Clandestine, Part Four

Coffee for Jan and whisky for Wendy and myself was the order of the day. Mae’s mother, a happy-looking woman in her early fifties, had insisted we make ourselves comfortable. It was an interesting feeling that washed over me as I reclined on a huge leather sofa in the den.

“I think I might be comfortable.” Jan put her hand up to her mouth in mock shock.

“Are you positive? Check again. We want to be sure, here.” Wendy gave her a nudge and she went back to her coffee. Mae and her mother had left the room to go procure a few painkillers and healing accelerants. In the meantime, the three of us took in the quilt-covered den and enjoyed our drinks by the fireplace, which glowed happily. It would have been nice to just sit in silence for a while, but what Wendy had told me was too pressing a concern to ignore.

“Wendy, how can you be sure that she’s…you know…” He put his glass down and shuddered for a moment, licking his lips.

“It’s part of what I do. Locate and identify. Alters give off different…signatures, I guess, than normal humans in my head. Like my locator, though, it helps to know a person’s name to tell if they’re an Alter or not. Given time, I can also learn basic preferences like dominant hand and the like. My only limit is that I need their name first. If I don’t have it, the little scanner up here tends to be either ineffectual or inaccurate. Only reason I haven’t tracked down Zane and put him out of our misery. Not his real name.”

Tenting my fingers in intrigue, I asked, “Is there a proximity limit to all of this?” Wendy shook his head. Nodding, I noticed that Mae had reentered the room with two sheets of paper that had been folded up. She sat down next to me.

“This one is for you. With these, and some luck, you’ll be feeling better in no time at all.” Gratefully, I took the paper from her. After handing Wendy his pills, she sat back down. A silence passed before she put her hand on my knee.

“You can’t tell anyone. Please.” Gagging on the sip of whiskey I had just taken, I coughed violently as Jan nervously tried to backpedal.

“Tell anyone what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mae didn’t seem to appreciate this.

“Jan, come on. I overheard you talking.” She groaned loudly and shook her head violently, trying to get rid of the stress. “Ah, geez. The one time I play Good Samaritan. Just my luck.” Pondering this for a second, I spoke up.

“It doesn’t have to be bad luck, I don’t think.” Mae looked my way with an inquisitive look on her face.

I continued. “Think for a moment. Whether it’s coincidence or fate that’s brought us all together, we’re four Alters, now. Futures have been built upon smaller numbers.”

“Listen, Cal,” Jan said, “I don’t think you quite yet understand just how screwed all of us were from the moment we were born. Maybe there’s a bright future in store for us or our contemporaries some day, but for now, you’re really getting ahead of yourself.”

“Just a thought,” I answered, leaning back. She was right, though. Really, I was just trying to distract myself from the fact that I could very well be dead in a day or two. It occurred to me that Mae might have the solution to that problem.

“You…you wouldn’t have any Forumula-15, would you?” Her face went pale and she grabbed both of my hands.

How long have you gone without it?” Startled by her outburst, I recoiled slightly before Wendy answered for me.

“He lost his supply last night, we think.” Mae shot up and began pacing. She seemed to consider going for her mom, but instead grunted in frustration, not knowing what to do. I tried to assuage her worries.

“The three of us were on the way to Milwaukee. There’s apparently someone there who can help. We got sidetracked, though, which leads me to a question I’ve been meaning to ask: where are we?”

“This is Moon Creek, Montana. We’re about a six-hour drive north of Billings. That’s beside the point, though. Whoever it is that you think can help you; we need to get you to them.” Jan put her pointer fingers to her temples.

“That’s the trick,” she said. A few moments passed as everyone racked their brains for ideas.

“I could turn myself in. Guaranteed supply of Formula-15 in prison.” All three of my companions gave me some variation of ‘don’t even joke about that’ in almost perfect unison. I put my hands up in surrender, not having expected such a vehement reaction. After another minute or two, Mae snapped her fingers.

“How do you feel about stealing a car?” Jan’s reaction was a priceless mix of disbelief and contempt that I would have laughed at were the situation not so serious.

“Are you kidding me? Any police investigation would lead the G-Men right to us. Hell, I bet they’re searching for us now. We only escaped-” Wendy clamped his hand over Jan’s mouth before she could say anything more, but the damage was already done. Mae started pulling on her hair, cussing to herself under her breath.

