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Authors: Bryce Clark

Red Shirt Kids (5 page)

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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09

MAIN STREET WAS
deserted. The shops that lined the street were closed up for the night. Many of the lights along the street were gone, but the neon sign of Hardy’s Hardware still shone bright. Wind started to pick up and intensified as dust swirled in clouds. From behind an old pharmacy, the man in the cloak who had taken Diane and Darren crept out of the shadows and slinked toward Hardy’s. The dark hood covered the man’s face, but his hands were bare. He stood under the neon sign and looked around—left, then right. Seeing the coast was clear, he reached an arm up toward the neon sign, his scaly fingers extended.

The magic, sap-like amber began to flow out from his fingers. It formed a glowing amber rope. The man in the cloak twisted his wrist, and the end of the amber rope formed a lasso. He raised his arms and levitated until he was level with the neon sign.

The man in the cloak whipped the amber rope lasso over his head, swirling it in wide arcing circles. The speed of the rope created a bright blur, and the trees nearby began to shake violently.

The man flung his hand toward the neon sign, and the amber lasso rocketed up toward it, wrapping around the sign and snapping tight.

Sparks flew as the man in the cloak ripped his arm back and violently tore the sign free from the building. The sign flew to the ground, and mini explosions of light shot into the air. The man in the cloak floated back to the ground. He snapped his wrist, and the glowing amber rope pulled the neon lights toward him.

Sparks shot out from where the sign on Hardy’s Hardware used to be as the man dragged the stolen light down the street.

10

AMY SAT ON
a queen-sized bed with a powder blue comforter and pink pillows. There was a TV in one corner and a white vanity in another. On her walls were posters of Coldplay and Brad Pitt. Her friends were into One Direction and Taylor Lautner, but Amy had always been mature beyond her years. Mike stood at the door, playing with his polo shirt; underneath it, his red shirt shimmered with his movements.

“What do you think happened to those kids?” Mike asked.

“Well, if you think about it, if they got lost then they probably would have been found by the searchers. I don’t know how far kids could get if they ran away, especially with the Amber Alert and everyone looking for them.”

“What’s the Amber Alert?” asked Mike.

“It’s like if a kid goes missing, all the police all over know about it, and all the TV stations put their picture on the news and stuff,” said Amy.

“So then, what do you think happened?”

“The most likely thing is that someone took them.”

“Kidnapped?” Mike sat on the edge of the bed, worry creasing his forehead.

“Yeah.”

“I never knew anyone who got kidnapped.”

“Me neither.”

“Do you think they, you know, I mean could they still be alive?”

Amy thought for a moment. “Maybe. Like Elizabeth Smart.”

“Who?”

“She was that girl that was taken by these weirdos, but then they found her like almost a year later.”

“What did she do with them for a year?”

“I don’t really know. But they found her, and she was okay.”

“And maybe Diane and Darren are okay too?”

Amy didn’t really think that was true, but it
could
be true, so she said, “Yeah, yeah, they might be okay.”

“I hope somebody finds them.”

“Me too.” Amy looked down at her red shirt, pulling on it again. Her normally stoic expression was replaced by genuine frustration. “This thing doesn’t do anything!”

“Calm down. Maybe you’re like the brains or something.”

“What does that mean? The brains?”

“You know, like superheroes? They need like a ring leader to help them.”

“Oh, so you and Sam are superheroes now? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves or anything.”

“That’s not what I mean. But, like, you were the one who made up the rules. Like that.”

“Oh, that’s great. The brains. More like the loser.”

“You even said it might do something.”

“Well, I’ll tell you this, Mike. I don’t feel any smarter or anything. No special brain powers here.”

With this much sarcasm in her voice, Mike knew Amy was pretty upset. He figured he’d better leave her alone to sort it out, so he stood and headed for the door. “Goodnight,” he said.

“Goodnight.”

Mike turned and walked toward his room. He did like the fact that he had a talent and his sister didn’t. But he couldn’t help feeling sorry for Amy. He hadn’t seen her this upset in a while … maybe ever. But he quickly forgot about his sister’s plight as his mind raced with ways he could use his invisibility.

David sat on a plush couch. The muted TV ran some news program with a Wall Street ticker rolling along the bottom. David typed chicken-feed style on a laptop. Behind him, the kitchen was lit by a nightlight. Over his shoulder, in the kitchen, the refrigerator door opened and stayed that way for a moment before a slice of chocolate cake floated out of the fridge, across the kitchen, and toward the stairs.

