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       Lost Boy, p.9

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Screw it. He was going after her. He stood up, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw it flit across the screen and he froze.

  A shadow.

  Tink tensed, and her hand went to the bag at her side. Peter heard a beeping sound that started to grow louder. The shadows were coming, which meant a morphling could be near, and Wendy was by herself.

  He sprinted away from his seat and ran up the aisle to the exit doors. He heard Tink call out after him, “Wait, Peter.”

  “Wendy needs me!” Peter called over his shoulder and got a loud shushing from the other moviegoers. But it didn’t matter how many voices called out after him, not when there was a shadow. He wasn’t going to leave her again.

  He burst through the doors, and Tink and John followed suit into the near empty hall.

  Tink had goggles on her eyes, and John did a double take, pointing at them.

  “Don’t ask,” she warned.

  “Okay, I won’t,” John said. “Wendy?” he called and headed in the direction of the lobby.

  Tink’s box was lighting up, and she looked back down the halls away from John. “Which way, Peter? Do we follow the shadows or Wendy?” She bit her lip.

  “We follow Wendy; we can’t lose her again.”

  Tink and Peter took off running after John.

  Jeremy smirked from inside the men’s bathroom when he heard people calling Wendy’s name from the hall. He assumed it was her brother and his weird date. Morons. He had slipped into the men’s room to give himself a quick pick-me-up after getting rejected, and he felt good again. Even better, he would have his revenge via social media. No one dumps Jeremy Hatler, especially in public. His fingers flew across the keys on his phone and then hit publish.

  “There, let’s see her come back from this.”

  He smiled, checking out his reflection in the mirror. He could still have fun tonight.

  He was running his hand through his hair when he caught a glimpse of movement in the mirror behind him. He spun, and the bathroom was empty. He even pushed the closest bathroom stall door open, but he was alone. Or so he thought.

  A cold tickle brushed against him, and his eyes flicked to the mirror. He began to shiver, wracked with sudden chills, and couldn’t get warm. He struggled to turn the hot water on and run his hands under the heat. Moments later, the strange feeling passed. It must be a side effect of the drugs he had taken. Maybe he got ahold of a bad batch. Oh well.

  He headed out of the bathroom and to the side exit door into the empty alley.

  He smiled, thinking about Wendy. All girls say they don’t want you to follow them, but they do. He knew enough to give her a head start before he began the chase.

  “Wendy?” he called out, stepping out into the alley, and stumbled drunkenly over his feet. “Come out, come out wherever you are.” When she didn’t come across her right away, he began kicking himself for thinking she’d be an easy target. It didn’t matter that he had made his way through most of the cheer squad and that she was one of the few he hadn’t dated—maybe he shouldn’t have assumed she’d just fall in line like the others.

  A shadow a few feet away drew his attention to a large garbage bin.

  “Oh, are you playing coy? Well, I can play along too.”

  He started to hum under his breath, the melodramatic music from the movie they’d just watched. “Dun dun dun dun dun dun.”

  He crept to where he was sure Wendy was hiding and jumped around the corner of the dumpster, flinging his hands up in the air. “Dun!”

  A beast slithered out of the darkness, looming over him.

  The humming stopped.

  Chapter Fifteen

  Peter rushed out the hallway exit door to an empty alley. He couldn’t believe they’d followed the wrong girl. It wasn’t until they got to the parking lot and the girl got into a red convertible that Peter realized the blonde he was following wasn’t her. At the moment, they were following Tink’s shadow box. He should have done it in the first place. She usually showed up wherever the shadows were anyway. He let himself get distracted, and it was becoming a habit.

  “Where is she?” John rushed up the alley, and when he didn’t see her, he spun around, heading in the other direction.

  Peter studied the darkness, his skin prickling, his senses warning him that something was there, even though Tink’s shadow box had gone silent. He flicked his wrist to the side, the light brace coming alive and arming. A gleaming knife made of piercing light rested in his hand.

  “What is that?” John asked, but Peter ignored him, motioning for Tink to put her goggles back on.

