A Bolt from the Blue

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 4

Shapes in the Clouds

"This is a dark path we walk, brothers," Grandfather Thunder said, as he continued walking down the street. Thunderbird, Phoenix and Unicorn trotted contentedly ahead of the old man, disguised as a troop of Dalmatian pups, each struggling mightily to pull the old timer up the hill at the end of their own leashes. The early fall sunlight cast warm beams of orange and yellow through the fading leaves, giving to the slight briskness of the afternoon air a sort of glow.

*It seems fairly well lit,* Unicorn responded on a level only the spirits or those spiritually gifted could perceive. Anyone else would simply have heard a healthy young Dalmatian yip of joy. Amidst lots of strained puppy panting, of course. *Brother Sun is doing a wonderful job, just as Sister Moon did before.*

"Don't change the subject, Horned One," Grandfather mumbled angrily. "Things are moving much faster than I had hoped."

*I agree,* Phoenix asserted, his canine nose a'twitch with the plethora of aromas surrounding his assumed form. *The enemy is beginning to gain a foothold among the humans. Their minds are easily swayed, distracted. Their wills easily broken. Their…* he trailed off, finding a particular few inches of mail box post simply enchanting with mixed, layered scents that demanded his canine attention. *Brothers! Have you sniffed here yet?*

A brief tangling of leashes ensued as three sets of active olfactory lobes concentrated on extracting as much sensory data as they could from the painted wooden post. So many smells, all layered, all different and nuanced.

For his part, Grandfather Thunder, being the eldest amongst these spirits of nature and thus of greater rank than the others, simply released the trio of leashes. His dignity properly offended, Thunder choose to just let the others hav e their fun. Even greater spirits of nature seem to enjoy role playing, it seems. Besides, untangling knots was not worth his time. He did, however, put one elbow into one hand, and pinched the bridge of his nose in mild annoyance with the other.

"We really must stop meeting like this," Grandfather Thunder said, shaking his head slowly.

"Hey, Mr. Wodden," sang out a voice moving up behind the quartet of spirits. Thunder looked around to see Glen riding up on his bicycle. Thunder raised an eyebrow. The other three spirits' ears perked up, but the scents were still occupying their physical attentions. Glen brought his bike to a stop, dropping one foot to the pavement beside where the three pups were following their noses to the point of ultimate canine distraction. "A fresh batch of spotties?"

"Eh?" Thunder grunted, then looking around at the three white and randomly dotted waggly butts roving around the base of the mailbox pole. "Oh, yeah. Fresh doesn't begin to describe them," he said towards the mutts, raising his voice slightly. Tails simply kept wagging, almost synchronized. "You look well, Glen-boy. Staying out of trouble?"

"Still figuring out what trouble I once was, Mr. Wodden," Glen grinned sheepishly, his hand moving up behind his neck to rub absently. "Do you need help wrangling these little guys?"

"Oh, I think I can manage them," Thunder replied, his hands shifting comfortably into the pockets of his baggy pants. "School is good?"

"My grades are okay. Still having problems understanding chemistry."

"I meant more along social lines. You've had a while since your accident. Are things there doing well?"

"It is confusing, figuring out who are old friends, who are friends that want to know me now, and who are just people that like to be seen with me but don't really work out as friends."

"Yeees," Thunder rasped out. "Humans are fickle creatures at times. Especially at your age," the old one said, distantly, watching the puppies push each other around to track a scent or fifty. "Or so I'm told," he chuckled. "At my age, I barely remember which came first, baseball or the wheel."

"Fire, probably," Glen chuckled.

"You may be right."

"Do they have names yet?"


"The puppers," Glen explained, pointing.

"Oh, eh, well…" Thunder began, watching the three disguised spirits. "That one, with the spot between the eyes, that's Pointer. He tends to lead the way. No fear in him. Direct and to the point." Unicorn looked up, blinking, the spot between his eyes seeming to form into a straight line with his black-rimmed puppy eyes squinted closed. He looked back down, as if he'd heard his name, looked up for a moment, but had pressing business left to do.

"That works. And he knows that's his name."

"That one around back, with the cluster of darker spots on his nose and tail, that's Smokey." Phoenix lifted his head up, a look of mild annoyance on his face, like he just inhaled a scent that he didn't expect.

"Why Smokey?" Glen asked.

"Because wherever he pokes his nose, there's usually some fire," Thunder replied. "You know, where there's smoke there's fire? As in, he's always wherever the worst trouble is."

"Oh!" Glen said, getting the reference. "Guess that's why he's got soot spots at both ends. Maybe he got his tail burned."

"At the seat of his pants," Thunder giggled. He inhaled and sighed. "Knowing that pup, he's probably been burned a time or two in former lives."

"Ouch," Glen deadpanned. "And the last?"

"Ah, that's Bolt."

"Like the Disney cartoon?"

"The what?"

"The Disney cartoon Bolt. My little sister likes that one. It's about a dog who thinks he's a superhero spy hunter, but he's really just a TV actor and doesn't know i t. He gets lost and has to track his girl across the country with a clawless cat and a gerbil in a plastic hamster ball who believes the TV show almost as much as Bolt did."

Thunder looked lost for a moment, letting all of that information roll over him, his mouth not quite open despite the completely slack-jawed expression stamped into the wrinkles of his face.

"I spend a lot of time watching movies with my sister. She explains things to me that I already understand, but she feels like she's helping me get better, so I guess I've seen a lot of kid stuff lately, uh, yeah," Glen said, shrugging.

"You're a good brother for that," Thunder said, keeping his tone low and speaking quickly. "Ahem, well, as for my little Bolt, it's because he's quick to action. Takes off like a jet when he runs. Always the first one to come to me when I call or come home. Genuine white lightning, that one." Thunderbird had stopped sniffing when Grandfather began talking about what his puppy name was. His head tracked back and forth between the elder spirit and Glen. His haunches had slowly settled down, his tail curling around the edge of his front paws.

"Racing dog!" Glen exclaimed, leaning over his handle bars.

"Speed has its advantages. But he's hit a few walls in his day," Thunder smiled wryly. "There's a lesson in that," He pointed out, nodding in Glen's direction. "You seem to have gotten the hang of riding again."

"The body remembers things, too," Glen replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Least that's what my doctors keep telling me."

"They would know. Thanks for the offer of help, but these three, they're good boys. We have an understanding. They know what to do when the time is right."

"Yeah. My dog is like that, too."

"Oh? How so?"

"I think… I think he knew I was different when I came home from the hospital. He knew I wasn't suc h an… well, such an asshole anymore. Sorry about the language."

"We're not in church, Glen. You don't have to mind your tongue when you're being honest. Vulgarity should be avoided but honesty should be applauded. And accuracy."


"Well, you were kinda a cock," Thunder said, his New England accent dripping with irony.

"Everyone knew?"

"Glen, people see what you do. They see how you act, how you treat others. That's how they figure out who you are. Before you, well, basically died, you were real well known around the neighborhood. And not for good things."

Glen sighed, hanging his head over the handle bars. "I know," he said, resignedly.

"But that was then. Folks see what you do now, how you act now. Second chances are rare, but they do exist. Make the best of yours."

"Yessir, I will."

Thunder raised his head and looked down his long, age-gnarled nose at Glen. "I dare say you will, wont you?"

Glen looked up, then looked over to where "Bolt" sat watching, intently. The other two were also looking on. For a moment, Glen felt like they were looking right through him instead of at him. Like some deeper canine sense was at play. He could almost feel it. Something in how Bolt's eyes just seemed to draw Glen in, hypnotic, electric… magical.

"Where are you off to?" Thunder said, breaking the spell that seemed to exist between Glen and Bolt.

"Oh, uh, I'm heading to my friend Peter's house. He's gonna spend the weekend over at our house. His parents have to go out of town. Some family member out of state having a wedding or something."

"Fall weddings... May it rain," Thunder said, sagely. Glen's expression twisted in mild confusion. "Old wives' tale says it is good luck if it rains on your wedding day. Washes the world clean, so you start fresh and new."

