Stubbornly, I stare ahead, taking extra long pauses and being sure to wait for the walk signals at every intersection. In my head I’m thinking that I’m an idiot for putting off buying a new car, and wondering where I could hang out for a few hours to regroup and avoid being followed home. I stop and strip my leather backpack from my shoulder and dig around inside until my hand is clutching the sheath that holds my athame. This is pissing me off.
I’m passing by a cemetery, some sad, Presbyterian thing that isn’t well-kept, the grave markers adorned with lifeless flowers and ribbons torn by the wind and stained dark with mud. Near me, one of the headstones lies on the ground, fallen down dead just like the person buried underneath it. For all its sadness, it’s also quiet, and unchanging, and it calms me a little. There’s a woman standing in the center, an old widow, staring down at her husband’s grave marker. Her wool coat hangs stiff on her shoulders and there’s a thin handkerchief tied beneath her chin. I’m so caught up in whoever was following me that it takes me a minute to realize that she’s wearing a wool coat in August.
There’s a hitch in my throat. She turns her head at the noise and I can see, even from here, that she doesn’t have any eyes. Just a set of gray stones where her eyes used to be, and yet we stare at each other, unblinking. The wrinkles in her cheeks are so deep they could have been drawn in black marker. She must have a story. Some disturbing tale of woe that gave her stones for eyes and brings her back to stare at what I now suspect is her own body. But right now I’m being followed. I don’t have time for this.
I flip open my backpack and pull my knife out by the handle, showing just a flash of the blade. The old woman draws her lips back and opens her teeth in a silent hiss. Then she backs away, sinking slowly into the ground as she does, and the effect is something like watching someone wave from an escalator. I feel no fear, just a bleak embarrassment that it took me so long to notice she was dead. She might have tried to give me a scare had she gotten close enough, but she’s not the kind of ghost that kills. If I had been anyone else, I might not have even noticed her. But I’m tuned in to these things.
I jump at the voice, right at my shoulder. There’s a kid standing beside me, been standing there for god knows how long. He’s got ragged black hair and black-rimmed glasses, a skinny, lanky body hidden under clothes that don’t fit right. I feel like I recognize him from school. He nods toward the cemetery.
“Some scary old lady, huh?” he says. “Don’t worry. She’s harmless, here three days a week at least. And I can only read minds when people are thinking about something really hard.” He smiles out of one half of his mouth. “But I get the feeling that you’re always thinking really hard.”
I hear a thump from somewhere nearby and realize that I’ve let go of my athame. The thump that I heard was the sound of it hitting the bottom of my backpack. I know he’s the one who was following me, and it’s a relief to have been right. At the same time, I find the prospect of his being telepathic disorienting.
I’ve known telepaths before. Some of my dad’s friends were telepathic to varying degrees. Dad said it was useful. I think it’s mostly creepy. The first time I met his friend Jackson, who I’m now quite fond of, I lined the inside of my baseball cap with tinfoil. What? I was five. I thought it would work. But I don’t happen to have a baseball cap or any foil handy right now, so I try to think softly … whatever the hell that means.
“Who are you?” I ask. “Why are you following me?”
And then I know. He’s the one who tipped off Daisy. Some telepathic kid who wanted in on some action. How else would he know to follow me? How else would he know who I am? He was waiting. Waiting for me to hit school, like some freaky snake in the grass.
“Wanna get something to eat? I’m starving. I haven’t been following you very long. My car’s right up the street.” He turns around and walks off, the frayed ends of his jeans scraping along the sidewalk in a little shuffle. He walks like a dog that’s been kicked, head low and hands stuffed into his pockets. I don’t know where he picked up his dusty green jacket, but I suspect it was from the Army surplus store I passed a few blocks back.
“I’ll explain everything when we get there,” he says over his shoulder. “Come on.”
I don’t know why I follow, but I do.
* * *
He drives a Ford Tempo. It’s about six different shades of gray and sounds like a very angry kid pretending to drive a motorboat in the bathtub. The place that he takes me to is a little joint called The Sushi Bowl, which looks like absolute crap from the outside, but inside it’s not too bad. The waitress asks if we’d rather be seated traditional or regular. I glance around and see some low tables with mats and pillows around them.