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The Only Human

Rick Mofina

Copyright 2014-2018 Rick Mofina

ISBN: 978-1-77242-084-5

Carrick Publishing

Cover design by James T. Egan, bookflydesign

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Contents

Chapter One

About the Author

Also by Rick Mofina

Praise for the novels of Rick Mofina

1


It hurts when your mom and dad get divorced.

Even after a year, the pain’s still there.

That’s what Ty Price was thinking as he stepped into the MTA bus he took from Middle School 104 to his mom’s place in the West Village.

He got a rare empty seat next to the window.

Great.

Settling in, Ty saw a few other kids from school talking and laughing but he kept to himself.

He was a loner.

He noticed the old woman across from him was reading the New York Daily News. Above the front-page picture of a New York double-decker sight-seeing bus, the headline screamed: 57 Tourists Vanish!

Whoa! That’s weird! Wonder how that happened? Maybe they drove into the East River? Well, whatever it was, there’s not much a kid like me can do about it. That’s a job for Spiderman, or some other hero.

Ty shrugged and fished into his backpack for his PlayStation. But before turning it on, he resumed thinking about his life.

During the school week he lived with his mom in Lower Manhattan and most weekends he lived with his dad up in Hamilton Heights. It had been a year since his parents divorced yet he sensed that his mom still loved his dad. Not because of the routine line, “I will always love your father/mother,” divorcing parents feed their kids, but because he recently found that she was using his father’s picture as a bookmark. She read books old style. Anyway, Ty figured that the bookmark proved she still loved his dad.

And that had to be a good thing.

Then there was last month when Ty saw his dad looking at pictures of his mom on his computer, pictures of her when she was happy at their wedding and later laughing at the beach. Ty’s mom had a nice smile but these days she didn’t smile the way she did in those pictures.

The bus came to the Park Avenue stop and Ty studied the new passengers. That creepy old guy usually got on around here. Ty was relieved when he didn’t see him.

As the bus rolled on, he continued thinking about how his parents didn’t totally hate each other like the parents of some of his friends. Sometimes he believed that his mom and dad would miraculously declare that splitting up was all a big mistake. That they would be all moving back together into their real home in Yorkville, that he’d be getting his old room back, seeing his old friends more, going back to his old school, getting his old life back.

Forget it.

Divorce definitely messes you up with all that court business, and he had to see a shrink for a while. Doctor Marsha Green, a woman with fuzzy hair who’d always used his official name. “Your parents’ divorce was not your fault, Tyler,” she’d said many times.

Doctor Green had a big aquarium in her office and he liked watching the fish glide in the water. It was like they were flying. They were so peaceful. The fish had helped Ty keep calm in the early days when he’d lost the only home he’d known. His whole life had been turned upside down by having to move across Manhattan, to being the dreaded new kid in school, and to pinball from his mom’s home in Greenwich Village to his dad’s apartment on 151st Street, and having two of everything: two rooms in two homes, two sets of clothes, two addresses, two neighborhoods and too much stress.

At times it got so hard trying to figure where he belonged.

Ty just felt alone.

Maybe that was his fate: to be a loner, keep to himself, do his homework and get lost in his PlayStation where he was an imaginary hero and could kill off everything evil in the world.

If he could kill divorce, he would.

There were days when Ty hoped his parents would get back together but that was just a stupid kid dream and he should just let it go. Yeah, the pain was still there, but not as much.

Divorce is part of life. Just grow up, stop whining and deal with it like a zillion other kids, he told himself as the city blocks rolled by and the bus approached the next stop, Union Square Park.

Oh no, Ty groaned as new riders got on. There’s the creepy guy.

One of the new riders was an old man dressed in a fraying jacket with patches on the elbows, and baggy pants. He had a crumpled hat and his white hair was flying out from under it. He wore glasses and had deep lines in his face that ran under a scraggily short white and gray beard. A worn leather satchel was strapped over his shoulder and he was holding it under one arm with his hand, as if it contained something important, but more likely because it was going to fall apart.

That’s him all right.

The old dude had been riding this bus for about a week, getting on the same one Ty took after school. Ty didn’t know him but each trip the man would sit in Ty’s vicinity and stare at him. Like, really seriously stare at him, like he’d never seen an ordinary kid in his life.

What a freak.

You see a lot of weirdoes and creeps on the bus in New York City and this human dinosaur was definitely one of them.

Ty would just ignore him.

As the old man made his way down the aisle of the crowded bus, Ty caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were intense, like he had some sort of gravely serious issue going on in his head.

Whatever.

Ty looked back down quickly at his PlayStation while nudging his backpack further out on the empty seat beside him, to send a message: Keep walking old man, there’s room at the back.

The man stopped at Ty’s seat.

Before Ty could do anything, he’d picked up Ty’s backpack, handed it to him then sat down beside him.

This was a first.

Ty was uncomfortable. The old man sat so close their legs were touching and he smelled like the basement of that ancient used bookstore in SoHo where Ty’s mom shopped.

Okay, I don’t know if you’re a freak, a crackhead, or a perv, but if you touch me, you die, Ty thought, adjusting his backpack and his position in his seat.

The man shot a quick glance back over his shoulder, then to the front, taking inventory of the passengers on the bus, before leaning toward Ty.

“Listen carefully,” his low, deep voice was filled with concern. “They’re everywhere, watching me; we don’t have much time which leaves me no choice. We have to do this here and now. This is your destiny, Tyler Price.”

2


Ty’s breathing quickened.

How does this strange old man know my name?

Ty’s mind raced. He had a bad feeling about this guy. Whatever was going on, Ty didn’t like it.

