PREVIOUSLY: Megan beat out Corry for control of the school. To read Carrie, Chartreuse needs Megan not to interfere with the upcoming talent show. She was told Corry’s biggest weakness was also Megan’s.
PART 79a: TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
Laurie’s voice cut out as the line went dead. Megan frowned, punching the redial button, only to be told Laurie’s phone was off or out of service. She stood quietly in her bedroom for a moment, eyes flicking over towards her clock radio – it was almost 11:30pm – then to her bed, then to the pyjamas she’d been about to change into.
“Damn it,” she muttered. What did that poor girl’s brother have her doing now? She walked back over to her desk, opening her laptop and looking up the necessary phone number. Chartreuse picked up after the first ring.
“Something’s up with Laurie,” Megan said. “She just called me.”
“What? You found her??”
“Found? What do you mean found?”
“Laurie ran away from home this evening. It’s, like, totally on me. I was kind of pressuring her into, well, talking to you about the talent show actually. Where is she?”
“I don’t know, but she said something about a cabin in the woods.”
“A cabin? The Veniti’s don’t own a cabin. Megan, what specifically did Laurie, you know, say?”
Megan began to fiddle with her necklace as she thought back. “Laurie wanted help. She asked me to get you, and to come to some cabin in the woods. Then her phone cut out.”
“Okay. I wonder why Laurie phoned you, and not, you know, me?”
Because I’m the better influence on her now, plus I can talk like a normal person? “Chartreuse, you JUST said you were pressuring her to do something she didn’t want to do. Why do YOU think she called me now?”
“Okay, okay. She could be in trouble though, if her phone, like, cut out. Shall we do a little, you know, search and rescue?”
“Chartreuse, it’s 11:30 at night! This is a job for the police.”
“We don’t want to get Laurie in trouble. Her parents, like, don’t know she’s gone. Corry found this note when he went to say goodnight to her, and since then we’ve, you know, both been out searching. Hoping we can work this out without causing Laurie more grief. And since she, like, called you, maybe you’re the best person to come help us investigate the woods…?”
Megan suppressed the urge to groan. “Chartreuse, what’s the point in having all of us stumble around in the woods, in the dark of night?”
“Laurie’s the point. But if you don’t want to, you know, help, it’s fine. I get that you’re tired. I think maybe I know the cabin she was talking about anyway, so, like, thanks for the tip. Should I call you in the morning?”
You’re not better than me. “You know the cabin?”
Laurie phoned ME, not you. “Then I’ll meet you where the forest runs up against that new development north of town in half an hour.”
“Yeah? I’m not ‘demanding’ that you meet me, you know…”
“Funny! Half an hour.” Megan hung up, hesitated, then went to her laundry basket, stuffing a bunch of dirty clothes underneath her sheets in case her parents poked their heads in. They were already in their bedroom though, making it easy for Megan to sneak downstairs, grab her jacket, and leave the house.
“What is HE doing here?” Megan said, pointing.
Chartreuse looked from her, to Corry, and then back. “I said we were both out here. Come on, Megan, Laurie’s his sister. He cares about what happens to her.”
“Right. Pity Laurie didn’t think he cared, or she would have been able to talk to him for help. Instead of running away.”
Despite the darkness, the glow from the light on their phones revealed the scowl on Corry’s face. His hand clenched into a fist. “I waited for you instead of going on ahead, don’t make me regret that.”
“Oh, so you know where this cabin is as well? Then why didn’t you check there as soon as Laurie went missing?”
“It’s a place that used to, like, belong to a scientist called Linquist,” Chartreuse put in quickly. “Hardly the first place we’d think to look. Heck, it might not even be the cabin Laurie mentioned, but it’s, you know, the only one I know of that’s in the woods.”
“Linquist?” Megan blinked. “Wait, that guy who owned the mansion is still in town?”
“Maybe,” Corry said tersely. “He abducted a girl and held her in that cabin just over a year ago, so can we get a move on already to make sure he hasn’t done the same thing to Laurie by this point?”
“Yeah, it’s this way… I’m pretty sure,” Chartreuse offered, heading off onto what might pass for a trail between the trees.
Megan jammed her hands into the pockets of her coat, resigning herself to the situation and falling into step behind Chartreuse. She tried to ignore how Corry was following her. It proved difficult, as not ten seconds later, he asked, “So, Megan, do you think I’m the devil?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Megan countered, without turning.
“I was gonna say, I’m pretty sure there’s people out there who are worse than me. Linquist for one.”
“Corry, your being here doesn’t mean I have to talk to you.”
“True enough. As you seem to be listening though, let me tell you a story about Josh.”
“You wouldn’t know him, because you were at that other middle school in town, and he moved away before high school.”
“I’m going to stop listening now.”
“Laurie came close to getting him hooked on cigarettes.”
Megan nearly tripped over a tree root. ‘He’s baiting you!’ she chided herself. ‘Don’t let him!’ She clenched her jaw, focussing on where Chartreuse was leading them, waiting for the inevitable follow-up. Yet behind her, Corry now opted to remain irritatingly silent.
Her mental resolve lasted at least a minute, but her desire to better understand whatever Laurie had to suffer through every day won out. “How does that even make sense? Laurie’s never smoked,” she pointed out.
“You’ll need the whole story. See, my hobby hasn’t always been high school domination,” Corry began. “Back in Grade 6, I was content to have a small circle of friends.”
