silence carried the intended weight, because now Tasha breaks her momentary silence.
“Oh, what the hell, McArthur? Seriously, how many times can one person shit the bed in one day? At some point, you would think that they’d take the initiative to figure out where the damn bathroom is!”
I stand and face her, ready to defend myself, but the words don’t come. Labored analogy or not, she’s right. I have no excuse. That doesn’t keep me from glaring a hole through her, all the same.
“Alright, alright,” Tanner interjects, having the good sense to cut in before things turn ugly. “If that’s the case we’re just going to have to tell him.”
I whip back around. “Wait, what?” Tasha and I ask in unison. We exchange a quick glance, silently agreeing to pretend that it never happened.
The teacher heaves his shoulders up in a heavy shrug. “There may be no other way around it,” he explains. “We have to keep Mr. G from possessing your cousin, no matter what. You said it yourself, that’s going to be a lot harder the warier he is of you. As counterintuitive as it may seem, bringing him into the fold may be the best way to counteract that.”
“Fan-freaking-tastic,” Tasha sighs. She removes herself from the corner she’s situated in, and leaves the room without saying another word.
“Is she always like this?” I grumble.
“More often than not,” Tanner concedes. “You get used to it after a while. Actually, I’ve always thought that the two of you are pretty similar in many ways.”
“I’ve swallowed a lot of things over the past few days, but that is where I draw the line.”
The teacher shrugs, but doesn’t backtrack on his statement. There’s an awkward moment of silence as it dawns on me that Mr. Tanner and I are now alone in the room.
“Why weren’t you in class this morning?” I ask him, lamely dodging the question which consumes the air between us.
“I think that this goes without saying at this point, but I’m not exactly feeling well at the moment. The only reason that I’m here right now is because Tasha said that it was urgent.”
“Right,” I nod.
“You can ask, you know,” he says as though he’s reading my mind. Maybe he is. Who can actually even say anymore?
I look toward him, not at him. I’m focusing on the knot of his tie, rather than looking the man in the eye. The words are hard to find, and part of me feels a certain level of resentment toward suddenly being put on the spot. If he knows what the question is, there’s nothing keeping him from just answering it.
I exhale deeply. While part of me resents this situation, the other part knows that that part is probably just rationalizing my fear at finding out the answer. I need to know, though.
“My parents. Are they…?” I trail off, unsure of how to finish the question.
For once, the teacher takes mercy on me. “They’re not on this plane, anymore,” he confirms solemnly. “I weighed their lives, myself—opened their gates. I watched as they went through them. After a while, you think that you’ve gotten used to it. Then, you discover that it is…quite unsettling to see somebody whom you consider to be a friend disappear into one of those voids…”
I’m not sure how to reply, so for a long time the silence between us returns tenfold. Eventually, I settle on, “oh”.
There’s a crease between the man’s eyebrows, and the corners of his mouth are turned downward. “If it helps in anyway. They both did much more good in their lives than they ever did any bad. It was a landslide.
I smile weakly. I’m aware that it was a selfish thought, but part of me had relished the idea of being able to see my mother and father one last time. Still, I should be happy. They received a good afterlife. That means that they aren’t caught up in this whole mess the way that me and Ty are. They’re at peace.
I should be happy.
“How are we going to tell Ty?” I ask, changing the subject.
“Bring him to this office after school tomorrow,” the teacher says, attempting to hide the small pity which is weighing down his usually chipper tone. I hear it, all the same. “I’ll make sure that the others are here. This may require trial by fire, unfortunately.”
“Okay,” I say, turning around to leave.
“You know, they would be proud of you,” Mr. Tanner insists.
I stop dead, thinking back on the past thirteen years which I have spent looking down upon everything which they had ever held dear. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, maybe I’m not. Either way, I know the truth which I’ve come to accept.
“No, they wouldn’t,” I say without looking back. “I’m going to change that, though.” And then I walk out.
As I make my way through the halls, I pull out my phone and text Ty, hoping that he’s charged his own by now.
“I’ll explain everything,” I write. “Tomorrow, after school.”
“y not rite now?” he replies almost instantly.
“You’re just going to have to trust me,” I reply, choosing to ignore his cringe-worthy grammar in light of the more important matter at hand.
I’ve already hit send before I realize how much that is for me to ask of him right now. It’s already out there though, and there’s no way for me to take it back. For a long time, there’s no reply. I’m already in my garage, locking up my bike before my phone buzzes again. I stop to read it.
“fine. this better b good.”