Looking around anxiously he found the bus driver’s gaze in the rear view mirror. The driver was watching them, giving Ty some assurance that if the old guy tried anything Ty could yell for help.

Ty concentrated on his PlayStation until his arm was prodded. The man was trying to give him his bag. “Take this.” He kept his voice low. “I don’t have time to explain. Everything you need is in there.”

Ty elbowed the bag back at the old man.

“No thanks.”

“Listen to me! You don’t know what’s at stake!”

Ty focused on his game until a big wrinkled hand covered it.

“Hey!”

“There’s no time left, Tyler. They’re everywhere, watching me.”

“Leave me alone.” Ty pulled his game back and glanced to the front, noticing that the driver, who’d been keeping his eyes on them, had reached for his radio’s microphone and said something into it.

Other than the bus driver no one was paying attention to them, which was typical on the bus, or subway, where people saw crackpots every day.

“Tyler,” the old man said, “the awakening has begun and you’ve been chosen to stop them! It’s been foretold!”

The awakening? Foretold? Only whackos talked like that.

Ty prepared to move to another seat but the guy wouldn’t budge.

“I want to get out,” Ty said.

“You must listen to me. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Ty looked directly at the man. His eyes were webbed with red lines, from the fear that was straining them. He looked rough, like he hadn’t slept and he was sweating. Maybe he was on some sort of medication. But the tone and depth of his voice made him sound half-way intelligent.

How does this nut know my name?

Maybe he was connected to Ty’s school, or his building, or knew his parents or something? Ty was afraid to ask because he didn’t want to get drawn into crazy world. He needed to get off at the next stop.

“I thought I’d have more time to tell you everything Tyler, but things have accelerated. They’ve found me but they don’t know that I’ve found you. They’ll do anything to prevent me from getting this to you and to stop you!

Again he nudged him with the satchel.

“Stop,” Ty said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You will find the answers in here.” The man patted the satchel and held it for Ty to take. “You will find the truth in here.”

Ty refused the bag.

What if it was a bomb, or poison, or something?

Suddenly a police car with its lights flashing cut in front of the bus which was slowing for the 6th Avenue stop. As the car braked ahead of the bus, tired passengers stood at the exit to get off, but the doors remained closed.

“Door!” One woman with bulging shopping bags, called to the driver.

Nothing happened.

“Come on man!” a tall guy behind her shouted. “Open the door!”

Someone started ringing the bell, while at the front, two police officers boarded. The public address speaker crackled as the driver spoke.

“Everyone please remain seated, just a short delay.”

Grumbling rippled through the bus as the driver nodded to the cops, indicating Ty’s seat. The old man’s eyes narrowed.

“They’re coming for me! Take my bag and run Tyler! Whatever happens, whatever anyone says, do not let them take it from you! Only share the contents with those who can truly help you – the people you’ll need to seek out. Trust your heart to identify them as friends, or enemies. You need everything inside for what you have to do!”

As the officers moved toward them, the old man seized the red metal handle of the window’s emergency exit and pulled down.

“Freeze, you’re under arrest!” One of the cops yelled.

But the old man pushed the window out at the bottom. In a flash he climbed over Ty, out the window and down the side of the bus, escaping to the street. The first officer shoved Ty aside and climbed out the window after the man, while the other officer spoke on his radio then shouted for the bus driver to open the bus doors. The cop squeezed by passengers and rushed to the street to help his partner.

Ty watched the old man zigzag through traffic with the cops close behind him. Horns blared and tires screeched. Then Ty heard a sickening thud as a cab struck the old man, flinging him like a rag doll some thirty feet before he smashed to the road.

The man landed on his back and was not moving.

Ty grabbed his backpack and the old man’s satchel, got off the bus and rushed to the accident where some of the bus passengers had joined the gathering crowd. The cab driver had gotten out, holding his head in his hands, apologizing, almost crying.

“He ran right into me! You saw it, he ran right into me!”

The officers were stopping traffic and waving people away.

“Everybody back off! Nothing to see here!” said one of the cops who’d radioed for an ambulance as the bus driver emerged and went to the officers. The three of them were standing over the old man.

Ty inched closer and through the forest of legs saw the old guy was alive but in pain.

“Officer,” the bus driver pointed to Ty. “I saw that boy, that boy right there, steal this man’s bag on the bus, he’s still got it, see!”

“That’s a lie!” someone in the crowd shouted back. “I saw the man give it to him!” Ty turned to see Ella Shaw, a girl from his school that he sort of knew. She had glasses, long brown hair and a blue shirt. “I was sitting on the bus right behind them. The man wanted him to have it.”

The scream of approaching sirens grew louder. One of the cops approached Ty with his hand out.

“Better give me that bag, son.”

“Don’t do it, Ty,” Ella said.

Ty put his hand over the bag and began backing away.

Then the old man weakly raised his head. His glasses were broken and twisted on his face which was laced with blood. He searched the crowd, then, as if taking his dying breath, he yelled.

“Don’t give them the bag! Take it and run Tyler!”

Ty suddenly felt Ella yanking his arm.

“Let’s go, now, Ty!”

“Don’t you move!” the cop said.

The old man let his head sink back to the pavement then, called to the sky: “Run Tyler, run!”

Ty Price tightened his hold on the bag and ran.

3


Ty Price and Ella Shaw ran along 14th Street.

“Don’t look back,” Ty said.

One of the cops was chasing them but Ty and Ella were widening the gap as they weaved their way into the 14th Street PATH station at Sixth Avenue.

