I stood on a corner a couple blocks from my house. The street was dark and music came from the house behind me. With all the windows shut, I couldn’t tell what kind except that it definitely included a bass drum. Cars lined the street in front of it. A man in a devil costume walked up to the front door and stepped inside.
I felt naked. My armor sat back in HQ and I wasn’t wearing the full stealth suit — just the part that could fit under clothes.
“Once my followers would have led you to my house and I would have shown you my wealth, treated you to my food, and shown you my gardens. In these times, I call you from my hiding place.”
“That’s okay,” I began, “I’m just fine with –”
“Once I had an army, men and women such as your friends who loved me as god. Even now I have a few such followers, but too few. I decay, as do we all, and do not command the power I once did.”
He paused, but this time I didn’t say anything.
“You and your friends are at the beginning of your ascendance. Surely you will rule if you wish to, but you are young. You require guidance.”
“Believe me,” I said, “I’m getting a lot of guidance lately, and I can’t say any of us want to rule anything.”
“But you want out from under your mayor’s thumb? You don’t wish to fight off his gang of men forever? You are the enemy of my enemy, and one he fears. We should make an alliance.”
I was barely paying attention to him. I crossed the street, walking a little faster. I knew that the people who had tried to catch us during the cross country season worked for Magnus. They had had our pictures. Now he had my cell phone number.
He had to know where I lived.
“Yes. You, and your friends.”
“So if we had this alliance,” I said, “What exactly would we do for each other?”
“You have the power to act, to make war. My troops are damaged, destroyed, but I have resources, connections with those who have the power to control his wealth, to curtail his power.”
“So you’re saying you’d close his bank account?”
I could see my house now.
“After a fashion. And you will fight him, beat him, leave him on the ground with the blood running down his face.”
He wasn’t making it easy to pretend he was one of the good guys.
“I don’t think I can make a decision on something like this without talking to the rest of the group,” I said. “Maybe you could call me back tomorrow?”
“Very good,” he said, “we will meet and our foes will fear us and run before our slaughter.”
He also wasn’t making it easy to pretend he was sane.
“You could just call me,” I said. “We don’t have to slaughter anything.”
He hung up.
Abandoning any pretense toward calmness, I ran to the side door, unlocked it and ran inside.
I don’t know what I was expecting to find. My parents dead on the floor? Magnus’ men force feeding them the drink of the gods?
Instead I burst in to find the kitchen warm, and still smelling of spaghetti sauce and garlic bread. Past the kitchen, I could see my dad sitting the couch in the family room and hear the TV announcer babbling about football.
Mom was probably already in bed.
Dad stood up and stepped into doorway between the kitchen and the family room. “Something wrong, Nick?”
“No,” I said, “I just thought I might be late.”
“Late? It’s only ten. What were you doing?”
“Just playing video games at Grandpa’s — I mean, at my house.”
“Your house.” Dad’s expression stiffened for just a moment. “What your grandfather was thinking, I’ll never know.”