I met up with Jay before school.

“Morning,” I said, announcing my presence before taking a seat across from Jay.

He raised one hand in a static wave.

“So, how about that fire, hm?” I asked.

“What fire?”

“Oh, right. You wouldn’t know current events if they showed up to your house with a stack of envelopes.”

“Do you ever just get to the point?”

“Okay, sorry. I’m a little… panicking. Um. So. Two days ago, there was a big fire in the lakefront area. I saw it with…”

Ah. Let’s play it safe on that detail. Samina might not appreciate Jay’s attention.

“…with my own eyes. And, uh, there was this guy walking away from the fire. The forensics team found trace accelerants and did some gait analysis on the photo of the mysterious figure-“

“Gait analysis?”

“Body language. Uh, people have their own unique ways of doing anything, even just standing around or walking somewhere. It’s not conclusive, not by itself, but….” I shrugged.

“They have a suspect, then?”

I set my phone on the table, spinning it a bit for him.

“It’s a hunch,” I clarified.

“The Evening Child? Seriously?”

“It fits. Unless you think there’s many other suspects for mass arson with no discernible motive?”

“The Evening Child is just a bugbear, though. Scare kids into eating their vegetables and shit.”

“His story has been exaggerated over the years,” I agreed. “But even being a fraction as bad as our ‘Evening Child’ makes this Rami Helon guy bad news.”

“He’s under house arrest,” Jay countered, scrolling through my phone. “He hasn’t been given leave to wander around in decades.”

“A lenient sentence, most think. I’m sure it got the lawyer a promotion, though.”

“It says they chalked it up to psychological issues.”

“They had to,” I said. “Nobody wants to think a normal kid would do what he did just because. It’s gotta be accounted for in some five-hundred page textbook with an unpronounceable treatment that’s being bottled half the world away.”

“So, what actually happened?” Jay asked. He held my phone out, but before I reached for it, a hand snapped it out of his grip and pulled it behind me.

I twisted in my seat.

“Sharing ghost stories, are we?” Bee asked, presumably after scanning the headline.

I sighed.

“Well, this is certainly a good one, don’t you think? That creepy little boy, hiding in the cupboards….” She tossed my phone in the air. “…As his classmates all clawed at the doors, screaming.”

My phone landed on the floor, loudly.

“What a horrible way to go out,” another guy chimed in. “Have you ever burned yourself?”

“I bet you’re real familiar with getting burned, Iggy,” Jay responded. “Roasted, even.”

“Your skin would swell up in blisters, then those would burst and peel apart, until you-“

“Ugh!” Bee interrupted. “Don’t be disgusting, Barkin!”

Iggy shrugged.

“Anyway, why are you two reading this depressing old story? Don’t you have more letters from your precious missing demon hunter?”

“Do you want to talk about Isaac?” I asked. “Or do you just want to waste our time?”

“Same difference,” Iggy said.

“Dude.” Jay’s voice caught in his throat.

“You’re just jumping at the chance, aren’t you? You want nothing more than to talk about your missing friend, right? After all, it’s what gets people listening to you, isn’t it?”

“I don’t have the same priorities as you,” I murmured.

I saw a tiny adjustment in the angle she held her head at. Those shaking eyes bore down at me. Nerve struck.

“Just as well, isn’t it? They don’t really care about you. Just this fabrication you’ve devised to take everyone’s mind off the fact that a teenage boy is dead in a gutter.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’ve only gotten this far because the police are too stupid to find the body,” Bee asserted.

“Okay.”

She frowned, apparently bored of my decision to agree with everything she said, and turned to leave. Iggy followed. I picked up my phone. It was cracked.

“Who the hell was that?” Jay asked.

“Deborah Malka.”

“Simon has a sister?”

“He’s your friend, Jay.”

“Well, so was that,” he nodded after Iggy. “Noticing a trend?”

I shrugged.

“In any case, you really think the police would lose track of the guy who set an occupied classroom on fire?”

“Ordinarily, I’d put better odds on someone drowning in the lake,” I said. “But I think I might have messed things up really badly.”

“You can’t be about to blame yourself for this. How would you even influence police procedures?”

“Jay, I think I cursed the police department.”

He blinked a few times.

“I’m not joking. I handed in a magical card that Isaac sent me, claiming it was evidence, and I’m pretty sure it’s blighting the cops with confusion and indecisiveness.”

Jay leaned forward, half-whistling quietly.

“And if that’s what’s happening, then maybe Rami Helon has escaped.”

“Well, shit.”

“Yeah.”

I spotted Jay again at lunch. The boy next to him clearly worked out, and was currently bothering Jay on purpose by sitting so close that he kept hitting Jay with his elbow while getting food from his plate to his face.

I sat across from them.

“Another friend?”

“Ez,” the large boy said, extending a hand across the table. “You must be Erela.”

“I used to at least have the luxury of introducing myself to people,” I said. “Or, more often, deciding not to.”

“To each their own,” Ez said, withdrawing the hand in a way that was very much controlled to bump Jay again.

I shook my head lightly.

“Do you want something? For instance, you have a question about what was in your letter?” I asked.

“Oh, I didn’t read that junk. I like non-fiction.”

“Yeah, you strike me as the academic type.”

“Damn straight.”

“Hey guys,” said a newly-arriving Zev, taking the seat beside me. “Who’s the cuddly one?”

Ez leaned away from Jay.

“Oh. Um, hi… Zev. How’s life? Not like, in a weird way.”

“You really didn’t need to clarify that.”

“Sure. Yeah.”

“There are rumors going around the school. Tall tales, you could say.”

“What’s… the topic? Of the rumors, I mean?”

Zev leaned back, wiggling his fingers. “The Evening Child,” he said, feigning an ominous tone.

“Ah. Heh. Good.”

He shot me a glare, and I shut up.

“Why wouldn’t the police have the guy in custody, though?”

“Can we not do this, actually?” Jay asked.

“Aw, scared of the mean Evening Man?” Ez prodded. “Afraid he’ll come getcha?”

Jay just pointed at Ez, making a wide-eyed expression, like, “See?”

“Hey, dick,” Zev said. “If you’re done eating, can the three of us have some space to chat?”

“Whatever,” Ez said, standing up at such an unreasonable angle he practically tackled Jay.

“Zev, uh, remember the shady guy that was totally setting those houses on fire?”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Right. Yeah, we’re pretty sure that was Rami Helon.”

“What we aren’t pretty sure of,” Jay said, “is what to do about it.”


LOOK BACKMOVE ON

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