The piece of cake floated up the stairs, across the hall, and into Mike’s room, where it landed carefully on the brown-and-blue-striped bedspread. Pajama tops floated off of the floor, and Mike suddenly came into view as the pajamas cleared his head and covered his red shirt. He held the cake with his bare hands and smirked as he took a monstrous bite. Licking his fingers victoriously, he sat on the bedspread and fired up his PlayStation.

Mike worked the controls as sounds of explosions came from his video game. But he jerked suddenly as a new sound—a loud bump—came from the room next to his. It was Amy’s room. He paused the game, trying to listen more intently, and he heard the bump again, louder. He bolted to his feet and ran to find out what the noise was.

Mike burst in the door, interrupting Amy from her drawing. Amy sat on the floor at the foot of her bed. She had her iPod earphones crammed into her ears, and the music of Lady Gaga was cranked up loud. Mike could see that she still wore the red shirt beneath her frilly pajamas. “Aim—” Mike froze, petrified.

Amy couldn’t hear a thing, but she sensed that someone was present. She looked up and saw Mike, frozen in shock. She ripped off her headphones and ran to him.

“What is it, Mike? What’s wrong?” she asked.

Mike didn’t budge—he just stared at something over Amy’s shoulder. Amy turned slowly to follow his gaze and immediately leapt to her feet. They both stared in amazement. “Amy?”

“Yeah?”

“How’d this happen?” Amy had no response. How could she? How could she explain the fact that a full-size, real-life, honest-to-goodness
cow
was standing by her closet?

“There’s a
cow
in your room,” said Mike.

“I agree,” said Amy.

“Should I get Mom?”

“She doesn’t know anything about cows.”

“We have to do something.” The cow mooed and shifted its weight. Mike and Amy took quick steps away from the cow. Mike stumbled on Amy’s sketchpad and noticed the drawing.

“Holy crap!” he shouted.

“What?”

“You drew it, Amy!”

Amy looked at her drawing, then at the cow. Her eyes filled with joy.

“If you did this, then you can make it go away.”

“How?”

“Erase it.”

“It’s charcoal.”

Mike grabbed the pad and ripped the page off, holding it up for comparison. They looked exactly the same. Mike stared at the cow, and the cow seemed to stare back. Mike moved to Amy’s desk and picked up an eraser. He started to erase but just smeared the picture. The cow mooed, agitated.

“See?” Amy huffed.

Mike sighed in frustration. He yelled at the cow. “Go away! Shoo!”

“Where’s it gonna go? Don’t be stupid.”

“I. AM. NOT. STUPID! You’re the one who did this stupid drawing. Now Mom’s gonna find out—and, and they’ll take away our shirts!” Mike crumpled the paper with fury.

Amy did a double take. “Mike,” she said.

“What?” Mike roared. Amy pointed, and Mike turned toward the cow. It was gone. Mike looked at the crumpled paper in his hand, and his grimace turned into a grin. “No way! OK, that’s so freaking cool.” Amy’s eyes were brimming with tears.

Mike thought, his eyes darting rapidly. “All right, OK. Draw a, uh, draw a Snickers!”

“Oh yeah, think big.”

“Well, draw something.”

Amy pondered for a moment then picked up her sketchpad and began to draw. Mike lowered himself onto the bed as she furiously worked her pencil. She stopped and blew on the picture. Mike turned towards where the cow had been. A substance like gold dust swirled in the air before falling to the ground. When the dust settled, there was a three-foot-tall porcelain doll standing on the floor.

Mike was disappointed. “A doll?”

Amy walked to the doll, touching its face. “She’s beautiful.” She held up the sketch of the same doll so Mike could see.

“I guess we found your power,” said Mike. Amy smiled.

“So, what are your rules?” Mike asked.

“Huh?”

“You gave me and Sam rules, right? So what are yours?” Mike smiled.

Amy thought. “Well … I guess I can’t draw something unless we all agree. I mean, that would be the fair rule, but …”

“No buts,” said Mike. “If we can’t do anything without you, then you can’t do anything without us.”

“Okay, that’s fair. I guess whatever I draw disappears when I crumple the paper, huh?” mused Amy.

“Yeah, but don’t do it and crumple just so you can get away with it,” said Mike.

“Oh, I won’t,” promised Amy with a sly smile.

