WE DRIVE SOUTH UNTIL, NESTLED IN THE FOOTHILLS of the Appalachian Mountains, Athens comes into view: a small city sprouting through the trees. In the
waning light I can see a river curling gently around that seems to cup the city, serving as the border to the east, south and west, and to the north lie hills and
trees. The temperature is relatively warm for November. We pass the college football stadium. A white-domed arena stands a little beyond it.
"Take this exit," I say.
Sam guides the truck off the interstate and turns right onto Richland Avenue. Both of us are elated we made it in one piece, and without being
"So this is what a college town looks like, huh?"
"I guess so," Sam says.
Buildings and dorms are on each side of us. The grass is green, meticulously trimmed even though it is November. We drive up a steep hill.
"At the top of this is Court Street. We want to turn left."
"How far are we?" Sam asks.
"Less than a mile."
"Do you want to drive by it first?"
"No. I think we should park the first opportunity we get and walk."
We drive down Court Street, which is the main artery in the center of town. Everything is closed for the holiday--bookstores, coffeehouses, bars.
Then I see it, standing out like a jewel.
"Stop!" I say.
Sam slams on the brakes.
A car honks behind us.
"Nothing, nothing. Keep driving. Let's park."
We drive another block until we find a lot to park in. By my guess we are a five-minute walk at most from the address.
"What was that? You scared the crap out of me."
"Henri's truck is back there," I say.
Sam nods. "Why do you sometimes call him Henri?"
"I don't know, I just do. Sort of a joke between us," I say, and look at Bernie Kosar. "Do you think we should take him?"
Sam shrugs. "He might get in the way."
I give Bernie Kosar a few treats and leave him in the truck with the window cracked. He is not happy about it and begins whining and scratching at
the window, but I don't think we'll be long. Sam and I walk back up Court Street, the straps of my bag pulled over my shoulders, Sam holding his in his
hand. He has removed the Silly Putty and is squeezing it like people do with those foam balls when they're stressed. We reach Henri's truck. The doors
are locked. There is nothing of importance on the seats or dash.
"Well, this means two things," I say. "Henri is still here, and whoever has him hasn't discovered his truck yet, which means he hasn't talked. Not that
he ever would."
"What would he say if he talked?"
For a brief moment I had forgotten that Sam knows nothing of Henri's true reasons for being here. I've already slipped and called him Henri. I need
to be careful not to reveal anything else.
"I don't know," I say. "I mean, who knows what sorts of questions these weirdos are asking."
"Okay, now what?"
I pull out the map to the address Henri had given me that morning. "We walk," I say.
We walk back the way we came. The buildings end and houses begin. Unkempt and dirty looking. In no time at all we reach the address and stop.
I look at the slip of paper, then at the house. I take a deep breath.
"This is us," I say.
We stand looking up at the two-story house with gray vinyl siding. The front walk leads to an unpainted front porch with a broken swing hanging
unevenly to the side. The grass is long and untended. It looks uninhabited, but there is a car in the driveway at the rear. I don't know what to do. I remove
my phone. It is 11:12. I call Henri even though I know he won't answer. It's an attempt to establish my wits, to come up with a plan. I hadn't thought this far
ahead, and now that the reality is here my mind is blank. My call goes straight to voice mail.
"Let me go knock on the door," Sam says.
"And say what?"
"I don't know, whatever comes to my mind."
But he doesn't get a chance to because just then a man walks out of the front door. He is huge, at least six feet six, two hundred fifty pounds. He
has a goatee and his head is shaved. He's wearing work boots, blue jeans, and a black sweatshirt pulled up to his elbows. There is a tattoo on his right
forearm, but I am too far away to see what it is. He spits into the yard, then turns around and locks the front door, walking off the porch and heading our
way. I stiffen as he approaches. The tattoo is of an alien holding a bouquet of tulips in one hand as though offering them to some unseen entity. Then the
man walks right past us without saying a word. Sam and I turn and watch him go.
"Did you see his tattoo?" I ask.
"Yeah. And so much for the stereotype of scrawny nerds being the only ones fascinated by aliens. That man is huge, and mean looking."
"Take my phone, Sam."
"What? Why?" he asks.
"You have to follow him. Take my phone. I'll go into the house. It's obvious there is nobody there or he wouldn't have locked the door. Henri might be
in there. I'll call you as soon as I can."
"How are you going to call me?"
"I don't know. I'll find a way. Here." He reluctantly takes it.
"What if Henri isn't in there?"
"That's why I want you to follow that guy. He might be going to Henri now."
"What if he comes back?"
"We'll figure it out. But you have to go now. I promise, I'll call you the first chance I get."
Sam turns and looks at the man. He is fifty yards away from us now. Then he looks back at me.
"Okay, I'll do it. But be careful in there."
"You be careful, too. Don't let him out of your sight. And don't let him see you."
"Not a chance."
