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The Crabapple Gang: The Gift of Dane - Volume One

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crabapple Gang: The Gift of Dane

Volume 1

By David C. Baxter

Copyright © 2017, David C. Baxter

Shakespir Edition

 

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, digitally, or mechanically without explicit written permission from the author.

 

Edited by Ann-Marie Trammell

 

Illustration by Corbin Baxter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my nieces: Mackenzie, Macy, and Cameron. Thank you for inspiring me to write this novel.

 

And for my wife. Thank you for your constant support in all my side projects.

 

Dane concentrated on the portal’s brilliant light. It swelled inches from his face but he couldn’t see through the swirling purple hues. Dizziness forced him to look down at the laser gun in his hand. Its metal casing reflected the purple light. It weighed surprisingly little, like a toy.

But this was no game.

How many times had he fired this gun? It fired a red laser for causing injury, like in Star Wars, but instead of a blue laser for stun, like in Star Trek, it fired pink.

So much had gone wrong. He’d nearly cost his friends their lives. And yet, they stood behind him in this laboratory, which resembled a set out of Resident Evil or X-Men.

Last night’s storm had unleashed creatures unlike any horror flick or graphic novel: a torrent of chaos and madness.

Unable to keep his hand from shaking, he laid the gun on the desk next to the computer monitor. No matter the danger, he couldn’t take the gun.

The purple light beckoned. He had an idea where it would transport them. There had been clues from the beginning.

He took a deep breath, telling himself the light wouldn’t evaporate him. And if it did, at least he wouldn’t have to keep reading Pride and Prejudice in Miss Bennett’s Honors English, so that was something.

But this was right. He and his friends had been chosen. They were the only ones that could save Mad Murry. He exhaled and took the step, knowing his friends would follow as they had all night.

 

 

 

 

 

01

Brim detested the rain. It added to the filth of this planet. He lengthened his strides. An overflow of water pattered off his wide hat as he entered the bridge’s tunnel. The sound of his boots on the cobblestones assaulted his supreme hearing. He gritted his teeth.

Mirk waited under the faint, artificial light. He must have entered before the rainstorm. His hair was dry and there were no droplets on his duster or shades.

“The night’s storm is a sufficient cover for Andras,” Mirk said, tightening his black tie. “Adequate since we do not retain our usual transport.”

“Jeff sabotaged the car’s steering apparatus.” Brim retrieved the tobacco pouch and paper from his duster.

“The Spandex Men,” Mirk said, “as Jeff calls them, have manifested near the location with a vehicle.”

“Why they use weapons of this planet’s time is confounding.” Brim sprinkled tobacco onto the paper. The sweet smell made this place bearable.

“Our indisposed automobile,” Mirk said, “and Andras are of this world.”

Brim completed rolling a cigarette and pocketed the pouch. “The time has come to retrieve the artifacts.”

“We must succeed. I do not want Krimson involved.”

“Nor do I.” Brim glared at the cigarette. Its tip sparked a flame. He blew it out spewing ashes on Mirk’s shades. “You are the pilot.”

Mirk removed his shades and wiped them on his duster, white hair hung around his face.

He jerked his head up, his cloudy eyes unfocused. “An annoyance is nearing.”

“Wretched things.” Brim took a drag of his cigarette and peered over Mirk’s shoulder.

A twenty-something human rode in on a bicycle. It wore a disturbingly bright blue cap. The vile creature most likely sought safety from the strengthening storm. Humans had such an odd ability of appearing at the most inconvenient times.

He twirled the cigarette at the Earth weakling.

The bicycle swiftly u-turned out of the tunnel and down the sharp slope. A dull thud ended its pathetic screams.

He took another drag. Humans’ faces contorted in horror was one of the job’s few perks.

“Shall we modify it?” Mirk’s smile revealed stained fangs.

“I do not believe the bike-man detected us.” Smoke rose around Brim’s face. “You already fed.”

Mirk put his shades back on. “We will need energy. Krimson believes the fledglings have been chosen.”

“We shall deal with them completely. Their young do taste sweeter.” Brim dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his boot. “This desecrated-world must not obtain the ancient power.”

Mirk’s shades reflected the bulb. He turned the light’s wire cage, clicking it into place. The cobblestones beneath their long coats and pointed boots broke away.

Brim focused on the orange light. His slit pupil’s, smoky-grey in color, flashed red. The bulb flickered out. They descended into complete darkness.

 

CG

 

Out of the trees, ball cap skewed, the soaked bicyclist pushed his bike atop the muddy road. The young man didn’t see the silent, black helicopter lift from the nearby woods. He only spied Andras because it flew over him as lightening bolts severed the night sky.

02

A plump raindrop splashed on the walkie-talkie. Dane snatched it from his tree fort’s window ledge. He stuck his head out for a better view of his street. The wind carried the fragrance of rain.

“Collin,” he said into the walkie-talkie, “its all Mike Myers on Elm Street tonight. Only a few houses have lights on, like wasted Jack-o-lanterns.”

“Most are gone for Memorial Day weekend,” Collin’s voice crackled back. “It’s quiet and eerie like something’s on the way.”

“Nothing better than a big, angry storm,” Dane said, looking across the cul-de-sac. Collin’s garage door was open. “You working out?”

“Just finished the bench press. You reading comics or watching a movie?”

“Both. Back to the Future.”

“Classic,” Collin said. “Sorry I can’t come over. I promised the twins I’d read them a bedtime story.”

Dane glanced at the television. Nearby lightening flashed in unison with the lightening in the climactic scene: Doc hanging from the clock tower.

With his free hand, Dane took out his phone, opened its video app and hit record.

“Thanks for helping me study today,” Collin said. “You know more about it than Mrs. Hedling.”

“Easy since it was on the Mayans,” Dane said. “She has got to start wearing bangs. She could be an evil mastermind with that forehead.”

“It’s over half her head.”

Dane could hear Collin’s smile so he added, “Hedling is such an unfortunate name. Brock and Max just call her Mrs. Head and I don’t think she gets it.”

“Hey, a bl-bl—”

Collin’s childhood stutter grabbed Dane’s attention. He eyed the walkie-talkie willing his friend to unrestrained speech.

“—bl-bl-black cruiser ju-ju-just pulled up in front of the Petrie’s.”

The Petrie’s house was to the right of Collin’s, just before the cul-de-sac. The cruiser had stopped at the edge of the streetlamp’s light.

“It’s a police cruiser,” Dane said. “I can see the lights on top.”

“Dark tint,” Collin said free of stutter. “Can’t see inside it.”

“Maybe they’re throwing a party?”

“Out of town for the weekend.”

Dane crossed to the other window, where his Sony camcorder was already setup on a tripod. “Maybe the city is fining Mad Murry for his yard and something interesting will finally happen on this street.” He balanced his phone on the windowsill. He wanted to keep the phone recording while he readied his camcorder.

Dane switched on the camcorder. It hummed to life.

“Recording the storm?” Collin asked.

“Pressing record now. The lightening will make for a cool time-lapse.” Dane tested the sturdiness of the tripod. His fort’s windows didn’t have any glass, but the overhang should protect the camera from the storm.

Lightening blazed between charcoal clouds.

“D-d-did you see that?”

Dane frowned at the walkie-talkie. Collin never stuttered this much, not to him at least.

“Above Ma-Ma-Mad Murry’s house? Helicopter.”

Dane squinted through furious branches. Murry’s knee-high grass whipped wildly. Maybe the oncoming storm had given Collin the creeps. It’d be a first.

“You there?” Collin asked.

“Nothing but churning clouds, C-man. But I’m recording right over his house, so if there is anything we’ll see it.”

“I’m g-g-going inside. Over and out.”

“Over and out.” Dane went to the other window. Collin’s garage closed shut. The cruiser remained in front of the Petrie’s. Rain started pelting the side of the tree fort. He slid the wooden cover over the window opening.

“Dane!”

Thunder had nothing on his mother’s lungs, but he ignored her. Thankfully, Collin had already gone inside.

“You get in here right now, mister!”

Although, there was a good chance Alex, and even Simone, could hear her.

“I’m recording the storm!”

“Dane Elijah Williams!”

For the love of War and Peace, there was no arguing with the dreaded full-name scream. It rolled off her tongue so well. Dogs as far as three blocks away started barking and howling. Hopefully, Alex didn’t have her window cracked.

“Dane!”

“I’m coming!” Friday night on a three-day weekend and she wasn’t allowing him to watch the storm and finish one of his favorite movies.

Dane moved between the tattered sofa and patched-up beanbag. He turned off the TV and DVD player. To his mother’s protest, his dad had rigged a cable from the house so he could have electricity up in the fort.

He crossed back to the open window, picked up his phone, stopped it recording and pocketed it.

Over the trapdoor, Dane pulled the bulb’s chain. He froze, gripped by the streetlamp’s reaching shadows. Darkness morphed his favorite place into a slasher-flick set. He willed himself to open the trapdoor. He climbed onto the rope ladder, closing the fort up behind him. The ladder swayed in the storm’s building furry. Wind hurled raindrops, sticking hair to his face.

He hung on the ladder.

Should he go back, close the window, and turn off the camera? The camcorder was water resistant and the storm was too massive not to capture on video. But, it was the image of his fort that made up his mind.

Dane climbed down, his sneakers squishing on wet earth. He’d need to take his shoes off or his mom might blow a vocal cord.

Movement on his right whipped his head around.

The kitchen light provided enough to see the tool shed’s dark shape.

“Tub!” No way. His cat was too smart to be out in this mess. A shiver ran through him, which had nothing to do with the cold rain and damp clothes. His backyard was too dark.

Dane dashed for the backdoor. Yes, there was his big orange cat, Yossarian “Tub” Williams, perched on the kitchen windowsill, safe and dry. If not Tub, what had he seen by the shed? Fear chased after his churning legs.

03

Dane’s sneaker sank into mud. He swung, whacking the Wiffle ball with the plastic bat. The ball arched across his backyard and bounced off the far fence.

He readied for Alex’s next pitch, but relaxed when Simone shimmied over the fence. She picked up the ball and ran through the yard snapping twigs from last night’s storm under her feet. Her backpack swung side to side.

“I got the timer for the slide.” Simone dropped the ball by Alex’s Converse.

“Good. I’m ready.” Alex gripped the next ball with her mud-smeared hands.

“The gate doesn’t have a lock, Sims,” Dane said.

“Climbing is more fun,” she said walking up to him.

“I hope you mean that.”

“So we’re still doing it, huh?” Simone swung her backpack off.

“You make the bands?”

“Yep.”

“Come on,” Dane said to Alex, “give it to me.” He readied the bat.

“You’ll never hit her fastball,” Simone said. “Even Collin has trouble with it.”

“I won’t have a chance if she doesn’t throw it to me.”

“You shouldn’t have said that,” Simone said.

He choked up on the bat. There had been more edge in his voice then he’d meant for there to be. It rekindled an ember of anger. Months had crawled by and still this…this distance between he and Alex. A distance he couldn’t travel.

Alex stepped into the pitch, flinging mud from her shoe.

Dane swung, hitting the ball true. “Your fastball, please.” He sounded more himself.

“You guys ready or what?” Simone rummaged through her backpack.

“What’s the color?” He connected with another sailing pitch from Alex. Why wasn’t she giving him her best?

“Nice contact.” Simone retrieved the plastic wristbands.

“It’s easy when the pitcher throws like a little school girl.”

Simone backed away.

“It’s the only way I can get her fast ball,” he whispered.

“Take it back,” Alex said. She armed herself with another ball.

“As soon as you strike me out, Tinker Bell.”

Alex lunged. The ball blurred as it left her hand.

Dane swung, hitting nothing but air. The ball smacked the fence and stopped at his feet. “That was fast, Alexandra.”

“You swing like a little boy,” Alex said, smiling. “And don’t call me that.”

He eyed the bracelets in Simone’s hand. “Thanks for letting me borrow the walkie-talkies.”

“The internet is getting really bad,” Simone said. “My dad had a technician specialist come out. He had no clue.”

“Well if you couldn’t fix it,” Alex said, joining them.

“It’s all the fracking,” Paul said, coming out through the kitchen door. Collin followed, shirtless with a towel around his neck.

Dane dropped the bat. “I read this conspiracy theory online that the U.S. is starting wars in the Middle East to build a secret pipeline to the shore, so we don’t have to depend on oil.”

“You and your conspiracy theories,” Alex said.

“I saw the map and everything,” Dane said. “And you like conspiracy theories, too.”

Alex simply plucked a leaf out of Paul’s curly hair.

An oil-rig-fire burned inside Dane. “How many billions do the oil companies need to make?”

Paul nodded, “They’re going to bleed our planet dry.”

Simone handed out plastic bands.

“Purple?” Collin said.