They hurried down amid the dank air, the crowds, and rumble of the trains to the platform while watching for police. Catching his breath, Ty dropped his backpack on the floor, shoved the old man’s bag into it then yanked out his red jacket and ball cap.

“I don’t know what’s happening, this is crazy!” Ty said.

“I know,” Ella said.

“We’ve got to change how we look. Do you have other clothes in your backpack?”

“This,” Ella tugged on a yellow hoodie. Then she grabbed an elastic band. Holding it between her teeth, she quickly collected her brown hair, which touched her shoulders, and tied it into a pony tail, revealing more of her face. In that instant, Ty thought she was kinda hot, but had no time to dwell on that.

“Let’s go back up, make them think we went to New Jersey,” he said.

Before they started up, Ty froze. A transit cop stood at the top, by the entrance, eyeing the streams of commuters.

Ty moved back along the wall of the platform.

“Look!” Ella said.

Two more transit cops were at the far end of the platform searching the crowd, talking into their shoulder microphones as a southbound train thundered into the station.

Its doors opened.

“What do we do?” Ella asked.

He looked up at the exit and the flood of people, then at those boarding the arriving train.

“Come on!”

They stepped into the car.

It was jammed with riders, leaving no place to sit. They held onto the post, dropped their backpacks to the floor, covering them with their legs so they were hard to see.

“So are we really going to New Jersey, now?” Ella asked, as the train pulled away, jostling them against other people.

“I’m not sure,” Ty looked around their car for police as his heart hammered. “This is insane. I was just minding my own business on the bus. I can’t believe this happened!”

“It happened, and I’m your witness.”

He looked at her, really looked at her.

Ella Shaw wasn’t in any of his classes but he’d heard she was a brain; one of those super-smart, nerdy types. He had thought she might be cute but couldn’t make a ruling because she’d always worn her hair around her face. That is until now. Now he could confirm it, she was pretty.

“Why did you back me up?” he asked.

“I heard what the man was telling you.”

“Didn’t he sound like a psycho to you?”

“More eccentric, really, but there was something about him.”

“Yes, he was crazy.”

“No, in some way I believed he knew what he was talking about, as wild as it sounded, because something seriously weird is going on in this city.” Ella nodded toward a man reading a newspaper.

Again, the front page was about the missing tour bus.

“Maybe, but I don’t know what it’s got to do with me,” Ty shook his head. “I mean, this is all totally insane. I’m just an ordinary kid and some old nutcase is talking about my destiny, about the awakening, whatever that is. I got math homework and I got police chasing me. Maybe I should just stop all this and give the bag to them.”

“No, think about it. That man wanted you to have his bag. He risked his life to give it to you. You need to find out what it all means. He said you’d find the answers inside. He may have died back there for you. Don’t you think you owe it to him to check it out?”

Ella made sense, Ty thought, as the train stopped at the 9th Street PATH station.

The doors opened and two cops entered their car.

Ty and Ella lowered their heads and slowly turned away from them, watching the officers’ reflections in the window as their police radios bleated static bits of information.

Male, white, approximately thirteen years of age … wearing green shirt … female white … blue shirt …”

As the train rumbled along, the officers moved passed them and through the car. Then they went through the connecting door to the next crowded car behind them.

Ty let out a long nervous breath.

“We have got to find out what’s in the old man’s satchel,” Ella said.

“Not here,” Ty said. “Some place safe. We’ll take the next stop, my mom’s apartment isn’t far.”

“Oh oh,” Ella looked at the car ahead of them.

Two more police officers were passing through the connecting doors to enter their car as the train came up to the platform for the Christopher Street PATH station. When the officers entered the car, their radios issued a crackled dispatch.

“ … male subject’s backpack is navy, female subject believed to have a backpack orange in color …”

“Got a possible sighting!” One officer was looking directly at Ty as the train lurched to a halt. The subway doors whooshed open. “You two!” the cop pointed at Ty and Ella, “Don’t you move!”

Riders began to flood out of the car as new passengers began pushing their way on.

“Come on, Ella!”

Ty and Ella squeezed their way out of the car and ran through the river of commuters for the exit.

“Hey!” the cop shouted.

As Ty and Ella bumped and knocked around people leaving the station up the narrow staircase, Ty prayed no cops would be waiting for them when they surfaced.

There were none.

But the cops behind them were gaining on them. Ty and Ella moved fast and melted into the largest crowd on the street. They got ahead of the cops for half a block before entering The Green Sky Café on Christopher Street.

“I know this place. I come here with my mom,” Ty gasped for breath.

Every table was occupied, the smell of coffee hung in the air. The sudden grinding of the espresso machine overwhelmed all conversations as they moved around the people toward the back and a narrow twisting hallway and several doors. Ty opened one that led to a back alley, stacks of boxes, dumpsters.

He rushed to a rusted corrugated metal fence splattered with graffiti across the alley, tossed his backpack over it and began positioning boxes against the fence.

“Give me your backpack. This is a shortcut to where I live.”

Ty tossed Ella’s backpack after his then helped her over the fence into a narrow and foul-smelling vacant lot. They dropped down together, bending their knees and falling to their butts. When they got up, they heard a deep growl directed at them.

They turned to meet the wrathful eyes of a massive German shepherd.

The strap of Ty’s backpack was locked in its jaws.

4


The German shepherd stood its ground.

Ty’s backpack dangled from its saliva-dripping mouth.

“Ella, don’t move.”

Ty searched the immediate area for a stick, a pipe, anything he could use to defend himself. Nothing was near, except Ella’s backpack.

“Ty, he’s got the old man’s satchel.”

