The Boy in the Tunnel
In a situation like this,
there was really only one person who could help
The first floor of the
Student Union was dark and silent, its business concluded hours ago. After
dark, activity in the
The door to the Student
Activities Office was locked.
The sharp, marble-white face of Charlie St. James appeared on the opposite side of the glass. Her hair was so black and her face so pale she seemed to have been filmed in black and white and projected here in 3D space.
“What are you doing here,
“Let me in, Charlie. We need to talk.”
Charlie unlocked the door
“If you need more gunpowder you should order it through the normal channels.”
“This isn’t about that.”
Charlie gestured toward
the food. “Do you mind?”
“I’m being followed,
“How do you know?”
“An RA told me. Dragan.”
Charlie snorted derisively around the bread. “I’m aware of Dragan. He’s a perv, but harmless.”
“No, he was warning me. He said someone else was watching me and would come after me.”
Charlie didn’t respond.
“Why would DUH be following me?”
“You tell me.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what it was about either. But DUH must have cameras in the room or something. But it was...I don’t know...”
“The man...I think it was Avery Barlow. I think the Nine Dead Men must be planning something, and DUH’s involved.”
Charlie chewed a forkful
of rice and chicken tikka, keeping her dark eyes on
“So if the man you heard was Barlow, who do you think he was talking to?”
“Somebody from DUH. Marston maybe. I also saw Marston meeting with someone I didn’t recognize a few days ago.”
“Could he have been one of the Nine?”
“If Barlow was talking to Marston, what do you think they were planning?”
“I couldn’t even begin to guess.”
Charlie took another bite of naan and chewed it thoughtfully. Then she took a sip of water and spoke, as if she had reached a decision.
“What if he wasn’t talking to Marston?”
“Who else could he have
been talking to? If the Nine wanted to ally themselves with someone, DUH is the
only organization on campus that could offer them anything they don’t already
have. I mean, except...”
Charlie looked at the half-eaten takeout, considering, then swept it off the table into the trash can. The action released more of the food’s smell, and the office filled with the odor of cumin.
“So I guess now you know,” Charlie said.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
Charlie shrugged. “Why didn’t you tell me about the call?” Charlie glanced at the food in the trash can, perhaps regretting her decision. “Or about your new boyfriend? Joanie doesn’t even know his name.”
Taft was up and walking again, and for that Tim was thankful. He checked his watch: .
“I really have to get somewhere,” Tim said. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got an appointment—“
“Me too,” said Taft, hobbling back and forth in front of the bench. “I have duties, Tim. Important duties. They can’t start without me.”
Tim felt a little tug at his brain. “Can’t start what?”
“Secret. But since we’re such good friends, I’ll tell you. Remember when we would play GI Joes? What happened, Tim? Come closer and I’ll tell you. Come closer so the flies can’t hear.”
Tim stood up. “Can you walk? I’ll walk with you. Where are you going?”
“Secret. Come closer. I’m so happy to see you again, Tim. Has it been ten years? Has it been that long?”
Taft lurched forward, and Tim grabbed his arm to steady him. “Do you still have the Terrordrome, Tim? I always wanted that. I was jealous, I admit. Dad wouldn’t let me have any of the big ones. The Terrordrome, the aircraft carrier, the space shuttle.”
“I don’t know what you’re—“
“Quiet! The flies will hear. They’re all around, Tim. I know your name. We were friends. Remember?”
Tim gently directed Taft toward the Garden gate. “Where are we going, Taddlington?”
“Call me Dave. No, call me Cobra Commander. Remember? You were always Duke.”
“Sure. Where are we going?”
“West Campus. I have important duties. There are seven but there should be nine. The fly told me.”
“What did the fly tell you?”
“He gave me a job.”
Tim pushed open the gate and guided Taft onto the concrete path toward West Campus. Taft leaned heavily on his shoulder, his breath hot in Tim’s ear.
“Listen, Tim. Be careful with the gun turrets. They break so easily. You didn’t sell the Terrordrome, right? You still have it?
“Of course. What job do you have to do?”
“I don’t have my mask. I left my mask at home. I need the mask.”
“It’s all right. The mask is waiting for you.”
“No! It’s not! Tim, you don’t understand. I have important duties. I have a job.”
“You don’t know. Your house had two stories. No basement. Your bedroom was upstairs. Windows on every wall. The room was so bright. There were shadows in the basement but not in your room. Do you remember? I was Cobra Commander and you were Duke. I took an oath in the basement. I have to get my mask or Dad will be upset with me.”
Tim kept Taft shuffling along toward the West Campus quad. He was sure now that Taft was going to Yarrow as well, that Taft was one of the Nine Dead Men. And whatever they wanted to see Tim for, bringing in one of their own, injured and delirious, was bound to win him some points.
“The Oath is important
and only the Sergeant-at-Arms can administer the Oath and I’m the
Sergeant-at-Arms so my duties are important. I took the Oath in the basement. I
was eight. Avery wore the mask and the crown and made me repeat after him. I,
Cobra Commander, do solemnly swear to uphold the values of the
“Who is Avery?”
“Avery is my dad. The fly gave me a message for him. The flies lived in the basement, thick on the walls. The basement hummed, night and day. You never visited my house, Tim. I always visited yours. Why didn’t you ever come over?”
“You never invited me.”
“No one ever needs an invitation. Invitations are for those too afraid to invite themselves. My dad made me a dead man in the basement. I wanted to show you the basement, the way the light from the boarded windows made brilliant lines on the floor. It was a perfect COBRA hideout. Your house was the Joes’ mountain base. We could have gotten walkie-talkies and planned long-range battles.”