“Do you remember?” Simone asked. “It’s been a year.”

“Guess it’s a purple kind of day,” Dane said, examining the band’s plain white back and printed color.

“We do not need a plumber!” His dad stormed out of the house wearing his typical warm-weather weekend gear: a plain white t-shirt, holey khaki shorts and a scowl on his face. His flip-flops flipped twigs every which way. He charged, pulling up at the last minute apparently deciding not to take the shed head-on.

“I could totally fix it,” Simone said in a low voice.

“Don’t take it personally. He won’t let anyone help him.”

His dad whirled around, “Dane, how many times have I told you to lock up the shed? What did you do with it?”

“I hate going in there,” Dane said, not liking the crack in his voice. “What would I do with the lock?”

“If you see it put it back, please.” His dad disappeared into the shed’s foul mouth.

“You even got a please.” Alex put an arm around his shoulders. “Must be your lucky day.”

Alex’s touch almost made his dad’s ranting worth it. “I should buy a lottery ticket.” “My sister can buy it for you,” Paul said.

“Oh no, she’s in town for the weekend?” Dane said. “That’s too bad.”

“I’m coping as best I can.” Paul’s index finger circled the peace sign hanging from his neck. Its hemp thread matched his olive skin.

The screen door banged shut. Dane had been afraid it was his mom coming out. The last thing he wanted was a Mom vs. Dad verbal throw down in front of Alex and all of his friends. But it was only Tub escaping the house. His furry friend bounded up the tree and found his favorite spot on the tree fort’s window ledge. He sat and watched birds in the tree.

Collin nodded to the kitchen window. “Faucet still dripping?”

“All he needs is an adjustable pipe wrench.” Simone pushed up her glasses. “But he won’t listen.”

His dad rumbled out into the yard, gripping a rusty wrench. He didn’t bother shutting the shed door.

“How is your dad not falling over?” Alex whispered.

Paul snickered.

His father mumbled like an insane villain all the way into the house. The screen door slammed shut, echoing his dad’s madness.

Dane let out a long sigh. “Let’s go.”

“He had an open-end wrench,” Simone said, “best for nuts and bolts.”

“You bring your longboard?” Dane asked Alex, wanting the whole sink fiasco forgotten.

Alex ignored him repeatedly tossing and catching a plastic ball. “Sims, you got the right wrench in your backpack?”

Simone shook her head.

“Does your dad have one?” Collin asked.

“Probably not,” Dane said. “But my grandfather’s old tools are in there.” Uneasiness settled in his gut, he knew what was coming. Regret and dread churned stomach bile as Collin and Simone walked to the shed.

Alex studied him. “You need to cut back on the horror flicks, Tinker Bell. Come on, Paul.”

04

Enough light entered the shed’s opening for Dane to spot the flashlight. Its magnetic strip fastened it to the metal wall. He pulled it off and switched it on. Last night’s view of the dark-movement crept from the cobwebs of his mind. Had there really been someone or some thing, in his backyard? What had happened to the lock? What could be lurking within these walls? There were too many hiding places to know for sure.

Something crashed. Dane released a tiny scream.

“Booger bubble! That hurt.”

That was a Simone cussword. The fear of someone dinging his dad’s golf clubs forced him into the creepy clutter. He swung the flashlight across some crates and found Simone. “Careful not to break anything.”

“I’m good,” Simone said, rubbing her shin.

“I think he means the glamorous-junky-stuff,” Paul said.

Simone straightened. “See if I let you fly my new helicopter.”

“My dad will kill me,” Dane said. “Like your dad with his vinyl collection.”

“This is your dad’s special stuff?” Alex came around a stack of buckets. She held a paintbrush glued to the side of an old paint can.

“Is that light-blue?” Paul asked. “Maybe your baby room color?”

“Your nightlight,” Alex said, “is three times brighter than that flashlight.”

“Hey,” Dane said, “I can read a comic in bed with my Yoda light.”

“Found a toolbox.”

Dane swung the light around. Collin’s voice had come from the far corner, lost behind a mountain of gravity-defying boxes.

Dane led his friends through the only path to the back of the shed. Walking single file, it was certain death if anything fell on them.

“What’s in all those boxes?” Simone asked.

“Safest place for the Holy Grail,” Dane said, stepping over an old vacuum cleaner. “My entire life not a single one ever opened.”

“You really that scared in here?” Alex asked.

“What? No. Why?”

“You use humor as self-defense.”

Thankfully, the weak light reached Collin’s bare back. How could he remain shirtless in here with all the spiders and bugs?

The toolbox rested on a never-before-used table saw. And, the saw was nestled between an electric sander and a stack of Good Housekeeping magazines.

Dane apprehensively opened Pa G’s toolbox, wiping away scenes of swarming, sadistic spiders from his mind. The toolbox released a breath of rust and time.

“Smells like the twins’ penny jar,” Collin said.

Alex leaned in. “Do you see it?”

“Nope,” Simone replied.

Paul grabbed a tool. “This it?”

“Those are pliers, Paulie,” Simone said, smiling.

“Worth a shot.” Paul tossed the pliers back into the box and smeared a line of grime on his white t-shirt.

The flashlight fizzled out. “Let’s go,” Dane said.

“Don’t worry, Dane,” Paul said, “I read online about a few celebrities who also suffer from nyctophobia. Even Collin’s favorite tennis player.”

“No way,” Collin said, sounding physically wounded.

“Nyctophobia?” Alex asked.

“Fear of the dark,” Paul said, smiling.

“I’m not afraid of the dark.” He bashed the flashlight against his hand, maybe a little too hard, but it did come back to life.

Collin picked up another tool.

The feeble light shone on it.

“That’s it,” Simone said. “An adjustable pipe wrench.” She took the wrench and put it in her backpack.

Dane didn’t bother banging the flashlight when the light went out again. “All right, let’s go. This place is bad enough with light.”

Next to him, Alex chuckled. “You have shed-o-phobia.”

“Very funny,” he said.

“Sorry, Dane,” Paul said. “I don’t know of anyone famous afraid of tool sheds.”

“Hey, Sims—” Alex started.

“On it,” Simone unzipped her backpack.

“I have read,” Paul said, “of people being afraid of antique furniture. But not tool sheds.”

Dane gestured to Simone’s backpack. “You got your helicopter in there?” He wanted to change the subject.

“Two of them,” Simone said. “Figured we could fly them in the field by the pool.”

“Why don’t we take the toolbox outside, plenty of light out there,” Dane said over Alex clanking tools. “This thing called the sun, pretty, pretty bright.”

“You’re doing it again,” Alex said, lifting out the toolbox’s tray. “What’s this?”

“You’re right,” he said, “more of a Friday The 13th theme going on in here.”

“Should’ve thought of this earlier,” Simone said, switching on her two Micro Spy Light earpieces. “I could’ve saved my shin.”

The toys’ orange light illuminated what Alex had found: a drawstring pouch. It might have been cream-colored, but it was hard to tell with the lights.

Alex cautiously opened it. “I think it may be jewelry.”

“My mom’s dad did own a pawn shop,” Dane said. “But the toolbox belonged to my dad’s—”

“Hey!”

Even Collin was startled. Alex and Paul bumped heads.

The orange lights swirled around. Just visible, past the boxes, his dad’s silhouette stood at the opening. “Dane, take the recycle to the curb before you go.”

“Will do, Dad.” Dane hid the dead flashlight behind his leg, which was silly. There was no way his dad could see it. Dane glanced at Alex and then Simone. They caught his signal and knew what to do.

“And you kids don’t need to be in here.”

It was an empty threat. His dad had already gone.

He was glad for the interruption. He was ready to enjoy the sun and get out of this murky, metal box. “You bring your longboard?” he asked Alex.

“We’re not still doing that, are we?” Paul said. “It’s beyond idiotic.”

05

Dane rested his bike against the tree. Leaves stretched for the vibrant sky. The oak’s expansive branches separated sunlight. The pool’s speakers played some upbeat song. Thankfully, the constant drone of laughter and chatter drowned out the lyrics.

“I don’t think it’s that high, Paulie,” Dane said.

His friends rested their bikes in the grass, except for Alex, who held onto her longboard. She didn’t like it as much as her regular board because it was more for cruising than for speed. But they needed the longboard’s four-foot frame.

“Why did you say you picked purple?” Paul asked, taking out his band.

“Someone else can do the pool-bands next time,” Simone said. “I’m always the one making and building stuff.”

“But, you’re good at it,” Collin said, giving her a side hug with her head level with his chest.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Dane said, clipping on his bracelet. “Let’s do this.”

“Hold this,” Alex said, rolling her eyes and shoving the longboard at him. She stepped onto his bike seat and climbed up the tree’s low branches, which conveniently hid them from pool patrons and, more importantly, the lifeguards.

Alex wore a t-shirt and shorts over her swimsuit, which protected her better from scratches.

Paul traced his medallion. “Let’s just pay the five bucks.”

“I agree,” Collin said.

“With the bands on,” Simone said, watching Alex, “we might be able to simply walk in.”

Alex reached the halfway point.

“No this is more fun.” He stepped on his bike seat, grabbed a branch, and lifted the board up. Alex took it with her fingertips.

“If you fall off a seven-foot ladder you’re going ten miles an hour,” Paul said. “You’re currently climbing about two-stories, which is equivalent to falling at a speed of twenty-five miles an hour. So, when you fall, you’ll definitely break something.”

“Thanks for the math lesson, Paul,” Dane said.

Dane concentrated on nothing but the climb up. Leaves rustled agreeably in the breeze. He didn’t make it up as fast as Alex, but it only took him a few minutes to reach her height.

Alex circled around the trunk to the side facing the fence and pool. She slipped, right leg flailing.

Dane reached around for her. Rough bark bit into his arm. Alex was out of his grasp. But it didn’t matter. She regained her balance. Her reflexes were second to only Collin.

Far below, his friends stood in silence on the ground, a blur of bright-colored swimsuits and wide eyes. His heart matched the song’s tempo. The branch he perched on seemed much higher than from the ground.

“This is stupid,” Dane said. “Let’s just climb down and pay.”

Alex didn’t look back at him, even her ponytail hung motionless. Was she gathering courage?

“You going to the parade tomorrow?” Alex asked.

The casualness of the question jabbed him. He gripped the trunk, ignoring the pain in his hands. What did she mean with this question?

Alex lowered to her knees and crawled further out, pushing the upside-down board.

Dane did his best to concentrate on the tree. He climbed around the trunk, stepping on the branch, and dropping to his knees. He clung to the branch with trembling hands. On his knees, he eased out, his eyes never leaving the limb and his hands. He only stopped after his head bumped into Alex’s shorts.

He heard her fit the longboard into the tree on the other side of the iron fence.

“You’re going, right?” he asked.

Alex glanced back. “Give me a sec.”

“I mean the parade.”

“Oh. No. I have other plans.”

Other plans! They had all gone to the parade together for the last three years. They hadn’t talked about it, but it was understood. It was tradition.

“I’ll go first.” It was all he could think to say.

“How would you get around me?” Alex asked.

“Well, test the board then.” He fast-balled the words at her not caring if she noticed.

Alex moved carefully onto the board.

How could she be so casual sounding? He willed her to slip again. That way he could save her and she would go to the parade with him. But one look at the fence below speared the heroic fantasy.

He gulped. If either of them fell, or the board didn’t hold, the fence would impale them like a B-movie-vampire.

The two trees’ branches intermingled. Within seconds, Alex crawled to the other side. She started climbing down the other tree.

Dane clinched his jaws. Alex was good at everything. He pressed down on the board. It didn’t budge. Its ends fit perfectly in both tree’s v-shaped branches.

Hedges lined the fence and a well-cut knoll sprawled out before the pool. Parents sat on towels or blankets, their backs to him, most trying to spot their kids in the water. A blond, female lifeguard sat in a stand directly across from the trees. A simple turn of her head would ruin everything.

Dane eased onto the board and inched forward, knees digging into the grip tape. Completely on the board, he needed a few more crawls to cross over. The fence was directly below him.

“Hey, you!” A whistle shrieked.

Dane clutched the board, which teetered. He leaned the other way, but overcompensated. He was going to fall. An iron spear would rid him of his heavy heart. And if he did survive, he’d be banned from the pool for life, they all would be.

A strong hand grabbed his ankle and the board settled. Dane glanced back. Collin was the real life hero. And he, Dane Elijah Williams, had been the damsel in distress.

“Thanks,” was all he could manage.

Dane risked a look at the lifeguard, expecting to see her climbing down and running toward him. Instead, she was reprimanding a group of little kids for something. One of the three boys appeared to be crying. Well at least she was dedicated to her craft.

Dane finished the crawl and climbed down.

Collin was the last over because he had the strength to carry the board and climb down with one hand.

