It’s dark, and I can feel Jackhammer’s eyes on my neck.
“… democracy was, perhaps, spawned from the abuses of power by ancient rulers. The belief that the king was a special being, inherently superior to all others, led to many cruel, power-hungry practices. The larger part of Europe languished like slaves under …”
I get that we need the lights off for the movie. And I also get that Jackhammer would be insane to attack me in Government class. But it’s still nerve-wracking.
“… though the core principle of American democracy—individual sovereignty and the absolute freedom of self-expression—was formed in response to such practices, America’s early government perpetuated the mistakes of monarchy by focusing on the dominance and superiority of the white male.”
I hate this sort of movie.
“The abuses of power conducted in early America rivaled medieval cruelty in ways …”
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I nearly shriek. I keep it under control and turn to see Fish leaning over.
“Hey,” he whispers. “What time is the fight starting Sunday?”
In History class, Ms. Scribe gives us worksheets again. I read over the directions about five times before I understand them.
“Hey,” someone behind me whispers.
I glance over to see a pair of blue eyes and trailing blonde hair.
“Better close that jaw, or you’ll get flies,” says Valerie, giggling.
I shake my head and turn back.
She doesn’t let up. “Hey, is your band of Musketeers—sorry, Inseparables—the ones getting in a fight this weekend?”
I try to play it cool. “You know about that?”
“Everyone knows about that. Are you guys going to go?”
“Duh. Can’t just let them go pushing people around.”
She giggles. “Look at you. So, are you going to have time for Film Club on Saturday?”
“You guys are meeting on Saturday?” I half-twist in my seat to look at her. “Why so often? Is it, like, just a way to—”
“Mr. Dickson. Ms. Jones,” Ms. Scribe calls from the front. “Please don’t talk while the others are working.”
We shut up.
We’ve barely sat down before Destro sidles up. “Hello, my friends! It is my understanding that you’re having a fight this weekend. That’s what I heard.”
“Yeah. So?” says Dolphin.
Destro purses his pudgy lips. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. That’s not what I think. I would not do it.”
“We know you wouldn’t,” Ball Buster says. “Why don’t you talk to Jackhammer and his buds? Who are they again?”
“Jackhammer hangs around with Sidewinder, Viper, Icepick, Jackhammer, and Fluffmufffin,” Destro says.
“Oh, that guy’s scary,” says Dolphin with a little shudder.
“Indeed. As I said, I wouldn’t meet with them. I said this to them also, but they didn’t listen. Having said this to you, I now take my leave.” He walks away.
“That was … abrupt, for him,” I say.
“Forget him,” Ballbuster waves. “Those five guys are like the biggest neffs in the camp. We need a plan.”
“They’ll probably be able to stay in Active mode longer than us,” Mouse says. “Big kids have more endurance.”
“Bullshit,” says Ball Buster.
“Not bigger like you. Bigger like him.” Mouse nods at Sue.
Sue grins. “Told y’all.”
“That’s not the main danger, anyway,” says Ball Buster. “The main danger is Sidewinder and Jackhammer.”
“We could just tell Wolfe they have powers,” Dolphin says. “She’d grab them so fast—”
“Dolph,” says Sue. “Put that bitch-ass stupid idea right out of your head right fucking now.” He gestures. “You see this cafeteria? How many scumbags”—I feel that’s not the real word he’s using—“be here? You want every single one of them to hate our guts, wanting to jump us every day?”
Mouse nods. “Nobody likes a snitch,” he says.
I worry that gym class is going to be tense, but Jackhammer is all smiles. It’s really creepy: how good he is at faking being friends with someone he’s planning to beat up.
Since the girls arrived, we’ve had to take turns using the locker room—which, as many people have observed, is just a terrible arrangement in every way. We get twenty minutes to clean up, then the guards come through and clear us out before the girls go through. Yesterday they found Street Rat hiding in one of the lockers. He’s been in Detention ever since.
Ball Buster and Mouse walk up to us as we’re cleared out of the locker room. “Learn anything?” Ball Buster asks.
“Not really. I guess they’re playing it pretty close. Most people hadn’t even heard,” Dolphin says.
“They definitely will after Saturday,” I say.
Val and some girls are coming down the hall. We stand aside. Val acknowledges us with a wave as she passes. The guys’ heads turn as she continues towards the locker room.
“Uh … I thought I’d … uh … check out the library,” I say as Val goes into the locker room. “See if they’ve got anything on that war memorial.”
“Good idea,” Ball Buster says. “You and I can take a look at it tonight.”
Dolphin, who’s still staring at the locker room door, says, “Hey. Let me show you guys something.”
Darting over, he presses his fingers to the wall and grins. “Ha! Yes! Here, you guys. Come here and try this.”