“I know – shh – easy puppy.” Ty crouched down keeping his eyes on the dog while slowly extending his hand, curling his fingers around the straps of Ella’s backpack. Gathering it firmly and standing, Ty made a sudden, hard chest pass, hitting the dog’s head with it. The shepherd yelped, dropped Ty’s backpack and ran off.

“Good work,” Ella said.

Ty cringed at touching dog spit as they slipped on their backpacks.

“I hope whatever the old man’s got in here is not fragile,” he said. “My place is two blocks away, we’ll look at it there. Let’s go!”

Ty’s mother lived in a seven-story red brick building on Hudson Street. It had a blue canopy entrance and sidewalk landscaping. Ty used his keys to get them through the lobby.

“Where do you live, Ella?” He asked her on the elevator.

“West SoHo.”

“With your mom and dad?”

“Just my dad. My mom died when I was eight.”

“How?”

“Cancer.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. What about you? Do both of your parents live here?”

“Just my mom. They’re divorced. My dad’s apartment is on a Hundred and Fifty-First Street. I live with him on weekends.”

“So you go back and forth across the city? Sounds rough.”

“Yeah, you get used to it. Do you like living in SoHo?”

“It’s all right,” she said as they got off on the sixth floor and went to Ty’s apartment. “This is a nice building.”

“My mom’s not home yet,” he said after unlocking the door.

“Wow, this is really nice.”

Ty led her to the living room where he reached into his backpack, pulled out the old man’s brown satchel and set it down on the coffee table.

Its soft leather was worn smooth with dark patches.

Ty glanced at Ella.

“Ready?” he asked.

She nodded and he emptied the contents onto the table: A small scuffed wooden box, dark blue and not much bigger than a smartphone, and a notebook which was about the size of a paperback novel. Ty picked up the notebook and thumbed the pages. They were filled with handwritten entries, most of which he couldn’t understand, addresses and sketches, mostly of old buildings, windows, archways, ledges, rooftops and stuff.

He started reading it.

“What does it say?” Ella asked.

“Something about old buildings and history, I don’t know.” He shrugged and passed it to her.

Ty then picked up the box which had a latch and hinges, no markings on the bottom. He opened the lid. Inside, resting in a bed of black velvet, he found a pair of goggles. They looked like they were from another time. The lenses were tinted violet, the circle caps were polished brass, with small bolts connecting them to soft brown leather, padded eyecups and a leather head strap. Upon closer inspection, Ty saw that each lens was fixed with an aperture, like a camera’s lens, and each had a small button slider at the top of the circular cap to control the amount of light allowed in.

He slipped the goggles on and adjusted the strap. They fit perfectly and were very comfortable.

“What do you think?” he asked Ella.

She looked up from the notebook. “Cool, very Steampunk.”

“What’s that?”

Ella could see her reflection in the glasses as he stared at her.

“Well, it’s a movement or trend, I guess, inspired by the works of guys like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.”

“Right, who’re they?”

“They wrote science fiction back in the day. You know, like, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

“You really are a brain, Ella.”

“I read a lot when my mom died.”

“So what do you think this all means?”

“I don’t know. I need time to study the old man’s notes.” Ella sat on the floor with her back against the sofa and used the coffee table as a desk.

As she worked, Ty kept the goggles on, lay down on the sofa and used his phone to search for any news on the accident.

He found nothing.

He checked messages. He’d received a few stupid jokes from his old friends. Boy was he going to have a story for them. Ty’s mom had texted: “Working late. Going out with Roger.” She’d always said he was just a friend from her office, but Ty feared she was sort of dating him. He was okay but Ty didn’t like it. “Lotsa leftover pizza in fridge,” his mom reminded him.

He then checked for any news on the accident again but couldn’t find anything. Ella was still going through the notebook, occasionally using her phone to research something and make her own notes.

“Are you learning much?” Ty asked her.

“Some, but it’s complicated. Some of it seems to be in a foreign language or code. I wish I knew his name so we could look him up, find out more about him, or go see him.”

“I’ve been checking the news. So far, there’s nothing on the accident. He was odd and all, but I hope he’s going to be okay.”

“Me, too.”

“I’m thirsty, you want anything?”

“Water would be great. May I use your bathroom?”

“Down the hall, the door at the end.”

Ty got two bottles of water from the fridge. When Ella returned she’d texted her dad, telling him that she was studying with a friend and would be home late. Then she resumed examining the notebook and Ty continued searching for news as the time swept by.

“All right, done,” Ella said.

“Good, I’m getting hungry.” Ty sat up. “We’ve got lots of leftover pepperoni pizza. I like it cold.”

“So do I.”

They went into the kitchen and ate at the table. Ty lowered the goggles, letting them hang like a necklace around his neck.

“So what does it say? Why did he give me these?” Ty bit into a slice.

Ella tapped the notebook and consulted her phone as she ate.

“There are tons of notes in cursive and some passages in an old language, or code, which I can’t understand. We’d need help on that. But there were a lot of addresses of buildings in New York, with their history and sketches of them.”

“Hmm,” Ty said.

“The tone of it seemed apocalyptic, you know, like the end of the world was coming.”

“Maybe he thought the buildings are going to all fall down like in the movies?”

“Maybe.”

“So why did he pick me? What’s this all got to do with me?”

“This is where it gets really strange.” Ella flipped between the notebook and her own notes on her phone. “He kept making references to ‘the awakening,’ the ‘curse,’ ‘they’re here among us,’ ‘they’ve found me,’ and then stuff about his efforts to find ‘the chosen one’.”

“That’s what he called me. So why me?”