“Okay, okay, this is bad. Geez, this is awful. They can’t be more than a day away from finding you, can they?”

“Give or take,” I said. She put on a serious face and nodded.

“Then it’s worth the risk. My cousin lives down the street. He has a car you can…borrow. I even know where he keeps his emergency keys.”

“You don’t need to help us, you know. Hell, you’re putting yourself at risk of being outed as an Alter or at least a sympathizer.” Making a fist, she stood tall and pointed at me with her other hand.

“We’re kin. Me, you three, and every other Alter out there. We owe it to one another to keep each other safe. I’ve only been helping myself by hiding out here. How could I live with myself if I threw you under the bus? Besides, I think God sent you to me.” She looked at me while saying this, but then realized it and corrected herself. “All three of you. I’d be failing him and myself by abandoning you.” Jan crossed her arms and nodded approvingly while Wendy and I thanked her from the bottom of our hearts.


“I think I’m gonna miss this little place,” Jan mused, her hands in her pockets. Shooting her a skeptical look, I offered my two cents.

“It’s been three hours since we got here. Trust me, stationary life will kill you slowly wherever you live.” Remembering Mae, I turned to her. “No offense.”

Shrugging, she pointed to a house about a hundred feet away. “None taken. That’s the place there. Cousin Dean has a nice compact. Sometimes he has to take trips to Helena and-”

Though she continued to talk, my hearing failed me and that infernal headache came back. No! It hasn’t even been that long, damnit! My body didn’t seem to care. First, my stomach immediately evacuated itself through my throat. All conversation ceased about now. Then, the shadows started to move in on my hands. I was a bit more lucid this time, and saw as they crawled up my fingers, slithering up clockwise like the stripes on a barbershop pole.Horrified, I mustered all my strength to stand up and take hold of the first person I saw.

“What the hell?” To my dismay, I discovered that I had grabbed a passerby. Panicking, I threw myself away from him, scrambling to get out of sight. The pain didn’t seem so intense anymore, but I was dizzy. I couldn’t see where I was going. There were still sounds, though. Shouts of panic. Someone was shouting the word ‘Alter’ again and again. Jan grabbed me. Now steady, I struggled to regain focus. When I did, though, I wished that I hadn’t. A small mob had formed in front of us, their approach stalled only by Mae, who held her hands out to the sides.

“Mae, girl,” a woman in the crowd cried, “what are you doing? We’ve got to turn him in!” She breathed in, about to speak, when I reached out from behind and grabbed her shoulder. As she turned to look at me, I shook my head.

“What if I told you that I meant no harm?” The woman who had just spoken stepped forth from the crowd, unafraid of my appearance, whatever it now was. She seemed to be the only one; the rest of the crowd seemed uneasy looking at me. There will be time for a mirror later, I told myself.

“I won’t take that chance, boy. I won’t gamble Moon Creak’s safety on your word. Whatever you are, you’re dangerous, whether you mean well or not.”

“Fair enough. What, then, is the best case scenario for the next few minutes?” My heart was trying to forcibly work its way out of my chest, but I kept steady and looked directly at the speaker for this mob.

“You stand down and wait at the sheriff’s until we can alert the proper authorities and I conveniently forget that Mae got in our way.” I knew the offer would only be good for the next twenty seconds or so. All the options appeared in my head one by one and were shot down as quickly as they popped up. Zane would have his hands on at least one of us no matter which move I took. Unless…

“With that spotty memory of yours, you don’t think you could forget that you saw me, could you?” She shook her head at me, slowly. I continued. “That’s a shame, then. What I could do, then, I could just cut my way out of this town. I’m quite powerful, you know.” Jan, Wendy and Mae all looked at me bug-eyed and pale as ghosts. The mob, which seemed to be about fifty strong at this point, mumbled amongst itself while I struggled to contain my flop sweat.

“How do I know you’re not bluffing?” I smirked. Checkmate.

“You said it yourself. You’re not going to gamble Moon Creak’s safety on my word. It would be very safe of you to let me leave and tell no one I was ever here. Or you could make a grab for me. That’s a coin flip right there. Now, you look to be a smart woman. Do the math.” She remained steady, but a flicker in her eye told me that what I said had made sense to her.

