Through the Darkness: Phantom's Dawn

Rikoto Drake Sakuro's life turns upside down when his parents die, leaving him an orphan in a big city. Several years later his friend returns and wants to catch up. To her surprise, Rikoto isn't the only thing about their home town that has changed. There has been a gang that has terrorized the city until night fall, when a faceless creature of darkness emerges to throw the gang members into the hands of the city's police department out of pure fear. But when Rikoto's unexpected girlfriend gets

Chapter 1

It was a beautiful summer day in August: birds were chirping, and squirrels were playing on the ground. A small family of three was walking from the car to drop off their son for school. All the other kids were making their way inside the building to begin their year, all except for one a little spiky dark haired boy who didn’t want to leave his parents. “I can’t believe you’re making me go to school. I thought you loved me.”  “Rikoto, you need an education that we can’t give you at home,” his father told him. “Besides, you’ll love it. You might even make some friends there.” “Your father is right,” said his mother holding his backpack, “Where do you think I met your father?” “Lorena, don’t tell him that,” Zikeno interrupted, then knelt down to his son and whispered, “We actually met in high school.” “But I want to stay at home. I like being homeschooled,” Rikoto pleaded.

“No son, you have to go to school. Your mother and I can’t keep teaching you forever. Besides, you need some friends to play with.”

“Okay, but I won’t like it. You’ll see,” Rikoto huffed as he took his backpack from his mother. “Have fun,” Lorena said, kissing her son on the cheek. Though he loved his mother and didn’t want to seem mean to her, he rubbed his cheek where she kissed him good-bye while he gave them both a sour look. He shuffled his feet through the doors of the school and began looking for his classroom. “Hey, check out the new kid,” one of the older boys said to his friends. “You must be Rikoto. We have been expecting you. I’m your teacher, Mrs. Alie,” said a tall woman holding the door open for Rikoto as he stalked nervously to the lady; he looked around and all eyes were on him, making him feel even more nervous. “Class, we have two new students joining us today. Say hello to Rikoto Sakuro, and I thought the other would be here about – oh, hello. Class, this is Delilah Hope,” Mrs. Alie continued. Rikoto looked to his left and saw a skinny little girl with shoulder-length brown hair and bright blue eyes that looked like crystals that twinkled in the light. “Well, there are two desks in the back for you both. When you get set down, we can begin.” “Hi, my name is Delilah,” she said to him as they got to their desks. He didn’t know how to react so he just smiled at her awkwardly and sat down.

At lunch Rikoto walked around looking for him an empty table, but since there was none he decided to sit at the one in the corner of the cafeteria, making sure to be at the opposite end of it than the other kids. The other kids didn’t seem to notice him when he sat down, nor did he try to talk to them. Hearing footsteps get closer to him, he turned and his teacher, Mrs. Alie knelt down beside him. “Is everything okay, Rikoto?” she asked him. He nodded, and she rubbed his shoulder in assurance that he was safe. “If you need anything, and I mean anything, I’ll be right over there at that table. Okay?” she pointed to the only table in the cafeteria being occupied by adults and seldom visited by any of the children. Again he just nodded, and watched her walk back to her seat. He was still looking around watching the other kids when he heard chair legs screeching on the floor across the table from him. Delilah settled herself comfortably and smiled when she noticed he was staring at her. “Why don’t you sit with other boys?” she asked him. He just shrugged his shoulders and continued to eat his lunch. “Are you shy? My daddy says that shy people shouldn’t have any reason to be shy, that they’re really just scared of saying or doing something that they shouldn’t. Is that why you’re shy? What’s your name anyway? You never told it to me, so I don’t know what to call you.” “My . . . my name is Rikoto. I’ve never been to an actual school before,” he answered shyly. “Neither have I; my mommy died when I was five and Daddy had to travel a lot.” Delilah seemed to be a bit cheerful and talkative to Rikoto.  “So, where do you live, um . . . Ri-ko-to? That’s a funny name.” “I live on Jefferson Street, mailbox number 5.”