"Ohh!" Glen said in understanding. "Thought you were cursing them or something."

"Believe me, little warrior, curses and blessings are things I take very seriously. And I keep my aim on both close to where it'll do the most, good or bad."

"I can believe it."

"Perhaps you should hurry along. Your friend Peter is likely to need your help. Just as you benefit from his."

"Yeah, I guess so. Was good talking to you, Mr. Wodden."

"And you, young man. Hurry along now."

"Okay. See ya! See ya, Puppers!" Glen said, pushing the pedals to gain traction up the slight rise towards Marsh Avenue. As he rode out of sight, the three disguised spirits gathered around Thunder's feet.

*And?* Bolt asked, looking up.

Grandfather Thunder looked down to Thunderbird/Bolt on his left, Phoenix/Smokey on his right and Unicorn/Pointer between his worn boat shoes.

"We'll see," Thunder said, holding out his hand. The three leashes untangled, sliding through each other to become orderly again, and rose to snug themselves into his aged, wizened hand. "But I think he'll do."

Glen set his bike against the fence outside of Peter's building. His family lived in the second floor, with a family living on the ground floor and two other families living on the two floors above, respectively. Many of the old Victorian houses on this strip of Marsh Avenue were set up in that way, and there were kids playing in the street, people hanging laundry, even one young woman with a bandana tied around her hair washing her car with a hose and a sudsy bucket. For some reason, Glen began humming a soft tune as he unlatched the rickety gate and tramped up the seven step stoop to the entrance.

He was at the second floor door in a flash, taking the steps two at a time. His quick double knock at the door was rewarded with a moan that mostly sounded like someone saying "It's open," or perhaps "who is it?" Glen wasn't sure if it was a good idea to just barge into the house like that. He hesitated long enough for someone else to decide for him. The door swung open, forcing Glen to look up.

Clearly the man was Peter's father. The facial similarities were a dead giveaway. Same eyebrows, same high cheekbones, same pointed chin. Even the hair seemed eerily familiar. It was the eyes themselves that seemed so different from Peter's that made Glen doubt. Where Peter's eyes were a soft brown, these seemed to lack a definable color. As if the life had been drained from them, taking any chemical, biological stain. Empty of color and light.

"You… must be Glen," the man said, a note in his voice that Glen couldn't put a name or emotion to. There was sadness in it, but also something Glen didn't expect. Contempt. And the scent of stale beer, stale chips, and stale sweat seemed to cling to the man, drifting from him like an invisible mist.

"Yessir. I came to see if Pete's ready or needs a hand or something."

"Riiiight. Sleepover!" the man said, snapping his fingers. "He's in his room. First door on the left."

"Oh, cool. Thanks."

"He's always in there. Alone. Plotting," Peter's father said, his lip curling in mild disgust. "Always."

"Uh, right." Glen couldn't help but feel a little weirded out by the man. Everything about him seemed to leave Glen with a feel of greasy unease.

"Say, is your mother single yet? That douche bag she married didn't run off and leave you without a daddy, did he?"

"Huh?" Glen replied, feeling a little defensive, suddenly.

Peter opened the door and came to Glen's rescue. "Dude! Glad you're here. I need your opinion." Peter pushed past his father, grabbing Glen's wrist and physically pulling him towards his bedroom. Once inside, he closed the door and locked it.

"Wow, he's kinda lit, huh?" Glen asked. Then he took in Peter's r oom for the first time.

It was nothing like he expected. There was a heavy wooden chair, like the kind you'd find at a second hand store, as if the set were missing at least one chair. It had a worn place at the top of the back rest that looked to Glen's eyes like it could fit under a door knob with relative ease. The bed was unmade, in typical boy fashion, with a pile of blankets and pillows gathered at one end, furthest from the door. No TV or computer graced the room, although a vintage boom box, also appearing to be a refugee from the Salvation Army Thrift store, perched atop Peter's dresser.

And while all of these things did sort of catch Glen's attention, giving him a surge of protective feelings for Peter, it was the other things that dominated the room which truly set Glen back. He stared in wide-eyed wonder as Peter led him to the foot of the bed.

The walls had once been decorated with some sports themed wallpaper which had long since faded, probably before Peter and his family moved in. Which was just a guess based on what little Glen could actually see of the wallpaper. Just about every surface was covered in drawing paper. Tacked, taped or stapled to the walls. And each piece on the wall was a work of amazement.

There were drawings done in the traditional pencil style, drawings done that looked like modern materials worked into ancient cave painting motifs. Some looked like brush work from classic comic books, bold inks and limited colors standing out against the white paper almost defiantly. Nature drawings of such splendid detail and caring that Glen was afraid they might leap of the page and go scampering for the underbrush. And among all these one theme seemed to connect them all.

Animism. Each drawing looked like something cast from the imagination of a Pentucket native shaman. Animals given s upernatural form and spiritual aspects. Totemic drawings, stacked as if to display the hierarchy of predation from the eagle on high to the lowly wood duck, from bear to puma to wolf to fox to rabbit to turtle. Each differing style seemed to bring out different, potent aspects of each while keeping them all respectful and majestic.

Interspersed throughout the nature and primitive artworks were drawings from anime shows, primarily mechanical wonders. Transformers dominated, both in the older style and the more modern computer graphics look. There were images that looked like comic book day dreams from a boy who lacked adventure in his life but clearly understood drama, danger and a need for protection. Glen's eyes were drawn to images that looked like some sort of high powered motorcycles that somehow shifted to become agile, heavily armed suits of techno-armor. Powerful jets streaked through alien skies, blazing away at their enemies. And most notably, there was one of a teen in a leather jacket, hair whipped about by the wind, riding some sort of flying skateboard, grinning broadly as streaks of lasers passed by around him from behind.

"Wow!" Glen breathed out, clearly flabbergasted. "You did all of these?"

Peter shrugged. "I have a lot of free time."

"Pete… these are… these are fantastic."

"Thanks," the dark haired boy said, his shoulders trying to push together to cover his blush.

"I mean, the colors," Glen said in awe, his hand lifting through a series of pages at the end of Peter's desk. "How do you get them to do this, against the black, like that?" He asked holding up a picture of a turtle, its shell outlined in sharp black, clean smooth lines, with vibrant colors spiking across the back, filling each cell of the turtles shell with a riot of strong, bold neon colors. Random streaks and blobs of black tw isted across the colored sections, giving the picture an almost 3D effect. It was like the turtle's back was decked out more like a modern race car than a slow terrapin.

"You're kidding, right?" Peter asked, incredulously. "That's like… I mean, that kinda stuff they teach us in kindergarten. You put the wax down from the crayons and then paint over it with black. The wax resists the paint and slides off, letting the colors really pop." Peter saw a change in Glen's face as he explained it and realized what he'd said. "Oh, right. You still don't remember that far back, huh?"

"It's no biggie, Pete," Glen said, shrugging his shoulders. "Happens more than you'd think. These are really good."


Glen went to put the turtle picture back on top of the stack and a few others fell off. Peter and Glen both bent to collect the pages, Peter muttering softly as he put them in order as he went. His hands moved quickly, shuffling them around and lining up edges with practiced ease. Glen took more time, letting his eyes wash over the pages that fell under his hands. The images he saw captivated him, drawing his attention to a few and thus slowing his collecting and sorting.

An outline-only painting in subtle pastel colors, showing a crafty fox dancing around a tree, chasing a rabbit, all done in such a way that the brush strokes blended the colors of the outlines, giving them a smoky or misty quality. Something that looked like the outline of a boy in gel ink overlaid with a blue pencil drawing that looked like plans for some sort of suit, but Glen couldn't make out exactly what it was about. A mixed media image of a wise owl staring sagely from the branch of an elm tree in its autumn colors, the feathers of the owl done in simple pencil in contrast to the painted background of the elm and forest beyond. Many pencil and pen drawings of animals in motion, a few painted landscapes showing places that Glen felt he should recognize, but wasn't quite sure of. A few study drawings of things like human hands, leaves in high detail, fish caught in mid turn, as if in an aquarium at a restaurant. He recognized it as one of the fishes at the Roma. Odd feelings filtered through Glen as he recognized that fact.