11

HUNDREDS OF KIDS
played basketball on the large blacktop parking lot behind the school. The kids stood in cliques spread out across the pavement. The rusty basketball rims, which had been stripped of their nets long ago, stood unused. A few kids played tag halfheartedly. Others hopscotched on a game drawn in red, white, and blue chalk. A few boys played catch with a Nerf football.

Ben led a group of kids in a game they called “suicide.” They threw a tennis ball against the side of the school and then fielded it like in baseball. The rules were simple—if a player didn’t catch the ball in the field, then he had to run to the wall and touch it. If another player grabbed the ball and hit the failed fielder before he could touch the wall, then it was time to “line up.”

Lining up was not an enviable situation. The player would have to stand against the wall—and then the boy who had hit him would get two free shots with the tennis ball. Most boys stood sideways when they had to line up, the theory being that standing sideways meant less surface area for the thrower and therefore a less likely chance of being hit.

Ben was very good at suicide—it could be said that he was the best. He thrived on inflicting deep purple bruises with precision line-up throws. The game was fast paced, and the boys yelled and laughed as they played. Only the bravest of boys dared to play.

Mike, Sam, and Amy stood on the sidelines watching the game. Mike had never seen it played before and, while it seemed like you could get pretty hurt playing, a large part of him was attracted to the challenge. Sam hated suicide and avoided playing at all costs.

“Hey, Sam, we found Amy’s power,” said Mike.

“Really?” Sam beamed. “What is it?”

“Well, looks like whatever she draws comes to life,” Mike replied.

“That’s awesome! How does it work?” asked Sam.

“I was practicing this morning, trying to see if
everything
I draw comes to life. From what I can tell, when I’m wearing my shirt, every single thing I draw just … appears. It’s going to be tough in art class.”

“Just take the red shirt off then,” said Mike.

“Wow, Mike, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re a real mastermind.”

“Shut up.”

“Hey, Amy, can it work for food?” Sam wondered aloud.

“Yeah, I drew myself a donut this morning.”

“Hey!” said Mike. “That’s breaking the rules.”

Amy shrugged. “Oh, like you haven’t gone invisible without us knowing?”

Mike didn’t reply, as he was guilty as charged.

“Awesome, Amy. That’s so cool,” Sam grinned.

Amy laughed. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about your grandma, Sam. She must know about the red shirts.”

Sam’s smile faded. “I don’t know.” He looked away uncomfortably.

“Sam, she gave you that key. She
has
to know about them,” Mike insisted.

“It’s complicated.”

“Complicated? What the heck does that mean?” Mike laughed as he said this.

“It’s ‘cause my dad died when I was little.”

Mike’s smile quickly left his face. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t know about that.”

“No, it’s okay. But my mom? She doesn’t really like me to talk about my grandma. I’ve only met her twice. Well, twice and then the time she gave me this.” Sam touched the medallion resting under his shirt.

“When did that happen?” Amy asked.

“It was this summer. Just before you guys moved here. It was night, and I was sleeping. My mom left my window open, and when I woke up my grandma was standing there. I was kind of scared. I thought she came through the window, but my room is on the second floor, so she couldn’t have. She was wearing this white nightgown, and she didn’t have any shoes on. It was weird.”

“What did she say?”

“Well, she handed this chain and medallion to me. She said that I should wear it at all times. She said I reminded her of my dad.”

“That’s it?” asked Mike.

“Yeah. She left. But I don’t know how she did. I was looking down at the chain, and when I looked up she was gone,” said Sam.

“We need to talk to her,” said Amy. “Where does she live?”

“She lives in a hospital.”

“That’s right. Didn’t they think she was, um, crazy?” Amy grimaced but couldn’t think of a better word. “A girl at school said your grandma used to talk about magic and—Hey, she was probably talking about the shirts. I mean, if we told people what we could do, they’d think we were nuts!”

“I guess they did. She’s in there. My mom doesn’t let me see her.”

Amy’s eyes lit up. “I have an idea. I’m supposed to do this seventh-grade service project for school. What if I told my mom that visiting your grandma was the service project?”

“That could work,” said Mike.

“I don’t know,” Sam mumbled. The tennis ball from the game of suicide bounced over and hit him in the leg. Sam bent down and picked up the ball.

Ben stormed over to Sam, and Sam tossed the ball lightly to him.

“It touched you. The ball hit your leg,” said Ben.

Sam just stared back, not wanting to provoke Ben.

“You gotta line up,” Ben jeered at Sam.