“Here,” she tapped the notes. “See, he’s got a whole bunch of numbers, stuff about constellations, stars aligning and birthdates.” Ella tapped the underlined words “must find the boy with aligned numbers,” beside a date.

“Hey, that’s my birthday,” Ty said.

“And look at this note: ‘find him here.’ She touched the numbers “02-M104.”

“What’s that?” Ty asked.

“That’s our school district and our school number.”

“So, there’s got to be other kids at our school with the same birthday as me.”

“But look at this Ty, he’s got the term, “He is The Protector,” and underlines the first letter in each word, the T and the P. That’s you, Tyler Price.”

Ty took a moment before he said: “This is getting weirder and weirder.”

“I think the old man was some kind of numerologist.”

“What the heck is that? Another word for whack job?”

“No, I had to look it up again to be sure, but it’s a person who looks for occult meaning in numbers, like a dark or ominous secret message in the importance of certain numbers. And you know what else?”

“What?”

“You say he usually got on your bus at Union Square Park. Well, back in the day, that used to be a cemetery where they buried poor people who didn’t have any families.”

“This is just freaking me way out, Ella. What about the goggles?”

“They’re to help you ‘see the truth’.”

“Whatever that is, and what do I do when I see it?”

“I don’t know. He seems to suggest that you will find the answers.”

She glanced at the TV on the shelf beside the blender.

“Does that work?”

“Yup, mom uses it for cooking shows and the morning news shows.”

Ella checked the time. It was coming up on the hour.

“The regular news should be starting now,” she said.

Ty switched on the TV and surfed among the news channels, stopping on Channel 5, which was reporting an update on the missing tour bus.

“ … that missing double-decker sight-seeing bus has been located – in Vermont! Now get this, a red-faced company official explained to Channel Five that the driver simply got confused about what tour he was giving. Instead of showing tourists the sites of Manhattan, he took them to New England at no extra charge – we’ll be back after the break.”

“Well, what do you know?” Ty said and resumed eating during the commercials. Ella had checked something on her phone.

“Look at this tweet.” She held it up to Ty to read. “That Channel 5 story on the bus is a lie. My parents are still missing and the bus company is lying. Worried in Pittsburgh.”

“Whoa, what’s going on?” Ty reached for a second piece of pizza.

The news returned with a photograph of the old man on the screen as the news anchor reported the story.

“Tragedy this afternoon in Lower Manhattan. Police have identified Bertram Blair as the victim of a traffic accident. Blair, who was seventy, died from injuries he suffered after he was struck by a cab at Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street. Police say he apparently ran into traffic after stepping off of a city bus. No other details are known.”

5


Ty switched off the TV news and looked at Ella.

“I can’t believe the old man died,” he said.

“It’s so sad,” Ella brushed a tear.

“Sure he was strange.” Ty shook his head. “But, a few hours ago, he was just sitting beside me, talking to me.”

“Ty, this is getting serious. I know what I said before, now I’m scared. Maybe we should give his stuff to police. You know, say we’re sorry we took it and just forget about everything?”

Ty looked at Ella for a moment.

“No! Remember his last words when he was on the road, surrounded by police? He said: ‘Don’t give them the bag.’ That’s why we ran from them, remember?”

“Yes.”

“And on the bus he told me that whatever happens, whatever anyone says, I can’t let them take it from me because I need everything inside to do whatever it is I was ‘chosen’ to do.”

“Okay,” she said wiping her eyes with a napkin. “Then we need to know more about Bertram Blair, to figure out what you’re supposed to do. Where’s your computer?”

Ty ran to his bedroom, fished his MacBook Air from a heap of clothes on his bed, then he and Ella scoured the web for anything and everything they could find on Bertram Blair.

It didn’t take them long to learn that he was born in London, England, where he studied architecture and designed buildings before becoming a university professor. But he left England to come to America to work as a New York City engineer. He’d spent his retirement years studying the history of New York’s buildings.

“Where do we start?” Ella asked as the information blurred by.

“Here, we start here.”

Ty pointed to the screen which showed Bertram Blair’s last known address, a building on Amsterdam Avenue and 108th Street West.

“We’ll go there and ask his neighbors about him,” Ty said. “Maybe they’ll point us to people who know more about this ‘awakening’ stuff.”

Ella looked out the window. It would be getting dark soon.

“I know the way. It’s the same direction as where my dad lives.” Ty located the address on the MTA’s online map. “It’ll take half an hour to get there.”

Ella checked the time then bit her lip.

“It’ll be dark by then, Ty.”

“What time do you have to be home?”

“Usually by nine, or when it gets dark.”

“Text your dad, tell him you’re helping a friend. I have emergency money for a cab.”

“So do I, but –” She hesitated.

“Ella, it’s like you said, this is serious.”

“Okay, okay, let’s go.”

They collected the goggles and notebook into the satchel then headed for the Christopher Street – Sheridan Square subway station. They swiped their MetroCards through the turnstile and hurried to the platform where they boarded a northbound Number 2. The train rumbled and rattled in and out of each stop. They got off at the big Times Square – 42nd Street station and transferred to a Number 1 train bound for Van Cortlandt Park.

As the tunnel walls raced by Ty counted the stations, they had eight to go. They passed 50th, then 59th for Columbus Circle, 66th for the Lincoln Center. Along the way he replayed Professor Blair’s warnings in his mind: “they’re everywhere, they’re watching.”

Who? Who was he talking about?

Ty stole glances of other riders. Was it the old woman with the shopping bags, or those two teenagers holding hands, or the bearded guy with ear phones, nodding his head?