Slowly and calmly, she spoke. “Fifty-fifty odds ain’t bad.” It was a bluff. Of course it was a bluff. But whoever this old bird was, she had guts.

“Maybe. Can’t say I wouldn’t take a bet like that if I were in your shoes. I’m going to introduce another factor, though. The two behind me? They’re Alters as well. And both of them could turn this town into rubble with a thought if they wanted to. The redhead, I might add, wouldn’t need much convincing. With that in mind, how do you feel about a die?” Ipantomimed a dice roll for emphasis. Somewhere, in another part of the cosmos, the god of time decided to slow down the clock for these next few moments. Thanks, prick, I thought. After a long, long, time, the mob’s leader spoke.

“What do you want?” Trying not to do a victory dance, I thought about how to put myself in the best situation.

“I want you to let us get to the car Mae was leading us to. I want to be on the road for at least half an hour before I hear sirens. And I want enough gas cans to last me halfway across the country.” Before listening for a response, I looked to Jan and raised my eyebrows. She nodded at me and I thanked a number of different gods from a number of different pantheons that she had thought to use her empathic abilities.

“How do I know you won’t kill us all just for troubling you?” I shot the woman a look that said ‘what kind of stupid question is that?’

“Because I’m a pragmatist. Town full of dead people has a habit of attracting undue attention from…well, from everyone.” She seemed to respect this answer.

“Fine. Just have a question for Mae, if you don’t mind.” Shrugging, I gestured to Mae, who raised an eyebrow. My face fell when I saw her. Oh no.

“Yes, Mrs. Luther?” Jan and Wendy noticed, too, and both hid their faces in their hands.

“What’s happened to your eyes, Ms. Monaghan?” Mae made a short, muted squeaking noise that I think only I heard. Her eyes were giving off a brilliant blue light that illuminated her face. I would have noted how pretty it made her look, but there was an impending shitstorm on our hands. She sank to her knees, knowing what was about to happen.

“You,” Mrs. Luther said, facing me, “have fifteen minutes to gather whatever you need and get out. I’ll send someone to Mae’s with the gas cans. As for her?” There was a silence that could have meant anything. “She’s your responsibility now. I hope that car you were headed to seats four.” The girl almost erupted into tears.


“Mae, girl, if you aren’t out in the fifteen minutes I have so graciously given you, I’m calling the men in suits. If you four are out by then, I, and the rest of the town,” she said, loudly enough so that everyone present could hear, “will forget everything about the past few minutes. No calls to no G-Men. Just a missing girl and a missing car.” Mae took a few moments to process this before swallowing loudly and nodding. Jan started to object.

“If you think for a second that-”

“Those are my terms.” Jan seemed like she wanted to press the issue but Mae put a hand on her shoulder and shook her head.

“It was my fault for being so stupid.”

“But you were helping us,” Jan argued. “You shouldn’t be punished for being a good person!” I nodded at Wendy, who began to lead Jan away. Mae followed.

“Shouldn’t,” I said. My head still hurt.


Wendy drove. I was glad, because whatever adrenaline kept me going through what I realized was basically a hostage situation had gone, and was replaced with throbbing pain. All the shadows in the car extended and receded as I breathed. While this may have been unnerving at first, everyone was too tired to care. This didn’t stop Jan from being angry. I don’t think anything could.

“It’s just not right, is all. I feel like we’ve been gypped. Like you’ve been gypped,” she complained. Mae just nodded and looked at her lap. She hadn’t said much since we had gotten on the road.

“Well,” she said quietly, “I wanted to help. Guess this is the road God’s paved for me.” Wendy, whom my eyes had fallen upon at that moment, gripped the wheel so tight his knuckles went white.

“The last road God paved for us lead to hell. We’re just the ones who got lost along the way.” I furrowed my brow, surprised. Those might have been the first bitter words out of Wendy’s mouth that I had heard. Disheartened, Mae shrunk into her seat. I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, but was surprised when she took it in hers.

“Please, Cal,” she begged, “Tell me that this will all be worth it.” The words ‘it will’ got caught in my throat. You don’t even know if it will yourself, idiot. Don’t lie to her, too.This was my conscience. My Id disagreed. She’ll believe anything you say. Why waste an opportunity? Then came logic. She’ll be of no use to anyone moping about. Lift her spirits and everyone wins. In distress, I looked to Jan, who shook her head and pointed at me. Thanks, Jan.

