29. Predators circle, just past the campfire

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29. Predators circle, just past the campfire
Now

“Bravo,” Mr. Aschen says. “I was starting to worry you were incapable of refusing David.”

“I knew you would like this part,” I admit. “Well, with Nora there, it was like…let’s give this a try, instead. I’m not always right.”

“David is…was…losing control of himself, I think,” Mr. Aschen says, a triumphant smile on his face. “When I combine what you’re telling me with my previous notes on him, it becomes a lot clearer. I think David suffered from a dualism of nature. Half the time, he really wanted to do something great—spread Eureka, help people, save the world. But all those same things led him to temptation and brought out the dark side as well. The side that wanted women to worship him, the narcissistic side that didn’t value human life. And David was slipping, Jacob.”

“David’s dead,” I remind him. “Are you more interested in who he was, or how he died?”

Mr. Aschen blushes, red blood forcing itself to the top layers of his skin. The crimson hue looks painful, unpracticed, like a rash. “Of course. Well then, tell me what happened next.”

“We’re almost to the present,” I say.

*

Three days ago

The problem actually disappeared for a few weeks. I started to hope maybe things would die off, and we’d go our separate ways. With Steven promising to leave for good, I almost believed no one would bother me.

The only thing bugging me was my conscience. Once, I’d lectured Steven about quitting because of things our friends did, rather than Eureka. At one point, I thought nothing was more sacred than those ideals the game represented.

Now that Geoff died, I found myself on the opposite side of the coin. Now I was the one quitting thanks to the actions of people, rather than Eureka itself. But, I held firm and didn’t tag anyone. Refusing to tag them was my small way of avenging Geoff’s death.

Each morning I ran the clippers over my head, keeping my hair down to stubble on my scalp. It seemed inevitable that as I ran a hand over the rough aftermath, I thought of Kent and Geoff. I wondered if either of them got a fair chance at life or if they were comets out on a trajectory they couldn’t control, spinning toward a collision that would destroy themselves and whatever happened to be in the way.

Nora was my one salvation against the constant assault of better judgment. Since I’d professed to give up Eureka, she was all over me. I might lose myself in this girl, and nothing else mattered so much.

So, as the weeks passed and graduation approached, the tension mounted. It would be fitting of them to try something then; there was, after all, a precedent set by David.

So, during the week of graduation, I checked every corner and looked behind every door before I stepped all the way into a room.

That Monday, I even thought I saw her in the school halls, a shadow in the corner of my eye as she stalked past the door of my classroom looking every bit the mature adult.

During third period that day, I felt Cameron’s eyes burning holes in the top of my head. Instead of worrying about it, I turned to Nora. “What are you doing after school?”

“Sitting at home and watching old cartoons with you?” she asked.

“Sure. Can you give me a ride?”

“Didn’t you have a car at one point?”

“We had to sell it,” I half-lied. I squeezed her hand, making sure she was real. Making sure she wouldn’t evaporate the moment I told another lie. Some of them were simply…necessary.

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