How am I supposed to know?

The train passed the stops for 96th and 103rd Streets before easing into the Cathedral Parkway – 110th Street station.

“This is ours,” Ty said.

They surfaced into the night and the distant echo of sirens. Living in New York, Ty and Ella were used to sirens. There was always an emergency somewhere nearby. But as they hurried along 108th Street, and got closer to the address, the wailing grew intense.

“I smell smoke,” Ella said as they turned onto Amsterdam Avenue.

“Me too.”

“Look!”

Billows of smoke churned into the glowing sky as flames licked from the top floors of an apartment complex. The air smelled of burning wood. Ty checked the online picture he had of Bertram Blair’s address.

“The professor’s building’s on fire!”

6


Ty double-checked the picture in the light of the blaze.

“That is definitely Professor Blair’s building!”

“This is terrible!” Ella said.

Firefighters on aerial ladders poured water on the fire from several points. The entire block was cordoned off with clusters of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars. Amplified radio dispatches rivaled the roar of the pumper trucks while flashing emergency lights painted the neighborhood in red and white.

“Over there, Ty,” Ella pointed from the barricade near one end of the block. “Maybe those people know something about him.”

Firefighters and police were guiding residents to safety, helping them step carefully over the fire hoses that webbed the water-soaked street in front of the building.

There were lines of people, some draped in blankets, some gripping hastily-packed suitcases, or cradling a cat or a dog, as they were directed to board an empty city bus.

Ty and Ella squeezed by the barricade and joined the lines just as an old woman stopped to look back at the fire engulfing her building.

“My friend Alice is still in Four B!”

“Keep moving!” a police officer said. “Fire crews will find her and put her on the next bus to a shelter!”

“Where are you taking us?”

“The community hall on Columbus. Now get going! Move it, lady!”

Wow, that cop was harsh. These people were traumatized, they’d just lost everything. He could’ve shown a little compassion, Ty thought as he stepped onto the bus with Ella.

It was loading fast. They’d only have minutes to ask questions and get off before it pulled away. They found a spot near the front where they took stock of the frightened people already seated. Some had soot-smudged faces, some were crying, or comforting others.

“Excuse me,” Ty said to the old man next to him, “we’re looking for anyone who lives near Professor Blair?”

“Bertram Blair?”

“Yes.”

“He lives below me, alone in Eleven C. I haven’t seen him,” the man coughed. “Try Agnes Crane, she’s next door to him in Eleven D.” The man nodded to a woman with white hair at the back of the bus.

“Thanks.”

Ty and Ella went to her. She was wearing glasses and a sweater draped over her shoulders. She was hugging a photo album and staring through the window, the flames reflected on the glass.

“Excuse us,” Ella said, “but do you live near Professor Blair?”

Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she turned to them and nodded.

“I’m sorry, I know this is a bad time,” Ty said. “But do you know what happened to him today?”

“Yes, it’s awful. So many terrible things today. I saw the TV news about Bertram.” Agnes Crane’s eyes brightened a little. “Are you children related to him?” She asked. “I didn’t think he had any family.”

“No, we only met him today, just before the accident.”

“He was such a kind, gentle man.”

“We need to find out more about his research,” Ty said. “It’s important and we’re hoping you might know something more about it.”

“For a school project?”

“Something like that,” Ty said.

“Well, I would type some of his papers for him on his computer. I used to be a secretary. He was working on the history of the city’s buildings. He loved New York.”

“Where are his papers?” Ella asked.

Agnes Crane nodded to the burning building.

“Gone, they’re all gone.” She covered her face with her hands and cried a little. “I guess Bertram’s predictions are coming true.”

Ty exchanged glances with Ella.

“What predictions?” he asked.

“He said bad times were coming,” Agnes Crane said, “and it’s funny but I guess he was right. First,” she struggled with her words. “First he’s killed, and now this terrible fire, which has destroyed his work and our homes. I don’t understand any of it. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. Do you know what he was talking about when he said bad times are coming? Do you know what he was working on?”

“It was something about the history of the buildings. I never really understood it. He was a professor, he was very knowledgeable. He was always studying, or off researching. About a month ago he said he’d made a very disturbing discovery, something he needed to stop.”

“Did he call it ‘the awakening’?”

“He never told me what it was. He said that keeping details from me would protect me.”

Ty looked around then reached into his backpack and took out Professor Blair’s satchel.

“Before he was killed, he gave this to me.”

The old woman’s eyes softened as she ran her fingers tenderly over the worn leather and remembered her friend. Ty gave her the notebook.

“Do you know what his notes mean?” Ty asked.

She nearly smiled as she flipped through it, stopping at pages to read a passage or look at a sketch then she shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” she said. “I often saw him with this notebook. These past few days he was never without it, but he seemed to be growing deeply troubled about what he’d discovered.”

“What do you mean?”

“He would say things like ‘they’re everywhere,’ or ‘they’re watching us.’ Sometimes it would be: ‘We see but we don’t see’.”

“Can you remember anything else?”

“He thought that ‘they,’ whoever ‘they,’ were, would try to silence him. To tell you the truth, I was afraid that he’d become paranoid, that maybe old age was taking a toll. He seemed to be under a lot of stress and I feared it was clouding his thinking.”

Ty removed the box holding the goggles and showed them to Agnes Crane.

“He gave me these old goggles.”

“Oh my,” she touched them. “Yes, he made those. I saw them on his desk.”

“Did he tell you what they’re for?”

“No.”

