"How did you get in here? And who said you could look through my files?"
Even with Dash keeping his back to him, Mars could tell Dash had just rolled his eyes.
"You don't have 'files', Teller," he said, not even bothering to turn around. "You have a single composition book that your mom bought you from the bargain bin at the World o' Stuff."
"So you figured you'd just let yourself in and go through it?"
Dash turned a page, managing to make the tiny movement into a calculated insult.
"Actually your sister let me in, but other than that? Yeah, pretty much."
Marshall made a wild grab for the notebook, but Dash somehow contrived to shoulder-block him and kept it out of his clutching hands.
Simon, watching the little tableau from the top of the stairwell that lead up to the Secret Spot, (not, he thought, that it could really be called that if Syndi was giving access to anyone who asked) tried to decide whether it was worth trying to head off a full-fledged brawl before it developed or if he'd be better off giving up and downstairs to eat cookies and watch WERD TV with the rest of the Tellers. As the level of noise and invective increased, he came to the conclusion that friendship should come first over homemade baked goodies, but it was a close-won thing.
"What are you looking for, Dash?"
Dash looked over at him, and Mars took advantage of the momentary distraction to snatch his notebook back. Dash sneered at him, but quickly turned his attention back to Simon.
"You two write down all your little "weirdness investigating" adventures in there, right?"
"Right," said Simon, then immediately wished he hadn't when Mars shot him a poisonous glare.
"What's it to you?" Mars demanded.
Dash slouched back against the Evidence Locker, accidently-on-purpose knocking over a neat row of painstakingly-labelled artefacts from various afore-mentioned "adventures". Marshall bristled.
"Okay, Einstein, try to follow along. When Ned left, the Loyal Order of Corn became just a bunch of old guys in stupid hats drinking Cornade behind the backs of their wives and bitching about their asshole bosses. The tachyon portal is just a busted TV now and the cupboard with my marks disappeared, probably right when he did."
"So, it's a dead end. Meanwhile, you two Goonie rejects are wandering around Eerie taking photographs of all kinds of random crap and writing it all down and who knows what any of it really means? Not you two jokers, that's for damn sure."
"But you do?" Marshall didn't even try to hide the undertone of hostility in his voice.
"Well, no, but-" They waited, but Dash seemed unwilling or unable to finish his sentence. The silence grew longer, and profoundly uncomfortable, until finally, grudgingly, Marshall gave ground.
"You can't take our records." Dash opened his mouth, and Mars knew that whatever came out would be some snide comment about "records" and "notebook" and would quite possibly involve the phrase "delusions of grandeur" at some point, and rushed on. "But we'll photocopy them for you. Everything we have. And you can take those."
"Fine," said Dash, and Mars felt like ripping the pages out and throwing them out of the window, making the ungrateful bastard chase them down the street. Unfortunately, the attic window had been painted shut years before the Tellers had moved to Eerie, so he had to settle for a sarcastic "You're welcome" instead.
"We can use the photocopier at the library," said Simon. "They're open late tonight, and I need to return those books on the Bermuda Triangle soon anyway."
After they'd all said goodbye to Marshall's parents and Mars had promised to be home "no later than nine," the three of them walked to the library in near-silence. Mars clutched the reassuring shape of his notebook inside his jacket pocket, and promised himself that the next time, he would be in charge of the stationary shopping and then he would have a whole stack of files, probably with little plastic file tags, colour-coded according to different kinds of monsters and assorted weirdness.
At the library, Simon and Marshall went inside, where a harridan with two inch-long talons painted candy-floss pink walked them through the intricacies of an out-dated photocopier only marginally more decrepit than she was herself. By the time they emerged, dusk had fallen and the streetlights were slowly coming to life.
Dash X stood where they had left him, leaning against the wrought-iron balustrade by the library steps, looking as sullen and black-clad as any other small-town teenager with a name and a home and a family. He straightened a little as they approached, and his eyes were fixed on the sheaf of neatly collated sheets of A4 in Marshall's hand.
Mars handed them over with an obvious and ill-concealed reluctance and Dash responded in kind with one of his best condescending sneers, but he folded them in half carefully and zipped them into an inner pocket of his oversized greatcoat.
"So," said Mars.
"See you in the next life," said Dash, and he was 'round the corner and out of sight before Mars could think of a suitable response.
"What does that mean?" asked Simon.
"See you in the next life. What's it mean?"
Mars shrugged. "I guess it's just a thing people say."
"Do you think it'll help? Our notes, I mean."
"'Cause Dash seemed to think it would. You know. Help."
"I guess it wouldn't hurt, anyway."
Mars looked at his friend from the corner of his eye. Six months on, he still hadn't figured out what to tell Simon about the day they'd gone to see Revenge of the Corn Critters with his family. Werewolves and mummies and ghosts were all well and good, but explaining to a nine-year-old that a collision between two conflicting realities had almost resulted in his best friend being gruesomely murdered in order to boost ratings on a failing TV show? That was a little outside Marshall's area of expertise.