Once on the ground, Collin handed Alex her board and said, “Paul decided to pay.”

A haggard mother walked by carrying a squirming two-year-old girl in one arm and dragging a cooler with the other hand. She eyed his pool-band.

“Perfect day for the pool,” he said.

The woman gave him a smirk and lumbered for tree shade.

“I told you it wasn’t purple,” Paul said through clinched teeth.

“You didn’t remember either,” Simone said.

He scanned a nearby family picnicking on a blanket. The dad bit into his sandwich. The hairy-armed man wore a red band. The mom served the toddler a mound of yellow goop, which could have been potato salad. Her blue band dangled loosely. The little chubby kid enthusiastically grabbed a handful of the possible potato salad. The kid might have been trying to it eat but it squished on his round, sunburned cheeks. His once white band was goop-smeared yellow.

“Hey, you all!” The blond lifeguard pulled her shades down, shooting Dane and his friends with incredulous eyes.

“We have a serious problem,” Dane said.

“You sure bet you do.”

Dane’s battered heart slumped with his shoulders. He knew that low, graveled-voice anywhere.

06

Dane covered his bracelet and turned to the voice of Bear Creek Junior High’s most feared bully: Brock Gunther. With him, as always, was his sidekick of menace: Max Mendel. Max wasn’t much taller than Simone, but he was mean. The two were inseparable, torturous thugs.

“I need payment,” Brock said, “or I tell Miss Blondie you nerds broke in without paying.”

“Yeah, pay up,” Max smacked his bony fist into his tiny hand.

Brock’s wide grin revealed crooked, yellow teeth. Most likely, not a single one had ever touched a toothbrush.

A whistle screamed.

“Pay up, nerdies,” Brock growled.

Dane put an arm out to stop his best friend. Collin could probably take both of them, but it wasn’t worth getting kicked out of the pool.

“Wa-wa-wait there mu-mu-muscle man,” Brock said, spewing spit through crammed teeth.

Max howled with delight.

Dane should’ve let Collin at them. However, he knew a possible way out of this mess of a situation.

“We d-d-don’t want you uh-uh-upset and sta-sta-stammering.” Brock glared at Collin. They were the same height, but with Collin’s shoulders slumped and head hung low, Brock appeared taller.

“Besides, I wouldn’t want to hurt you,” Brock said, “in front of your short, four-eyed girlfriend.”

What the heck was Brock talking about?

“She’s coming this way,” Alex said.

The lifeguard charged toward them. Probably extra perturbed because she had been forced to leave the sanctuary of her umbrella shade.

“Handover everything you got,” Max said, his slimy smile squinting his eyes shut.

Simone unzipped her backpack and Alex pulled money from her front pocket. Money they had earned together mowing lawns and washing cars. Even Collin pulled out his waterproof wallet.

Striding up the knoll, the lifeguard’s whistle swung around her neck.

Dane ran his hand through his hair. He would need to act quickly and use their secret language. “C-man.”

Collin glanced at him. It was best to begin their language with a nickname so the listener was prepared for it. “Pilf nab.” Flip band.

Dane flipped his purple band, showing Collin.

“Not your idiotic language,” Brock said. He pleaded with Max, “They’re just saying things backwards!”

Collin nodded and flipped over his bracelet.

“Sap no,” Dane said.

But there was no need for Collin to: Pass on, he was already showing the others.

“Sims,” Dane said, “gab. Nus neercs.”

Simone pushed up her glasses and dug into her bag.

Dane couldn’t help but smile when Brock asked Max what had been said. Max simply stared dumbfounded.

“Let me see your wrist.” A blond strand stuck to the side of the lifeguard’s face. She would have been quite pretty if not for her permanent scowl. She snatched his wrist and studied his white band, as if it had come from the planet Krypton and held some mystical power.

She flung Dane’s wrist away and gave a cursory glance at his friends’ bands.

“What’s going on here?” She unstitched the curl from her face.

On cue, Simone passed him the bottle.

“We were just telling our friends here,” Dane gestured to the bullying buffoons, “how important it is to wear sunscreen.”

Everyone looked at Brock and Max. Brock eyed his beet-red, hairy shoulders as if watching trained lice jump from side to side. Max’s eyes crossed and fixed on his red peeling nose.

“SPF 30,” Alex said, “helps prevent sunburn, skin aging and possible cancer.”

“But,” Dane added, “you should apply at least every two hours. Would you like some?” he asked the lifeguard.

She smirked, briefly revealing her beauty. “Dorks take all the fun out of this job.” She turned so fast her hair swung out. She left them for her perch.

Elation lifted Dane. He’d done it.

But one look from Brock grounded him. Max felt the same, his eyes uncrossed from his Rudolph-nose.

“Sunscreen?” Dane asked, knowing it was futile.

Brock knocked the bottle from his hand. No one picked it up.

“Why are you so mean?” Alex’s voice quivered.

Fist in hand, Brock popped his knuckles. “You need your little girlfriend defending you?”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

Brock switched hands, more popping. “Did she break up with you because of your retarded leg?”

White-hot rage clinched Dane’s jaw shut. He couldn’t even defend Alex or himself with a reply.

Brock leaned in, his breath fouler than his teeth. “You got lucky this time, Limp-Along.”

The warm spittle on Dane’s face burned like Alien blood.

Brock leaned back, a knowing smile stretched across his greasy face. “Hey, Max—”

“Yeah, Brock.”

“What am I?” Brock turned and walked away limping slightly. He yelled out, “Why I’m a cripple trying to win a race!”

Max hunched over with laughter.

A group of girls began laughing, too. Dane recognized the tanned brunette in the pink bikini as Sarah Singleton. She sat a few chairs from him in Mrs. Bennett’s English class. He’d let her cheat off last Tuesday’s pop quiz because he thought she liked him. She stopped laughing when her eyes met his. She looked down at her beach towel.

She knew Brock was making fun of him and had laughed anyway.

Satisfied, Brock and Max went off to torment someone else. From the other side of the pool, their laughter continued on, penetrating the thick, chlorine air.

“I don’t even notice it anymore,” Alex said.

“What’d I miss?” Paul asked, walking up.

Dane’s stomach lurched. His friends’ worried faces stared back at him. The taste of bile made it difficult to speak. “Going to go find a spot. Read my new AE journal.”

Walking away, Dane heard Collin say, “Let him go.”

His friend’s stammering on the word go brought up a well of emotion. But it was the slight limp of his shadow’s left leg that blurred the pool. It would have been better if Brock’s impersonation had been exaggerated and not a dead-on mockery.

Dane caught a sob in his throat, but could do nothing about the tears or the concerned, gawking faces as he walked by.

07

Like the stillness of his tree fort, the silence of swimming underwater rejuvenated Dane. He was more himself.

Actually, he was Ant-Man. In the lazy river’s towering cement canal, adults floated above in boat-sized yellow tubes. He swam around the legs of giants and mutated whale-sized kids. And there, by the bottom step, gleamed an enormous quarter. He plucked it up and lifted to the surface.

At the walkway’s edge, a tall Simone smiled down at him.

Dane removed Simone’s homemade eyewear: snorkel goggles with magnifier glasses strapped on with zip ties.

He passed Simone the goggles and quarter. “Thanks for letting me borrow the fisheyes.”

“That makes three dollars and three cents.”

“Hey, that’s—”

“Yeah, yeah, 3:03,” Simone said. “The time you were born.”

He stepped out of the lazy river. “It’s time.”

They started to Paul. He was in a tube at the edge of the far pool.

“Where’s my backpack?” Simone asked.

“Hidden under a chair by the slides.”

“Good, I’ve got Roman candles for the parade.”

“Alex said she wasn’t going.”

“I don’t think Paul is either.”

Dane glanced at her.

Simone looked away to the kiddie-pool and said, “I’m glad he wasn’t there today with Brock and Max.”

“You know that’s how he got his peace medallion.”

“I thought his dad gave it to him.”

“The two imbeciles locked him in his own gym locker for a full period.”

“Was that the day his mom picked him up early?”

Dane nodded. “And that night his dad gave him his old peace sign for being brave and turning the other cheek.”

Simone pushed up her glasses. “I doubt it had anything with turning the other cheek, but I’m glad his dad gave it to him.”

A group of little kids ran by them, ignoring a lifeguard whistle.

Paul’s inner tube bumped lazily against the pool’s edge. He frantically scribbled on his pocket notebook and eyed the tube-allowed section of the pool. The tubes were all the same. For some insane reason you couldn’t bring your own floats to the pool. A handful were empty, but most held kids, and a few held adults.

“What’s your hypotheses?” Dane asked Paul.

Paul bent his back over the tube’s edge and stared at them. “Other than physical propulsion, what’s the leading factor for tube movement?”

“Conclusion?” Simone asked.

Paul gnawed on his mechanical pencil in thought. “There might be some sort of underwater current.”

A gust of wind flapped the American flag, napkins flew off a picnic table and a heavyset woman chased her sunhat. Pool water rippled and an empty tube raced by a sunburned, snoring man. He wasn’t propelled much given his girth, and all.

“I think you found your answer,” Dane said.

“Yep,” Paul scribbled in his notebook.

“It’s time,” Dane said.

“Collin doing laps?” Paul grabbed the ladder and climbed out.

“Diving boards,” Simone said, pointing across the pool.

Collin had three older kids in front of him for the highest diving board.

“How come you’re not coming to the parade?” he asked.

“Too bad they took out the super-high board,” Paul said. “Heard it was because of some college kid doing a dive and breaking his neck.”

“We always go together,” Dane said, undeterred.

Paul put his notebook and pencil in a re-sealable baggie and pocketed it. “I’m going to the new Marvel movie.”

Dane stopped in his tracks. “We’re seeing it on Monday.”

“I’ll see it again,” Paul said. “What about Nerd Nation?”

“What?” Dane asked.

“For our gang name,” Paul said. “You know, like the The Avengers.”

“Collin is next.” Simone blocked out the sun with her palm. “How about Dynamic Dorks?”

Paul adjusted his peace medallion. “League of Geeks?”

“Pete Edmonson,” Dane said.

“Is that a superhero or something?” Simone asked.

“No the kid,” he said. “A collegiate swimming team captain. It’s why they took out The Board?”

“Accidental belly-flop?” Paul asked.

“A dive,” Dane said. “On impact, what seemed to be a good-looking dive, slammed his head right into his spinal cord, knocking him unconscious.”

“That didn’t really happen,” Simone said.

“Sure did,” Dane said. “Look it up online.”

“You know,” Paul said, “most public pools have removed platform high-dives.”

“It was called The Board,” Dane said, “because that’s what they carried Pete out on.”

Collin climbed the ladder. Most everyone in the vicinity was watching him, well mainly girls: little girls, teenage girls, young ladies, moms and even a few grandmas had stopped to admire Collin. If it weren’t for his stutter he’d probably be the most popular kid in school.

“You think he’s going to try it?” Paul asked.

“He’s not ready.” Simone vigorously rubbed her hands together.

“He’s not going to try it,” Dane said. “He’s going to do it.”

An anticipated hush fell over the crowd of girls.

From stillness, Collin sprung to life. The board bent and tossed him high into the air. Collin tucked, back flipped once, twice, and then straightened into a dive before hitting the water. The deep-blue pool accepted him with hardly a ripple.

Girls erupted in cheer.

“He did it,” Dane said. “A double reverse gainer into a dive.”

“Amazing,” Simone said.

“He’s a freak of nature,” Paul said.

“Yeah,” Dane said, “but he’s our freak.”

“Fantastic Freaks!” Paul said. “You don’t like it?”

“I was joking.” Dane ran his hand through his hair. “We’re not freaks, dorks, or nerds.”

Paul shook his head. “Last Halloween you turned your tree fort into a haunted house.”

Simone giggled. “You charged three dollars with only handcrafted-creatures made from plastic pumpkins and twigs.”

“We would’ve made some serious cash,” Dane said, “if that third grader hadn’t fallen off the ladder. Man, my parents were mad.”

Collin climbed out of the pool and shook his head, water flying from his hair.

A group of older girls whispered as Collin walked by them.

It was easy to see why they all went gaga. Collin’s physique mirrored that of a professional athlete rather than a thirteen-year-old boy.

“Then there was the time you tried to make the superhero weapon,” Paul said. “What was it called?”

“The Ultra Sonic Sirenator.”

Simone watched Collin come toward them and said, “Sound waves so strong they’d disable an attacker.”

“Like a certain bully duo,” Dane said, “currently staring our way.”

“I’m just glad my hearing came back.” Paul pulled on his earlobe.

Collin walked up, smiling.

“Your fans seem to have liked it,” Dane said.

Simone gave the closest group of girls a quick glance.

“What did you think?” Collin asked.

“A ten,” Simone said.