We look at him like he’s crazy, but whatever. I put my fingers on the wall. It’s chill to the touch. “Okay?” I say.
“Feel the wall. What do you think it’s made out of?”
“Probably some sort of stone, ceramics, or …”
Suddenly, I’m feeling inside the wall, the shape of the wall, the branching where it meets the floor, and the branching above where it meets the ceiling. It’s almost like I can see it, except of course it’s more of a feel, spreading outward into floor, the lockers, feet …
I now understand why Dolphin chose to show me this next to the girl’s locker room.
“Dude!” I jerk my hand away. “That’s messed up!”
“Only works with solids, if you’re curious.” Dolphin laughs as the other boys step up. “Tried it once when I was sitting by the pool. Couldn’t get a feel on the swimmers. And the farther out you go, the less details you get. Still, pretty sweet, right?”
“You’ve got issues, man,” I say.
“I don’t get it,” Mouse says, fingers splayed out on the wall.
Dolphin grins. “Just keep your hand there. Feel any nails or bumps or anything?”
“No, it’s just flat, like …” Mouse stops, his eyes getting very large.
“Holy shit!” says Sue.
I step back as he and Ball Buster laugh, tugging at my amulet. I feel awkward, like I should say something, but I’m not really sure why. I know Jess would have a hissy fit at just the idea of this.
Huh. Jess. Haven’t thought about her in ages.
“C’mon, Square. Give it another try,” Dolphin says. “That Faith girl has got some curves.”
“Keep your voice down, idiot,” Ball Buster hisses.
“Oh, they know we’re out here,” Dolphin says. “You saw how Val looked at us when she went in, right? Look at what she’s doing. Yeah, she knows we’re here. Putting on a show.”
“How could they possibly know about this?” Mouse says, lifting his hand. “How long have you known we could do this?”
“Oh, for ages,” says Dolphin. “Just wasn’t a reason to use it till now. Look, if they’re Nephilim, they know we can do this already; and if they’re not, Wolfe probably told them.”
“It’s still creepy as shit, man,” I say.
“No harm, no foul,” Dolphin says. “We’re not bothering them; we’re not annoying them. Everybody knows we need something—it’s just genetics. Hell, Wolfe keeps acting like we’re a few steps away from raping them all. But this doesn’t hurt anyone. This is just us being us.”
“This is you being you,” I say.
I feel like they’re all looking at me.
“So … so … I’m not you, I guess. Look, I’m gonna go see what I can find on that memorial.”
I start to walk. But somehow it feels like I’m running away.
Sue catches up with me outside. Eventually. “My momma would whoop my ass, she knew about that shit,” he says, laughing.
I make a noise of general agreement. I don’t want to agree, but I don’t have a reason to disagree either.
We walk together for a while in the dark. There’s sort of a glimmer of grey in the west—the sun doesn’t fully set, always. I think I see that weird dancing flame again. I’d almost forgotten about that—must be some other Alaskan thing.
“Hey, why you so boring, man?”
The question hits me like a slab of ice, and I stop. “What do you mean?” I ask, looking at him.
He seems to struggle for an answer. “It just … you always tryin’ to get us to calm down, saying stuff is racist or sexist or shit … like …” He shrugs. “I mean, damn, we on the end of the world. Who gives a crap about that PC shit?”
“It’s just not my style.”
“Style? Man, that don’t be style. That be an absence of style. Ain’t nobody that normal.”
“Then how is it normal?”
That stops him for a few moments. “But you ain’t got no passion for it,” he says. “Like you … like it on automatic. You just doing it because you think you should, not cause you actually care about it or something.”
I think about that. “I care about not being an asshole,” I say.
“You can’t care about not being a thing, man.” He kicks a little bit of snow. “I mean, then you be just dancing around trying not to do nothing. So what you want to be?”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t trust a guy with no personality. Someone who don’t know what they want. You never know what they gonna do. Everything always changes based on how they feeling right that moment. So, what you want to be?”
I’m not sure what he means. “I dunno.… A millionaire? I guess when I was a kid, I wanted to be a knight, slaying dragons. Then I wanted to be a fireman. Then a pig farmer, because I thought pigs looked happy. Then Spiderman.”
Sue seems to think this over. “So you wanna be a big fucking hero. Is that it?”
“I was ten. And anyway, what even is a hero?”
Sue splits off, as he has little interest in the library. Neither do I, for that matter, but it’s something to do. I haven’t the least idea where to begin. There aren’t any books about Attu Island specifically. I guess Wolfe doesn’t want us getting too familiar with the place.
There’s a set of encyclopedias. I didn’t even know they were still printing encyclopedias. Apparently neither did Wolfe, because the entry on Attu Island is intact. It mentions the memorial. They say it’s for the Japanese, actually, which confuses me. But it doesn’t say where the memorial was placed.
