Teal is available as a free CC-licensed science fiction novel. You can read more about the project here.
“Oh, my baby! Are you okay?”
I stepped out from behind the paramedic inspecting me and waved for mom to slow down.
“I’m fine, mom. Don’t worry about–”
Whatever else I was going to say got crushed from my lungs as she embraced me, her squeezing more painful than anything that’d happened in the school.
“Oh, Teal! They said something happened, there was an explosion, I didn’t know if you were okay, you look okay, are you okay?”
I smiled and nodded as I pried myself free of her iron grasp. My mom’s a small woman, but she’s strong. Really strong.
Especially when her kids are involved.
“What on earth happened?”
“I’m not sure. They haven’t told us anything.”
“Was it a…you know, a…”
I shook my head.
“It wasn’t a shooting. I think it might have been some sort of electrical malfunction.”
Relief swept over mom’s face and she hugged me again, mumbling a surplus of thanks to every deity in the book.
I hugged her back, but inside I hated my lie. I’ve told my share of fabrications, exaggerations, and half-truths, but something about lying to mom always makes me feel especially guilty. I think it’s because she has a sixth sense and can always tell when I’m not being honest.
Thing is, it could have been an electrical malfunction.
Yeah, yeah, I know – there was no way those green blasts were a simple electrical problem. But they weren’t a shooting either, since who owns a gun that shoots green laser blasts?
Frankly, I was at a total loss as to what had happened inside the school. There was no good explanation for it.
Mom let me go, wiping budding tears from her eyes as she gestured back at the school.
“Well now I’m embarrassed,” she said, sniffling. “So what’s the plan for the rest of the day? Are they canceling classes?”
I smiled again, still hating how fake it felt.
“I hope so. I can’t imagine they’ll hold afternoon classes with everything covered in dust.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” she replied, again wiping her eyes before glancing at her watch. “I’m so glad you’re safe, Teal. So glad. Now, unfortunately, I probably need to get back to work. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving and when my boss realizes I’m gone he won’t be happy.”
“Do you want me to take you home? It’s on the way.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” I replied with a shrug. “I can stay here and wait for an official announcement. If they do cancel classes I can just walk home.”
Then I smiled, as much for me as for her.
“And thanks for coming to check on me, mom.”
“Of course I came to check on you,” she replied, hugging me again. “What mother wouldn’t?”
As if on cue, Eddie suddenly materialized next to us. I knew Eddie’s parents hadn’t shown up.
I hoped he hadn’t overheard mom’s comment. If he had, it was gonna be awkward. That was one area of our friendship we rarely delved into – talking about “family” things.
Mom let go of me, then put a hand on Eddie’s shoulder and asked if he was okay. He smiled and nodded politely. Then she departed.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Eddie’s mouth flew open.
“Okay, dude. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
“First things first. We need to get our stories straight about why we didn’t evacuate the school.”
“What do you mean, stories? You wanted to stay, I tagged along. That’s my story.”
“What? We can’t tell the police that!”
“Why not? It’s the truth!”
“Eddie, listen to me,” I said, pulling him in close. “You know as well as I do that if we don’t have a good reason for staying inside the school, they’re going to pin us with some kind of blame.”
Hey – I said I felt sorry about lying to my mom. Hiding incriminating details from people that wouldn’t understand is totally different as far as I’m concerned.
“But we didn’t do anything wrong!”
“I know that. But the police won’t know it and we don’t have a way to prove it.”
“The school has security cameras, Teal. Watching those will make it obvious we had no good reason to stay behind. Unless…”
He paused dramatically.
“…Unless, of course, I hack the system and ‘accidentally’ erase that chunk of tape.”
And that’s why I keep Eddie around. He may be odd, but he’s the smartest kid I’ve ever known. Computers, electronics, mechanics, physics – I swear Eddie knows everything there is to know about that kind of stuff. He’s a genius.
I pondered his suggestion when a sturdy finger tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me. Are you Teal Garrison?”
I turned to find a tall, thin man in a jacket staring down at me. He stood slightly hunched over, and he wore his jacket collar popped, hiding his nose and mouth. Black hair swarmed in chunks around the rest of his face, leaving only his eyes uncovered.
Oh, wait – those were concealed by dark sunglasses. If you looked up “suspicious” in Wikipedia, this guy would likely show up. (And not just because Eddie and I wrote him in.)
“And you, I assume, are Eddie Singh?”
Eddie cast me a sideways glance.
The man slipped a notebook out of his pocket and, despite his eyes being hidden, seemed to stare authoritatively down at us.
“I am Detective Hirck, boys, and the fire chief told me the two of you remained inside the school after the explosions.”
“Yes sir, that’s correct.”
He nodded unnaturally slowly.
“…I see. While you were in the school, were you aware of anyone else in the building?”
“Um, no sir. Well – we did see Mr. Torvald, the computer teacher, leave the school after the explosions.”
“Mm hmm,” he mumbled, writing something in his notebook. “Anyone else?”
I had a sudden epiphany.
“Yeah. There was another person. That’s the reason we stayed behind after the explosions. I thought I saw a man at the end of the hallway – the end where the explosions happened.”
It was a statement, not a question. He was expecting it.
“Um… yeah, a man. We were worried he was hurt, maybe he couldn’t evacuate.”