“Thanks,” Collin said, giving her a side hug. “Well?”

“For no formal training,” Dane said, “you Jackie-Channed-it.” He hoped the mention of one of Collin’s classic action heroes would suffice.

“The score?” Collin asked.

Apparently, it wouldn’t. Dane started for the water slides. His friends followed. “An eight.”

Collin smiled. “Why?”

“You were a little late out of the last back flip and slightly over rotated your legs when you entered the water.”

“Seriously, dude?” Paul asked.

“Do you know how many hours of old Olympic Games he’s made me watch?” Dane said. “Even rhythmic gymnastics. You know, the ones with the ribbons.”

“What?” Paul asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Simone said.

“You like it as much as I do,” Collin said. “Thanks for being honest. It didn’t feel perfect.”

Simone beamed up at Collin. “What the heck are you training for?”

Collin shrugged. “Life.”

Simone’s brow wrinkled, which looked awkward on her usually cheerful face.

“She’s next in line,” Dane said, staring up at the tallest tube slide.

“Sorry I couldn’t come over last night,” Paul said. “My mom wanted us all together since Pens came in for the weekend. What’d you watch?”

Back To the Future.”

“Nice time travel film,” Paul said. “You know if you look at it as a chain of infinite universes, there would be millions of Docs and Martys.”

“That’s in the second one,” Dane said. “I like how it deals with a new timeline created by Biff messing up the 80’s.”

The little boy in front of Alex pushed off into the slide. His silhouette meandered through the tube. Even at his snail-pace, the kid was screaming. The boy slid out of the tube and into the waiting pool. It was only three feet deep but the kid came up gasping.

Dane jumped in and pulled the clawing-kid up. He waded the kid to the steps and Collin pulled the little tyke out. With no thanks given, the kid pattered off to the welcoming arms of his dad.

“How is Alex timing herself?” Collin asked. “I thought she ruined her stopwatch?”

“I gave her my old phone,” Simone said, “in a waterproof casing and fitted it on a runner’s chest strap.”

“She’s about to go.” Paul’s finger traced his peace medallion.

“You got a story for the tallest slide?” Simone asked.

Dane shook his head not taking his eyes off Alex. Her silhouette repositioned. She tapped her chest, starting the timer and shot into the tube feet first.

The polar opposite of the kid, Alex’s figure blurred through the tinted tube. At a sharp right turn, her figure momentarily disappeared.

“Wow,” Paul said, “her inertia’s climbing her up the inside of the tube.”

Her figure reappeared in the downward straightaway.

Alex fired out of the slide’s exit, tapping the phone and slicing into the pool. She came out of the water and waded to them.

“Nice run,” Dane said.

“Thanks.” She stepped out and wrung water from her ponytail.

“Yeah, superfast,” Paul said.

Simone eyed the stopwatch. “Thirteen-point-three seconds. Not bad.”

Alex unstrapped the phone. “A second more than my best. But if I hold my legs up more, I can make the turn faster and get it in under twelve.”

“It’ll have to wait,” Dane said.

Alex nodded knowingly.

 

08

Dane and his friends sat in a circle under the shade of a tree near the fence. It provided more privacy. Luckily, there was no sign of Brock and Max.

Dane unzipped Simone’s backpack and retrieved the tattered pouch.

“You’re holding it like a bomb.” Alex twirled a lock of her brown hair.

He loved it when she did that.

Alex stopped curling the strand.

Dane quickly peered in the pouch hoping Alex hadn’t noticed him staring. He jostled the bag, it sounded like rocks clinking together.

“What is it?” Paul asked.

“There’s one for each of us,” Dane said. “Put your hands out.”

They all put their arms out, fingers touching in the middle, like the spokes of a bicycle. They’d all put out their left hands, which was odd because none of them were left-handed. Well, Collin was ambidextrous.

Five stone bracelets fell from the pouch. Instead of falling in a pile, the bracelets fell into each of their individual palms.

Dane watched in horror and fascination, as his bracelet—the shape and size of his mom’s watch—rolled onto his wrist. In a fluid motion it pivoted, the face disappearing, swinging under his wrist. The cool stone pressed into his skin, its bands connected with a faint click.

Slow, like a dream, Dane rotated his wrist. The stone face pulsed purple with his heartbeat. “It’s one with my life-force.”

No one replied. His friends all stared at their own bracelets.

“What are the four lines?” Simone asked.

Four grey columns lined the bottom of the face. “Are they carved—”

Dane felt his mouth drop open. A grey line started drawing on the bracelet’s white face. It finished in a circle, like some mystical Etch A Sketch. And then a triangle drew itself inside the top half of the circle. Its three points touched the circle, its bottom line the sphere’s diameter.

The drawing’s final part started, and unlike an Etch A Sketch, it didn’t touch the circle. But drew on the outside of it. He didn’t know what it was until it completed: two hands on either side of the circle, like a football referee signaling a good field goal.

His symbol flashed purple. It reminded him of The Green Lantern’s ring except for the color, of course.

“Slimy-snail-slugs,” Alex whispered.

“Any idea what the ball and triangle mean?” Dane asked.

His friends stared at him.

“The drawing. The symbol.”

Alex shook her head.

Collin showed Dane his bracelet: a stone face with four bars but nothing in the center. Collin’s bracelet-face pulsed purple, but not as bright, as if the light was trapped inside it.

“Is there anything else in the pouch?” Alex asked.

Simone snagged the pouch out of the grass. “There’s another.”

“No, leave it,” Dane said.

Collin must’ve agreed, because he gently pulled Simone’s hand away.

“What’s this on the side?” Paul asked.

“It looks like a dial pin.” Alex said.

“Just like on my dad’s watch.” Dane touched the protruding knob.

Simone pulled out her fisheyes for a better look.

“Try it,” Alex said.

“Why me?” Dane asked.

Paul tugged on his bracelet. “You’re the one with a symbol.”

Dane pushed the nub, and not one, but three pins shot from his bracelet. They hovered above him and his friends. They were half the length and thickness of a toothpick.

“They’re forming a triangle,” Collin said with a slight stutter.

He studied his symbol and the triangle on it. All the hairs on his arm stood up.

A high hum penetrated the air. From the closest housing development, dogs wailed.

Collin pulled off Simone’s fisheyes just in time.

Purple electricity fired from the pins. It met and crackled in the center, like the plasma ball in Mr. Fairchild’s science class. The pins rotated clockwise, speeding to a blur, like the LED lights on Simone’s toy helicopter. They formed a circle. The center dot of light swelled, filling in the circle with living light.

The three pins shot back into his bracelet, clicking home.

The light-sphere enlarged to the size of a kickball.

Where was the angelic-humming voice coming from? Within the breathing light or his mind?

The light-sphere shrunk to a single dot and then puffed out of existence.

“Did anyone catch what it was saying?” he asked.

“Everyone’s staring at us,” Paul whispered.

Not a pool patron spoke or moved. A guy at the concession stand held a mustard bottle over his hotdog, the boy next to him didn’t realize his ice-cream scoop had fallen off his cone and was melting on the hot pavement, even the toddlers in the pee pool were goggle-eyed statues. Only the pop song played on, until a few worried parents reached for their cell phones.

“No fireworks at the pool!” Ironically, it was the blond lifeguard that saved them from any trouble. She hadn’t seen anything since her back was to them.

Collin stood. “We need to leave.”

They all got to their feet and made their way to the exit.

Dane answered the hundreds of concerned eyes with the first thing that came to mind. “Sorry! My new Hasbro Super-Spy-Laser-Magnifier!”

“I want this thing off,” Paul pulled on his bracelet to no avail.

“My Uncle Sam,” Dane said, “bought it for me in Japan!”

“What are you doing?” Alex whispered.

“Trying to fix things,” Dane whispered back. He probably looked like a real goof with the fake-plastered smile. “The volume was set too high.” he said, to a group of grey-haired ladies wearing visors.

Some toddlers began splashing around and doing other pee pool stuff. Heavy, adult frowns followed them around the lap pool.

Alex asked the question on everyone’s mind, “What the are these things?”

“I don’t know,” Dane said, “but we’re going to find out.”

“I just want to find out how to get it off,” Paul said.

A cute, older redhead sunbathing in a turquoise bikini pulled her shades down. Her eyes followed Dane and she actually smiled as he passed her.

Adrenaline tingled his fingertips. “We need to find out what they can do.”

“To do that,” Alex said, “we need to find out what they are.”

“Paul, you know where we need to go,” he said, as they went through the exit turnstile.

“Please, no,” Paul said.

 

CG

 

The young Asian man leaned against a tree. He rubbed his eyes. He had awoken to the portal’s hum and dogs howling. At first, he thought it was a dream. But no, the kids had activated the portal. Decades of his uncle’s work in jeopardy of being ruined by little kids. But, there were only five kids with bracelets. He needed the sixth and final bracelet. It was meant for him. He would need to report in, but not until he had his bracelet.

The kids walked around the iron fence to their bikes. There was no need to follow them too closely. Most likely, they were heading back to their neighborhood. Now that they had activated the portal, in public of all things, others would try to steal the bracelets by any means necessary. Despite the afternoon sun, the thought of last night’s faceless men chilled him.

The kids rode off down the street. Too tired to jog, he walked to his uncle’s car thinking of the final bracelet and all its power.

09

Dane pedaled hard and then coasted off the sidewalk. He glided passed a parked car and turned onto the street. The sun haloed the Crabapple Court street sign.

Alex let go of Dane’s bike seat and rolled past him on her longboard. The others pedaled behind them.

Dane pumped his legs, but Alex beat him by inches to Paul’s driveway.

“Hey, Mrs. Peterson!” Dane jumped off his bike.

“Not on the lawn,” Paul’s mom yelled from beneath her gardening hat. She mended tulips on her knees near the front steps.

Dane dropped his bike in the driveway. Everyone else rode up and did the same.

Paul jogged ahead. “Mom, is Penny home?”

It was easy to see Paul and Penny were adopted. Mrs. Peterson was a contrast to their olive skin tone.

“I think she’s in her room.” Her green eyes caught sun under her hat. “Take off your shoes.”

In the foyer, Dane kicked off his shoes next to Paul. The rest of the gang said hi to Mrs. Peterson and joined them. The house’s shine and sharp angled décor gave it more of a museum feel than a home people lived in.

Dane broke away first from the shoe removal pileup. He bounded up the stairs, as fast as he dared with socks on polished wooden steps. His friends jostled up behind him. Paul’s room was at the far end of the hall, but he stopped in front of the first door on his right. He went to knock, but Paul grabbed his hand.

“Do we have to?” Paul whispered.

Instead of answering, Dane busted in and shouted, “Pens, how’s college town?”

Penny sat up on her bed, a dictionary-sized book open on her lap. Her nose crinkled.

“That’s a mask of the Egyptian god Seth.” Dane crossed to the mask hanging above her nightstand.

Penny was moderately impressed, so he continued, “Some think the pointed ears are really horns, like a ram or goat.”

Penny closed the book. Her brown eyes studied him.

Dane went on, “The body of the Seth-animal—you know that’s what they called it? It was never really given a name.”

Penny stood and put her thick hair in a ponytail. “Yes, its body is canine.”

The edge in her voice was gone.

“Or feline,” Dane said. “But what’s really interesting is its forked tail.”

“That makes sense,” Penny said. “Seth is the god of evil.”

“And chaos,” Dane said. “Some Egyptians even worshipped it.”

“I know you’re trying to charm me,” Penny said, “but how did you know that?”

“He has an unhealthy fascination with ancient civilizations,” Alex said. She and the others were still by the door.

Paul smiled weakly at his sister.

Penny squinted at Dane. “What trouble have you gotten my brother into this time?”

“Sis!” Paul said.

“I’d never—” Dane started.

“What about the little Waspinator game?” Penny asked.

“Huh?”

“She means Bee Busters,” Alex said.

“Oh, that,” Dane said. “We were supposed to be the Ghostbusters.”

Penny went rigid. “You shouldn’t seek out spirits.”

“Well, we couldn’t find any,” Dane said. “So we turned it into bee and wasp hunting.”

“I still have my khaki-colored sweats,” Simone said.

Alex grinned. “With the ghost patch on the arm.”

Penny put her hands on her hips. “My brother was rushed to the emergency room.”

“Well,” Dane said, “now we know he’s deathly allergic to red wasps.”

Paul tried to disappear behind Collin.

Before Penny could retort, Simone held out the pouch. “We found this in Dane’s shed.”

“What is that?” Penny said, eyeing Simone’s bracelet.

“That’s what we came to see you about,” Collin said, without a single stammer, which was surprising since he wasn’t around Penny that often.

“Dane, what have you done?” Penny grabbed his wrist and brought the bracelet nearly to her nose.