He turns and hurries after the man. I watch them go and, once they vanish from sight, I walk up to the house. The windows are dark, each one
covered with a white shade. I can't see in. I walk around to the back. There is a small concrete patio leading to a back door, which is locked. I walk the rest
of the way around the house. Overgrown weeds and bushes left over from summer. I try a window. Locked. All of them are locked. Should I break one? I
look for rocks among the brambles, and the second I see one and lift it from the ground with my mind an idea occurs to me, an idea so crazy that it just
I drop the rock and walk to the back door. It has a simple lock, no deadbolt. I take a deep breath, close my eyes in concentration, and grab hold of
the doorknob. I give it a shake. My thoughts move from head to heart to stomach; everything is centered there. My grip tightens, my breath is held in
anticipation as I try to envision the inner workings. Then I feel and hear a click in the hand holding the knob. A smile forms on my face. I turn the knob and
the door swings open. I can't believe I can unlock doors by imagining what is inside of them.
The kitchen is surprisingly clean, the surfaces wiped down, the sink free of dirty dishes. A new loaf of bread sits on the counter. I walk through a
narrow corridor into a living room with sports posters and banners on the walls, a big-screen TV sitting in a corner. The door to a bedroom is off to the left
side. I poke my head in. It's in a state of disarray, covers thrown aside on the bed, clutter atop the dresser. The foul stench of dirty laundry covered in sweat
that has never dried.
At the front of the house, beside the door, a flight of stairs ascends to the second level. I begin walking up them. The third step groans under my
"Hello?" a voice yells from the top of the stairs.
I freeze, holding my breath.
"Frank, is that you?"
I stay silent. I hear somebody stand from a chair, the creak of footsteps on a hardwood floor approaching. A man appears at the top of the stairs.
Dark shaggy hair, sideburns, an unshaven face. Not as big as the man who left earlier, but not exactly small either.
"Who the hell are you?" he asks.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine," I say.
He screws his face up into a scowl, vanishes and reappears five seconds later holding a wooden baseball bat in his hand.
"How did you get in here?" he asks.
"I would put the bat down if I were you."
"How did you get in here?"
"I am faster than you are and I am far stronger."
"Like hell you are."
"I'm looking for a friend of mine. He came here this morning. I want to know where he is."
"You're one of them, aren't you?"
"I don't know who you are talking about."
"You're one of them!" he screams. He holds the bat as a baseball player would, both white-knuckled hands at the thin base poised to swing. There
is genuine fear in his eyes. His jaw is tightly clenched. "You're one of them! Why don't you just leave us alone already!?"
"I am not one of them. I've come for my friend. Tell me where he is."
"Your friend is one of them!"
"No he isn't."
"So you know who I'm talking about?"
He takes a step down.
"I'm warning you," I say. "Drop the bat and tell me where he is."
My hands are shaking from the uncertainty of the situation, from the fact that he has a bat in his hands while I have nothing but my own abilities. I'm
unnerved by the fear in his eyes. He takes another step down. There are only six stairs between us.
"I'm going to take your head off. That'll send your friends a message."
"They aren't my friends. And I assure you, you'd be doing them a favor if you hurt me."
"Let's see then," he says.
He comes racing down the stairs. There is nothing I can do but react. He swings the bat. I duck and it hits the wall with a thud, leaving a large
splintered hole in the wood panel. I come up after him and lift him in the air, one hand gripping his throat, the other in his armpit, carrying him back up the
stairs. He flails, landing kicks to my legs and groin. The bat drops from his hands. It bounces hollowly down the stairs and I hear one of the windows break
The second floor is a wide-open loft. It is dark. The walls are covered with issues of They Walk Among Us , and where the issues end, alien
paraphernalia takes up the rest--but unlike Sam's, the posters are actual photographs taken over the years, blown up and grainy so that it is hard to make
them out, mostly white blips on black backdrops. A rubber alien dummy with a noose around its neck sits in the corner. Somebody has added a Mexican
sombrero to its head. Glow-in-the-dark stars are stuck to the ceiling. They seem out of place, more like something belonging in a ten-year-old girl's room.
I throw the man to the ground. He scoots away from me and stands up. When he does I put all my power into the pit of my stomach and direct it
towards him with a hard forward-thrusting motion, and he goes flying backwards and crashes into the wall.
"Where is he?" I ask.
"I'll never tell you. He's one of you."
"I'm not who you think I am."
"You guys will never succeed! Just leave Earth alone!"
I lift my hand and choke him. I can feel the flexed tendons beneath my hand even though I am not touching him. He can't breathe and his face turns
red. I let go.
"I'll ask again."
I choke him once more, but this time when his face turns red I squeeze tighter. When I let go he begins to cry and I feel bad for him, for what I've
done to him. But he knows where Henri is, has done something to him, and my sympathy ends almost as soon as it began.
After he catches his breath, and between sobs, he says, "He's downstairs."