  He moved over to the dumpster and pointed out the ooze glistening in the shadow. The remains of a morphling passing through the shadows.

  Tink stepped around and kneeled down to look. She pulled out a disposable glove from her pack and touched the goo. “It’s still warm, Peter. It could still be here.”

  Peter twirled, his knife at the ready as he searched the darkness for signs of the monster or Wendy. “It can’t have gone far, not until it got what it came for.”

  “I think it already did,” Tink said forlornly from behind him.

  “No.” Peter’s chest tightened as he thought the worst. “She can’t be gone.”

  “No, not Wendy,” Tink said. She held up a size-ten shoe, a perfect match to the ones the touchy-feely date was wearing earlier.

  Peter let out a groan.

  “What’s going on here?” John said. “Why do you have Jeremy’s shoe?”

  “Not now, Johnny boy,” Tink snapped, then opened her bag and pulled out a tactical flashlight on steroids.

  “Spread out. Find Wendy,” Peter yelled before leaping up and practically flying up the side of the building to the roof.

  “Whoa.” John’s head dropped back as he stared at Peter’s departure in awe. “You guys are like superheroes.”

  “No, we’re better,” Tink said. “Follow me, and stay close.” She took off running down the alley, with John close behind.

  It was human nature to be terrified of following shadows, but instead, Wendy felt a thrill of anticipation. A feeling deep within told her to trust them as they led her down another alley and stopped. They were then a few streets down from the movie theater.

  Now what? She was confused until a terrifying monster came out of the darkness, dragging a body roughly behind it.

  “Jeremy?” Wendy gasped when she saw his prone form missing a sneaker. Anger boiled up from within her as she saw the dark shadow monster. She couldn’t let that happen.

  Grabbing a stone pipe, Wendy swung at the beast, but her weapon only grazed it, and the monster didn’t react to her attack. It turned, and the glowing eyes of the beast momentarily stunned her. She splayed her fingers and flung her wrist outward, but nothing happened. Why did she think she had an invisible weapon on her wrist? Was it a reflex from a long-ago memory?

  The shadow monster’s form grew in size, and more legs sprouted from its back, its mouth opening, revealing rows of blackish teeth, and her blood went cold. It wasn’t of this world but from beyond. A high-pitched screech drilled into Wendy, making her flinch and cover her ears as the beast tried to lunge. She rolled to the right, avoiding being impaled by the clawed leg of the monster as it smashed into and through the brick of the building behind her. It attacked again, and Wendy spun, sliding on a wet garbage sack, her head smacking the ground.

  Pain sliced through her skull, her head pounding from the impact, and Wendy struggled to focus. There was a sharp crash, and then the alley was submerged into darkness as the beast destroyed the security light on the building.

  How was she supposed to defeat that thing in the dark? An agitated shadow flew toward her, and Wendy held up a hand to stop it, but it ignored her and flew through her, sending a shockwave into her system.

  Wendy’s mouth opened in shock as images flashed into her head. The shadow began communicating with her using images, showing her different shadow monsters, each one more terrifyi
ng than the last. But then there was a blast of light, and the beast retreated from it.

  The shadow abruptly exited her body, leaving her disoriented, just as a claw dripping black sliced toward her head.

  “No!” Wendy dodged the claw and began to process everything she’d learned. One, those things were called morphlings; and two, those things hate powerful light. Well, she’d have to give them light, and the construction equipment in the next empty parking lot might help. Wendy climbed the fence, scraping her arms across the barbed wire as she dropped onto the cement and rolled.

  “Hey!” She waved her arms at the morphling, and it turned to scale the fence after her.

  Wendy ran through the maintenance vehicles and stopped when she came to a portable light tower still on the back of a flatbed trailer. She had seen those light towers at night, used by constructions workers who maintained the roads, and she knew how bright they could be, but would it be enough? She climbed on it and hoped it would be.

  The morphling’s mouth made clicking noises as it began to stalk the trailer. Wendy waited, her hand on the power switch as the monster came closer to the light. She needed it to work, and the closer it came, the better chance she had of nailing it with the beam. If she hesitated and waited for too long, it could easily duck and avoid the beam.