“Mine’s the only one with a symbol,” Dane said. “Do you recognize it?”

“No. I’ve never seen it before.” Penny dropped his wrist and took the pouch from Simone.

“No wait,” Dane said, but it was too late.

Penny had reached into the pouch.

The delicate click rebounded around the room.

Penny jumped back, tossing the pouch.

Dane caught it and tucked it in his pocket.

“Get it off!” She tugged on her bracelet. When that didn’t work, she shook her arm, hopping all around.

Dane couldn’t help his smile. Penny appeared to be performing some tribal war dance. But the terror in her eyes erased any humor.

Dane approached Penny like she was a wild animal. He placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Did you hear that voice?” Penny said, calming somewhat.

“Could you make out what it was saying?” Dane asked.

Penny shook her head.

“I have reason to believe,” Dane said, “the bracelet on your wrist is older than anything you’ve ever seen or read about.”

Penny’s eyes focused from fear to wonder. She threw off his hand and examined the relic on her left wrist. “Tell me everything.”

 

CG

 

Dane finished recounting the sphere of light that had appeared at the pool.

“It just disappeared?” Penny asked.

Dane noticed Penny’s bracelet had the four vertical bars, but no symbol. Why had his been the only one?

“What do you think was inside it?” Penny asked.

“Maybe it lead to outer space,” Paul said, “like some alien planet.”

“Or inter-dimensional travel,” Alex said. “Or supernatural.”

Dane smiled, liking that he and Alex enjoyed the same things.

Penny’s eyes glazed over. She was somewhere far off.

“Do you hear the voice again?” Dane asked. “Have you been having strange dreams, too?”

“Sis, you okay?” Paul asked.

Penny’s eyes focused and she stood. “We’re going to the library. We need more information. That’s the key to getting these things off of us.”

“You don’t have a book?” Paul asked.

“I haven’t taken a symbology course yet,” Penny said.

Paul’s eyes widened. “That’s what you’re going to college for.”

“It’s an advanced class,” Penny said.

Paul shook his head. “You’ve been there two years.”

“Symbology?” Dane asked, glad to see Paul had his courage back.

“The study of symbols,” Paul said, “at least it’s supposed to be.”

Paul studied his sister, as if she weren’t really enrolled in college at all but maybe leading some double life, like a superhero. Although, he figured Paul would consider his sister more of the villain mastermind variety. But she wasn’t so bad. She was helping them, after all, even if only because the last bracelet attached itself to her.

Simone had her phone out. “Can’t we just look online?”

“Not everything is on the internet.” Penny grabbed a satchel bag out of her closet. “Library. Tell your parents.”

He pulled out his phone, glad to see his data service was working, and texted his mom.

Alex wore a wry smile. “My mom doesn’t believe I’m going to the library.”

“Is the Blue Beast still chugging?” Dane asked.

The roll of Penny’s eyes and Paul’s smile told Dane all he needed to know.

10

Dane and Alex were first to the library’s sliding glass doors, which opened to cherry wood bookshelves, stuffed with books of all colors and sizes.

“So this is what a library looks like,” Alex said, walking in.

Dane nudged Alex. “Some of us have to study to make straight A’s.”

A sixtyish, obese woman at the computer terminal hushed him.

He did his best to ignore her and pulled out his phone.

Penny led them to the service desk and the old woman behind it. The librarian’s hair fell in tangles down her green dress.

“Excuse me,” Penny said, “Can you tell me—”

“Books on symbols are at the 302s,” Dane said.

Penny’s brow furrowed.

“I looked it up.” He waved his phone.

The librarian pointed a crooked finger to her right—

“The section is located in the northeast corner,” Alex said.

Penny and the librarian stared at Alex as if she had some mind reading power, like Professor Xavier.

“The library has a map online,” Alex said.

“Whatever,” Penny said.

Dane turned to Collin and said, “You and Paul go with Penny.”

Collin tugged on the shirt he’d borrowed from Paul, which was so tight the image of earth in outer space stretched oblong.

“Alex, Simone, and I will try and find out where these things come from,” he said. “Maybe they’ve been mentioned in the past.”

 

CG

 

Dane, Alex, and Simone found a table in the back corner behind the audio book section. The library wasn’t very crowded, mainly grandparent-aged ladies and moms with kids.

Why would it be crowded on such a nice day and at the beginning of a holiday weekend? But he didn’t want to be anywhere but here, with his friends on a real adventure.

“You ever seen anything like our bracelets in Popular Science?” Dane asked. The stack of magazines next to Simone tilted precariously.

“Nope.” Simone continued flipping through one.

“So not your grandfather’s,” Alex said, skimming through a book they’d found called Mystical Relics Through Time.

“Not likely,” Dane said. “He was a construction worker.”

“Maybe he found them.” Simone adjusted her bracelet.

“Your dad?” Alex asked.

“As a kid, he collected baseball cards.” It was all he could think to say. Whatever was latched to their wrists weren’t toys.

“This is interesting,” Alex said, not looking up from the book, “many ancient legends talk of magical devices.” She turned the page. “They give examples like the Spear of Destiny, Thor’s Hammer, Zeus’ Thunderbolt—”

“But those are silly mythological stories,” Simone said. “Like fairytales today.”

“Hey,” Dane said, “the Thor movies are good.”

“Exactly, make-believe.” Simone turned a page. “I’ll stick with science thank you very much.”

“But even the Bible,” Dane said, “has stories of priests wearing metals to talk with angels and deities. The word genius comes from ancient people communicating with angels and demons. They gave them special powers. These otherworldly spirits would follow people throughout their lifetime. The Greeks named theirs genii daemons.”

Alex flipped to the back of the book. “I don’t see anything in here about that.”

“These bracelets,” Simone said, “are probably new. Created by scientists.”

“Maybe, but it just doesn’t feel right.” Dane traced his symbol thinking of the angelic voice.

“I looked in the index under bible,” Alex said, “and found this.” Her finger traced what she read, “The three most powerful objects in the bible are the Ark of the Covenant—”

“How could Indiana Jones be wrong?” Dane said, neither Alex or Simone even smiled.

“Solomon’s Ring,” Alex continued, “and the Shroud of Turin.”

“I don’t know anything about Solomon’s Ring,” Dane said, “but isn’t the Shroud of Turin what they covered Jesus in after his death? It’s got his figure painted on it, or something?”

Simone took another magazine, holding the stack so it didn’t fall. “I read an article about it. His image wasn’t painted on.” She sped through pages.

The librarian eyed them from behind her chin-high desk, nothing but matted hair and suspicious eyes.

“Here it is,” Simone said, “in 2011 Italian scientists proved that the image of Jesus Christ on the Shroud of Turin was created, not by some pigmentation, but burnt onto it by some brilliant flash of light.”

Alex turned a page. “Well apparently, Solomon’s Ring was given to him by an angel. It had God’s name written on it in some sort of code and whomever wore it had the power of God and the ability to control genies.”

“Like in Aladdin and three wishes?” Simone asked.

Dane shook his head. “Genies, or Jinn, are a type of demon.”

“Let’s not tell Penny about that part,” Alex said.

“Good thinking,” Dane said, unable to keep from smiling.

“But that’s the bible,” Simone said. “Do you really believe everything in it?”

Alex slid the book over and leaned in next to Dane. Their bare arms touched. There was no distance between them. She’d only done it so they could all see the book, but even still—

“You can’t really debate with history,” Alex said.

On the page was a drawing of an Egyptian Pharaoh holding a rod of some sort.

“Supposedly,” Alex said, “leaders of all kinds throughout time would carry wands and scepters giving them all kinds of magical powers. And it wasn’t always a rod. There was some kind of cap worn by Hades that made him invisible.”

“Kind of like Harry’s invisibility cloak,” Dane said. “But that’s myths again.” He looked to Simone for support, but her ebony skin had lightened.

Simone cleared her throat and said, “It’s real.”

“Listen,” Dane said, “I love the Harry Potter books as much as anyone but the invisibility cloak is not real.”

Simone didn’t refer to her tower of magazines this time. “The technology is real. In recent years researchers at the Nanotech Institute in Dallas, Texas have created carbon sheets that once submerged underwater, with an electrical charge, can make objects behind them disappear.”

Alex shared his disbelieving stare.

“You’re not really seeing through the object,” Simone said. “The heated carbon sheet is simply bending light, so that when you look at where the object is located, you’re really seeing surrounding water.”

“You’re saying instead of magic,” he said, “mythical devises could’ve been some kind of ancient technology. Technology we’re just now grasping.”

Simone nodded.

Dane studied his bracelet and its symbol. What power did it have? Where had it come from?

A baby threw a book to the floor breaking the moment.

“Why were these in my shed?” Dane asked.

Alex stood and paced around the table in thought. “Somebody must’ve broke in.”

Dane smiled. Alex thought best on the move.

“Or my dad forgot to lock it,” he said

“We’ll look for footprints when we get back,” Simone said.

“The storm,” Alex said, not looking up from the floor, “that would’ve been a perfect time. And my mom said she heard there was some suspicious activity on Campion Street.”

“The black cruiser,” Dane said too loudly. He pulled out his phone, ignoring a barrage of distant hushes.

Alex stopped pacing and stared at him from across the table. “You recorded the storm didn’t you?”

“You know I love creating time-lapses,” Dane said.

Alex grinned. “I’m convinced you’re going to be a storm chaser when you grow up.”

“When I grow up?” Dane opened his phone’s video gallery.

Alex sat back down next to him. Both she and Simone leaned in for a better look.

“So across from the Petrie’s,” Dane whispered, “there was a police cruiser. It looked really ominous. It’s at the beginning.” He selected the last thumbnail image in the gallery and it went full screen. He pressed play, pausing it right away.

The still frame revealed Collin’s open garage and the front of the unmarked cruiser.

Dane squinted at the frame. “It’s so hard to see.”

The car was hardly visible outside the lamppost’s glow.

“Play the rest,” Alex said.

Dane did his best to ignore Alex’s breath tickling his cheek.

“Maybe you show it again,” Simone said.

“The rest is the storm.” Dane pressed play anyway.

The video blurred, as it swung left to the other window with his camcorder. The suspicious cruiser was no longer in frame. And he was sure he hadn’t gone back over and recorded in that direction. He sighed. This was a waste of time.

Nevertheless, Alex and Simone both leaned in anticipating—what? Dane had no idea.

The tree fort’s light was behind the shot, illuminating the window frame. Beyond Dane’s backyard, a single streetlamp lit the entrance of the cul-de-sac. Everything else was whipping branches and dark rolling clouds, until a lightening bolt nearly struck Mad Murry’s house.

“Holy Sunday drivers!” Alex said.

Thunder boomed from the phone’s speakers. More hushes hissed. The librarian eyed them, while absent-mindedly pulling at a knot in her hair.

“Sorry,” he said, muting the phone.

“Wait. Rewind it.” Simone whispered. “Did you see that flash?”

“The lightening?” Alex asked.

“No, it was from inside the house,” Simone leaned in even closer. Her glasses stopped at the tip of her nose.

Penny, Paul and Collin walked up. All of them carried books.

“We found some books,” Penny said, “that may explain your symbol.”

Collin alone carried five books.

Dane didn’t know the library even had that many on symbols.

“I think this one is our best bet.” Penny held it out. “But it’s from the reference section so we’ll need to research it here.”

“You find anything?” Paul asked.

“Wait till you see this,” Simone said, pulling her laptop from her backpack.

11

It fascinated Dane how efficiently Simone worked any technological gadget. She could repair one of her old, collectible robots in no time at all. So, he wasn’t surprised to see the video from his phone on her laptop within minutes.

“It’s a reflection from the lightening, right?” Penny asked, leaning in behind him.

Simone pointed at the screen. She had skillfully paused the video a split second after the lightening bolt. “It happens again with no lightening and look at the color.”

Murry’s second-floor windows were flooded with a familiar light.

“Purple,” Collin said, stuttering slightly.

“Right next door to my house!” Dane said.

The librarian peered over her desk. She probably would’ve pointed, but it appeared all her fingers were stuck in her hair.

“The answer,” Dane kept his voice low, “is in Mad Murry’s house.” His heartbeat drummed in his ears. He could hardly sit still.

“How can you be sure?” Paul asked, reaching around Alex to set down a book.

Had Alex just flushed? Maybe it was sun from being at the pool.

“What?” Alex asked him.

“Nothing,” Dane stared back at the monitor.

Alex cleared her throat and said, “It’s at 2:37.”

Simone skimmed through the video. Branches and limbs jittered.

“See,” Dane said, “the time-lapse will look cool.”

Simone pressed play at 2:33.

They all waited in anticipation, even Penny closed the book in her hand.

Two consecutive sparks flashed behind the second-story window. Simone paused on the third and final flash.

