Angie rolled her eyes and whispered, “That’s not how detectives talk!”
“We’re not detectives! I’m an agent, and you’re just helping me today!” Ryan hissed back.
Angie shrugged and knocked as well. “Hi, Steve! We’re in your math class. What’s your secret to getting straight A’s when you don’t even come to class?”
“I’m not sure about that approach, either,” Ryan murmured.
There was still no answer, not even a sound.
“Do you think he’s in there?” Ryan wondered aloud. “Maybe he leaves without telling his mom. This is the third floor, though. That’d be something to see.”
Angie knocked on the door again. “Hey, Steve! At least yell at us from behind the door or something.”
Only silence. Angie frowned and tried the doorknob. It turned. The door clicked open. “He must’ve forgotten to lock it,” she remarked.
“Should we go in? His mom only said we could try talking to him,” Ryan cautioned, but Angie had already stepped into the room. Maybe she had been the wrong person to bring. The room turned out to be empty of people, but crowded with books, computer monitors, and stuff-- so much stuff!
Ryan could tell something was off about it. The room seemed full of a presence, at least, it was really full and obviously lived-in. There were take-out containers and dirty dishes piled here and there among the clutter too. There was a bowl with some broth on the bottom what was still warm. It looked like Steve had just stepped out.
“The funny thing is, if he is invisible, and doesn’t make a sound, we really have no way of telling if he’s here or not.” Ryan put his thumbs under the straps of his backpack and frowned.
“Don’t you have any sensors that detect infrared heat or something?” Angie asked.
“Ohh,” Ryan liked the sound of that. “I should get one of those. But it doesn’t help us now. I wonder where he would have gone?”
“Nah, he’s in here, all right,” Angie said with a somewhat predatory confidence. “I can smell him.”
“What? What are you, a dog?” Ryan was skeptical.
“Come on! Can’t you smell that? That is the scent of an unshowered, adolescent male. Believe me, it’s everywhere at my house!” Angie sniffed around, shuffling her feet and walking with her hands outstretched. “It’s just a matter of narrowing down where he is exactly...”
There was a slight scraping sound on the other side of the room, like a sliding door moving. Cold air seeped in behind them, and both of their heads turned to see the window opening. There was no screen on it.
“He’s making a run for it!” Angie yelled. “Block the window! I’ll cut off his escape!” She bolted out the door, leaving Ryan to stand by the window feeling foolish. Steve wasn’t their enemy-- at least not yet-- there wasn’t any reason to chase him down. He heard thumping on the stairs and the outside door slam. From where Ryan stood, he saw Angie sprinting across the grass and over the fence. Then with a yell, she fell on her face-- but not quite to the ground.
“Gotcha!” She sprang back up with a grin. Angie made grabbing motions through the air, rather like she was trying to find something in the dark, and thrust her right hand forward. Then she pumped it up and down. “Nice to meet you, Steve!”
“So you really are invisible?” Ryan asked, fascinated.
“Like a ghost,” Steve’s voice answered gloomily. They were back in his room: Angie and Ryan were sitting on the bed (there was nowhere to sit on the floor) and facing the computer chair-- above which a pair of black, rectangular glasses floated.
“That’s so cool,” Angie said, leaning back comfortably.. “Nod your head up and down again!”
Steve sighed loudly and complied, making the glasses bob up and down.
“Ah ha ha, I love it!” She clapped her hands. “Now do Vincent Price’s voice!”
“Angie, stop,” Ryan said and turned back to Steve’s chair. “When did this happen?”
“August 12th.” The glasses tilted. “Woke up one morning and wondered why my mom wouldn’t look at me. Then I looked in the mirror, and whoops! No me. I thought I was dead at first, but I couldn’t find my body anywhere. And I still got hungry. Still tripped on things and stubbed my toes.”
“Can you see yourself?” Ryan got out a spiral bound notebook and began taking notes for his report.
“No,” Steve’s voice said. “But I made myself some custom glasses that can detect infrared heat. So now I show up as a reddish blur.”
“That’s so awesome!” Ryan scribbled as fast as he could.
“Yeah, what did I tell you? Infrared is the way to go! Can I try them on?” Angie added, holding out her hand. The glasses dropped into her palm. She put them on. “Whoa... Ryan, you try!”
Ryan got to see a red human outline wave at him from the chair. He waved back automatically. “This is brilliant. But back to your story.” He handed the glassed out to Steve again.
