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Changelings

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 3 months ago

1.

 

“You’re that Pierce kid, aren’t you?” a young man’s voice asked. “Ted Pierce?”

 

Ted looked up, startled. He had thought he was alone outside the school—he certainly hadn’t seen anyone else when he popped outside, and there was no way for the young man to sneak up on him unobserved. Yet there he was, and he didn’t look like he belonged at the school. He was in his late teens or early twenties, but that wasn’t the only problem. There was just something different about him. Something wrong. The fact that he was wearing gloves on a warm day didn’t help. Ted edged back toward the school building, but the young man slipped easily into his path.

 

“Hey, not so fast! You are Ted Pierce, right?”

 

Ted wished that there were someone to help. The gym class was in the stadium area to the west, but they were making too much noise to hear, and everyone else was inside.

 

Ordinarily, he would have been inside too. As a freshman, he had to take study hall, but those with good enough grades got an honor pass and could roam a bit, so long as they didn’t get into trouble. He generally took advantage of the opportunity; Mr. Wells wanted to interest his charges in good books, and his tastes and Ted’s differed considerably. Ted’s father, who taught English literature at the University, was even more displeased. The result was that Ted usually spent his last hour at school in the library. But with the end of school only a week away, he couldn’t resist the urge to check on spring’s progress outside.

 

The young man finished inspecting Ted and smiled slyly. “Yeah, you’re Ted Pierce, all right. You stick out like a sore thumb, my friend, and that’s only the beginning of your problems.”

 

“Right now, I’d put you at number one, and I think the staff here would agree.”

 

The young man shook his head disapprovingly and said, “Now, that’s no way to talk to someone who wants to help you out, kid. Why, I’m like your older brother. In fact, for all you know, I could be your older brother. You’re adopted—or didn’t they tell you that?”

 

“Mom and Dad told me about that some time ago, and I think anyone around here who’s interested knows it too.” Ted wasn’t about to grant this stranger an advantage.

 

“Yeah, but I know about your parents—your real parents—and you don’t. I know who left you like an unwanted puppy on the Pierces’ doorstep. I know a lot of things, my friend, and you’re going to listen while I explain them.”

 

The stranger seized Ted’s arm and pulled him toward the stadium building. Ted had no choice but to follow, and since it would bring him closer to the gym class and possible rescue, he didn’t mind too much. It also would make them more visible to anyone looking out a window on that side of the school—and given the time of day and of year, that should be a lot of people. Why didn’t this guy care about that? He couldn’t be stupid enough to have overlooked all those windows. Ted decided to play along with him and see what he could find out.

 

“So what’s your name, if you’re so willing to tell me things?”

 

“Simon. You see, this is all like a game of Simon Says. You do what Simon says, and nothing bad happens. In fact, you might say that a whole new world of opportunity is about to open up for you.”

 

Ted didn’t like the sound of that, especially when he saw that they were not actually heading toward the stadium itself, but toward another nearby building. It was a kind of glorified shed, but it had been closed for a few months, ever since its roof collapsed because of extra heavy snowfall in a late blizzard. No one was supposed to enter it, but Ted was certain that he was about to do so anyway.

 

“This place is unsafe—don’t you know that?”

 

Simon laughed. “Only if you have an insurance company breathing down your neck. Some of the supports cracked; it isn’t as though the roof had actually fallen in. Don’t you know that?”

 

Ted scowled. “It’s also locked.”

 

“Is it?” Simon pulled the door away from the doorway. It had been taken off its hinges! But how? That could only have been done from the inside, and the only way to get inside was through the door. Simon held him firmly as he tried to bolt.

 

“The door looks open to me. That’s the problem with you people: you go by appearances. Sometimes you can’t see a door that’s right in front of you. Someone who knows what to look for can find doors in the weirdest places. That will be lesson one. Come here—I’ll show you.”

 

Ted struggled as he was drawn inside, but all he accomplished was to knock the door down. It landed with a bang, though he doubted anyone would hear it. His last glimpse of the outside world gave him one ray of hope, however: someone had emerged from the school building and was headed their way at high speed and volume.

 

“C’mon, kid. Just a little further...”

 

The building was empty now, of course: all the equipment had been removed shortly after the accident. Ted shivered as the chill of the room seeped through his lightweight clothing; the warm outside air clearly hadn’t penetrated the building. Normally the place was heated, but there had been no need for that after it was cleared out. All in all, the term “cold storage” was beginning to take on a whole new meaning for him: winter itself seemed to have been put there for the off-season. Of course, there was enough room for it, since there was nothing else in the building.

 

Almost nothing, anyway: while the ordinary gear had been put in the main part of the shed, there was a walled-off section like a vault in the middle of the building. It was about the size of Ted’s room at home, and it was made for temporary storage of more valuable items. It also had a proper door with a proper lock, and this door was apparently still on its hinges. Simon turned the knob easily, though, and Ted could only suppose that no one had bothered to lock an empty room. Then Ted noticed some cracks above the doorway, and he remembered that this was where the main damage had occurred. There had been some kind of minor scandal about it all, because the vault’s walls were supposed to help support the roof.

 

The door squealed slightly as it yielded—not loudly, but what it lacked in volume it easily made up in shrillness. Simon winced even before the sound, as though he knew it was coming—and that gave Ted his chance. He tore free of his abductor’s grasp and ran toward the entrance. Simon muttered something unintelligible and probably unprintable, and turned to give chase. Then he saw a man pause in the entryway, and he ducked into the vault. As he did so, he called, “All right—lesson one is, if you aren’t with me, you’re in trouble on your own!”

 

He shoved the door shut behind him. The man—Ted thought he recognized him as a counselor—rushed past and struggled with the door. After watching Simon open it, Ted could only conclude that either the young man was unusually strong or this man was a complete wimp. He decided to be generous and assume a little of both.

 

After a few seconds, the man got it open, and Ted peered past him—into an empty room. He thought he could hear a whisper or echo of Simon’s laugh mocking him.

 

 

“All right, what were you up to in here?” The rescuer’s tone was angry, and Ted was taken aback.

 

“What do you mean? A strange guy grabbed me and brought me in here, intending to do who knows what, then he ran into that room and disappeared.”

 

“And where did he go?”

 

“How should I know? I wasn’t there.”

 

“Look, all I know is that this building has been vandalized and you’re here. You, not some phantom abductor. That means you have some explaining to do.”

 

“But you saw him!”

 

The man glowered at him. “I don’t know what I saw. From the way you were acting, I just assumed that there was someone back there.”

 

Ted was still looking into the room, trying to find some clue... And then he had it. “Look at the floor! There’s dust on it—not much, but enough to show tracks. Someone’s been in there.”

 

The man paused a moment and checked. “You’re still not in the clear. There was no man here, and no one passed me on my way in. There couldn’t have been anyone in there to begin with. But maybe your story will appeal more to your parents—or to the police.”

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