“Holy Sh—”

Paul clamped his hand over his sister’s mouth.

Library patrons glared. A nearby mother, holding a pudgy baby, turned toward them. The boy’s taut t-shirt had Made in Mexico written on it.

Penny removed her brother’s hand. “So sorry.”

The mom turned back to the audio bookshelf.

“That’s why we make up our own curse words,” Dane said. “Usually something you don’t like. Or really like. Anything that elicits a passionate response.”

“Holly shots,” Penny said, doing an admirable job of ignoring Paul’s moans. “That was gunfire wasn’t it? Wait how’d you shoot this on Simone’s laptop?”

“Make it quick,” Dane said.

Simone took in a breath and said, “When you take a video or photo with your phone you can sign up for a backup account, which automatically uploads it to a server. I simply logged onto Dane’s account—”

“Wait, I didn’t give you—”

“It’s your own fault,” Alex said. “All you talk about is your birthday anomaly.”

All his friends, except for Penny, were smiling.

“Once I put in Dane’s well-known password,” Simone said, “I simply downloaded the video. All of them if I wanted.” Her smile widened.

“My favorites,” Alex said, “are the mirror serenades.”

“Mine too,” Paul said, “the hairbrush for a microphone is a nice touch.”

Dane’s heart rose to his face.

“I prefer the pop song melodies,” Collin said, not stuttering one bit.

“But the classics,” Alex said, “are when you do the duets. How do you get your voice that high?” She twirled her hair menacingly.

Dane cleared his throat. It was all he could manage for a comeback. His ears were going to burn off.

“Some friends you are,” Dane said finally, hoping it came out like a joke. Honestly, he hadn’t been listening to music the last few months. Even the song lyrics that shouldn’t hurt cut into un-healing wounds.

“It’s not like we put them online or anything,” Alex said.

“Actually, I’m making quite a bit of money.” Simone re-pinned the smiley-button on her backpack. “In fact, I need another one soon. I’m looking at buying an Xbox.”

“Sixty-forty from here on out,” Dane said, playing along. He didn’t want his friends to know music bothered him.

“That seems fair,” Paul said.

“The love song serenades are the most popular,” Simone said.

Dane hardly heard her, he followed Collin’s gaze. He could see a portion of the front sliding doors.

“Pu-pu-pu—” Collin’s lips puckered, like a fish out of water.

Three broad men entered the library.

“Pack up.” Collin breathed out.

“What makes you think they’re following us?” Dane asked.

The men wore baggy, Hawaiian t-shirts and jeans. In unison, they turned right and away from the table. He temporarily lost sight of them behind a row of bookshelves.

Collin pulled Dane from his chair.

The men re-appeared and strode into a section of the library called Kid’s Place.

“Could be their reading level,” Alex said.

Dane saw what Collin must’ve spotted right away. “Let’s move.”

“But the reference book,” Penny said, with a whine that made her sound younger.

“Now, Sis,” Paul said, grabbing books off the table.

12

Dane plopped down in the belly of the Blue Beast. Paul’s parents’ super-old, 80’s van was painted blue on the outside and had all blue fabric and carpet on the inside.

Dane chose the back sofa seat because there were tinted windows on both sides and two more on each backdoor. He could see in every direction. The library’s front doors slid open. He held his breath.

The mom with the baby made in Mexico came out. Both mom and child blinked at the sun.

“See them?” Alex asked, peering over him.

Lost in her strawberry-scented hair, Dane couldn’t answer. She sat next to him.

“I think we gave them the slip,” Paul said, sitting in the front passenger seat and closing the door.

Simone sat in one of the middle bucket seats. Collin closed the sliding door and sat in the chair next to her.

“You saw their boots,” Dane said to Collin.

“Military issued.”

Dane was proud of Collin for not stuttering.

“Government?” Simone asked.

Collin shrugged.

Paul leaned around his front seat. “You think they had guns?”

“Their baggy shirts made it possible,” Collin said.

“What now?” Alex asked, looking at him.

Her brown eyes and freckled cheeks stole any thought from him.

“We’re going to the cops that’s what,” Penny said, putting the key in the ignition.

“I don’t think that’s such a smart idea,” Dane said.

“We don’t know what’s strapped to our wrists,” Penny’s voice wavered. “We need help.”

The rearview mirror exposed the fear in her eyes.

“Only military and cops,” Collin said, “can carry guns into a city building,”

“If this is half of what we think it is,” Dane said, waving his wrist. “You don’t think our government—”

“Or foreign governments,” Simone interjected.

“—won’t be after this technology.” Dane leaned forward. “We can’t get them off.”

“Maybe,” Penny said, “our government can help us—”

“They might give up trying to remove them,” Simone said.

Alex eyed her bracelet. “I like my left hand very much.”

“They wouldn’t do that.” Penny’s eyes narrowed.

“The Trail of Tears,” Paul said. “Japanese-American camps on U.S. soil, dropping atomic bombs and killing some two hundred thousand Japanese civilians.”

“Some believe 9/11 was an inside job,” Dane said. “I don’t think our government is going to stop and consider a bunch of kids.”

“Roughly two thousand kids go missing in the U.S. every day,” Alex said.

Penny tilted her head with curiosity.

Alex shrugged. “I did a report on it in Social Studies.”

“Penny, you’re one of us now,” Dane said. “And we put everything to a vote. All in favor of figuring out as much as we can before going to the authorities, including our parents, raise your hand.”

Inside the Blue Beast, everyone but Penny raised a bracelet-locked hand.

“Sorry, Sis.” Paul traced his peace medallion.

“I had plans this weekend,” Penny said irritably. She started the van, which backfired and chugged reluctantly to life.

“What’s our next move?” Alex asked, all brown eyes and freckles.

“Sleepover,” Dane said. “My house.”

“Good,” Alex said. “My mom is working a shift this weekend anyway. How you going to get your parents to agree?”

“Don’t know,” Dane said. “Everyone bring a change of clothes. And, Sims, bring all your spy stuff.”

Simone’s eyes gleamed behind her glasses.

“We only have tonight, Sunday and Monday,” Dane said, “to figure out what’s going on.”

Penny rolled her eyes. “Brother.”

The van pulled out of the parking lot. The three men wearing Hawaiian shirts sprinted out of the library. Their heavy footfalls followed them across the parking lot. They piled into a civilian, black SUV.

13

Dane stared out of his two-story window. The orange sunset blazed above Mad Murry’s desolate house. A sunbeam shot through the third-story window making it appear the attic was on fire.

“Eerie, huh?” Collin whispered.

Dane hadn’t heard Collin come into his bedroom, so it startled him.

“I’ve watched it non-stop since we got back,” Dane said. “No lights. No one’s come out. No movement at all. But the funny thing is—”

“It doesn’t feel empty,” Collin said.

“Almost,” Alex said, walking in, “like we’re not the only ones watching it.” She threw her sleeping bag and backpack on Dane’s bed.

Paul slouched in and put his sleeping bag on the dresser.

Had they walked over together? They did live right across the street from one another. It would make sense. Their hands intertwined, enjoying the sunset together. Bare arms rubbing together. Alex had such warm hands.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked Paul.

Paul thumbed behind him. Penny entered.

So they hadn’t walked together. Dane’s teeth sank into his tongue. He had to stop this madness. He’d known Paul forever. He would not become jealous of his friend. But—

His mom walked in. Dane was surprised to see her in her favorite black dress.

“Your father and I won a two-night getaway.” His mom looked up after putting in her pearl earring. “And Penny is kind enough to watch you.”

“Okay, Mom.” It took effort not to smile back at Penny.

His mom went to leave. “Be good for her.” His mom turned back, fueled by motherly-intuition. “And no funny business this time.” She jabbed an accusing finger at him.

“Okay, Mom.”

“I mean it, mister. No playing with your little chemistry set. No watching HBO or Cinemax after 8pm. No camping in the woods. And if I find out you’ve charged the little Petrie boys—and God knows who else—to watch Mad Max Behind Thunderdome or Mikey Myers movies—”

His friends were doing their best to hold in the laughs, even Penny appeared ready to burst.

“Mom, it’s Beyond Thunderdome and Michael Myers.”

“Don’t get smart with me.”

“Okay, Mom.” Could Alex see how embarrassed he was? Why did his mom always think he was up to no good? He stared at one of his superhero posters. The Hulk and his mom shared the same glare.

“That goes for all of you.” She turned her finger on his friends, aiming it like a gun.

Dane clinched his fists. She had no right to tell his friends what to do.

“Yes, Mrs. Williams,” echoed through his room.

Appeased, his mom dropped her finger and left his room.

Penny waited a moment and then eased the door shut.

“Sorry guys.” Paul sat on the edge of the bed. “I tried talking her out of it.”

Paul’s shoulders were so slumped he was in danger of falling to the floor.

Penny straightened. “If you think you twerps are going to be the difference between me keeping or losing my left hand, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Dane didn’t know whether to hug her or ask if she’d gone mad.

Penny’s smile brightened her olive face. “And this way we don’t have to wait for your parents to go to bed.”

“You did it?” Dane said. “Two full days and nights without adult supervision.” He’d already forgotten about his mom’s berating.

“You put the gift card in the mailbox,” Alex said.

“Not exactly.” Penny’s smile widened.

“You said it was delivered to your house by mistake,” Collin said free of any stammer.

“And,” Simone said, “you waited for Dane’s mom to check the mail, and you came out to give it to her.”

“You told my mom you accidentally opened it,” Dane said, “so you could offer to watch us.”

“How’d you create the fake expiration date?” Paul asked, slightly out of his slump. “So they’d have to go tonight?”

“I didn’t have to.” Penny laid her satchel on his bed. “I said they were in luck because this was the only weekend I could babysit. I mean kid-sit.”

“Well played,” Alex said.

“You all owe me,” Penny said. “I had plans and the weekend getaway cost three hundred bucks. So start mowing some yards or whatever you do.”

Alex smiled at him. “Sorry I don’t own any girlie love songs for you to practice. But I’d love to film it for you.”

“Yeah,” Paul said, “that way you can put two hands on your brush and really belt it out.”

Ignoring them both, Dane walked to Penny and put his hand on her shoulder. “Pens, you’re officially part of the gang.”

“Swell.” Penny opened her satchel bag and passed him a blank piece of paper. “Draw your symbol.”

Dane took it and went to his desk for a pencil.

“Do you have a gang name idea?” Simone asked Penny.

“Sorry, no. So how are we getting into Mad Murry’s?”

“How’d you know we called him that?” Dane put the paper on one of his Spider-Man posters.

“It was my generation that gave him the nickname. Kids think everything is original.”

Dane started drawing a circle. “How’d you know we were breaking in?”

“I was twelve once, too.”

“Thirteen,” Paul said. “We’re all thirteen.”

“Whatever.” Penny rummaged in her satchel.

Paul stood. “We’ve got a few hours. Wish we had—”

“The research books,” Penny said. She pulled out two books and gave one to Paul.

“You snuck them out,” Paul said with a mixture of shock and admiration.

“You’ll help me,” Penny said. “Dane’s symbol might be the key of knowing where the bracelets came from.”

“You’re taking them back, right?” Simone asked.

“Of course. Are these Star Wars sheets?” Penny sat on the edge of the bed and opened the book entitled: The Book of Symbols.

“You want to figure out if these have any special powers?” Alex asked.

Dane nodded and finished drawing this symbol, realizing for the first time that there were three parts to it: the triangle inside the circle and the hands on the outside of both. Could that mean anything? It wasn’t like the bracelet knew his birthday.

“I think they want us to know.” Dane gave the paper to Penny. “Whatever made these wants us involved.”

His friends shared dumbfounded stares, which surprised him. He thought it obvious. “Each bracelet went to our individual hands,” Dane said. “They chose each of us.”

“What if they were made for us?” Alex said, curling a lock of hair. “Why do you think you’re the only one with a symbol?”

“Don’t know,” Dane said, not liking the idea his bracelet was different from his friends.

“What powers do you think we could have?” Paul asked. “Do you think it’s only yours because of the symbol?”

Dane shrugged. Was Paul jealous of him? Did he want to be the hero in front of Alex? “Sims, grab your phone,” he said, shaking off the thought.

“If you need to look something up online,” Simone said, pulling out her phone. “I don’t think it’s working.”

“No.” Dane grinned. This is what he’d wanted to do since they were in the library. “We need to document what we’re about to try.”

14

“Stay on Crabapple while we’re gone!” Dane’s mom yelled out to the backyard. “Unless you’re with Penny!”

“Okay, Mom.” Embarrassment elongated his words.

“Dane Elijah Williams, don’t you get smart with me!” His mother clutched her shoulder bag, her face a contorted mesh behind the screen door.

“Okay.” He kicked a twig.

“Be good for Penny,” she said, speaking somewhat normally. “Love you.”