"Where? I didn't see him."
"In the basement. The door is behind the Steelers banner in the living room."
I dial my phone number from the telephone atop the middle desk. Sam doesn't answer. Then I pull the phone from the wall and break it in half.
"Give me your cell phone," I say.
"I don't have one."
I walk to the dummy and remove the noose from around its neck.
"Come on, man," he pleads.
"Shut up. You've kidnapped my friend. You're holding him against his will. You're lucky all I'm doing is tying you up."
I pull his arms behind him and tie the rope tightly around them, then tie him to one of the chairs. I don't think that it will hold him for very long. Then I
duct-tape his mouth shut so that he can't yell and I sweep down the stairs and rip the Steelers banner from the wall, revealing a black door that is locked. I
unlock it as I did the other. A set of wooden stairs leads down to total darkness.
The smell of mildew reaches my nose. I flip the light switch on and begin walking down, slowly, terrified at what I might find. The rafters are littered
with cobwebs. I reach the bottom and immediately feel the presence of somebody else, somebody there with me. I stiffen, take a deep breath, and then
There, in the corner of the basement, sits Henri.
He is squinting from the light, his eyes adjusting. A length of duct tape is across his mouth. His hands are bound behind him, his ankles tied to the
legs of the chair in which he is sitting. His hair is tousled, and down the right side of his face is a line of dried blood that looks almost black. The sight of it
fills me with rage.
I rush over to him and rip the piece of tape from his mouth. He takes a deep breath.
"Thank God," he says. His voice is weak. "You were right, John. It was foolish to come here. I'm sorry. I should have listened."
"Shh," I say.
I bend down and begin untying his ankles. He smells like urine.
"I was ambushed."
"How many are there?" I ask.
"I've tied one of them up upstairs," I say.
I free his ankles. He stretches his legs out and sighs with relief.
"I've been in this damn chair all day."
I begin working his hands free.
"How in the hell did you get here?" he asks.
"Sam and I came together. We drove down."
"You're kidding me?"
"I had no other way."
"What did you drive?"
"His father's old truck."
Henri is silent a minute while he ponders what that means.
"He doesn't know anything," I say. "I told him aliens are a hobby of yours, nothing more."
He nods. "Well, I'm happy you made it. Where is he now?"
"Trailing one of them. I don't know where they went."
The creak of a floorboard comes from above us. I stand, Henri's hands only halfway untied.
"Did you hear that?" I whisper.
We both watch the door with our breaths held. A foot steps onto the top stair, and then a second, and all at once the large man I passed earlier, the
one Sam was trailing, comes into view.
"The party's over, fellas," he says. He is holding a gun aimed at my face. "Now, step away."
I hold my hands up in front of me and take a step back. I think of using my powers to pull the gun away, but what if I somehow cause it to fire by
accident? I'm not confident in my abilities just yet. It's too risky.
"They told us you might be coming. That you would look like humans. That you were the real enemy," the man says.
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"They're delusional," Henri says. "They think we're the enemy."
"Shut up!" the man screams.
He takes three steps towards me. Then he moves the gun from me and fixes it straight on Henri.
"One false move by you and he gets it. You understand?"
"Yes," I say.
"Now, catch this," he says. He pulls down a roll of duct tape from the shelf beside him and throws it towards me. As it moves through the air, I stop
it, suspended about eight feet off the ground, halfway between us. I start spinning it very quickly. The man stares at it, confused.
While he's distracted, I move my arm towards him with a throwing motion. The roll of tape flies back and slams him in the nose. Blood starts
gushing, and as he reaches for it he drops the gun, which hits the ground and goes off. I point my hand towards the bullet and I make it stop, and behind
me I hear Henri laugh. I move the bullet so that it hangs in front of the man's face.
"Hey, fat boy," I say.
He opens his eyes and sees the bullet in the air in front of his face.
"You're gonna need to bring more."
I let the bullet fall to the ground at his feet. He turns to run, but I bring him back across the room and slam him against a large support pole. It
knocks him out and he slumps to the floor. I grab the tape and tie him to the pole. After I'm sure he's secured, I turn to Henri and finish freeing him.
"John, I think that's the best surprise I've ever seen in my entire life," he says in a whisper, such relief in his voice that I think tears might come next.
I smile proudly. "Thanks. It showed at dinner."
"Sorry I missed it."
"I told them you were tied up."
"Thank God the Legacy came," he says, and I realize that the stress of my Legacies forming--or the fear of them not forming--took a far greater toll
on Henri than I imagined.
"So what happened to you?" I ask.
"I knocked on the door. All three of them were home. When I walked in one of them clubbed me in the back of the head. Then I woke up in this
chair." He shakes his head and says a long string of words in Loric that I know are curses. I finish untying him and he stands and stretches his legs.
"We need to get out of here," he says.
"We have to find Sam."
And then we hear him.
"John. You down there?"