“If it isn’t yet, I’ll make damn sure it will be.” Mae considered this answer for a minute. The look on her face made it clear that it was not what she wanted me to say, but I didn’t gauge any disappointment from her either. The car hit a small bump and she replied.

“How?” Fuck. I had readied myself for every other question she could have asked me. It had to be that one, didn’t it? Now, I wanted to give myself some wiggle room and say that we would cross that bridge when we came to it. But there was something about the look she was giving me that kept me from lying. So instead, I did the next best thing. I started talking out of my ass.

“I’d like to build a better life for us. All of us. God knows, I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but it seems like a better option than just running, dying or waiting to be caught.”

The weird thing was, though, that I meant every word of it. Mae seemed to believe me, too, though Jan was a bit more skeptical.

“We’ve talked about this. You’re eighteen, addicted to the Formula-15 and on the run. When exactly do you plan on fitting this into your schedule?” Wendy, quietly drumming on the steering wheel, backed me up.

“He’s got a point. Safe as the Derelict is, Jan, do you really want to live like that for the rest of your life?” She frowned, crossing her arms.

“What I want is for the ‘rest of my life’ to number in decades, not weeks. This kind of blind optimism is going to get us killed, admirable though it may be.” That last part dripped with enough sarcasm to put stains on the carpet. To my surprise, Mae spoke up.

“W-with all due respect, Jan, you’re used to running. I don’t want to be, and I don’t think Cal does, either.”

“None of you have any goddamn idea what you’re talking about,” Jan said, turning towards the window to pout. Let her, I thought.

“So what’s your aim here, Cal?” Wendy hummed expectantly. Ideas started springing up in my head, most of them horribly ill conceived, but there were a few winners.

“I want Zane off of our backs. I want my name and everyone else’s out of the system. And I want to be able to live somewhere I won’t have to fear death every day. Some island in the pacific, maybe.” I looked to Jan, who was still looking skeptical. “First things first, though, let’s figure out our assets. I want to know everything about what everyone else can do. No more surprises. Let’s start with you, Mae.” She flinched a little bit at the mention of her name but calmed down and began to speak.

“I can…do things. From far away. Sometimes I can move things or people. A few times I’ve managed to see around a corner or smell a pig cooking from across town. I’m not exactly sure what the limit is on what I do, but near as I can tell, I can extend my five senses as far as I need to. When I concentrate, I can multitask.” She smiled nostalgically. “Sometimes, it’s how I cheated on tests.” This distracted me for a moment.

“Wait, back up. Why would you do that?” Confused, Mae snapped out of her memory and raised an eyebrow.

“Do what?”

“Cheat. You’re just depriving yourself of the learning experience. It only hurts you in the end.”

“…Sorry?” I frowned, waving it off.

“Well, it’s too late now. I’m digressing anyway.” The look that Jan then gave me has stuck with me since. I’ve never seen such utter disdain.

“She’s sharing a bit of herself with you, and you’re on her case for her study habits?

“Bad study habits,” I said, correcting her. She shook her head quickly, as if trying to wake herself up from a dream.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Mead? It’s a fucking moot point!” Wendy spoke up. I expected him to help me out. I was wrong.

“Gotta side with sis here, Cal. A-Student or slacker, none of it matters anymore.” If I weren’t as smart as I am, we’d all be dead by now. That’s what I wanted to say, but I saw his point.

“Fine. Mae, is that all you can do?” Mae thought about this for a moment, a look of distress still on her face from when I called her out, though she was trying to hide it.

“I seem to be limited to what I can do with my body. Like, I can’t slice a floating orange in half but I could, say, type on a computer across the room.”

“There are definitely uses for things like that,” I said, contemplating all the outlets I could find for her. “Wendy, how about you? Any more tricks?”

“Nothing I didn’t tell you back in Moon Creak. I need a name, a real name, and then I can identify just about anything.” I gave him a nod.

“Jan, how about you? I never got that good of an explanation from you.” She sighed, obviously not wanting to humor me but neither wanting me to start an argument.