Yarrow was in sight now, diagonally across the football field-sized West Campus quad. Tim’s watch said , but they couldn’t start without Taft.
“Tim Levitt. You left, Tim. You left me alone, no mountain base. Just the basement. I know your name. There were flies in your bedroom too. You left. I asked you for the Terrordrome but you took it with you, even though you hated COBRA. I know your name. Your name is on a list. We have enemies all around us. The basement is full of them. They hide in the shadows. We are dead because we choose to be. Those who choose life have made no choice at all.”
Suddenly Taft stopped. He grabbed Tim’s shoulders and pulled him toward him. Taft stared at Tim, wild-eyed.
“Don’t you see, Tim? We are working with the living now! Those who refuse to make a choice! My dad has gone insane. I could have stopped it. Is it too late now? I can still stop it. The fly gave me a message for him. I have a job. Important. Secret.”
Taft released his grasp of Tim and held his hands, the way a magician would to prove nothing was up his sleeves. “Run, Tim. Leave. Leave again. Do as your Commander says.”
But Tim just took Taft’s arm again and led him across the quad to Yarrow.
Dick checked himself out in the bathroom mirror. His right eye was swelling shut, and there was a nasty cut on his upper lip. Blood goateed his chin. He splashed on some water to clean off the blood, and every bruised, lacerated inch of his face screamed in pain.
Once he found Drew he was going to kick that little bitch’s ass. That’s all there was to it. You could say that Dick had won the fight, but it wasn’t enough; he wanted that fucker in the ground. You don’t just knock out someone’s tooth and expect to walk away.
Dick wiped off the blood
as well as he could and walked back down the hall to 79B, Chet and
Back in his bedroom, Dick took off his bloodsoaked
shirt and tie and opened
You said you didn’t have time for a boyfriend, but now you find yourself awfully friendly with a boy. And though you don’t want to say he’s your boyfriend, you have to wonder: does he think of you as his girlfriend? Has he been telling the guys on his hall about you? How much detail does he go into, you wonder. Did he tell them about the Tunnel? About McHolden? Does he describe your body for them? Do they give him high-fives for bedding a volleyball player? You imagine these friends, floppy-haired Neanderthals in polo shirts and dirty baseball caps. These guys. They don’t deserve this knowledge.
But what knowledge do you have? How much do you really know about him? If your’e so concerned about him telling his roommates about you, do you even know their names? Do you know Chet’s major? His last name? His hometown? What his parents do? How will his parents feel about him having a black girlfriend?
Oh look, you just said it. Girlfriend. Why are you thinking about his parents? Are you anxious to meet them? Are you anxious for him to meet yours? How do you think your parents will feel when you bring this white boy home? Do you hate that you still think about things like that? Shouldn’t you be past that by now?
You might as well know now: you’re not going to meet Chet’s parents. He’s not going to meet yours. You can save this anxiety for another boy. Your time with Chet is limited. He knows it. He is counting down the days, trying to play things safe, to keep you as long as he can. That’s just going to backfire.
You reading this won’t help either. Maybe you don’t always want to know what’s going to happen.
Dick flipped through the index, looking for something that would tell him where she might be.
Sophomore year, you share 237 Mary Rutherford with Joanie McKittrick. At first it’s an ideal arrangement—best friends, teammates, Living Creatures—but soon you both find reasons to keep secrets from one another. You start to avoid the room. You spend time with Chet, daring each other, giddy at the prospect of getting caught. Joanie is off with some kid, wasting her time. You could have the room if you wanted it, maybe, but you don’t want to bring Chet there yet. It’s still yours, but as soon as you invite him in, it will belong to both of you. And after that, once he leaves, the room will be half-empty.
Dick leafed through more pages.
As elusive as the Nine Dead Men may be, there is an even more secretive secret society on campus: The Living Creatures. Their sigil, an exploded heraldic crest depicting the Family Delmonico, is not as ubiquitous on campus as King Milo, but its scarcity only contributes to the Creatures’ notoriety, and happening upon one of their spectacular murals is one of the greatest joys UNWG has to offer.
Little is known about the history of The Living Creatures (as with the Nine Dead Men, the usual caveas applies: this may all be entirely fictional). The society is exclusively made up of women, in contrast to the all-male Nine, but exact numbers are hard to pin down. It is generally agreed, however, that there are between five and twenty Creatures on campus at any given point, the numbers fluctuating as seniors graduate and freshmen recruited. The Creatures’ sigil began appearing on campus soon after the first King Milo was chalked in 1967, but abundant rumors suggest that both societies date as far back as the University’s founding.
It is unclear how leadership—if in fact the Creatures
recognize a leader—is achieved in the society, but the most persistent rumors
suggest that Assistant to the Vice President of Student
With no clear picture of the Creatures’ organization having emerged from the rumors, it is impossible to outline their hierarchy; some sources insist that all Creatures share equal rank. Still, the following titles continue to pop up in anonymous reports:
Lady of the Chalice
The Queen of Knives
First among Sevens
The President’s Daughter
Duchess of the West and South
The Jeweled Serpent
The Princess of Thirteen Guns
Traditionally, The Living Creatures have opposed the Nine Dead Men, but what battles they have fought and their outcomes remain a mystery. Surely the Creatures, if they exist, prefer it this way. Like the Nine, they thrive on belief that they are real and influential; as long as students stop and gawk at their sigils, the Creatures will maintain their power.
Dick had seen this St. James person once or twice; she was some sort of sunlight-shunning Cure fan or something. Kind of hot, though, for a chick who looked like she spent most of her time in a graveyard. Dick figured he could stop by Kenya’s room to see if she was in, but that seemed pretty doubtful; paying Charlie St. James a visit sounded like Plan A.
© 2005 Gardner Linn