Just as Charlie suspected, it took a lot of persuading on his part to talk his mother into letting him go to school on Monday. Mrs. Corrigan wasn’t convinced that Charlie was ready to go back, and would have been happier if he had stayed home a few more days. She was also worried that Charlie would be trying another stunt on a bicycle, unicycle or skateboard and would wind up in the hospital again.
In the end, Charlie won through compromise. Rather than riding a bike to school, Charlie’s mom took him and dropped him off. It had been a while since his mom showed him this much attention, and Charlie felt a little self conscious about it all. But he was glad to get out of the house and back to class.
Surprisingly, Mrs. Corrigan’s reputation for being late was dispelled this morning, and she dropped Charlie off at the front entrance to Cleburne High School fifteen minutes before classes were due to start. She even gave him money for lunch, which Charlie was grateful for, and pocketed, knowing a dozen different places where the money would be useful to him. He slammed the car door, waved to his mom, and ran up the front stairs to the main academic building.
He saw Lu waiting for him at the top of the steps and nodded a greeting to him. Lu had an uncharacteristic grin on his face as he saw Charlie.
“What?” Charlie asked. “Is my fly open?”
Lu shook his head, still grinning. “You’ll see.”
They pulled the glass doors of the school open and Charlie stepped in. About 20 feet inside the entrance, stretched from wall to wall just below the ceiling was a huge red banner. It read, “Welcome back, Crash Corrigan.” On either side of the words were white drawings that looked like wings.
Charlie paused as he came in the door, turning red as one, then several, then dozens of students began to clap and cheer. He paused for a moment, then pushed himself through the crowd toward his locker.
“Way to go, Crash,” someone said.
“Good to have you back, Crash,” a girl’s voice said, laughing.
“My name is Charlie,” he muttered under his breath, his head lowered and looking at the floor. He continued to try to push through the crowd.
“See? I told you we would be a household name,” Lu said, running to keep up with Charlie.
“I think I liked it better the way it was before,” Charlie said. “What’s with the wings on the banner?”
“Oh, that?” Lu answered, suddenly nervous. “Who knows what these silly high schoolers will do.”
“Hey Crash! Seen any angels lately?” a burly senior in a lettered jacket shouted from across the hall, laughing.
Charlie looked sideways at Lu. “How does he know about that?”
Lu smiled back thinly. “I might have mentioned something about it somewhere.”
Charlie stopped in his tracks and faced his friends. “You what?”
Lu shrugged. “Well, we never did say that it was a secret, did we? And I was desperate.”
“Desperate? Desperate for what?”
Jenny Briggs, editor of the school newspaper, interrupted them.
“Good job on the angel article, Louis. Keep it up!” She turned to Charlie. “Welcome back, Crash! Great video, by the way.” She handed each of them a copy of the small newspaper. Charlie read the headline: “Charlie Corrigan falls from building. Now sees angels!”
Charlie looked at the headline, then at Lu. He cringed and crumpled the paper in his fist.
“Lu, you realize that you have ruined my life?” Charlie said.
“Nonsense, Charlie. You’re famous!”
“Yeah, I wanted to be famous like Peyton Manning, not famous like Barney the Dinosaur!” He threw his hands up over his ears and cringed. “Oh man, what am I going to do now?”
Charlie felt someone whacking him on the back of the head, and turned to see Emily standing there.
“Suck it up, guys,” she said. “Aren’t we in this because we are trying to find out the truth? That, and help other people.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “But my reputation….”
“What reputation? You did that stunt because you guys didn’t have a reputation. Nobody knew who you were. Now they do. Forget about it, and do what we agreed to do.”
“Em is right,” Lu said. “This is too important to let it come between us.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Charlie grumbled. “You’re not the one that people are laughing at.”
“Speaking of people, do you see anything unusual here?” Emily asked Charlie. “Of the you-know-what kind?”
Charlie looked up from the floor and looked down the busy hall in both directions. Students laughed and ran down the hall in both directions. A cluster of boys surrounded a girl in the corner. A couple stood kissing against a locker, and another stood talking intimately a few feet away. And Charlie could see darkness in a couple of places.
“That group of guys with the girl. There’s something going on there, something bad. I see darkness over her. And there’s something going on in the boy’s restroom.” Charlie could see a familiar darkness whenever someone opened the restroom doors.
“That gang has been after Cyndi for a week or two to do things she doesn’t want to do. I will take care of this,” Emily said, stepping forward and pushing through the two of them.
“That’s Herbert in the bathroom,” Lu said. “He’s probably selling dope in there. I got this.”
Charlie’s eyebrows raised as he watched his two friends walk away in opposite directions. He saw Emily go up and confront the three boys who surrounded Cyndi. A moment later, the circle broke up and Emily put her arm around Cyndi and led her away. She looked over her shoulder at Charlie and nodded.
“Well, there’s one good deed for today,” Charlie whispered to himself. He turned the other direction and watched Lu. His friend stepped up behind Principal Davis, who was talking to some students in the hallway. He quickly unsnapped Mr. Davis’ key clip from his belt and jerked it away from him. Davis turned to Lu and Lu bolted away from him.
“Louis Watson, come back here!” he shouted. Lu responded by running into the restroom, with Mr. Davis close behind. A long minute later, Mr. Davis came back out the door. Each of his hands were clutching a young student. In his left hand he held Lu by the collar. In his right, he held Herbert Armstrong. As Charlie watched, Davis marched both of them down the hall to his office.
“Way to take one for the team, Lu!” he muttered to him as they passed. Lu grinned in response.
Charlie stood in the emptying hallway and marveled at his two friends. They had been privy to his new abilities for just a couple of days. Already they had found a way to use them to do good. Is this the reason he had received his new sight and hearing?
Charlie thought warmly about it as he hurried to his locker. Despite what Emily said about still having issues to deal with, he did feel like they were becoming friends again. He still had a lot to make up for, but at least she was talking to him. Maybe that offered some hope for his chances of patching things up with Bud as well.
He turned the last corner and approached his locker. He looked up to see a cluster of football players approaching him. In the middle of the players, surrounded by seniors, was his friend Bud Landry. And swirling above them like a solid black thunderstorm were dozens of black creatures.
It had been too loud in the hallway to hear the persistent whispering he had heard in the hospital. Now that whispering overwhelmed the regular cacophony of students getting ready for class. Charlie looked at the cluster of jocks surrounding Bud and at the blackness that surrounded him. Suddenly his concern for his friend overcame his fear for his own safety. He stepped into the middle of the hallway and right in front of the gang approaching him.
“Hey, Charlie,” Bud said. “Or, should I say, Crash?”
Charlie shook his head. “No, it’s still Charlie. Look, Bud, can I talk to you alone?”
Bud grinned out of the side of his mouth and glanced at his teammates surrounding him.
“Why? You want to tell me about angels? Do you see one following me or something?” He chuckled and the others laughed with him.
“Well, actually, yes. There are more than one of them, but they’re not the good kind. I need to tell you that you’re in trouble.”
Bud’s smile left his face. “No, Crash. You’re the one who’s in trouble. If you don’t get out of my face, I will use yours to make a permanent impression on your locker.”
Charlie shook his head, unperturbed.
“Look, just listen to me–.”
His words were interrupted as Bud reached out and threw him against the lockers.