The lies were coming quickly now.
“So we decided to go check on him.”
“And this man was in the room at the end of the hallway?”
Eddie elbowed me.
“Ow. Um, yeah.”
Eddie elbowed me again.
“Stop it, man,” I mumbled. “Why are you–”
“Excuse me,” Eddie interjected, holding up a hand. “Do you have a badge, detective…?”
“…Hirck. Detective Hirck. And no, son, I do not have a badge. I was off-duty when they called me down to investigate this situation. Now go on, tell me about the man you saw inside the school.”
“I don’t think we’ll be able to tell you anything, pal. Not without an attorney present.”
It wasn’t at all like Eddie to be so bold. The detective raised an eyebrow and I gave Eddie a warning glare. This guy – though hunched over and slow-moving – was still a half foot taller than either of us, and I’m almost 5’10”. I didn’t think it’d be wise to anger him, especially with the likes of Eddie as my backup.
“…Is that so,” the detective said, slowly pocketing his notebook. “Then let me make this easy on you, kid. As a detective in service of the Federal Bureau of Interrogation–”
“Whoa whoa whoa. It’s Investigation, not Interrogation,” I interrupted, suddenly grateful for Eddie’s boldness. How had he guessed this guy was a fraud? “And hey, man – Eddie’s right. We’re not answering another word, and I think we’re going to go get the real police now.”
The detective, if he even was a detective, didn’t so much as budge.
“Very well,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping deeper and taking on a dark, hissing quality. “But let me warn you of this, Teal – I know the man in the hallway spoke with you. I do not know what he said, but whatever it is, be advised that he is not what you think.”
He pointed at me in a manner eerily reminiscent of how the man in the hallway had also pointed at me.
“And you must be especially careful, given your father’s condition. It would be a shame if… well, you will see.”
My heart plummeted as the man turned to leave.
“Wait. What do you mean, my father’s condition?”
He turned back, a smile creeping across his lips.
“Like I said, Teal Garrison. You will see.”
Then he walked away.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings that overwhelmed me at that moment. Part of me wanted to chase down the jacketed man – whoever he was – and beat the crap out of him. Another part of me wanted to race after my mom and warn her of what just happened. Another part of me wanted to hide somewhere and never return.
Eddie seemed to sense my complicated emotions, but as he began to console me, a loud whistle echoed across the schoolyard, followed by the mechanical drone of a megaphone-enhanced voice.
“May I have your attention, please.”
We swiveled to find the principal standing atop a plastic folding-table, megaphone firmly in hand.
“Due to today’s circumstances and the current state of the school, we are canceling classes for the rest of the day.” A weak cheer went up from the crowd, followed by several yells of “what happened?”
“We’re still uncertain as to the cause of the explosions, although we expect it was some kind of electrical problem.”
I rolled my eyes and Eddie snorted.
“That said, we are happy to report that no one was seriously injured, and unless notified otherwise, you can all plan on a normal day of school come Monday.”
The crowd groaned, after which the principal finished by saying the administration was planning a formal press conference in thirty minutes where they hoped to announce more information regarding the exact cause of the explosions.
“Well,” Eddie said as the crowd started to disperse, parents and children piling into their hastily parked cars. “What’s our plan? Wanna head back to your place?”
Plan? I had no plan. My mind was still racing with possible explanations of the detective-man’s cryptic comments. So far I had only arrived at one obvious conclusion – I should probably talk to the police about this.
But that had it’s own problems. How could I explain the detective-man’s questions to a cop without implicating myself? I was pretty certain that admitting Eddie and I stayed in the school after the explosions would result in trouble.
And if I let the police know that the strange man had made threatening comments about my dad, the police would probably want to interview dad too. That could only be bad. I definitely didn’t want my parents involved.
From there, it was a simple series of steps to realize that a) the strange detective-man was a liar about who he was, so why should I believe what he said about my family? And b) getting authority figures involved would only complicate things. After all, we had nothing to worry about. We didn’t do anything bad, and since no one that mattered knew about the strange man inside the school, I decided to drop the matter entirely.
I turned to Eddie.
“Plan? Here’s the plan: we’ve got a major project to work on the rest of the afternoon.”
“What? You can’t be serious! No way am I working on Torvald’s research paper after all this!”
I punched him in the arm.
“I’m not talking about Torvy’s research paper. Our project is to figure out what went down here, including what was up with that fake detective. Speaking of which, how did you know he was a fake?”
Eddie smiled and cracked his knuckles.
“Teal, Teal, Teal – think about it! It was totally obvious!”
“Totally obvious? The FBI slip was totally obvious, Eddie. Whatever you noticed before that wasn’t totally obvious, or I would have figured it out.”
“Well if you can’t figure out, I’m not going to tell you. This should be a good puzzle for you to solve – punishment for making me be a troll in today’s game.”
I rolled my eyes and started walking toward home. Sometimes Eddie was invaluable, and sometimes he drove me insane.
As my short little friend ran to catch up, I started forming a mental list of all the questions we needed to answer.
What really caused the green explosions?
Who was the man in the hallway, and why did he know me?
Who was the fake FBI detective, why didn’t he know something as simple as what ‘FBI’ stands for, and why was he asking about the man in the hallway?
And the last question – the one that bothered me most:
Did he really mean something by ‘my father’s condition’…?