“He told me that they would help me see the truth. Do you know what that means?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.” Agnes Crane looked at the blaze consuming her building as tears continued rolling down her face. “But the truth is something we search for all our lives, and with God’s help we’ll find it one day.”

“Put them on, Ty,” Ella said.

“Now? Why?”

“I don’t know, just a feeling. Put them on.”

Ty slipped them over his eyes and secured the strap. He looked around, everything was tinted light blue. Then he started clicking the aperture and the color and focus changed. At that moment the motor started and the bus began vibrating.

“Oh no,” Ella said, “Ty we should get off. I need to get home. Thank you Mrs. Crane. We hope everything’s going to be okay for you.”

The old woman attempted a smile.

Ty was still testing the aperture and looking around at the effects as he kept clicking it. Then he looked through the bus window at the burning building and he froze.

A hideous dragon bird, the size of a large man, its reptilian wings flapping, turned its snake-like neck and demon’s head toward Ty. The beast’s vile eyes were glowing with hatred and its ferocious jaws were snapping as it flew triumphantly over the smoke and flames before disappearing into the darkness.

“Oh my God!”

Ty yanked the goggles off and turned to Ella, pointing at the building.

“Did you see that?”

“See what?”

“That thing? That monster!”

“No, I didn’t see anything. Come on!”

“How could you miss it?”

“Ty, come on!” She grabbed his arm. “We have to get off this bus now!”

Ella dragged Ty to the front of the bus just as the driver closed the doors, trapping them.

“We need to get off!” Ella pushed the door.

“Sit down!” the driver put the bus in gear.

“We don’t need to go to a shelter,” Ella said. “Let us off this bus now or I’ll call my father in the mayor’s office!”

The driver gritted his jagged teeth and cursed under his breath. The door opened, Ty and Ella stepped off.

“Come on. I have to get home.”

As they trotted to the subway station Ty kept an eye to the sky.

“Something really weird’s going on,” Ella said.

“That’s for sure.” Ty stopped, put on the goggles and scanned the night sky, clicking the aperture. “Either I saw some kind of special effect through these glasses, or I saw something too horrible to believe.”

“Not that. I mean, the cops, and the driver, were so brutally rude to people during the fire.

“Oh my God, there it is again!”

A few blocks north, rising from the street, was the massive Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Ty had found an aperture that had transformed the goggles into high-powered binoculars.

He saw a dragon-shaped creature the size of a man wriggling lizard-like up one of the church’s great towers.

“Look Ella! There’s some sort of demon thing on the church!”

Ty pointed but Ella saw nothing.

“Try looking through the goggles!”

Ella did but saw nothing. Then Ty put the goggles back on and locked onto the church again.

“It’s still there!”

Ty watched the being crawl quickly out of sight around the tower.

“Ty, we have to get home now!” Ella said.

They ran to the subway station. On the train, Ty’s face was white as he stared at the goggles in his hands.

“I swear, Ella, when I put these on and adjusted them, I saw things.”

“I believe you.” She started texting her dad. “I’m so dead for being late.”

“Ella, did you hear me? I’m telling you these glasses are some kind of portal to horrible things!”

“I heard you, Ty. It’s been a horrible day and I’m afraid. Nothing makes sense. We need to get home, get to sleep then talk tomorrow at school about what we should do next.”

7


The next morning in school, Ty couldn’t escape the memory of the grotesque images he’d glimpsed the previous night.

Darn, I should’ve taken a picture with my phone. Where’s my brain?

The start of his first class, math, found him at his desk sketching the monstrosities he’d seen while struggling to understand what was happening.

His phone vibrated in his pocket.

Ty was aware of the school’s policy on phones but he and Ella needed to stay connected. He’d expected this was a text from her.

It was his mom.

What did she want?

He’d gotten home last night before she did. They’d had breakfast this morning like normal, except he never said a word about Professor Blair, the accident, the satchel, the fire, and the freaking flying demon or the thing crawling up the church. He wanted to keep that to himself while he and Ella worked on finding answers, but now his stomach twisted as he read his mother’s text.

2 detectives at our apart want to talk to you now about a man killed running from your bus! Why didn’t you tell me, Tyler? Come home now!”

This was bad. Ty was trying to think when his teacher, Mrs. Neville, who was standing at the front of the class, said “Tyler?”

He looked up.

“Yes?”

“Your math homework? Are you going to hand it in with the others?”

“Um …” Ty felt all eyes in the room on him.

“Do you have your phone? Are you texting, Tyler?”

“No ma’am.”

“Did you complete your assignment?”

“Yes,” he lied. “I forgot it in my locker, may I go get it?”

Mrs. Neville folded her arms the way she did when she was angry. “You have two minutes, Mr. Price.”

As Ty rushed down the hall, he texted Ella to meet him at his locker. When he got there, he checked on his backpack and opened the satchel to ensure nothing was missing. The box with the goggles and the notebook were still there.

Good.

“What’s going on?” Ella arrived out of breath, her backpack slung over her shoulder. “I thought we were going to talk at lunch.”

“Police are at my mom’s place right now asking questions about Professor Blair! She wants me to come home now!”

“So what’re you going to do?” She indicated the satchel. “They’ll take that from you. What should we do?”

“I don’t know.”

Ty’s phone vibrated with another text from his mother.

Incredible! Police arresting ME! Don’t know what grounds! Taking me away to precinct! CALL DAD!”

Ty showed the text to Ella.

“Oh my God! Ty this is getting so bad!”

At that moment the Assistant Principal, Richard King, came around the far corner with two men in suits. Using his locker door as a shield, Ty and Ella turned and practically stuck their heads into it.