And then Glen's hands shifted one sheet of random looking doodles, and he pulled up two sheets sort of stuck together. He stood from the floor with the two, turned into the beam of sunlight coming in the window and sat, planting his butt on Peter's bed to look closer.

The top picture was a carefully rendered series of shapes, smoothly lined, produced with a brush drawing out India ink in flowing arcs and points. But it was the colors that caught Glen's eyes, and then the shapes. Their arrangement left gaps, yet clearly each shape and the color floating within each shape, implied a larger connection to each other, showing a proud bird of prey in flight, almost logo style. The details were limited, but it was a web of colors within the shapes that tied it all together. Vibrant blue, tinged with white, almost glowing. Glen felt that if he stared long enough, the colors would flicker and dance, like lightning captured in a jar.

"Oh wow," Glen breathed out. "That's wicked!"

Peter looked up, his eyes going wide. He stood quickly, the pages he'd gathered from the floor landing on the edge of his desk, a few fluttering off to land on the ground again. Peter's quick hands reached for the picture, but Glen had turned to hold the page up to the sunlight coming through the window better. It shown with the daylight piercing the paper, seeming to gain even more of an electric quality to Glen. There was another page behind the bird image one, an d Glen used a little pressure to separate the pages before holding the bird back up to the sunlight.

"That's… private," Peter said, trying to stand closer to Glen and reaching for the bird drawing.

"It's beautiful. Is this the thunderbird?"

"Uh…" Peter fumbled, his reaching hand pulling back as Glen said that.

"I remember you said that my chest scars looked like the thunderbird."

"I did?" Peter said, his voice uncertain, trembling.

"Yes, I remember it. It was the day I cut ties with Jill and Jason. She said the scars looked weird, Jason said they looked wicked, and you said…" Glen turned and looked at his friend, standing beside him. "You said it was wonderful. Then later you said it reminded you of the thunderbird. I always wondered what you meant about that." He brought the page down, and handed it to Peter.

"It is a doodem," Peter said, cradling the picture. "They all are."


"The English settlers changed the word. Doodem is the original Algonquian word. You would call them totem spirits. They represent a connection to the natural world, spirits… power of the universe. All that."

"So, when you saw my scars, it inspired this?"

"It reminded me of things. I saw a thing on the computer at school once. Like the old Pontiac Firebird emblem set with bouncing blue energy lines. Then later… you know… when you made that spark?"

"Oh. Really?"


"You know a lot about the Indians, huh?"

"Please don't use that term," Peter said, returning to organizing the papers that had fallen off the desk again.

"Did I say something bad?" Glen asked, his eyes drifting down to the page that had been stuck behind the thunderbird rendering.

"Not bad, just inaccurate. Slightly offensive if used by some," Peter said, sighing. "It's kind of a catchall term that some people use for the different native tribes, but it's really a way to lump people that aren't like you into a group you can discriminate against more easily." He lay the thunderbird picture on top of the pile, reverently. "Some people like to feel superior. You know, my team is better than your team. My politics is smarter or better than yours. My country kicks ass and yours just kicks rocks. Lumping all the different tribes into the same category was a way of saying that White people are better than Indians. And it's entirely inaccurate. Indians are in India. Tribal North Americans have their own history, language groups, traditions, stories. The two cultures are very different, so why use the same name?"

"Wasn't that something about how Columbus thought he had found the Indies Islands out by India when he actually found the New World?" Glen asked, his eyes drifting over the painting in his hands, implications of what he was seeing shifting even as he and Peter continued talking.

"Another inaccuracy."

"Well, he was trying to find trade routes to the Far East."

"Yeah, that much is true. But calling it the New World? I think the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, Toltecs, Algonquins, Sioux, Hurons, Seminole, Creek, Lakota, Cliff Dwellers, Hopi, Utes, Navaho and all the First Nations of Canada and the native islanders in the West Indies would disagree with this being a New World."

"I guess history is written by those who win, even if they get it wrong," Glen said, looking across to Peter. "Guess that means we need people to figure out what the truth is and to be brave enough to speak it."

"Guess so," Peter said. "You know, I'm an American. Born here, raised here. But I'm also Algonquin. Pentucket tribe. Just like you are of French heritage but all American, too." Glen's face got a confused look. "Your last name is Bergeron. That's a French name."

"Oh. Right. But, your last name is Johnson, " Glen said, letting the page in his hand drop to the bed by his side, hidden from Peter's view.

"My father is of Irish and Polish descent. Mom is half Italian, then like a small part English mixed with Pentucket." Peter shrugged. "My grandparents had me for a while. They told me about my Pentucket heritage. My great grandpa was a powah and a powab, what the white folk call a shaman. I learned a lot of the old ways from them, a lot about nature."

"That's mad cool," Glen replied, nodding. Peter smiled for a moment and then continued, his face showing his emotions, his sadness.

"Dad's not really been around much. They were apart a bunch before I was born. Guess that's why Sis left soon as she could. They never got along much." Peter's eyes seemed to glaze over a bit, as if remembering something sad from long ago. "Mom was not really stable for most of my childhood," Peter continued. "Still isn't I guess. Even after they got back together it wasn't really good. At least that's what Grams says."

"It's rough here for you, huh?"

"They got back together because of me," Peter said, shamefully. "I don't know if I'm the reason for them to be together or a reason they should be apart."

"Have you talked to them about it?"

"Not every family is as tight as yours. Sometimes I can talk to them, individually. Together… some things just don't work."


"I've been told, in their less drunken moments, that their problems are none of my business. Keep a child's place," Peter said, his voice wiggling sarcastically at the end, as if that statement was something told to him his whole life. "I envy you."


"Glen," Peter began, reaching out and pinching the hem of Glen's shirt, lifting it up enough to expose Glen's returning muscle definition. His seated position exaggerated the flex lines of his teenage six-pack. The raised shirt also exposed the Lichtenberg scars. "You've been gifted with awesome genetics, your body is super athletic, you're touched by the spirits for your powers, given a second chance at life AND you have an awesome family that loves you and each other. You live in a mad nice home, get fantastic grades and you look cute." Peter dropped the end of Glen's shirt and realized what he'd just said, his cheeks burning with a blush.

Glen's eyes shot up at that last bit, meeting Peter's own wide eyes. "All the girls say it," Peter covered, quickly. "Not like you can't just look in the mirror and see it for yourself. You are… blessed," Peter finished.

"You say I'm cute?"

"Don't have a Rudolph moment," Peter warned, moving away. He reached into his closet to pull out a back pack, already stuffed with his gear for the sleepover.

"Rudolph moment?" Glen asked, clearly confused.

"Right. I forget sometimes that you still don't have all your memories. Okay, spoiler alert! Around Christmas time, there will be TV shows that have been on since our parents' parents were babies. One of them is about a young reindeer named Rudolph who's trying out for Santa's sled team. One catch, he's got a huge difference from the other reindeers. He's got a nose that glows red. His father, ashamed of Rudolph's mutation…"

"Like an X-man?"

"Basically. I mean, what would you call a glow in the dark schnozzolla. So, his father insists he covers up the nose, scratching mud or dirt or… well, whatever else you find at the North Pole that's dark enough to be mistaken for reindeer nose color."

"Ewww, I think I know what you mean there," Glen said, grinning despite being slightly disgusted.

"Yeah, something that not everyone picks up on. Anyways… so Rudolph has a disguise on his nose and goes to the reindeer games, a kind of tryout for the sled team. He meets a chi ck reindeer there named Clarice. And she says he's cute, which gets Rudolph excited enough that he jumps into the air and flies, but then later his nose gets undisguised and glows as well, exposing his difference to the others. He gets ostracized because of it."

"Poor Rudolph," Glen said, then unconsciously hummed the next few bars of the song. ("They never let poor Rudolph/Play in any reindeer games.")