“No.”

“What? What did you say, fatty? You know the rules. Line up.”

“He wasn’t even playing,” said Mike.

“Yeah? Who says?” Ben glared at Mike. “This isn’t some Boston wussy hopscotch game. This is suicide. Line up, tub-o-lard. Now!”

Sam shook his head slowly.

Ben turned to the other boys playing. “You saw it. Line him up.”

The other boys crowded around Sam, Mike, and Amy. Two boys grabbed Sam. When Mike tried to help, two others held him back.

“Leave him alone!” Amy pleaded.

“Shut up,” said one of the boys.

The boys dragged Sam over to the brick wall and shoved him against it. By this time, all of the kids at recess had gathered around, creating a makeshift theater. Sam cowered against the wall. He slowly turned sideways.

“Hey, fatty, I don’t think turning sideways is going to help.” Ben mimicked having a large gut, and more than a few kids laughed.

Sam closed his eyes.

Ben gripped the tennis ball tight. “Two shots.” He reared back and let the ball fly. It sailed through the air and nailed Sam in the fleshy part of his upper arm. The ball made a dense thwacking sound, and Sam fought back tears.

Ben grabbed the tennis ball as it bounced back toward him, laughing at Sam’s pain.

Amy looked around and saw that Shauna was nearby. She walked over to her. “Who is that boy?” Amy asked.

“Oh, the bully? Ben Daniels. He stayed back like three times,” said Shauna.

Sam gritted his teeth in anger as he watched Ben laughing at him. In that moment, he hated Ben. Gathering newfound courage, Sam turned to face Ben head-on.

Ben laughed at Sam’s defiance, wound up, and threw the ball as hard as he could. The ball rifled toward Sam. But Sam had other plans. He lifted his right hand up and flicked the ball as it blazed toward him. Suddenly, it reversed course, as if struck by a tennis racket, and picked up speed.

The ball ricocheted back toward Ben so fast that most kids didn’t see it. It slammed into Ben’s forehead with such force that it knocked him off of his feet—and left a bright red welt.

The crowd stared, dumbfounded. For as long as anyone could remember, no one had ever stood up to Ben Daniels—and what they had just seen didn’t seem physically possible. How did
that
happen?

The boys holding Mike let go and looked from Ben to Sam. “What did you do?” one of them asked Sam.

Sam didn’t respond—he just glared down at Ben as Mike and Amy ran over. “Sam! What are you doing?” Amy was nearly hysterical.

“Didn’t you see what was happening?” Mike glared at Amy. Didn’t she understand that Sam was being attacked?

“Yes, of course I saw it. But we can’t use our powers like this out in the open. Look,” said Amy.

Sam and Mike looked out across the group of kids. They were all staring at Sam, dumbfounded.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to block it,” said Sam.

“That kid deserved it. What a jerk,” said Mike.

The other boys looked at Ben moaning on the ground. They hesitantly knelt down to help him up.

Kids were heading home for the day. Parents lined up in their vehicles to pick up their children. Sam stood by the bike rack scratching his head. He looked over the rack, then all around, searching for a bike that obviously was not there. Frustrated, he kicked the bike rack as Mike and Amy made their way over from the school’s front door.

“Hey! Sam, what’s wrong?” Mike asked.

Sam looked over and saw Mike and Amy. He tried to remain calm. “Someone stole my bike!”

“Did you lock it?” asked Amy.

“Yeah, I lock it every day. But nobody’s bike ever gets stolen here.”

“I bet it was that kid you hit with the ball,” Mike said.

Sam thought for a minute. “Ben? Yeah. He would do something like that.”

“You can’t just say it was him because you don’t like him,” said Amy.

“Yeah, well, who else would do it?” Sam wondered.

“Could be anybody,” said Amy.

“You don’t get it. This just doesn’t happen. I mean, you couldn’t ride it around or anything. Everybody knows everybody else’s bike. Okay?” Sam was getting worked up. “I know it was him.”

“You can’t
know
that. I mean, how can you prove it?” asked Amy.

“If you saw it at his house, or saw him with it, that’d prove it,” said Mike.

“Duh,” was Amy’s response to Mike’s logic.

“I mean, if someone could get into his house undetected, look around in his garage or something,” said Mike.

“What? You want to break into his house? That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” said Amy.

“Not if no one could see you.” A slow smile crept across Mike’s face. Sam stared, stupefied, and Amy gulped. It was going to be an interesting evening.

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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