“Oh, give me strength,” Megan sighed, clutching at her jacket, feeling for her necklace beneath it.
“There were seven… no, eight of us. I organized a game night every week or so. It was the gaming we liked most. Laurie wasn’t part of that group, of course. It’s not that we were all guys, we weren’t, but despite the two of us being twins, I’m sure you’ve seen how we run in different social circles.”
“You run in entirely different shapes.”
“At the time, I was trying to ease off and let Laurie do her own thing,” Corry continued, undaunted. “After a couple years of keeping an eye out in grade school, not letting anyone bully her, that sort of thing. I figured, time to see if she could manage on her own. That’s why Laurie wound up hanging out with Josh that year.”
Corry paused momentarily as the three of them climbed over a downed tree trunk. “Now, Josh was pretty insecure. A bit like Laurie. Problem was, Josh wanted to be popular. To be a real rebel. And Laurie encouraged that, she told him he should follow that dream, and stop being so concerned about the things it would take to achieve it. A bit like how you enjoy encouraging people to do things, Megan… without considering the consequences.”
“I don’t like where you’re going with this.”
“I’m not surprised. So yeah, it wasn’t long before Laurie suggested to Josh that he get his hands on some cigarettes, like a couple of the “cool” kids were doing. Because that was sure to help him out. And hey, if the things were TRULY that bad for you, the government would crack down on it, right? In this perfect world we live in?”
“Corry, she meant well,” came Chartreuse’s quiet voice from up ahead.
“Laurie ALWAYS means well. Except she doesn’t understand how terrible things really are! Meaning when Josh got caught with them, he was suspended, followed by Laurie too, once she tried to take the blame. Worse, that idiot Josh didn’t learn. He was caught smoking up again a month later.”
“Corry, even if he didn’t learn, your sister, you know, did. And after realizing what she’d done, she started putting more effort into her studies.”
“Thank goodness. Though she also became more prone to talking in excessively illustrative sentences, to give people extra background detail. Tradeoff.”
“Hold on,” Megan cut back in. “Corry, are you implying to me that your whole desire to control your middle school was not merely because of some craving for power, or out of some desire to save your sister from the world – but rather, you hoped to save the world from your sister?!”
“I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but sure, it’s one interpretation.”
“Wow. Way to blame your pathological narcissism on poor Laurie.”
“In actual fact,” Chartreuse said, speaking over Corry’s growl. “I think we accept that Josh’s story is, like, only part of the puzzle. Part of Corry, you know, probably craves power too. This stuff’s not so black and white.”
“Mmmm. There were other factors,” Corry granted. “But they detract from the moral I was aiming for here.”
Megan glared over her shoulder. “What, that schools need better anti-smoking campaigns?”
She couldn’t see his face, but she suspected Corry was rolling his eyes. “Given how those campaigns are easier to put in place once you’re in control of a school, sure, I’ll grant you that too. But I think you know where I was going with this.”
“Oh, sure. The moral is that you’re a narcissist.”
“The moral is to know all the FACTS before you open your mouth!” he snapped. “And to consider the consequences of your actions before you speak!”
“My bad. It was that you’re a narcissist with rage issues.”
“Oh for… this was a bad idea. Chartreuse–”
“We’re nearly there now,” she insisted. “You can’t turn back here.”
Corry let out a rush of air. “One last try then. Megan, do you even remember how you were the one who incited things with Sue last September? How I nearly DIED because of it?”
“Corry, please. First, an attack on you was a mere suggestion, Sue’s the one who took it to extremes. And second, you weren’t fated to die that day.”
“How do you know I wasn’t??”
“Because you didn’t. Obviously.”
It sounded like he was grinding his teeth. “Oh, a perfect circle of Megan logic. Tell me, do you think Sue was always fated to need psychological counselling too?”
Sheesh, how long was Corry going to harp on her here? “Based on what happened, yes,” Megan explained. “I grant I might have accelerated the process…”
“But it’s just as well that I did, so that it happened in high school, while Sue was still able to get proper help. Who knows what would have happened a year later, away from home?”
“Damn. You really do have a rationalization for everything you’ve done, don’t you.”
“I merely help to illuminate the darkness that’s already there.”
He grumbled again. “Great, so what has fate decreed about the talent show tomorrow? Or rather, now that it’s after midnight, today? Still chaos?”
“Who knows? As mere mortals, we’ll only know for sure once the show itself is over.”
Corry finally fell silent, and Megan smiled to herself. He’d been sloppy at the end there, allowing her to confirm the fact that he really had sent Chartreuse after her at school. The nerve of them, trying to use Laurie’s disappearance here as an excuse to double team her! Still fixated on the school’s stupid talent show. No wonder Laurie had run off – it made Megan want to help the poor Veniti twin all the more. Maybe she could find the girl a prayer group.
“Here we are,” Chartreuse declared. They emerged from the brush in front of what seemed to be a one-room cabin structure. Strangely, the front door was hanging ajar. After exchanging a quick glance with the others, Chartreuse edged forwards and peered around the door frame, looking inside. She immediately motioned them over.
“Look,” she said, pointing.
Megan pushed the door open a bit wider, spotting Laurie’s jacket and phone on the floor right inside the doorway. But there was no sign of the young redhead anywhere.
NEXT: Cross Purposes
ASIDE: I recently gave an author interview here at Alastair Luft’s site. Consider checking it out, he has a number of other interviews there too, and a number of them have published.