  She aimed the lamp and was about to flip it on when the morphling grabbed the trailer she was standing on and sent it rolling into the building behind her. Wendy cried out as the lamp toppled back, trapping her in the trailer bed. She tried to squeeze out but could feel the trailer shift again as the morphling crawled on top of it, trapping her underneath its body.

  The black ooze dripped from its fangs. Terror ripped through her at the sight of the monster hovering over her, but she quelled the fear quickly with deep breaths. She knew that she was facing her death, but death didn’t scare her, she told herself. That thing, on the other hand, was just a giant spider, and she could hear what her brother John would have said about being faced with spiders.

  Squash it.

  The morphling opened its mouth wide just as she hit the power on the generator. Light blasted from the tower lamp, and she used her one free arm to turn it right into the morphling’s eyes.

  An otherworldly scream blasted into the air as the beast exploded outward, a black firework of shadow and goo.

  “Gross,” Wendy groaned as it splattered across her favorite jacket.

  Sighing, she dropped her head back onto the trailer bed. She wanted to yell in victory, but instead, she concentrated on unsnagging her jeans from the lamp. Freeing herself, she limped over to the fence and made her way to where Jeremy’s prone body had been lying earlier.

  He was gone. At the end of the alley, a car door slammed, and the screeching of tires on pavement reached her ears. She tried to run down the road after the escaping car, but the car was gone. She didn’t see a make or model—didn’t know who had taken him, friend or foe.

  The shadows seemed anxious and were relaying their fears to Wendy with their posture and flying erratically. They wanted her to leave; so, she obeyed, walking the blocks back to the movie theater and getting into her Prius. Then, she headed home.

  John was concerned by the dark goo and the talk of morphling monsters. His imagination was having a field day, and even though the last twenty-four hours had been the strangest in his young adult life, he finally felt like he was a part of something, even if it was a part of Wendy’s story. He knew, ever since he was young, that he was meant to do great things, more than just being good at computers and video games. Then, when his family found Wendy, he took that up as his mantle, like a knight in King Arthur’s court. Protector, brother, and friend.

  He watched Tink talking with Peter. The goggles were pulled low over her eyes. He heard them discussing the glasses, calling them specs, and she apparently used them to see shadows, and they had special weapons to fight the bigger things, the morphlings.

  “Can I have one of those light weapons?” John asked. He felt it was imperative to go into battle prepared.

  Tink frowned and she shook her head no before going back to inspecting the black ooze. She was oblivious to the growing shadow monster crawling from behind the dumpster.

  “Watch out!” John yelled, his body physically making contact with Tink, knocking her out of the way of the attacking morphling. He let out a groan as the morphling clawed his shoulder.

  “John!” Tink yelled as he collapsed in front of her. He had wished to see it, a morphling, and he regretted his decision. It was the stuff of nightmares, inky black like darkness, which morphed and solidified into a monster that resembled various beasts. That one was a mix of a leopard with scales like a dragon.

  John turned and flung himself over Tink, wrapping his body around hers to protect her from the beast.

  The morphling flung its head back, and the blazing tip of a light sword cut through its abdomen, scattering cracks of light outward, and it squealed and writhed, trying to get away from the impaling light.

  Peter, standing over the morphling, yelled as he pulled the light sword from its back and then swung it in an arc and brought it across as he took off the morphling’s head. The whole monster exploded outward into a thousand shards of darkness.

  “Are you okay?” Peter asked, the light brace on his arm going dark, the sword disappearing into the palm of his hand.

  John nodded numbly, unable to look away from what he’d just witnessed.

  His arms were still wrapped around a trembling Tink, her head buried into his chest. He wasn’t going to pull away.

  Peter knelt by Tink, carefully looking John over so he could see the injury on his shoulder. John could see a cut on his jacket coated with black ooze, but he didn’t see a wound.

  “Thankfully it didn’t break the skin,” Peter said. “You’re lucky, though. The morphling’s venom is not something that you want to experience. A deep enough cut will kill you.”

