Ready for a taste? Read the first chapter of TUNNEL VISION below!
People Following Me by Phunk Junkeez
The man is there again: long black coat, pressed pants, spit-shiny shoes. He leans against a spotless black Durango, phone to his ear. Eyes trained on the big double doors.
I stand behind the cafeteria windows and watch him, rubbing one finger over the edge of my phone. Back and forth, back and forth, the edge smooth and familiar.
The guy's a sore thumb in a parking lot full of kids and beater cars. He's not a high school student, or a parent. But he's been squatting in the same spot every damn day for a week. He stays until I come out, watches me get in my car. Then he drives away.
I don't want to think about who he is. Probably is. He sure as hell looks government, flat-top to regulation shoes. But if he is—if they know about me—why is he here? Why am I still here?
I text Chris, stuck in the gym for Oklahoma rehearsals. Chris claims he does theater for the girls. Considering the girls (Rachel Watkins, cough), I can't argue much.
He's here again. Am not insane.
It buzzes right back.
u r total crackpot. New nickname crackpot jake. Y/N?
Don't you and your paranoid ass have to get M?
Myka. I'm already late. She'll be sitting out front waiting for me, freezing her butt off. I drop the phone in my pocket, staring at the man. I stalled as long as I could, hoping he'd be gone when I came out.
I have to be rational. He can't be government, at least not after me. Dad said if they found out my secret I wouldn't even know what happened. They'd swoop down in black helicopters or whatever and that'd be it. I'd be gone.
He's not doing anything like that. So even though he's stalker-ish, and my alarms are firing all at once, I have to shake it off. He probably doesn't have anything to do with me. I have to walk past him and go get my sister like every other day, take the exit to reality instead of Paranoia Land. I'm getting as bad as Dedushka.
Or…maybe the guy's from Stanford, and he's scouting for the tennis team. They were so impressed with my video, and my application, they sent someone to check me out...
Okay. That's just a different kind of delusion.
I push the door open and walk, easy, not looking his direction. It's cold, the February wind slapping at my face. This is the tricky part, a narrow passage. I have to walk right next to him while he gives me the stalker-eye. Muttering into his phone, like always. I can never make out what he's saying.
"Permission to take him?" he says, in a weird, soft British voice. "It's perfect. Right now."
I stop dead and look at him. Hair like a bristle brush, stubble, muscle-thick shoulders. Eyes set on me. I scan the parking lot. It's dead, between the normal rush and the after-school groups. Nobody there but me and him, and a few kids smoking way at the end. They probably wouldn't notice if he knocked me on the head and threw me in a trunk.
Jesus. This isn't in my head. They do know. I fucked up, and someone knows.
I have to get away, or it'll happen like Dad said.
My car's too far—and he knows where it is. I give him one more look and take off down the path to Bennett Street, pound across it. I hear him behind me. I got the jump, but he's following.
There's only one place I can think to go. I cut across the corner of the Episcopal church lot and dive between traffic on Dranesville, heading for it. Half a block more. I pant, not looking back, my pulse booming. Focus on the goal: the open iron gates of Oak Grove Cemetery.
Past the gates I skid to a stop. Now where? The cemetery's empty, sad with dead grass and heaps of gray snow across the graves, the trees winter-bare: not much cover.
Heavy footsteps smack across the road behind me. He's still coming. Damn it. I can't confront him alone in a cemetery, and I can't fight a guy that big—even if I could fight. I need somewhere to hide. A fat tree, a tomb...there's a small mausoleum to the right, but you can see behind it from the gates. I trot farther. C'mon, Jake. Now.
The Miller angel. She's huge, six feet at least, marble wings spread wide. The only thing big enough. I dive behind her and dare to look back.
He steps through the gate, deliberate.
The marble is icy under my fingers. I grip it, my mouth shut tight so I won't show breath. He keeps coming, step by slow step, head darting every direction. Hunting.
It feels like I'm in a Death to Spies game, this is World War II, and I have covert information he's after. Except this isn't a game, and I didn't imagine it. He is following me. But not for what I know. For what I can do. Who I am.
He inches in a few more steps, hand in his coat pocket now. Wait, does he have a gun? I've got a backpack full of books, and keys. And no ninja skills at all. Once he gets as far as the angel I'll be obvious, a dead, stupid duck. The cemetery is massive, 25 acres, but it's enclosed by a stone wall, that gate the only entrance open in winter. There's no other way out. If I run for better cover now, I'll be in range of any gun.
Poor planning. If I was playing Call of Duty I'd know the map, where to go, the best vantage points for hiding, for shooting. I'd never have trapped myself like this.
I crouch lower, trying to force my frozen brain to think of something. My phone buzzes in my pocket and I slap my hand over it to keep the sound low. Probably Myka, wondering where I am.
"What're you doing, fool? Huntin' for treasure down there?"
I spin, my back flat against the angel like I've been shot.
"Pete!" I swallow, but don't get anything but air. "Hey."
Pete stands a few feet away, striped sweater and wild brown beard over overalls, a shovel in his hand. It'd be disturbing, a grave-keeper sneaking up on you with a shovel, if I didn't know him so well. And if I wasn't almost positive he was only shoveling snow.