“This way, detectives, our schedule shows that Tyler Price should be with Valerie Neville’s math class. Hey!” King spotted Ty and Ella from the far end of the hall. “Is that you Tyler? Why aren’t you two in class?”

“Hold it right there!” One of the detectives shouted.

In a heartbeat, Ella reached for the fire alarm on the wall and pulled it, triggering ear-splitting ringing. Within seconds the hall overflowed with students streaming from classrooms.

In the confusion, Ty and Ella ran from the detectives.

Once outside they slipped away from the assembled students and quietly hurried off down the street, entering buildings and exiting through other doors, criss-crossing the street, and changing directions before boarding a northbound bus and sitting at the back.

“My dad’s office is midtown on East Thirty-third Street,” Ty said. His hands were a bit shaky when he got his phone and pressed the number for his father’s office.

“This is Phillip Price. I’m not able to take your call right now. Please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.”

“Dad!” Ty blurted at the beep. “Something serious is happening with mom and the police! I need to see you! Call me!”

Ty tried texting his dad, then called the number for his dad’s assistant.

“Good morning, Vinandy-Nystrom Architects, Phillip Price’s office.”

“Margery, its Ty. I need to talk to my dad!”

“Hey kiddo, he’s in a meeting right now.”

“It’s serious. Could you get him?”

“Well, I think it’s a fairly important meeting. The people look intense –”

“Please, Margery, it’s an emergency!”

“Okay. Stay on the line, I’ll go check.”

Ty kept his phone to his ear as thirty seconds passed, then a minute, and a few city blocks rolled by without Margery coming back. Thinking he’d lost the connection, Ty tried calling her back without success. Then he tried his dad’s phone, then his dad’s cell phone, but his attempts were in vain.

“This is not good, Ella.”


The offices of Vinandy-Nystrom Architects were in a skyscraper not far from the Empire State Building.

Ty’s father had arranged for Ty to have a building pass and he showed it to the guards at the desk. They allowed Ty and Ella to enter. They walked across the polished stone lobby and took the elevator to the 24th floor.

The office area was behind double glass doors. It had thick carpet, white leather sofas and a chrome table, to the side of the polished oak reception desk.

No one was there.

Ty and Ella went down the hall to Margery’s desk, which led to Ty’s dad’s office. A few people were out front huddled in an anxious discussion.

“… arrested? Phil Price was arrested?”

“Just now, two detectives took him away in handcuffs, something about somebody getting killed yesterday.”

As Ty and Ella neared them the conversation stopped cold. A tall white-haired man in the group, then the others, saw Ty and Ella. Ty recognized the man as Lars Nystrom, his dad’s big boss who owned part of the company.

“Tyler. I’m very sorry, but we’re all in a bit of shock,” Nystrom said. “Two detectives have just arrested your father. We understand it has something to do with a man’s death yesterday and property stolen from the scene.”

Nystrom’s gaze flitted to Ty’s backpack then to Ty.

“And that you were there.”

Ty swallowed hard without speaking.

“We’re all deeply concerned,” Nystrom said. “If you know anything about the matter, we could go into my office now and call the police. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding that can be cleared up quickly.”

Margery was holding crumpled tissue to her face. Others near her looked worried. Nystrom took a step toward Ty, who instinctively stepped back while tightening his hold on the strap of his backpack.

Professor Blair’s words of caution about the satchel blared through his mind. “Whatever happens, whatever anyone says, do not let them take it from you! You need everything inside for what you have to do!” They were followed by the words of the professor’s friend at the fire, Agnes Crane: “Bertram’s predictions are coming true.”

Ty started shaking his head and backing up with Ella.

“No, no,” he said. “I’m sorry but I have to go!”

Before anyone could stop them, Ty and Ella turned and left.

8


“My mom and dad arrested!”

Stunned by the morning’s events, Ty was holding the goggles in his hands and staring at them while images of the grotesque figures he’d seen at the fire flashed in his mind.

“This whole thing is just crazy.”

He and Ella had fled his father’s office, and took refuge in a McDonalds on Fifth Avenue. Ty called and texted his parents’ phones about fifty times, but he got no response. It was useless.

Ella was again paging through Professor Blair’s notebook, desperately trying to decipher the meaning of his cryptic comments. Ty sat across from her, turning the goggles over in his hands, overcome with fear and doubt.

“I should give everything to police, Ella.”

“No.”

“How else can I get my parents out of jail?”

“I don’t know, but you can’t give up now!” She continued searching the pages for answers.

“But my parents – it’s my fault that they got arrested.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“They’re in jail Ella, it changes everything.”

She paused from scouring the notebook.

“Ty, I don’t think the people who arrested them are real police.”

“What?”

“It’s a feeling I have. I don’t know about cop stuff, but I just don’t think real police act this way. Your parents have nothing to do with any of this. I think that whoever arrested them did it to get to you and get the satchel, to weaken you by getting you to react this way.”

“If they’re not in jail then where are they?”

“I don’t know.”

“Could it be related to the fire at Professor Blair’s building?”

“I don’t know, Ty.”

Looking at the goggles in his hands, he couldn’t believe that the nightmarish images he’d seen through them at the fire were real.

“What I saw last night was hideous. To think those things might be linked to what’s happened to my parents scares me to death.”

“I know. I’m scared, too, real scared.”

“So what do I do?”

“We keep going and we find out what this really means,” she touched the goggles and the notebook. “It’s the only way to help your parents.”

“It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll do it. I have to,” Ty said.

“Good,” Ella closed the notebook. “I still can’t figure out exactly what his notes say. We need to go back to the professor’s neighbors for help.”


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