  Just when John was beginning to worry that Tink had fainted, her eyes fluttered open and looked right into his.

  “Hey.” John brushed the hair out of her face; she was still tucked in his embrace.

  Her cheeks flushed pink; then, she noticed how close she was to him, and she launched herself out of his arms. Her eyes filled with worry, she kept scanning the darkness.

  “Did—?”

  “I got it,” Peter answered.

  “Good. You?” Tink looked back to John, her eyes softening.

  “I’m not hurt,” he said.

  Her shoulders dipped in relief. “Good.”

  “Wow!” Peter exclaimed. “You got her down to one-syllable words.”

  She spun, glaring at Peter. “Wendy?”

  Peter’s face paled, and he took off running down the alley. John started to run after him but Tink was still shaking from the encounter. He reached for her arm, but she shrugged him off.

  “You.” She pushed him in the chest and pointed. “Home!”

  “Not until I know Wendy is safe.”

  Tink started to tear up, her voice rising in distress. “Peter will find her. Trust me, it’s what we do. But you—” her lip trembled. “I can’t do my job if you are distracting me. If you get hurt.”

  “Fine, I’ll go,” he lied. Tink seemed to believe him, because she picked up her gear, gave him a tearful smile and jogged off in the opposite way Peter went.

  John looked up into the sky. He wasn’t going to follow Tink or Peter, but it didn’t mean he was going to stop looking for Wendy. He would go back and get the car and check all the places they wouldn’t know about, like her favorite coffee shop.

  John was left alone in the alley as he looked at the puddles of black venom pooled on the ground. What he had just seen was cooler than any movie or video game he had ever seen, but as the heroes had left, he became aware of how many dark corners and shadows remained. John wouldn’t be able to take on a morphling. He didn’t have that cool brace weapon that Peter did; he was just normal. John realized
that in that story he was just a side character, and side characters were always the first ones to get killed off.

  A garbage can lid went scattering into the alley as something or someone knocked it over.

  The monster had come back, or its mother, and it was probably enraged plus ten.

  “No way! I’m out of here.” He rushed to the theater door and tried to open it but forgot that it locked automatically. He pounded on the door. “Let me in, let me in,” he shouted just as a stray cat came strolling into view before sitting by his foot and licking his paw.

  “Ha, you!” John waved his finger at the feline. “You’re an evil kitty.”

  John ran down the alley until he made it around the building to the front parking lot and didn’t slow until he was in his parent’s car. He revved the engine, and peeled out of the parking lot. He may not be a super hero, but it wouldn’t stop him from being a super brother. He would find her without their help.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Peter cracked his knuckles and tried to hold in the many colorful curse words that were ready to spill forth out of his mouth. She was home. Her bedroom light was on, and he could see her pacing in front of her window.

  How in the world had she made it back? Why didn’t she message her brother? Why didn’t she stay and talk to him at least? He knew she felt their mutual attraction. He hated to admit how hurt he’d felt when she hadn’t reacted after she saw him at school. Nothing had registered on her face. Every part of him had wanted to run up to her, crush her in his arms, and kiss her deeply. And then she’d accepted a date with someone else right in front of him.

  It had killed him to see her sit next to that kid with the octopus arms. It had been so horrible that Peter hadn’t even felt a pang of guilt at losing him to the morphling. What did that say about him? Was he becoming as heartless as the Red Skulls?

  He wanted to believe that Jeremy was just an exception, that he’d let his jealousy cloud his judgment. Because losing a kid to a morphling always affected him. When he closed his eyes to sleep, sometimes their faces would come to him, haunting him. But they couldn’t save everyone. There are only so many lost boys and hundreds of Red Skulls and morphlings. The numbers would never be even. For every morphling they killed, there was another one to take its place. If only they knew where they were coming from, they could find a way to get rid of the morphlings for good. If only Mr. Barrie still had his wits about him, he might be able to give them more insight. Now, he had to rely on his daughter, Tink, and the brightest of the bunch, Slightly.

 
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