He raises thick eyebrows. I turn and peer around the angel, back toward the gate. The man isn't there. Pete spooked him.
But he might be waiting for me outside. I'm not clear yet. I'm determined to be smarter about this, from here on.
Pete eyes me funny. "You doing drugs, kid? Did they finally break you down?"
I laugh, sort of. More like a bark. "Not today. I was...I was looking for you."
One eyebrow up. Pete's a master at that language. That means I don't believe you and you're a bonehead and explain, all at the same time.
I press against the marble with the tips of my fingers, considering. I need to get to my car. I need Pete to come with me—whoever the man is, I'm betting he won't mess with me with Pete right there. There has to be a way to get Pete to come with me back to my car.
And then there's Myka, still waiting for me.
I try to look embarrassed. "My car won't start. I don't want to call AAA again or my mom will kill me. I thought maybe you could look at it?"
"That's why you was squatting with your nose pressed against a gravestone?" Pete grunts. "You looking for a mechanic? Wrong place, buddy. Ain't no good at cars."
I bet I could get him to do it without breaking a sweat if I were a girl. If Rachel asked me—even Lily—I'd sprint right over to help, even if I had no idea how to fix it.
No, not Lily.
Not being a girl, all I can do is push. "C'mon, man. If you looked at it, we could figure it out."
He's silent for a full minute, twisting the handle of the shovel into the hard ground. Then he rolls his eyes. "Fine. But only 'cause you're a good customer."
"Not a customer yet." It's a stupid joke, but an old one between us. Part of my senior project is researching the families buried here—Pete sees me a lot. Today the joke leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I check again. Still clear.
I let Pete go ahead out the gate. With his shovel slung over his shoulder, he looks like a mountain man, or a mini-Hagrid. I stay a step behind him.
The man isn't anywhere in sight on the street, or in the school parking lot. The Durango is still there, hulking. With the tinted windows he's probably sitting in there watching and I'd never know.
I don't want to turn my back on him, but I have to go through the motions of fixing my car. I pop the hood of my white Civic, let Pete lean his big belly over the engine, and get behind the wheel. Then I start it up, right in his face.
Pete jumps back, swearing like a maniac. I don't worry too much. Pete thinks everyone's an idiot anyway. In ten seconds flat I drop the hood, jump back in, hold up a hand to Pete, and speed out of the lot.
I hang on to the steering wheel, getting my pulse under control so I won't stroke out. There, whoever you are. You're not taking me anywhere. And it's Friday. I've only seen him at school—so if all goes well I should have till Monday to figure out how to deal with this problem. There's got to be something I can do. I don't see any black helicopters yet.
The clock says 4:20. Twenty minutes late already. I have to deal with Myka before I can even start to think about it.
She isn't outside when I get there, at 4:53. Good: she's not freezing her butt off. Bad: I'm late enough that she had to go back in. Now I have to venture into Genius School looking for her.
Officially it isn't Genius School. The sign says "Nysmith School for the Gifted." Same thing, in my book. The kids in here are probably years ahead of the ones I just left at Virginia High, and this place only goes up to 8th grade. They come here from all over the east coast. Physically it's impressive too—all glass and white walls, marble floors, cutting-edge equipment and computers and labs. If my sister had a choice that's where I'd find her, in the chemistry lab working on who-knows-what, some god-awful mixture of foul-smelling chemicals that could blow up any second.
I guess she didn't have a choice. She's sitting in the admin office alone, swinging her awkwardly long legs off the edge of a maple bench. Glaring at me through her hair.
"Ungrateful. I could've left you here." I smile, so she knows I'm teasing. "Besides, I'm only..." I look at my watch.
She pouts. "54 minutes exactly. Mom's going to slaughter you and toss the pieces."
I pinch her arm, lightly, and she jerks away. "If you tell her. You won't tell her, will you, Myk? Brother/sister bond?"
She narrows her eyes at me, rubbing her arm. She has gorgeous eyes, huge and green like our mom's, with thick, dark lashes. They make up for the horsiness of the rest of her face at this age, the big front teeth. Twelve isn't kind. 'Course I wouldn't tell her any of that, good or bad.
"All right." I sigh. "Music choice is yours. Today and tomorrow. And since we might hit rush hour traffic, that could be like the whole Twilight soundtrack."
"That's ancient," she scoffs. She tucks her hair behind one ear, looks up at me. "When you didn't call me back, I was worried." Her voice goes small. "I thought...I don't know. Something happened. Like..."
I want to tuck her up in a hug, like I used to. But that won't help in the long run. She has to be tough. We all do. Especially if something does happen to me—no. No even thinking like that.
I fake-punch her in the arm. "I'm fine, dorcas. I'm here, everything's okay. Now let's clear out. What do I have to do to spring you?"
She sighs, stands, and pulls her backpack (Little Einsteins—my joke, last Christmas, but she uses it anyway) over her shoulder. "Principal Evers," she calls. "My brother's here."
The principal, a stern woman with fluffy hair like a poodle, pops her head out of the big office in the corner. "Fine, Myka. Have a great weekend. I'll sign you out."
That was way easier than I expected it to be.
Until we walk out the doors, and I see the black Durango idling next to my car.