"Hey, you remembered something," Peter said.


"You just hummed the next part of the song."

"There's a song?"

"Wow, you really are in for an eye opener this holiday season."

"Yeah, speaking of eye openers," Glen said, holding up the picture beside him. He had it upside down at first but then turned it right side up.

It was a painting on thicker paper. The colors were solid, laid on heavily, unlike some of the water color paintings that Glen had seen in Peter's collection so far. The image was tinged at the corner with some sort of wash out of blue pigments. The composition was a bilateral, a figure staring into a mirror with a sink. A very specific sink.

But it was the figure, featured both in profile from behind and in the mirror that took Glen's breath away, and made Peter blush furiously. The dark haired boy dropped his backpack as the feeling left his fingers, realizing what Glen was holding. "I can explain," Peter began.

"Is this what you saw? What you see when you look at me?" Glen asked, turning the image back to look at it himself. "I mean, that's me in this picture, right? That day you walked into the hospital room and I was drying off from a shower. You would have been standing where you could see the mirror. See my… bare butt."

"I'm sorry," Peter said, his fingers trembling. His lip quivered as he thought of what to say next.

"It's a great picture," Glen said. "I… I know I have the scars on my bac k as well, just didn't know what they looked like."

"Oh," Peter said, unsure.

"Pete, you have a great eye for detail. Is this what my back really looks like?"

"It's what I remember. I haven't had a chance to… to compare. A lot of it was trying to…"

"Match the colors," Glen finished. "I think you got my skin tones dead on. Even the whiter parts."

A long silence stretched out between them. Glen looked up to see Peter near to tears. He put the picture down on the bed behind him, standing. Peter seemed to be trying to shrink inwards in place. On the desk, an errant breeze from outside blew the turtle image Glen had admired so off the pile of pictures, the page fluttering to bounce off Peter's ankle, resting by his side.

"You probably hate me now," Peter said, unable to lift his eyes to Glen's face.

"Why would I hate you?"

"Because of that," Peter said, half-heartedly pointing towards the picture laying on Peter's bed, half on the pillow. "Because it's too…"

"Accurate?" Glen asked, wondering what was going though Peter's head.

"Gay," Peter said at length. "Too much like something that Giuseppe would have done," he said, his voice quivering, unable to say "to you," at the end.

"You aren't that waste of skin," Glen said, feeling some anger at remembering the child abuser. "This wasn't something done for dark reasons," Glen said, looking back at the picture for a moment. "I may not know art, but I know what it makes me feel. I don't feel bad things about that."


"Okay, it's a little odd seeing someone's painted my butt. Kinda flattering as well. However," he said, looking back Peter's way. The other boy was holding his right elbow with his left hand, the left arm tucked behind his back, looking entirely embarrassed. "I think you had other emotions going on with this one," Glen grinned.

"Yeah, that much is true," Pete r mumbled.

"We don't talk about what happened with him, much," Glen said.

"I figured all that was over now. Like, the ritual, that was to throw all that stuff away. Get it out of us, bind it, cleanse it with fire and water. Bury it under the river. All at once. Like that. Finished. Done."

"The guilt and bad feelings, yeah. But we never talk about it. About any other feelings," Glen insisted.

"Other feelings?" Peter said, reaching down to lift the turtle drawing from where it leaned against his leg. "Like what feelings?"

A knock at the door startled both boys. Peter raised the turtle picture up to his chest in reflex. Glen tucked the picture of his own butt behind his own back.

"You still in there… son?" Peter's father asked. "You and your little f-friend?"

"Uh, yeah," Peter answered.

"Where's the coffee?"

"By the coffee maker."

"Oh, right. And, uh, the stuff I put in my coffee?"

"There's milk in the fridge. Mom went shopping yesterday."

"Heheheheh, no…no, not that stuff. The other stuff."

"I dunno. Did you try by your bed or in your bathroom?"

"Oh, yeah," the adult said, his footsteps retreating down the hall. There was a sound in the hallway like two adults speaking harshly to each other. It was less than arguing, more than snide remarks in passing. Glen got the feeling that such tension was the norm around the home.-*

"What other stuff?" Glen whispered.

"Vodka," Peter whispered back, harshly, eyes cast down. "If I don't hide it he'll be stinko before lunch."

"You hide their booze?"

Peter just shrugged. "Sometimes." He looked up under his bangs and sighed, almost silently. "Can we talk about that other stuff later? I just wanna get out of here before they get fully plastered."

"Yeah. That we can do," Glen agreed, slapping Peter on the shoulder.

Then the bedroom door opened up. Peter's mother walked in arms wide, h olding onto the door and the doorframe, apparently for support.

"Guh-Leeeeen!" Peter's mother said, after a few moments of focusing on his face. It was as if she wasn't sure she knew the face and when she did recognize him, the name just exploded from her before she was ready to actually speak. "Hi!"

"Hullo, Mrs. Johnson," Glen replied. Beside him, he could feel tension radiating off Peter. Literally. Some part of him realized he was attuned to Peter's bio-electric rhythms. Something he would have to test out with other people later, and explore more deeply with Peter as well.

Peter's mom swept forward on unsteady feet and brought Glen into a tight embrace, nearly smothering him with her ample boobs, which were already trying desperately to escape her clothing. Glen stiffened his spine in surprise at the move and tried not to breathe, as the stale aromas of unwashed body, unwashed clothes and much too washed with alcohol breath enveloped his senses.

"I'm soooooo glad you are here. You guyesez," she slurred, pushing Glen back from her chest to stare without a clear focus into Glen's eyes. "You guys're gonna have such a soooper time." She looked over to Peter. "All packed up Sweetie Petey?" she asked, lavishing her son's cheek and hair with a less than gentle and barely well aimed caress.

"Yeah, Mom. I got everything. Will you be okay?" Peter asked, genuine concern in his voice.

"Nuthin' to it, Kiddo. Easy peasy, lemon squeezey." She looked down at the stack of pictures on Peter's desk and frowned. "That's a lot of paper to be wasting, Honey Bump."

"Oh geeze, Mom! Not in front of guests!"

"I can call you any pet name I want to, Sprinkler. You know why we called him that, Glenny boy?"

"Mom, no. Please!"

"We called him that because one time… I remember it like it was yesterday. One time, when he was a baby. Such a cute baby, too. And hung like an ox. Giant balls, I tell ya."

"Oh gawd," Peter groaned, dropping his butt on the bed, dejectedly.

"So, he'd made boom-boom in his diaper. Oh, don't look so shocked, Pete, all babies are little shit machines," she said, her fingers gesturing in something like an open pointing hand as Peter flopped in indignation on the bed, burying his face in the pillow. His mother seemed to be gathering her thoughts again, twisting her wrists about as if to conjure them back from the air. "Where was I?" she asked Glen, then seemed to remember. "Oh, right. So like, we opened up his diaper."

Peter groaned into the pillow.

"And like, he's sprung up like the kid on the cover of Nirvana's 'Never Mind' CD. Have you seen that, Glen?"

"Uh, I think so. We probably should get going."

"No, sht-tay. Stay and listen. So, Petey there has a baby boner, like that kid in the pool on the CD cover, chasing a dollar on a hooking line. I mean a fishing look. Fishing hook!" she said, getting louder as she fished for the word. "I clean him up, wipe his little taint off, rub some of that white crap on his parts and his father comes over to look in on his little man."

"Mom, please, just let us go," Peter pleaded, turned from the pillow, tears streaming down his face.

"No, you boys listen. Listen. See, it's important. Shhhh," she said, latching onto Glen's arm above the elbow. "It's important to share family shtuff with friendsssh."

Glen looked over in time to see Peter bury his face back into the pillow again, groaning "Why?" into the pillow case. A brief shake from Peter's mom got Glen's attention focused back on her.

