5:31am, part 13

Once firmly ensconced in the mausoleum, Zeke turned on his flashlight. They exhaled simultaneously.  It wasn’t clear whether or not anyone had followed or seen them, but for now it seemed like they were safe. Lamarr was in the center of the dingy room, her cries having settled to a simmer. Maybe she sensed the dangers lurking nearby.

“That Lamarr?” Zeke asked. “I’d give her my coat, but it’s soaking wet.”

“Me too.”

Zeke looked around, looking more alert than scared. “Hmm, there has to be something to wrap her up in…”

Tommy looked around without responding. The walls were composed of a dozen or so slots each, looking about as grimy as you could imagine. Remains were obviously in them, but Tommy was more concerned about Lamarr crystallizing this memory rather himself being traumatized. He wanted her to forget tonight if it was at all possible.

Tommy suddenly had the idea to take his coat off, and wrap her up in his mostly dry shirt. He did so very quickly, surprised at how automatic the action was.

“Hey, don’t worry about anything, you’re safe. We’ll both protect you,” Tommy said. Lamarr cooed a bit.

“You’re going to get sick wearing that wet coat. You’d probably be better off without it on,” Zeke suggested, but Tommy just shrugged. Lamarr was his primary concern at the moment.

“Hey, look. I knew if I told you the man you know as Milton was my adoptive father, you wouldn’t trust me. But our goals are the same. Well, maybe a little different, but I don’t want to see Zhang or my father as president. You have to know that!”

Tommy decided not to respond to that. He knew Zeke didn’t mean him harm, but forgiving him right away just seemed stupid.

“If your dad emancipates you, where will you go?”

“I dunno. A friend’s maybe.”

Zeke looked hopeful and Tommy just nodded.

A cacophony of voices came from just outside the mausoleum. Lamarr started to blubber in protest. Zeke and Tommy readied their crowbars, assuming the worst.

 

5:31am, part 12

“I’d say this report is pretty damning,” Zeke said, holding up the sixteen page document to the moonlight. It started to rain slightly and he shielded himself with his other hand. Tommy stood awkwardly off to the side, waiting for a chance to speak.

“In what regard?” Milton asked, shifting his weight to one hip and glancing quickly at his henchmen. “Placing headless rabbits around town would amount to nothing more than a misdemeanor. You’ve overplayed your hand, son.”

“I won’t be your son for much longer. You’ve repeatedly harassed my friend, Tommy. I’d say that amounts to a consistent pattern of child abuse. So much for your path to presidency.”

“But who would stand up for you? This would seem absurd to any rational person!”

“Tommy, myself, his parents, we would all condemn you. And now you have the full weight of a forensic analyst against you. It’s only going to get worse,” Zeke said. “Plus, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you meant the headless rabbits as death threats. That is how you meant them right? Even if you meant them as scare tactics, you would still be seen as a malicious person in the eyes of the law.”

Milton seemed to fold into himself for a moment while Tommy was trying to process all of this. Zeke must’ve been adopted. They didn’t look related at all.

“What do you want?” Milton asked quietly, suddenly looking ashamed. But there was no guilt in the man’s eyes, just shame.

“I want full emancipation from you, and a guarantee that you won’t hurt my friend. Deal?”

Milton gave a slight nod, and the group of half-hidden figures fanned out. Apparently, a deal wasn’t in the cards today.

“What about Lamarr?” Tommy asked even as he was backing away into the darkness with Zeke.

“I’m glad you brought the crowbars, because we’re gonna need ’em,” Zeke said. Tommy had already fished the crowbars out of his pocket along with two small cans of mace. They were going to need all the firepower that they could handle.

The rain started to gradually increase. They both turned around and ran for the other end of the cemetery.

“Keep your head down and duck behind the biggest tombstone you can!” Zeke whispered. Tommy nodded and soon found a large stone angel that was hugging an obelisk. After re-positioning the crowbar away from any sensitive parts of his body, he crouched behind the tombstone, trying to see through the torrential rain.

While Tommy was furious with Zeke, his survival instincts had kicked in to knock him off his high horse. He had to survive now in order to seek justice later.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed his shoulder from the base of the obelisk. Tommy responded by whacking the hand with his crowbar and fleeing to another gravestone. He could hear the sloshing of Zeke’s sneakers as he tried to keep up.

Another dark hand reached Tommy, this time grazing his hip bone with a row of sharp knuckles. Tommy smashed what was writhing in the darkness with the crowbar, and sprayed mace at his assailant, which wasn’t very effective because of the rain. But steel to a kneecap did the trick, and Tommy fled the bloody scene to the safety of an imposing structure. Zeke was already there, trying to bash open the lock on the metal doors so that they could enter.

Tommy released his anxiety with a breath as he heard crying from the other side of the doors. He was sure that the sound of howling wind meeting rain and the cracking of bones as they met his crowbar weren’t exactly comforting, but he comforted himself by thinking that at least babies could forget.

5:31am, part 11

Tommy was standing above Lamarr’s crib, thinking the worst and trying not to visualize it. Mom was staring down at the crib too, the headless rabbit that had been placed in the middle was making her avert her gaze every now and then.

“Who could have done this?” she asked. “Bethany was a quiet baby, wouldn’t hurt a soul. We’re just a normal family. Why would anyone do this?”

“L-, I mean, Bethany didn’t deserve this. I’ll get her back. I promise.”

Mom became a christmas elf for a few seconds as her eyes lit up. After the few seconds had passed, they went dark again and she ran from the room sobbing.