“Well,” Steve said. “It was awkward going to school, even when no one could see me, because I’d get stepped on, sat on, and bumped into everywhere, so I set up some cameras to watch the lectures. I watch them on here.” The chair whirled around and the mouse on the desk clicked. Ryan and Angie stood up to look over his shoulder. There were wide views of at least five of the classrooms.
“Wow,” Angie said. “You’re invisible, but all you’ve done is study and watch classes at school? I would have milked that for all it’s worth and traveled for free or something.”
“I don’t want to leave my mom alone,” Steve said simply.
“Hold on...” Ryan pointed. “Is that the weight room? You had a camera in there?”
“I’ve seen you both at school,” Steve said, and his voice started to waver a bit.“On Friday, I saw what you did to those ghouls. I’m sorry I ran when you came... I know you’re both nice people, but... What else could I do but run if some Federal Bureau classified me as a monster and sent you to kill me?”
“They wouldn’t do that!” Angie exclaimed, and turned to Ryan. “Would they?”
“You’re not a monster, so no, they wouldn’t,” Ryan said firmly. “Especially if all you’ve done is stay inside and study. They’ll certainly view you as a potential threat, though. But don’t worry. I’ll send my report to them, they’ll register you in their system, and as long as you stay in contact, I don’t think there will be a problem for you to keep living here.”
The glasses wiggled a bit, and there was a small sniff.
Angie rocked forward and back again on her heels. Ryan briefly wondered if she was losing balance or restraining an impulse. “Would you like us to help you explain to your mom?” she asked.
Steve’s glasses wiggled some more. “That would be nice. She didn’t get it at all before.”
They left Steve’s house after, satisfied with their work in reuniting a family and helping out a scared and isolated boy. The sun had gone down, but the sky was still bright. Angie carelessly kicked around the leaves that had fallen on the sidewalk. “I wanted to give him a hug,” she confessed abruptly. “But I thought it would be a bit much, and I might accidentally poke him in the ear or something.”
“I’m amazed that you put that much thought into it,” Ryan said, and wondered why he sounded so rude instead of just sarcastic.
“I know, right?” Angie laughed. “I’m so proud of myself.”
“Actually,” Ryan admitted, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You were really helpful back there.
With the right training, you could easily be a federal agent.”
Angie stared at her feet that were shuffling through the leaves. “I don’t think so, but thanks.” She changed the subject. “Man, my heel really hurts! I scraped it last night, you know. I stepped on someone’s beer bottle. It got all bloody, see?” She pulled up her right pant-leg and showed him a gauze bandage right above the heel of her shoe. Then she looked up and waved to a guy across the street.
It was the same Jake that had been attacked by the ghouls. He was carrying a box and going the opposite direction. He jumped when Angie called out. After a nervous nod, he scurried away and around a corner.
“Do you think the ghouls messed with him? Maybe possessed him?” Angie asked Ryan. “He’s been acting really weird.”
“Weird how?” Ryan replied. “Ghouls don’t usually possess people.”
“Well,” Angie explained. “I don’t know him super well, but we are neighbors. I ran into him on my way back from training last night, and he acted just like that. Then during class today, I caught him staring at me. Several times. I think he may even have followed me for a while.”
Ryan nodded wisely. “Ah, I think I know what’s going on. He probably has a crush on you.”
Angie’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t think so. If he liked me, why would he act so creepy? Nervous I can understand, but creepy staring?”
Ryan bowed his head. “As a man, I feel the need to apologize. Sometimes the fear of rejection can be crippling.”
Angie laughed, but shook her head. “No, if you like someone, you gotta get closer to them, smile at them a lot, find non-creepy ways to touch them, etc. You don’t distance yourself like that--”
She was interrupted by Ryan’s phone going off. He was interrupted from answering it by a distant explosion that shook the ground beneath them.
The phone call was from Bridget. “Ryan, they’re in the town centre!” she said, sounding urgent but bemused, as if she couldn’t believe what was happening. “I can see them from the hospital window!”
“Okay, but who’s they?” Ryan asked patiently.
“More ghouls!” Bridget said. “Five of them! No, six-- seven of them! Oh, my gosh, there are seven and they’re tearing up the town!”
Ryan shivered in the cold, dusky air. He looked up at Angie; she seemed to have heard the conversation. “Call the Bureau and let them know. I’ll be right there."