"So daddy-dearest looks down, making cute daddy faces and hoping like all hell I don't pull out my phone to take a picture of it. When whaddaya know?! Little Peter's baby pecker squirts up a golden shower, catching his proud papa right in the kisser while he's making kissey faces," she grinned, barely containing her laughter. "Got it right in his mouth, too" she twittered, finally releasing Glen's arm. She seemed to open her mouth and get stuck pre-laugh before uncorking a loud, deep belly laugh which quickly settled into a drunken cackle.

Peter bounced up off the bed, his face red with shame and anger. "Gee thanks for totally embarrassing me in front of my friend, Mom. I hope Dad doesn't find that bottle you hid in the freezer."

She stopped giggling long enough to look down at Peter, saw the tears on his face, saw the look of confusion and embarrassment on Glen's face, and realized what she'd done. "Oh Sweetie… I'm sorry. I'm…" she looked back and forth between the two boys and then took halting backwards steps out of the room, her hand going to her face as her own tears began.

As the door closed behind her, Glen turned towards Peter. "You okay?"

"I will be. Let's just go, okay. I thought for sure she'd still be sleeping it off."



"It's not your fault. What they do to themselves, and each other. It's not your fault."

"I know," Peter said, shrugging. "I know. I just wish they didn't do it to me as well. I hate being the pin that holds them together some times." His voice hardened and then caught, forcing a tear out and making him swallow in response. "I feel like I'm a piece of old rope, stretched between them on a razor blade, both of the hanging from the rope because it's the only think keeping them from droppin' away inta nuthin'. They tug at me to make themselves feel better, and they tug on me holding on for dear life as they hurt each other and…"

Glen had seen enough. He moved in and pulled Peter into a soft hug, letting his friend have something stable to hold onto for once. Peter, for his p art, resisted at first, perhaps afraid that this was some sort of attack. But then as Glen's arms wrapped him in a gentle bro-hug, he surrendered and let his tears flow, silently. They held each other for several long heartbeats, neither moving.

"You good?" Glen asked, as Peter's quiet sobs subsided. A simple nod on his shoulder was all Peter could muster in reply. "Then let's go."

The two boys made their way to the front of the building without further incident, collected their bikes and made the short yet hectic journey down Marsh Avenue, towards Glen's street.

Three spirits sat on the wire outside of Glen's home, resting, their attention only partly on what Glen and Peter were doing, mostly focused on many other matters elsewhere. Thunderbird, Phoenix and Unicorn, in their usual bird disguises, seemed to be content to appear merely asleep. Grandfather had pressing business in other quarters of the wind, and thus was dealing with things as only the ancient, curmudgeonly spirit could, in person.

So when the buzzard landed on the power pole above the three, in Grandfather's usual roost, it took the three totems a moment to realize it wasn't their mentor.

*Greetings, brothers,* the buzzard said, his psychic voice aflutter with raspy hesitations, almost on the verge of breaking into sick, sardonic, sarcastic laughter. *How's the vigil on yon spirit child?* His tones sounded like he was from some part of the country that was unfamiliar with technology. Or hygiene. Or the health in general.

*Not taking your true form, Whippoorwill?* Unicorn said, his cockatiel spike lifting as a sign of his agitation.

*Peace, gentle horned-horse. I mean you no ill this day," the buzzard replied with mock sincerity.

*At the moment,* Thunderbird countered, fluffing his chest feathers out a bit. *What do you want, Wyrmling?*

*As ya'll say, nothin', at the moment.* He hopped down to the other side of the post from the other three birds, the wire swaying and sagging under his weight, unnaturally. *Just came by to be neighborly. Look over the fence, as it were,* he said, his tone going from sugary sweet to much darker as he continued. *Keepin' up with the Jones, don'tcha know.* He bracketed the other three with a nose-down stare, his neck feathers rippling in the wind. *Sooo,* he began again, his voice nearing to a growl with laughter in the wings, *whutchu doooooin'? Oh, not one boy under your watch tonight, but two? How… charming. Is this the human ritual known as a sleepover?*

*This one is not for you, Whippoorwill,* Thunderbird said, a crackle of lightning dancing beneath his left claw.

*Not anymore,* the interloper said. *Although, he always has the chance to come back to the winning team. After he discovered what you have done. How ya'll manipulated him. Changed the him he was for the him he don't even know yet. For all ya'll schemers know, he's already back to playin' fer my team,* the buzzard finished, sinking his head lower in his neck feathers.

A look passed between Phoenix and Unicorn, behind Thunderbird's back. The blue jay squared himself up to the dark spirit, shaking his wings out as if in preparation for a fight. The Whippoorwill simply sat back, seeming to grin at the other spirit's agitated expression.

*Oh, whut? Ya'll skeered? Afraid little ole me might be little ole right on concernin' that boy? Ya'll think you know what darkness rides in their souls. Ya'll think you know better, what with the imminent approach of…*

*Don't you say his name, Wyrmkin!* Phoenix shouted, startling Unicorn slightly. *Don't you say it!*

*So afraid of a little word. Just a simple word of power. One I might whisper in, say, young Peter's ear, there,* the threat hung in the air, sweetly planted like the bait suspended over a bear trap.

*Even you dare not,* Thunderbird said, his own voice a growling thing, full of menace and potency. *If He comes here, as we fear he will, even your kind will be destroyed.*

*My kind,* Whippoorwill repeated, his words tinged with disgust. *My kind are the best hope to fight off, oh, let's use your term, Him. We understand His kind better than you. AND!* he shrieked, his voice bubbling with insane laughter. *And we don't have both a track record of abject failure and a lack of resolve to do what needs doin'. Ya'll still seem to have that past loss record hanging over ya'lls head.*

*We've been beating you back long enough,*Unicorn asserted, solemnly. *Without even resorting to your tactics.*

*Point taken, brother. And yet you still can't finish the job, can you?* The buzzard seemed to giggle, his head rocking back on his long neck, the skin rippling as if about to slide off. *Tell me… do ya'll remember Lemuria? How about Troy? Heck, even what happened just off the shore here long ago?* The buzzard fixed his stare directly onto Phoenix as he said, *Atlantis?*

A shudder passed through the wire. Phoenix shed his cardinal form for his true shape. His wings swept out, sheeted in fire, his tail lifted and split, churning with smoke and light, the claws thickened into brands of flame. His feathers along his chest and shoulders lifted and sprouted with the intense heat inside him. All of his body grew, stretching, filling out, puffing up, magnificently. Flame given form, passion given solidity, anger flowing in righteous indignation. Light, life, power and purpose, all in one.

But the true light shifted out of the spirit's eyes. Blazing with orange and yellow, tongues of orange and white brilliance flickering and floating and flaring, his eyes sharpened even as they grew to match his true spiritual form. It cascaded out of his eyes as if a physical thing. If that light had been water, it would have been a torrential rain. Had it been soil, it would have been a landslide, of biblical proportions.

*I will end you, foul spirit!* Phoenix exclaimed. *You and every misshapen, twisted member of your brood! Every dancer of the black spiral that you mentor and encourage, bless and command, all of you! I will see you brought under and destroyed!*

*Peace, brother,* the buzzard said, simply turning his head away. *The true fight isn't here tonight. You've always had that problem. Never knowing when to make the kill.* And then the buzzard seemed to smile. *Besides, truth be told, was ya'll that broke the truce. T'was ya'll what took from me my weapon against… Him. Don't be surprised if ya'll find the ammo ain't all it's cracked up to be when it comes time for that boy to pull the trigger.* He turned on the wire, spread his wings as if to leap into the air, but looked back at the furious Phoenix. *One day, ya'll might realize ya'll on the losing side of our little war. And that could cost you the real war. And the boy… hehehe! Not every hero can get past zero. Ya'll barkin' up the wrong tree. Again."

And then he flapped off, disappearing into the Umbra with a cackling giggle. The echo of it lingered preternaturally longer than it should. The three spirits watching over Glen watched as the sick spirit faded away, it's trademark whirring trill floating over the cackle. Gradually, Phoenix faded back to his cardinal shape, but his anger visibly shaking the spirit's bird form.