“I’ll get her back,” Tommy said to himself. Lamarr was a saint as far as he was concerned. She represented all that remained sacred in this world. Headless rabbits everywhere? Shitty, but tolerable. Half-insane teachers running for POTUS? More stress on an already buckling donkey, but still doable. But no one–NO ONE–was going to take Lamarr and just get by with it!

Tommy was tearing the crib apart to find clues. A fingernail, a fiber of hair. Something!

After a couple of frustrating minutes, Tommy found a bloodstained note under one of the sheets. It read:

Come to Emerald View Cemetery on Thursday. Bring the emails. You know which ones.

–Anonymous, except you know who it is.

Zhang was merciless. He would take Lamarr, an innocent babe, because of a few emails? What a bastard.

Tommy decided to call Zeke. He would probably have a full-fledged counter-conspiracy prepared.

“Leave everything to me. Don’t worry. Seriously. Plan a celebratory dinner. That’s how certain I am,” Zeke said.

Tommy’s mouth was already watering. He hadn’t eaten in ages. It dried up once he glanced at the rabbit again.

Tuesday bled into Thursday while Zeke and Tommy rehearsed their proposal. Zhang would never know what hit him. They took the whole day preparing. Tommy’s parents had called the principal and explained that Bethany had gone missing. He wasn’t happy about it, but had to be diplomatic to some degree. It was part of the job.

More headless rabbits appeared between Tuesday and Thursday, but Zeke just nodded knowingly, smiling creepily. But Tommy trusted Zeke. He didn’t for one minute doubt Tommy’s emerging, ultra-dark view of the world. Things were piling up. Tommy could sense it, and Zeke was more than happy to come along for the ride. Zeke was a very willing partner in crime while the world was turning to shit.

Before heading to the cemetery on Thursday night, Tommy made sure they had the report. It was damning evidence against Zhang and his harassment of Tommy.

“I think we have everything,” Tommy said, pulling the backpack onto his shoulder.

“What about Plan B?”

“You mean, the crowbars? Yeah, got ’em.”

“Things might get nasty. He might not listen to reason.”

That was the first time Tommy detected anxiety in Zeke. But it wasn’t the generic anxiety of a teenager confronting an adult at the height of his knowledge and competence. No. This was something else, but Tommy didn’t have the time to figure it out.

Once they had reached the cemetery, the sun had set completely, and the stars were half-hidden by dark apathetic clouds.

A short but imposing figure stepped out of an old Studebaker. It wasn’t Zhang, but Milton.

“How are you two children this evening? I’ve come to take what is mine,” Milton said, casually waving his right hand in the direction of the vehicle. Several figures stepped out, brandishing weapons of some kind.

Apparently Milton meant business.

 

5:31am, part 10

Tommy had no choice but to believe his eyes as he stared at the screen.

The email from Zhang read:

 

If Milton becomes president, I’ll kill myself. I can’t lose to that hack!

Sincerely,

Zhang

 

“Wow. Can you believe it? This is riveting stuff. Absolutely riveting!…” Zeke said.

“Yeah. I had no idea that Zhang and Milton were Republicans. This changes everything.”

“Something else is going on. Why would two obscure teachers from Middletown High run for president? It doesn’t make any sense!”

Tommy found himself agreeing with Zeke, which made him a little concerned. But since these were absurd circumstances, maybe his paranoia really wasn’t paranoia after all. Zeke was right. This wasn’t just a case of two obscure townsfolk randomly deciding to be president. Something deeper was happening that neither Tommy or Zeke could immediately comprehend. Which was fine, at least Tommy was distracted from the constantly looming specter of headless rabbits.

“You know, I’ll print out the email chain so that I can read it later,” Zeke said, as if to himself.

Tommy decided to go back to looking for the canopic jars. Zhang might be embroiled in a large, earth-shattering conspiracy, but passing biology class was still fairly high on his list of priorities.

“If you don’t pass biology class, you are doomed to repeat it!,” Tommy had remembered Zhang saying. He had addressed it to the whole class, but seemed to be directing it mainly at Tommy for some reason.

The two hours expired soon enough, and the students shuffled back into Zhang’s room like zombified cattle. Tommy was able to hold up one of the jars proudly.

“Where did you find it?” Zhang asked.

“One of the bathrooms on the first floor. I had a hunch!”

“Congratulations! Enjoy your D+”

Tommy would definitely enjoy his D. More importantly, he was happy to find a comrade in Zeke. Someone who might be a little off, who might think a little too vaguely, but at the end of the day understood that something about the world was off-kilter. Something wasn’t right.

After school, Tommy and Zeke decided to go to Zeke’s place and comb over the email chain as if it were the bible. They knew that an ultimate truth rested in those three pages of printed out emails. And Tommy didn’t feel like going home at the moment. Lamarr was okay, but the babysitter might still be there. He still felt a little awkward the other night after he left without saying anything. Mom & Dad would understand, though. They were good people.

Tommy spent the next couple of hours at Zeke’s. Partly because he was enthralled by the emails, but also because of the vibrant colors Zeke had chosen to decorate his room with. A bright orange carpet lit up the room, while a blinding yellow recliner sat in one corner invitingly. Tommy reclined peacefully in a blue beanbag in the opposite corner. The curtains were open and sunlight was streaming through the windows.

“So, which email stands out to you the most?” Tommy asked, petting his beanbag.

“Probably the one where Zhang had asked Ms. Barker if bringing uranium to class was a good idea,” Zeke responded. Tommy laughed a bit, even though he didn’t find it amusing. Uranium just wasn’t that funny.

Tommy’s phone rang. He picked it up quickly. He nodded a few times, his eyebrows coming together and separating as his expression kept changing.

“Everything alright?”

“No. Apparently, someone kidnapped by little sister, Lamarr.”