The front door slams, and I have to keep myself from jumping. “It’s certainly a popular legend,” says a familiar voice, “But archaeological studies indicate…” A sudden clearing of his throat, “…indicate that the wealth of Solomon was not…” A sudden furious fit of coughing. “…so huge as reputed, except within the age he inhabited.” More coughing. “It seems his true wealth…” a truly sickening hacking cough, “…was not in gold or jewels…”
“Doc?” I ask, standing up from the desk. “I had a question …”—I freeze at the sight of who’s with him—“for you …”
“Ah, Mr. Dickson.” If my surprise is showing on my face, Doc doesn’t seem to notice. “What …” He gives a tight, wet-sounding cough and fumbles for a chair. “What is it?”
“Dickson?” Val says, giggling.
“I … prefer Smith.” My face feels hot. “Um … I … thought you were at the gym?”
“Yeah. I saw you there.” She tilts her head at me, a curious expression on her face. “I finished. Came down here to get some movies for Film Club. Why?”
“My buddies were creeping on you in the locker room” seems like the wrong thing to say. “Just didn’t think you’d be finished so soon.”
“Oh. So what are you doing here?”
“Doing … research,” I say. “About the island. Someone told me there was a war memorial here. I was wondering where.”
“The one on Engineer Hill is the only—” Doc bends over again in a fit of coughing. “The … ah … the only one I know of.” He takes off his green eyeglasses and rubs his watering eyes. “Most likely buried under the snow. Still.” Breathing hard, he manages a smile. “I’m glad you’re taking an interest in the history of the island.”
“Right,” I say. “Um … are you okay, Doc?”
He gives an irritated wave. “I’m just old.” He takes out a small handkerchief and coughs into it. “This happens, sometimes. I’ll be fine in a bit.”
“Hey, can you help me find where they keep the movies?” Val says.
She wants me to show her… stop right the hell there Chad it’s a simple request why the shit do you just assume “I can show you.”
I look at the blood-soaked woman on the cover. “No.”
“Hm.” She adds it to a pile of movies next to her. “Let’s see … Vertigo … Hunger Games. Could just start with something popular. Teeth … that one’s really fun. Ooh, Gone Girl! That’s one of my favorites!”
“This one’s called Beast,” I say, picking up one that looks artsy. “‘Modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast’ it says on the back. ‘Popular highschooler …’ y’know. Why is the Beast always a guy?” A blonde, blue-eyed guy is on the back cover. With a dimple.
“Because no-one would watch it if it was an ugly girl,” she says. “The guy can be a literal cross between a bear and buffalo, but the girl still needs to be a skinny girl with good curves.” She plucks the movie out of my hands. “And no-one likes ‘beautiful’ guys. Anyway, I’ve watched that one. It’s pretty terrible.” She looks over the movies. “Oooh. They have Mill on the Floss! Ever seen it?”
We’re walking back when a blue and black camo uniform looms in front of us. “Campers,” says the hard-faced woman.
“Hey,” I say. Her face is familiar, but it takes me a minute. “Sergeant … Red Spruce, right?”
Her lips give the smallest smile. “That’s right.” She looks over at Val. “I need to talk with Camper 981 a moment, ma’am.”
“Oh. Okay.” Val turns to me. “See you at Film Club, Square? Or at least History?”
“Definitely History. See ya.”
Val trots off. Red Spruce watches her. “Does she always wear her coat unzipped like that?”
“I haven’t noticed,” I lie.
“Hm.” There’s an awkward pause, where I wonder what this is about. I don’t really know her that well, and it’s really unusual for a guard to have a private talk like this.
“Been hearing there’s a fight this weekend,” she says, quietly.
Oh, shit. I try to look innocent. “Really? I haven’t heard about that.”
“You don’t know anyone who’s involved?” she asks. When I shake my head, she sighs. “That’s a pity. I was hoping you could pass on what a bad idea that is.”
“I imagine that they’d probably say they couldn’t call it off now.”
“Right. ‘Can’t look like a bitch’ and all that.” She shakes her head. “You don’t get it. There’s more to camp than your stupid boy drama. There are consequences for stuff like this.”
“Like the De-Escalation Protocol?”
It’s out before I can stop it. Sergeant Red Spruce’s face goes pale, and my whole body seems to float. Shit. Why the hell did I say that?
“Where did you hear that?”
Again, I try to look innocent. “Around. Some of the guards were talking.”
She closes her eyes and swears under her breath. “Look,” she says. “They’re jumpy enough already with … you just don’t want to give them an excuse. And a fight is a good one.”
“If I hear anything, I’ll pass it on.” She doesn’t look happy, but she starts to move away. “Hey, Sarge,” I call, and she stops. “Were there fights last year?”
“What happened?” She just shakes her head. “Have a good night, Square.”