*Don't let him distract you, brothers,* Unicorn warned. *He deals in deception, untruths.*

*He just twists things. He isn't right,* Thunderbird agreed, sensing Phoenix's distress.

*I will end him,* Phoenix said softly, but with conviction. "When I call them, when I find them all and call them… it will be different this time.*

*Yes, brother,* Unicorn said, looking back towards Glen's house. *This time we'll all do it right.*

Thunderbird simply exhaled, relaxing his posture. *Yes, brothers. This time.* He turned back to look into Glen's window.

Phoenix simply seethed, a glimmer of light and heat still lifting off of his form. His shame and anger gave him such shudders that his feathers flickered with the tiny wisps of occasional flame as he got control over himself again.


Jasmin let herself in the back door of the bicycle shop. The key she used was well worn and slid into the lock with a familiar smoothness. Of course, given who the owner of Schwinn shop was, the lock was probably well maintained, oiled, cleaned regularly. Like clockwork. She didn't bother with the light as she walked across the back of t he receiving area to the staircase. She knew the route well.

"Welcome, my dear," the older man's voice rang out from the top of the stairs. He stood there with his elbows resting on the handrail which skirted the inside wall of the bicycle shop's back area. It lead around a short "L" to the two doors above. One marked "Restroom," and the one further along, actually touching the back wall that said "Do Not Enter." The latter door was open.

"Greetings, Master," Jasmine replied, walking up the stairs with a smile. "No cane today?"

"I am trying to get along without it," he answered. "The only two more remain for our meeting, this evening. Traffic, I assume, is delaying at least one of them."

"If it's who I think you mean, traffic is his usual trouble," she grinned, reaching the top and giving the older man a gentle embrace. She towered over him by nearly 4 inches. He returned the affection with fatherly care. "You seem well."

"I have been keeping to my exercising, as you proscribed. One does not reach 140 years of age without some adjustments along the way."

"You aren't 140," Jasmin chided, pulling back from the hug.

"Well, not yet. We all must have goals. Still, 132 years is a long time for an old man to be," he inclined his head and finished, with emphasis, "old. It's not healthy, I tell ya," he grinned back, motioning her towards the door.

She walked in, taking off her light jacket and folding it over her arm. The short hallway opened into a large circular room, a sunken area in the middle serving as seating for the several people already gathered. Four large reflecting stones, polished bright as any gem, stood on slender-legged braziers around the center, facing the four cardinal points. Much of the room was decorated with symbology from several cultures. Egyptian, Runic, Greek, Assyrian, Celtic, Christian, Hebraic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Hindu scripts could be seen, inlaid in gold tinted hues of many colors on the marble walls.

Staring into the western stone of polished cat's eye, Jasmine noticed a rather troubled look on Dr. Marcus' face. The young doctor still had his biker' s leathers on, his motorcycle helmet tucked under his left arm. His talent mostly lay in deep sensing, a useful gift for a surgeon. This time, with the stone's aid, his Focus was searching outward instead of within. Obviously, something elsewhere had his full attention.

Her gaze left her colleague and traveled more around the room. She recognized Dr. McCoy sitting beside his wife as they chatted away amiably with two other members of the Coven; a statuesque blonde lady with an infectious laugh and her rather slender looking male companion of Asian descent, looking rather dapper in his business suit, despite the tennis shoes. She knew them to be Corinya Denuve, a banker and stock broker, and Dr. Kenta Shijigouri, a college science professor, respectively, and a well-established yet non-married couple with in the Coven. Her specialty was in sensing any sort of lying, which helped her in business immensely. Kenta's ability lay more in highly sharpened senses of the physical body, which he honed through his third great passion, baseball.

In another corner of the room, a younger man, still in his late teens from his preppy clothing choices and casual stance was looking into the cool green stone facing the eastern corner of the room. His hand rested upon the smooth surface, his long fingers curved elegantly along a seam of the stone where a whiter band intersected a deeper jade swirl. She recognized the young man by his blonde hair, immaculately combed, and the bright blue of his eyes, which were locked forward in open concentration. She walked up to the young man's side, waiting for him to acknowledge her presence.

"Been waiting long," he said, blinking to clear his eyes. His easy smile and sparkling eyes worked their usual magic, and Jasmine couldn't help but smile.

"Not too long. Just got in, actually. How is she?" Jasmine asked, nodding towards the jade stone sphere.

"Good. She's, she's good," he replied, taking a noticeable breath. "She doesn't remember me. No signs of trauma. Doing well in school."

"And how are you doing, Michael?" Jasmine asked, placing her hand on his elbow. Her empathic talent didn't require touch, but the reassurance given by such a simple gesture was healing in its own way.

"There are days," he said, smiling through the pain. "I remember when we were attacked. When we lost the baby. I couldn't do that to her anymore."

"I understand," Jasmine said. "It can't have been an easy choice. Sometimes it is better to protect them from afar than to involve them in things they can't defend against."

"I know," Michael said, resignedly. "If only there was some way to Awaken her. Give her the fighting chance, at least the opportunity to make her own decision, idunno," the young man trailed off.

Jasmine nodded, understanding the futility of his situation. "How's the family?"

"Dad still has his nightmares. He thinks we don't notice, but he has been getting them more and more lately. Mom is a rock, like she's always been. I think she protects him more than he protects her."

"And your brother?"

"Maxy? He's great. Still hasn't hit a growth spurt yet, but that's usually late for boys in my family." Michael smiled. "Wild imagination on him. I sometimes feel his dreams reaching out at night. Strong mind on him."

"One of us, perhaps?" she asked.

"Possibly. I never thought about it. Then again, given what Dad is, what Mom is, what I can do…" he shrugged. "Something for me to watch for, I guess."

"Your family has been through a lot, survived a lot. And you yourself…" she said, moving her hand from elbow to shoulder. "Just remember that the Coven is here for you."

"I will, Jasmine. Thank you."

The door to the loft closed, echoing around in the large room and the rooms beyond. The master walked in, leading a well-known couple into the room. An older couple, their hair slightly graying but still showing the resiliency of years of staying in good shape. Her bright green eyes seemed to smile at everyone with Irish charm, while his brown eyes spoke of a simple honesty and good humor. Several of the other Coven members made space for them at the recessed seating area, recognizing that the new comers looked tired.

"Ben! Elaine!" Michael exclaimed, moving to hel p the older couple with their coats. "You drove all the way from New Jersey?"

"Non-stop!" Elaine said, exchanging cheek kisses with Jasmine. "He was like a beast on the Garden State Parkway. I barely saw the toll booths."

"We made good time," Ben Carrington said, his salt and pepper hair looking slightly unruly and thin as he took his baseball cap off. "Everyone here?"

"Almost, just waiting for Sarge," Michael replied taking their jackets and getting in on the hugs.

"Good to see you, Michael," Elaine said, embracing the younger man and giving his cheek a side-kiss. "Your parents are well?"

The young man nodded. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you dropped by," he smiled. "You know how Mom loves to get out the cards."

"Oh, you know, we seem to have some loose money after the tolls this time. Might be worth it to see if your father can still bluff over a busted straight."

Dr. McCoy and his wife Angela stood and walked over to the travelers, the doctor peeling the older man off at the elbow to let the women go through their greeting ritual. "Ben, can I speak with you before we get started."

"Sure, sure. What is it?"

"I have a patient I'd like you to look into. He's from one of the lines."

"Really. But not related to anyone here?"

"Not one of the telepathic lines," the doctor intoned, quietly. "This one is special. I'm not sure if his ability is a psychic reaction to trauma or something else entirely."

"This one has you worried," Ben said rather than asked, mimicking his friend's tone. "Has something happened?"

"A few minor events. Ben, this boy would be about the right age for some of the secondary effects we theorized about. His parents were both affected by the plague, and both were on the field trip."

"So they touched the plaque, spoke the words?"

"All indicators say so."

"Which line?" Ben asked, getting out a small, leather bound notebook from his back pocket.

"Bergeron and Simmone."

Ben thumbed through the well-worn notebook and stopped upon reaching a specific page. "Allen and Grace. Hmm, almost expected their last name to be Burns."