“I’m an empath, Cal. We’ve been over this. All I need with someone is a five-minute conversation. If I concentrate, I’ll know them better than they know themselves after that. I’ll know what they’re afraid of, what they want, why they want it, and what they’d do to get it. Sometimes I’ll be able to see memories of events that drive them. Faces of loved ones, too. If I have more time, I start to be able to see the really specific stuff. Every disgusting little detail about them.Heh. Even the name of the asshole they’re subconsciously trying to impress.” That last sentence had some extra teeth to it, and I instinctually looked to Mae, though I’m not sure to what end.

“…Good to know. Thanks,” I answered flatly. She shrugged, as if to say ‘You asked.’ My head began to hurt, and a groan escaped my lips. Thumbing around for a bottle I knew wasn’t there, I closed my eyes and tried to find a happy place.

“How am I not comatose yet? Did Zane lie about the withdrawal symptoms to scare me?”

“No, he was definitely telling the truth,” Wendy answered. “Trust me. Maybe you’re an anomaly. You did say he told you that you were more powerful than your average Alter, right?”

“He didn’t tell me, but he said it. You think that has anything to do with it?” He shrugged.

“It’s the only theory that makes any sense to me. The Priestess will know, though.”

“Really hope she’s as wise as you say she is, Wendy. I don’t even know what the hell it is I can do besides keel over and get beaten over the head by someone I thought I trusted.” The beginning of a tangent did not go unnoticed by anyone in the car. Both of the girls gave me bug-eyed looks. “Story for another day,” I said. The conversation ended there.


Wisconsin, I had decided, was far too big. Maybe it was the traffic problem we encountered that made it seem larger or the smell of cows permeating the car’s windows that made the trip seem longer, but every good feeling had left me back in Minnesota. The fact that we had avoided every tollbooth and had only stopped to refuel had put me in a volatile state that few things could diffuse. Mae was not wise to this fact.

“You look upset, Cal. Can I help?” The question was quite genuine, as I figured out looking back on the event.I was sure at the time, though, that she was purposefully trying to annoy me. In fact, I had decided at that point that every action taken by anyone was an attempt to annoy me.

“No, no you can’t.” Jan, who seemed similarly stir-crazy, had begun playing an angry drum solo on her knees. She turned around to face me.

“There are a few packs of cigarettes in the glove compartment, if you’d like? I know I’m this close to grabbing them.” A pack flew into my lap, and I picked it up, examining it. This whole situation surprised me: growing up in Portland, smoking had become so demonized that I almost believed cigarettes were no more. It was actually an interesting enough discovery to me that I spoke up.

“Way I heard it in school, those things are illegal. Not that it bothers me, but it’s actually my first time seeing a real pack.” Wendy was kind enough to answer while Jan giggled at my ignorance and Mae remained quiet, still slightly shaken by my (admittedly) rude rebuttal earlier.

“Nah, they’re just marketed to the working class. Pretty much exclusively, really. You went to a private school, right?”

“Yeah, a really preppy one. Byrne Academy, it was called.” Oddly enough, while thinking about it, it was my school uniform that brought up the strongest feelings of nostalgia. I wasn’t sure if I should feel shame or mirth at the fact.

“See, that’s the thing, they were grooming you to lord it over the working stiffs who needed three packs a day to make it from five to nine.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t you mean nine to five?” Jan laughed bitterly.

“See? It worked. Here’s to the future captain of industry over here,” she said, lighting up a cigarette and tossing me the lighter. I pulled out a cigarette of my own and pondered it for a moment.

For an instant, I saw the face of Zane and of the thousands of nameless slaves from my dream. I saw myself at the bottom of a ditch, with hundreds of other Alters piled on top of me, and then a silence. I didn’t know if it was the future I saw or just a worst-case scenario, but there was a violence within my chest that stirred right about then. It made the bullet wound in my shoulder flare up in pain, but the pain helped me, in its own way. There was a direction, now. For the first time since the freak-out at my apartment, I felt as though I was heading toward something instead of running away. The smallest of grins crossed my face, and I think that only Mae noticed it as she looked at me with a mix of curiosity and fear.

“Here, here,” I finally replied, placing the cigarette in my mouth and lighting it. I took a deep drag and felt the smoke fill my lungs. It felt good. Close your eyes. Exhale.

“Is something up, Cal?” I heard Mae ask. Taking another drag, I shook my head slowly and smiled, wide this time.

“Nothing much. I just…grew up a little, I guess. Yeah.”

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