“Okay, you too,” he mumbled at his shoes.

“Honey,” his dad yelled from somewhere in the house, “it’s an hour drive to the B&B.”

Blessedly, his mom disappeared back into the house.

Alex, Simone, Collin and he simply stood there waiting.

Had his mother heard their conversation on mystical items in history? So what if she did. She hadn’t even noticed they were wearing the bracelets.

The sound of the family SUV pulling out of the drive couldn’t come quick enough. His spirits lifted as distance and someone’s lawnmower dissolved its droning engine.

“Let’s do this,” Dane said, glancing at Simone.

Under the oak, Simone pointed her phone at him. “Yes, I’m recording.”

“Wouldn’t you rather jump from the tree fort?” Alex tossed a baseball high in the air. “See if you can fly?” She caught the ball, smacking on a wad of gum.

Next to her, Collin grinned. “It might hurt less.”

Dane eyed his tree fort and then gestured to Alex. “You’re the one that likes heights and wants to be a pilot when you grow up. You do it.”

“It’s as high as your second story,” Simone said from behind her phone. “You’d break a leg.”

“Use a plastic ball,” Collin said.

“A gust of wind could affect the toss,” Dane said. “And we wouldn’t know if it was my mind or not.”

“Let’s try it first,” Collin said.

“Fine,” Dane said, thinking more of Alex’s fastball than anything.

“Bummer.” Alex dropped the baseball, picked up a Wiffle ball, and stepped forward.

“Hey, not too close,” he said.

She got into her pitching stance. “You scared, Mr. Dane Elijah Williams?”

Simone and Collin laughed.

“Funny,” Dane said with no humor.

“My phone is running out of space,” Simone said.

Dane put out his hands.

Simone chuckled. “You look like a campy sorcerer magician.”

“Maybe so,” Dane said, “but Penny and Paul are going to wish they had seen this live. And not stayed up in my room.”

“On the count of th-th-three.”

Dane shifted. Collin’s difficulty with the last word made him uneasy. A sudden breeze rustled leaves above. A strand of his hair blew back.

“One.”

Alex’s intense concentration tightened his muscles. She really could throw hard. Even a plastic ball would leave a mark. He shouldn’t have teased her about her fastball.

“Two.”

Dane squinted. Concentrate. The ball. Nothing but the ball: from Alex’s left hand to her throwing hand. Covered by both hands at her waist, the start of her wind up.

Dane’s bracelet’s symbol glowed purple. He was going to do it.

“Three.”

Alex lunged.

A white blur whistled right between Dane’s hands. He heard the smack on his chest before he felt anything.

“Strike one,” Simone said.

“Nice throw.” Dane rubbed his chest. It already stung. Why hadn’t he stopped the ball? His symbol had glowed.

“That was close to my fastball. I think I can do better next throw.” Alex chewed proudly.

Dane bent to pick up the ball and looked up at the tree fort. “Maybe we should try flying.”

“It moved!” Simone exclaimed. “The ball moved!”

“Sure, Sims.” But her wide eyes caused him to straighten, leaving the ball in the grass.

“Maybe it was the wind,” Alex said. She and Collin joined them.

“I don’t think so,” Simone said.

Alex nudged him. “We should’ve used the baseball.”

“Not with your arm.” Dane said, trying to rub away the sting. He’d probably have a whelp.

They bunched around Simone’s phone. She had already paused the video after Dane was hit by the ball. She pressed play.

Dane watched his video-self walk into frame: the image zoomed in on his hand and the ball. His hand was a good two to three inches away from the ball when it rocked forward. The movement was slight, but undeniable.

“Your bracelet,” Simone said, pointing at the screen.

Dane’s bracelet glowed in unison with the ball’s movement, and then its purple light went out when the ball stopped. He hadn’t even meant to pick the ball up with his left hand.

Simone turned off her phone. Somewhere in the distance, maybe on Bright Star Lane, dogs howled.

“I’m going to try it again,” Dane said. “I’ll get my camcorder from—”

“You having a stroke?” Alex asked. “Or just contemplating your next serenade video?” She stopped chewing out of real concern.

Dane simply stared at his treehouse. How could he have forgotten?

15

The trapdoor clattered on the floorboards. Dane climbed into the tree fort and got to his feet.

Alex, Simone, and Collin followed him.

Dane stared at his camcorder. “With everything going on I just forgot.”

Still attached to the tripod, the camera laid in a dying sunbeam. It glimmered, like the armor of a fallen Avenger.

“The wind?” Alex asked, sticking her gum on the wall next to a multicolor collection of older pieces.

“Maybe,” Dane said. “But it’s never happened before.”

Collin closed the trapdoor.

Dane walked over and put the tripod upright.

“It looks okay.” Dane released the camera from the tripod. “We’ll know as long as it didn’t stop recording first.”

“You let it record?” Alex said.

Simone answered for him. “With that model you can record directly to a card or an internal drive. What’s the low-res recording time?”

“Four hours.” Dane moved around the sofa to the TV.

“Nice,” Simone said.

Dane connected the cables to the camera. In the tube TVs reflection, his friends found their seats: Alex and Simone took either end of the sofa. Collin dragged the heavily duct-taped beanbag next to Simone.

“Shouldn’t we get Paul and Penny?” Alex asked. “Bet he’s having a blast helping her.”

“Let’s see what we have first.” Dane set the camera atop the TV and turned them both on. He found the remote on the crate-table under a Superman comic. He sat between the girls and selected the thumbnail image of last night’s storm from the menu. The video began.

Beyond the tree fort’s window frame, the left side of the screen was a massive tree branch. Only the streetlamp’s glow was visible between leaves. Its light spilled a pool in front of Mad Murry’s house, which filled the rest of the screen. Lightning jumped between agitated clouds igniting the night. Thunder exploded.

“Look at the windows,” Dane said. “The purple flashes have started.”

“They look even stranger on the larger screen,” Alex said.

“There’s the th-three gun shots,” Collin said.

Over the wind and swaying branches Dane’s mom screamed his name.

Dane quickly fast-forwarded the video. “We’ve already seen this part.” He hated the sound of his nasally voice.

Limbs and leaves vibrated. The window frame was nothing but a shadow when the tree fort light went out.

Dane released the button and the video played at normal speed. “So what we’re seeing is all new.”

Clouds glowed with repetitive lightening flashes, silhouetting a helicopter.

“Collin, you were right.” He rewound, freezing the frame on the lit helicopter.

“It’s ri-right above Ma-Mad M-M-Murry’s.”

Simone adjusted her glasses. “Is that someone dropping from it?”

Between the helicopter and roof hung a black form. But the night sky and video quality made it impossible to tell for sure.

“Could be a leaf,” Alex said.

Dane let the video continue playing. Without the lightening, the helicopter and figure were lost in the darkness.

“Is that someone on the roof?” Alex asked.

“You’re right,” Dane said. “Maybe from the helicopter.”

“Look!” Simone jumped off the couch. “Someone’s running from the house.”

The figure ran under the streetlamp and crossed the cul-de-sac.

“He’s headed straight for your backyard,” Collin said.

“I would’ve just been getting off the ladder.” Dane leaned forward.

“Anyway to tell if the pouch is in his hands?” Alex asked.

Dane rewound and paused the video when the figure re-entered the streetlamp’s light.

Collin stood and bent forward until he was the same height as Simone. Both intently studied the image.

“No way to tell.” Collin straightened. “L-let it play.”

Dane did so and seconds later the streetlamp went out. “That’s strange.”

A brilliant lightening flash lit the entire street into view.

“Did you see that?” Alex slapped the table in excitement.

Dane used his remote control wizardry to go back and pause the video on the lightening flash. “What the heck is that?”

No one answered him. In silence, Dane and his friends gathered inches from the screen. He blinked at the TV’s blue light.

The video’s image revealed a tall figure in mid-stride.

“He’d be right under the streetlight,” Simone said. “You think he turned it off?”

The TV screen ached Dane’s eyes but he couldn’t look away. “Is he wearing a cape?”

“Never mind that,” Alex said. “Rewind it and play it at real speed.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Simone said.

“What?” Dane asked. “That he’s chasing the first guy?”

Alex shook her head. “It wasn’t one large flash. It was multiple.”

“So.” Dane said.

“Just replay it and you’ll see,” Simone said.

Dane did so without question pressing play when the streetlamp came back on. Then, it went out again.

What had he missed that both Alex and Simone had seen? He watched, unaware he was holding his breath.

The bright lightening was actually three consecutive flashes, not a full second between them.

“That’s not possible,” Dane nearly shouted.

The figure was clearly not there in the first two flashes and in the middle of the cul-de-sac on the third. Like the final lightening flash had simply put him there.

“Paul has to see this,” Alex said. “The pure speed.”

“It’s in-in-inhuman,” Collin said.

“Assuming he’s from the helicopter,” Dane said, “who’s in the cruiser?”

They watched on. Wind howled, limbs scraped and clawed.

Goosebumps erupted on Dane’s arms. The treehouse suddenly felt colder despite the muggy evening.

The tree branches disappeared as if the night had swallowed them.

Dane’s eyes widened. Had the camera stopped recording. No. The shadowed edge of the window frame was still visible.

“N-no ladder on th-that side,” Collin said.

“At least twenty feet up,” Simone added.

“What do you—” And then Dane understood. The darkness was a wide-brimmed hat, something like in the old Zorro movies his dad liked to watch.

The thing outside the window looked up. Milk-white skin. Eyes all black with red moving slits for pupils. The shark-like eyes peered through the screen, invading his soul.

Stunned with shock, no one looked away.

Red lips smiled exposing razor-pointed fangs.

Dane heard himself scream. He couldn’t help it. No one made fun of him.

Impossibly fast, the creature reached out and swiped.

Alex and Simone screamed on either side of him.

The camera fell over blurring the shot and then it went black. The menu came back up.

“The clothing.” Alex’s eyes were more vibrant with excitement than fear. “It’s one of them.”

Dane nodded.

Alex stood. “It’s true. They are vampires.”

Dane nodded, still unable to speak.

“Do you have the book up here?”

Dane nodded, but Alex hadn’t seen. She had already crossed to the cardboard box in the corner. It was where he kept his comics and stuff.

16

“Men in Black are vampires?” Paul asked.

Paul saying it for the umpteenth time didn’t make it anymore real for Dane.

Paul and Penny had watched the video. The screen was paused on the creature’s snarling face.

Alex closed Dane’s copy of The Real Men in Black by Nick Redfern. She tossed the book onto the table. It spun to a stop on some comics. “The book suggests MIB vampires are more like energy vampires,”

“Energy suckers are real,” Simone said. “They’re called Psychic or Emotional Vampires. They feed off a person’s life force or fear itself.”

“Those fangs look real to me,” he said, leaning back on the sofa. He didn’t want to look at the creature on the TV anymore, staring back with those eyes. So, he studied the book’s dark-glossy cover with the three Men in Black on it.

“There’s also a chapter,” Dane said, “theorizing that Men in Black are time travelers.”

“Right,” Alex said. “That’s why they act out of place. They’re from the future and their time is at a different speed than ours.”

Dane glanced at his bracelet and its odd circle and triangle symbol. Penny and Paul were unable to find anything on it.

“There’s also a chapter on them being demons,” Dane said. “Maybe even the devil himself in human form.”

“The devil.” Penny stood next to Collin. She had stopped gnawing on her bottom lip.

“Sis, please,” Paul said.

“It’s real. It happened.” Penny turned and looked out the window.

Paul answered Alex’s questioning glance. “My sister believes she has an ability to sense and see spirits. It’s why she doesn’t watch horror flicks.” Paul stared at his shoes. “She had something happen.”

“Enough.” Penny turned from the window and studied him with watery eyes. “Dane, how are they connected to the—”

Dane cut her off so she didn’t have to say the word. “Men in Black being the devil or a demon is just a theory. But one thing is for certain, strange poltergeist activity will occur when they’re around.”

“You know,” Alex said, “phone calls with no one on the other end or unintelligible electronic voices.”

“Objects go missing,” Dane said, “or move in the targeted person’s house.”

“Like maybe the internet being down?” Simone said.

Dane hadn’t even considered that. The internet had been on the fritz for the last few weeks at his house. What exactly was going on at Mad Murry’s?

Dane stood and crossed to the window. How had the Man in Black climbed up this side of the treehouse with no ladder or low branches? Just because it had vampire fangs, could it fly? What other powers did it have? And what did it want with the thing attached to his wrist?

“Paulie, do you know someone with a black sports car?” Penny asked, looking out the other window, which faced Collin’s house and the rest of the street.

“No, why?” Paul asked.

“I don’t recognize the car parked in front of our house.”

Collin leaned out for a look as well. “Alex.”