"The boy is 14 now. Over the course of the summer, he was in waist deep water and was struck by lightning. So in a way, his middle name is burns."

"And he survived?"

"Yes. His name is Glen. He has been displaying remarkable abilities with electricity since then. I will forward you my files."

"I see," Ben grunted, writing Glen's name in the book. "Otherwise normal, though?"

"Benjamin, he has a severe case of memory loss. Total personality restart. Apparently the boy was a bit of an asshole before. Now he's the perfect soul of civility."

"Well, that's good at least."

"He was sexually abused by an individual we shall discuss tonight, as well."

"So that's why the meeting was called so suddenly?" Ben asked, meeting his old friend's level gaze. "You have more to say, I'm guessing."

"The medical records will be more illuminating than I can be at the moment. However, the boy in question is also now possibly entangled with another of the lines."

"Oh boy. Teenagers in love."

"More than you may suspect. This other boy is of Pentucket descent. Through Old Willamena's daughter."

"Does this other… boy?" Ben guessed, getting a nod from McCoy, "does he also have a potential gift?"

"Marcus had him hold a jade feather while we tested Glen's abilities. The feather turned white."

"White, you say," Ben said, turning his pen back to the notebook. "What is this boy's name?"

"Peter Johnson. Master McMillian's current assistant."

Ben looked up from his writing. "Does the old man know?" McCoy simply stared steady on. "Of course the old man knows. I should have figured on that. Does the boy know? I mean, a white reaction from that bloodline is to be expected. But if he hasn't tried to use it yet…"

"I don't think he's had need to. Although based on what the boys told me they did concerning the sexual abuse, and the abuser, I think he may be unconsciously tapping into the ritual side of his talents. From what I'm told he is gifted at building things by hand and rather talented artistically."

"Considering his bloodline, that's to be expected as well." Ben folded the notebook up and tucked it back into his pocket. "Okay, I'll give them both a look. There's something building with my nephew as well."

"Marcus gave him his school physical to clear him for the hockey team. He said everything there was baseline normal."

"Yeah, well, after all what happened with my daughters, it just may be a matter of the moment catching up. Biology at work. Then again, with Barry's genetics, who knows."

"How are your girls?"

"May is doing well, still teaching. The desert does her good with all her allergies. June is now in Paris, working for the State department and keeping her other talents hidden. Julie…" Ben faltered, searching for words. "Julie has been out of contact for a long time. Last I heard she was leaving Caracas and heading into the jungle, searching for new medicines. That was almost two years ago."

"I'm sure she's alright. Always the adventurous one," McCoy smiled.

"Yeah, definitely the change the world type," Ben agreed.

The door opened and closed, and a round of cheers arose.

"Sounds like Sarge is finally hear," McCoy said. "Perhaps we should get started."

"Right. I'll look over your notes and then let you know what I find out."

"Friends," Master McMillian called out, his arms open in a wide gesture. "Let us begin our discussions this evening, and enjoy more of Mrs. McCoy's fantastic baked goods. My dear, you honor us all with your talent and pastries. May Light always shine."

"May Light always shine," the gathered souls replied, taking their places around the circular seating area. Dr. Marcus reluctantly took a spot, removing his hand ever so gently from the western stone. Jasmine sat beside him, slapping his knee lightly as he settled in beside her.

"Everything okay?" she asked.

"We'll see. I have a bad feeling."

"Me too," she said. "Things are getting more complicated."

"Jazz, things are about to go nuclear. I hate to be the doom prophet, but… everything that happened this summer…"

"Yeah?" she prompted.

"I think that's just the start. I think what happens next is going to be… horrific."

The meeting started. Eyes closed, they entered a meditative state, reaching out to each other in the circle and connecting mentally. Maste r McMillian first created the shield, to absorb any energy back into the room, and then began adding others to the circle, adding strength and voices to the group meld. The group drew very shallowly from the Earth, barely sending their ground Focii further than the foundations of the sub-basement. It was more than enough power for this simple mind dance.

The topics of the meeting were all given as psychic messages, so no recording device could detect the sound and substance of their conversation. But each voice was clear and easily heard, even if the member was only latently psychic, or had a sensory talent rather than telepathy. Jasmine hoped one day to be able to develop her gifts up to the telepathic level, but there were only five pure telepaths in the room, and four others with paths to the ultimate goal, imperfectly trained as yet.

They discussed the concern about other Covens having members disappearing, strangely. They discussed the plethora of recently and most secretly deployed satellites scanning the planet below. They discussed dreams they'd had lately, impressions, insights about current events. And then Dr. McCoy began telling the other telepaths of Glen's adventures since returning to the waking world.

Much attention was put to what should be done about the vile child rapist. Several members said they'd put out feelers to see if the man's tracks could be found after Glen had ordered him to move on. A few brought up troubling reports of a possible connection to a recent police case that had been kept quieted down in the press. Dr.McCoy's wife Angela described a vomit inducing dream she had about the man, and what he did to the children. It wasn't just lust and perversion, but cruelty of the mind and body. And she said that he enjoyed the cruelty more than the sexual part.

The police officer present to this meeting, Sgt. Ozbourne, still in his Canterbury Police uniform, gave a quick report about the incident. State and Federal agencies were also investigating the same individual that apparently had assaulted Glen and Peter, and had lost track of him after several m onths of following his digital activities from an iPhone. Confidential and hard to track down sources had led to a credible raid location. Plain clothes detectives had found the subject, as described in the intelligence sources.

An operation was conducted in secret where several members of the Massachusetts State Police had been horribly injured after a raid on the very same suspected child sexual predator's home went very wrong. He mentioned the trappings of ritual magic, child sacrifice and even the manner in which those in the house apparently escaped, blowing the house to flaming splinters. The revelation gave many of the group something grisly to think about.

One person recommended reaching out to other supernatural groups in the area. To see what they knew, share information. Safety in numbers, after all. And in gathering information. At that mention, most eyes went to Master McMillian. The ancient telepath simply nodded sagely. Certain members were directed to make inquiries of the other Awakened that they knew of, primarily of the Changelings, Garou and the small clutch of Wizards operating in the old stone church just south of the river. Young Michael, strong as he was, gifted as he was, nodded that he would bear the torch to… others, diplomatically.

*And what about Glen and Peter?* Jasmine asked the group. *Should the boys know that they may be in danger as well?*

*We shall deal with those lads as the merits bear,* McMillian said. *I've watched over Peter long enough to know he can be trusted. Young master Glen still needs some watching. May Light always shine.*

*May Light always shine,* the Coven's group meld replied.

The rules for sleepovers have a certain protocol. A form and fashion. At least that has always been how it is among boys.

Greet the hosting parents, exchange pleasantries and questions. The stowing of the gear. The hanging out, apart from the siblings. Usually snacks. Often some form of friendly competition.

Glen and Peter seemed to move through the language of it quickly enough, but they broke the usual pattern. The two boys spent time with Ca rolynn and Chase, an impromptu version of Frisbee tag taking place in the gathering twilight. They had to be called in by Glen's mother when the shadows of the trees grew long enough to blend together, and the simple light from the back porch lamp was the only glow in the backyard.

Dinner was simple but to the kids it couldn't have been more perfect. Slightly burned hot dogs, homemade mac and cheese, and pickles both sweet and garlicky dill. Glen's mom took Carolynn up for her bath early, promising bubbles and some mommy time. Glen's dad handed the boys each a flashlight and nodded towards the corner where Chase's leash hung.

"After his walk, you guys are free to do as you please in the basement. Carolynn wont bug you until breakfast. Just, uh, leave the house standing and don't make too much noise, okay?" And with that, they were set free.

They began the nightly ritual, one that Chase had come to adore. He was even more excited this time, however, as he had two humans to pull around tonight.

Streets zipped by, despite Chase's need to douse his regularly doused scent markings. The big dog apparently liked to roam far and wide, placing his urine with precision and care so that other dogs knew "Chase was here." It's a canine thing.