Dane turned from Mad Murry’s house to his friends. “You think it’s the three guys from the library?”

Alex took Collin’s place at the window. “Not likely, it’s a BMW Roadster, which only has two seats.”

Dane turned back to Mad Murry’s. What was going on inside there? It might have been the unkempt lawn and the flaking paint, but the house fit more on a horror set than his street.

Dane rubbed his hands on his shirt. The house had no lights on and using flashlights was out of the question. Inside the house, the beams would look suspicious. Someone might call the cops.

Without looking back at his friends, he said, “It’s time.”

“You can’t seriously still be considering going inside that house?” Penny asked.

Dane turned and pointed at the TV, unable to stop the quiver in his voice, “That thing won’t stop until it’s got what it wants. The only way we’re getting out of this is to understand what’s going on.” He sighed. “Besides, Mad Murry might be crazy and all, but those were gunshots, right? He might be injured or dying.”

“He might already be dead,” Paul said.

“There’s only one way to know for sure,” Dane said. He turned back to the window. Mad Murry’s house and whatever was inside waited in the gloaming of twilight. He didn’t have the heart to tell his friends that, despite popular belief created by comics and Will Smith movies, Men in Black didn’t travel in twos but threes. And, it was very likely one, if not all three, were waiting in the house.

It would be dark soon.

17

A flash of red. Or was it orange? Had he dreamt it before? Standing in his front yard, Dane shook off the feeling of déjà vu.

Long shadows stretched down the length of Crabapple Court. Darkness cradled all, the embrace final.

Alex walked up from the sidewalk. “It’s too dark to see if the BMW is still there.”

Dane and his friends huddled together.

“Second night of a full moon,” Penny said.

“Well technically, Sis,” Paul said, pointing the camcorder to the night sky, “a full moon only lasts a few seconds.”

“Okay,” Dane said. “Collin, you take Penny and Simone around the right side—”

“That would be the North side,” Alex said.

Paul shined the camera’s light on Dane. “You got to work on your directions, man.”

“Just look for a way in,” he said. “Alex, Paul and I will do the same on the—”

“South—” Alex said.

“—left side.” Dane smiled despite himself. “We’ll meet in the back.”

They stared at Mad Murry’s creepy shell of a house.

“Does your generation,” Penny whispered, “believe it’s haunted, too?”

A chill crept up Dane’s spine. The hairs on the back of his neck rose in protest. A cool gust of air split the warm night, stealing the excitement from him, like dead leaves swept away in a storm. Mad Murry’s weeds swayed in unison, whispering a warning of danger.

“I used to think it was just stories,” Penny said, “you know, to scare little kids. Now, I’m not so sure.”

Dane cleared his throat. His voice hardly louder than the weeds, “Sometimes from my tree fort, I see Mad Murry wandering the edge of the woods like he’s gone senile or something. He looks like a ghost himself.”

“I can’t remember the last time I saw his car,” Alex said. “Or anyone leave his house.”

“We should just call the cops,” Penny said.

“I second that.” Paul shifted back and forth.

Simone adjusted her backpack. “We made a pact.”

“That changed when we saw the vampire,” Paul whispered.

“It’ll know if we go to the authorities,” Dane said. “And it will track us down and rip off our arms for this.” The white stone of his bracelet seemed to glow with moonlight.

“We don’t even know if it’s after them,” Paul said.

“Exactly,” Dane said, hoping he sounded braver than he felt, “we need to know what’s going on before we tell anyone anything.”

“Cops wouldn’t believe us anyway,” Alex said.

Paul waved the camera. “We have a frigging video.”

Collin put a hand on Paul’s shoulder. “W-w-well just check th-the backyard.”

By moonlight, they split up and inched closer to Mad Murry’s house.

Collin led Simone and Penny around the right side of the house and out of sight.

Dane was glad Alex stayed by his side. They walked up the driveway to the front of the garage and around the left side of the house. Paul trailed behind so that the camera light projected his and Alex’s shadows on the knee-high grass.

Dane crossed to a window. Weeds tickled his bare legs.

“What are you doing?” Paul whispered.

“Just checking the window,” he said. Dane cupped his hands for a better look in. No good, the blinds were drawn. He pushed up on the windowpane. Locked. He figured it would be.

“Paul, shine the light over there.” Dane pointed to the side of the house they’d already passed.

The light revealed two air-conditioning units.

Dane craned his neck. “Shine the light up, please, Paul.”

The light panned up the corner made from the side wall of the house and the back of the garage which jutted out from the house.

“Probably how the first guy in the video got off the roof,” Alex said.

Dane knew Alex meant the gutter running up the corner.

“We could maybe shimmy up it,” he said, “and see if there’s an unlocked window on the second story or attic.”

Paul blinded them with the light. “You’re both insane.”

“Sorry,” Dane said, “about asking you to climb the tree to get into the pool. That was un-cool.”

“It’s alright,” Paul said from behind the light. “But everyone owes me five bucks.”

“You paid for us all,” Alex said with admiration.

“Yeah.” Paul ran the light back up the gutter. “There’s no way my sister will climb that.”

“We don’t all have to climb it,” Dane said. “Whoever gets in will just let everyone else in through the front.”

“Oh, right.”

They walked around the corner of the house to the backyard.

“The grass back here is even higher,” Alex said.

Dane smiled. “Mad Murry should pay us to do his yard.”

Collin, Simone, and Penny stood on the cement porch by the sliding glass door.

“Backdoor is l-l-locked,” Collin said.

Dane hadn’t seen Collin this nervous since the time they were camping and came across a wild coyote. He studied the tree line. Murry’s backyard, like a portion of his own, butted up against the Summerfield Cluster. It was about fifty acres of trees and underbrush. He liked the serenity of camping in it with Collin, and sometimes Paul, too. Well, when they didn’t come across any coyotes.

“Okay, we tried,” Paul said. “Guess we should get back to your house.”

Dane opened his mouth to mention the gutter—

“I know how to get you in.”

Paul swung the camera at the tree line.

The light didn’t reach very far, showing nothing but weeds and tree shadows.

Dane fought off visions of Mad Murry running from the woods, all screaming and insane. And then his mind sunk into a more gruesome nightmare: a pale face and flesh-piercing fangs.

From the trees of the backyard, a person emerged.

Dane sighed with relief. The figure was human and not some demonic underling.

Instead of walking up to them, the young Asian man walked toward the side of the house. “Follow me,” the man said.

“Wait!” Dane raised his wrist. “Did you put these in my shed?”

The man turned and said, “Yes. Please, we must hurry. And turn off that light. They’re watching.”

Paul turned off the light. “Who’s watching?”

The man stared up at the starry night sky. He rubbed his black hair, making it stand every which way. “Everyone.”

“Well, that really narrows it down,” Alex said.

Dane led his friends behind the young man and around the side of the house.

“How are we getting in?” Dane asked. “Pick a lock, break a window, or climb up to the roof?”

“That was you that climbed from the roof, right?” Simone asked.

The man didn’t reply but simply walked up the front steps. He cautiously opened the front door.

“The front door was my next guess,” Dane said.

“Whatever,” Alex said.

Dane was glad he’d made her smile.

 

CG

 

The silhouette in the BMW held the phone steady. Its screen showed the kids’ heat signatures. They entered the house. The agent’s British voice whispered into the phone, “The chosen are in the house. It has begun.”

18

Penny entered Mad Murry’s house behind her brother. Shadows crawled up the foyer’s high walls to the ceiling. The staircase on the right wall led to the second story. Upstairs, in the middle of the hallway, a blue light flickered behind a cracked door.

Collin eased the front door shut. “Th-the blinds are cl-closed.”

Penny wanted to scream. How were these little geeks being so brave?

The house’s spacious opening had a pressure to it. Penny couldn’t take her eyes from the door. Not the one upstairs with the strobe light behind it, but the one just before the staircase. Had she seen a light under its door jam? Not blue, but a light nevertheless. There was someone or thing behind that door. She knew it. She could sense it.

“Your br-bracelet is l-lit,” Collin said.

Her bracelet glowed a dull purple and faded out.

Again, Penny’s eyes found the door by the stairs. She wanted to scream out: “There’s someone beyond that door! An intruder!”

Her mind ferociously latched onto Dane’s disturbing storm video and the vampire-thing. She couldn’t even handle vampires in movies. And now, they were real?

“Sis?” Paulie said.

Her brother and the others had gathered up, apparently talking things over. She joined them, more for safety than anything.

Something burrowed into her mind. Something Collin had said.

“You okay?” Simone asked.

Penny nodded. Her brother turned off the video camera, which put her at ease slightly. She didn’t know why exactly.

“What’s your name?” Dane asked the stranger.

“Tommy. I’m Muraoka’s nephew. I was helping him last night.”

It took Penny a moment to realize he meant Mad Murry. She hadn’t known his real name after all these years. It seemed cruel.

Tommy glared at her wrist. “You have the last one.”

“It was an accident,” she said. “How do we get them off?”

“I don’t know,” Tommy said.

Simone, who shared her disbelief, asked, “How could you not—”

“My uncle’s journal is probably upstairs. The answer is most likely in it.”

“Where’s you uncle?” Dane asked. “Is he hurt?”

“I’m afraid he’s gone. He’s on the other side.”

“The other side?” Dane said.

The brave dork leader smiled up at the flashing room. He was actually enjoying this. Penny felt her teeth press into her bottom lip.

“We must get him back before it’s too late,” Tommy said. “But before we go upstairs, I need to know what you know. And how did you know I jumped off the roof?”

Penny flushed realizing for the first time how attractive Tommy was. He had strong cheekbones and kind eyes—

Dane glanced at her and then the rest of his friends. It was so subtle she thought she’d imagined it. In the dark, without saying a word, he’d let them all know there would be no mention of swirling portals or mind-moving Wiffle balls. She had to give him credit. It was smart.

“Show him the video of the storm,” Dane said to her brother.

Paulie flipped open the camera’s viewfinder.

“What happened last night?” Alex asked.

Tommy ruffled his thick hair. “I was helping my uncle with his lifelong experiment. And last night was the first test, well the first test that I know of.”

“That you know of?” Alex asked.

“I’m on break from MIT.”

“MIT,” Simone said. “That’s where I want to go.”

“Unfortunately,” Tommy said, “just as we powered it up, we were attacked.”

“By this?” Paulie held up the camera so Tommy could see the monitor.

Tommy flinched. “No. They were dark, faceless figures.”

“Faceless?” Penny’s voice cracked. She was unable to keep her eyes from the door. It had no doorknob so it must lead to the kitchen. The idea of the Intruder being in something as normal as a kitchen didn’t stop her knees from shaking. She would not wet herself in front of this cute guy. Her bracelet glowed again and then went out. What could that mean?

Dane was asking something about his shed and hiding the bracelets.

But Penny didn’t care anymore. She wanted to go home, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over her head, like when she was little and heard the shadow figures sneak to her bedroom.

Penny opened her mouth to say she was leaving, she was out, see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya—but what Tommy said next stopped her cold.

“One of the two attackers shot my uncle and sent him through.”

“Through to where?” Dane asked.

“I don’t know. If my uncle knew, he didn’t tell me. He was very secretive about his work.”

“Obviously,” Alex said.

“What exactly was he working on?” Simone pushed up her glasses.

“It’ll be easier to show you.”

Penny instinctively placed herself behind her brother and in front of Collin, who took up the rear.

Tommy led them past the unmoving kitchen door.

Penny felt the Intruder’s presence. No. Her mind saw the shadow figure just behind the door. After all these years, a shadow demon had returned to devour her. She didn’t scream or run out wailing which she considered the bravest thing she’d ever done.

Unable to eye the throbbing light above, Penny stared at her shoes making the steps. The group reached the second story hallway. Tommy inched them to the door and stopped.

They all huddled against the wall, watching the trembling light, each one with visions of vampires or faceless figures on the other side of the door.

Not a one of them noticed the kitchen door open. And not even Penny sensed the dark figure creeping up the steps.

 

David C. Baxter prefers flip-flops, tennis, an ocean breeze, and being called Dave. Unfortunately, he’s gluten intolerant, but he’s thankful it only took four years to find a gluten free beer that taste like the real thing. My Amazon author page.

 

I’d be tickled (purple) if you left a review for this volume on Amazon.

 

 

Volume Two release date: May 1, 2017

 

If you’d like to receive it earlier, I’d be happy to personally email you a free copy, simply submit your email (it will never be given to third party companies, that’s just rude).

 

TheCrabappleGang.com

 


The Crabapple Gang: The Gift of Dane - Volume One

  • Author: David C. Baxter
  • Published: 2017-03-13 18:50:19
  • Words: 19096
The Crabapple Gang: The Gift of Dane - Volume One The Crabapple Gang: The Gift of Dane - Volume One