At one corner, while Chase was deeply involved in dissecting the many scents laid upon a bright red fire hydrant, the boys found themselves in one of their typical discussions. Glen had taken an interest in current events, both in the larger world outside of Canterbury and in the small confines of junior high school life. Peter helped Glen get a handle on understanding some of the complexities, and helped Glen understand where he once stood on such subjects.

"Can you explain something to me?" Glen began. Peter could tell by the tone that it was something that had escaped Glen's usual reliance one logic and reason.

"Sure. What's the bug about this time?"

"Methuen High School."

"Ooooh," Peter said, stuffing his hands into his hoody against the cooling of the evening. "The Red Raiders," Peter said, frowning. "Never did like that name. More of that Red -Man-Bad, White-Man-Good vibe."

"Yeah, I don't get that semi-glorified racism thing either. Although you gave me a lot to think about today on that score. I don't get that they're called the Red Raiders, but their sports teams wear blue. I mean, shouldn't they at least wear red?"

"I guess that's some sort of tradition. Someone decided on it long before even our grandfathers were born. I kinda like that Canterbury's colors are gold and brown."

"I get the gold color with the Knights thing. I mean, that's all shiny armor and all the king's men sorta thing, but why brown?" Glen asked.

"It's a contrast, I guess. Plus, it signifies where the gold came from and what knights fight to defend and claim for their own."


"Brown is the color of dirt, Glen. It's ground. It's land. Something that Europeans have a long history of trying to take from others."

"Oh," Glen replied, feeling a twitch on the leash as Chase covered some ground of his own. "So, why are they our rivals? Aren't they just another high school in the valley? There's at least a dozen our football team plays against, just up and down the river."

"Pride," Peter offered, shrugging. "Dumb pride. At least they're in a different city and not a cross-town rival."

"Would that make a difference?"

"Idunno. Never lived anywhere else."

"Would you?" Glen asked, looking around as cars passed each other through the intersection. "I mean, live somewhere else? If you could?"

"Probably. I mean, wherever you live is home, even if it's someplace new." Chase looked up and licked in Peter's direction before going back to sniffing the hydrant's base. That basset hound from 21st Avenue had been here recently, and Chase needed to find out as much as he could from the scents before adding his own.

"I mean about…"

"Because of my 'rents?" Peter finished. Glen nodded. Peter sighed, blowing it out through his nose. "Part of me says yes, part of me says no. Things would be better if they had better jobs. But he's usually too drunk to look for better work, and she's too comfortably numb to force him or herself to go out and find better work… or even stay sober long enough to make it to the appointments they set."

"Kinda sucks," Glen offered, giving Chase's leader a shake, but the dog kept at his sniffing. Dog business was not yet done, and the humans would just have to wait before continuing their patrol. "So, Mom and Dad kinda asked if you need anything."

"I'm good," Peter replied, the implication that he might need some sort of charity slightly embarrassing to the dark haired boy. "My job at the bike shop keeps me in whatever I need that my 'rents forget about. And Mr. McMillian is good about giving me stuff he doesn't need."

"Like what?" Glen asked.

"My bike, for one. And he gave me my own tools at the shop. Tool belt and everything. Plus, he gets a lot of gift cards. Market Basket, CVS, the shoe place down on Merrimack Street. He sometimes takes me shopping."

"He does?"

"Yeah. He knows just about everyone in town. I think he's been selling bikes around here since, like, before McDonald's opened up."

"Wow. Never thought about that. Is that a long time?"

"He tells me stories about the town," Peter said, kneeling to scratch Chase behind the ear. The dog relented to the invasion of his fursonal space and bore on with the abuse like a champ, even grinning as he leaned in to maximize the scratch. "Like, I didn't know there were dairies in town, and that Barnie's Burger Barn used to be just an ice cream shop run by Carter's Dairy."

"That place across the river, in, uhm, what did my Mom call that place."

"South of the river is sometimes called (Bradford/Arkham)."

"Yeah, that. So like, you cross the stone bridge, with all the mini lighthouses on it," Glen said.

"Yup, where the draw bridge section is, even though nothing tall enough to need that has traveled the river since before World War II," Peter provided.

"And then you turn up left at the triangle of park near the college."

"(Bradford/Arkham) Commons, uh huh," Peter encouraged.

"Bear left and go past the corn fields, and that's Barnie's. Right?"

"Very good," Peter grinned. "Used to be an old dairy out there, uphill on the south side of the road. The farm house that was there burne d down in a fire, one of many big fires in town, about 60 years ago. There's like an ancient, fieldstone church back there, used kinda as a retirement place for Catholic priests and sisters. And there's like a large park back that way, with classrooms and such. I think they have like preschool there."

"They pack a lot of stuff into this town."

"They have to. Or had to, rather," Peter said, shrugging his shoulders. "Do you remember what winter can be like here?"

"Not really. A lot of those memories are still locked away."

"We don't get a lot of snow, not as much as some other towns to the north and west do. We're too close to the ocean. The salt breezes keep much of that away. But when we do get snow, it's usually lake effect."

"I think I read about that," Glen replied. "A current of cold air from Montreal blows across the Great Lakes and picks up moisture. When it comes up over the mountains of eastern New York and western Massachusetts, it chills the moisture, compressing it. Then, once it clears the Berkshires, it drops in altitude as it gets closer to the sea."

"Which means the warmer air rises under it, like an eagle in flight, and the heavy moisture expands, drops and voila! White Christmas," Peter beamed. "Do you remember everything you read?"

"Yeah. Exactly like it's printed," Glen said as Chase moved away from his most recent scent marking, scanning the night air for his next target. "Doesn't everyone?"

"No. I usually have to read something three or four times to get it to stay permanently."

"Oh. I wonder if I was like that before. You know, Glen-that-was."

"Dunno," Peter shrugged as the boys fell into step behind the dog. "I kinda was outside your social circle the last couple of years."

"Yeah," Glen replied, unsure if he needed to apologize for that, again. It didn't sound like a snide remark or that ironic sarcasm thing he'd learned was every New Englander's birthright. Somehow, it almost seemed like an apology from Peter. That maybe Peter felt he himself hadn't done enough to stay connected to Glen, or that he'd allowed himself to be the victim of Glen-that-was' petty remarks and put downs. Glen resigned himself to giving this matter more thought.

Of course, Chase noticed this. His canine mind did have space enough for more matters than just the primal urge to stake out his territory, shared as that space was with many, many other dogs, and a few of those pesky felines. He knew that his young master was still fixing himself, and that the Peter-good scratches-sad eyes-good smells person was helping young master be right again. They smelled happy when they were together. Chase was kind of worried that the humans couldn't smell how happy they each made each other. Stronger than family-pack happy. Stronger than full belly happy.

He didn't see, or in this case, scent, why they didn't know this already. Humans could be dumb like that.

And then a shadow, weightless yet palpable, passed between the moon and the ground Chase stood on. A chill wind accompanied it, ruffling through the dog's thick fur. He stopped in mid stride, nearly getting his boy and his boy's companion to bump into him. He turned his head around looking up, looking around, straining the wind for scents. A feeling entered Chase, a sense of something dangerous near making him shudder.

"Whoa! What is it, boy?"

"Rrruff," Chase replied, looking around, nervously. Peter shuddered, pulling his hoody up.

"I have a bad feeling," Peter said, clutching his stomach with both hands. "Let's just go.

"Something's got him riled," Glen noted, struggling to hold the leash as Chase lurched towards a darkened space between a small shop closed for the night and a tall, Victorian row house. "Hey!" Glen called as the leash left his hand. The boys exchanged a brief look before chasing after Chase. The dog barked loudly as it ran, ducking around the brick corner of the shop and into the inky shadows beyond.

"Chase! Get back here!" Glen called. But still the dog galloped on, as if pursuing whatever caught his attention were covered in meat, dog toys and alleycats.

"C'mon boy. Stop screwin' around!" Peter called out. Without hesitating, both boys followed the white dog into the darkness.

And then a gun shot rang out.

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