“Wow, that’s so weird. I live at number 8 on the same street.”

Rikoto didn’t know why that was weird, nor did he understand that if it was weird why Delilah was laughing about it. “Anyway, since neither of us knows anyone here, do you want to play when we go out to the playground?” Delilah asked him, slurping on her juice box. “Uh . . .” “Okay, kids, when you’re done eating you can go play. Just be sure to throw away your trash.” Mrs. Alie told her class. Almost immediately the children flew from their seats and out the double doors to the playground. Rikoto was finishing his juice box while he watched his classmates making their way to go outside. “Come on, Rikoto. Let’s play outside!” Delilah happily exclaimed to him as she grabbed his hand. He went with her to play, though he didn’t really know her. “What do you like to play, Rikoto?” she asked him when they found a flower patch. Delilah knelt down and smelled the daisies while Rikoto, trying to think of something they could do that he knew girls did as well, just sat down and watched the other kids. “Well, sometimes Dad and I go play catch if it’s a sunny day, and Mom does too,” he told her. “That sounds like fun. I wonder where we can find a – oh look! There are two swings empty. Let’s go, we can pretend we’re flying!” “Uh, o . . . okay.”

“Isn’t this fun, Rikoto? Look how high we’re flying!” the cheerful little girl noted to him. Rikoto was having fun playing with her, and he thought maybe going to regular school wasn’t so bad after all. They stayed on the swings until it was time to come back in, where they walked back to their desks together. With the first day of school over, Rikoto had made one friend and survived it (like his mother told him), and now he couldn’t wait for tomorrow where he can play with his new friend some more. The bus ride was a little bumpy, but he didn’t care because he could look out the window and watch the clouds as they floated by. “This was fun, Rikoto. I can’t wait until tomorrow, can you? I think we should try and join some of the other kids on the playground. What do you think?” Delilah asked him. He turned and looked at her with a smile this time. “Okay, that sounds like it might be fun,” he said. The bus pulled up to his house and he said good-bye to Delilah as he got off, but he waved at her when he saw her in the window.

The front door to his house opened and his mother walked out onto the porch with a kitchen towel in her hands. “Hi sweetie how was your day at school?” she asked him. “I saw you waving at somebody. Did you make a friend today?” Rikoto walked up the driveway to her and hugged her with a smile. “I met a girl named Delilah. She was new too; we sit next to each other and today at the playground we play on the swing together,” he told her. Lorena knelt down and took his backpack off his shoulders. “Well I’m glad you found a friend today. Maybe you’ll make another one tomorrow. Now, if you have any homework you can sit at the table and do it there while I start preparing dinner tonight. We have a guest coming over that your father and I want you to meet.” She kissed him on the forehead and walked back into the kitchen, Rikoto following close behind her.

“I’m almost done with my homework, Mom,” Rikoto said, reading the last few pages of his school book. “That’s great, Rikoto. When you’re done, don’t forget to put your backpack away and be ready for our guests. They’ll be arriving sometime soon,” Lorena told him. “Your father should be home in a few minutes.” Just as she said it, they both heard a car pulling into the driveway. “I take that back; he’s already here.” The door going into the garage opened and in walked Rikoto's father looking tired but at the same time full of energy.  “Hello beautiful; how’s the love of my life?” he asked, kissing her, then turned to Rikoto and scratched the top of his uncontrollable spiked dark hair. “And what about my handsome young man here? How was school, kiddo?” Rikoto pushed his father’s hand away from his head and smiled in his own pride. “He made a friend today. I caught him waving good-bye to her when the bus drove away,” Lorena told him. Zikeno looked down at Rikoto with a sneer and asked “I thought you said you wouldn’t like going to a regular school?” Rikoto grinned at him but didn’t answer, which Zikeno took for his answer. “So, are they here yet?” he asked, forgetting the previous subject. Just then the doorbell rang; Rikoto got up and walked into the living room and opened the door. He looked up and there stood a tall, brown haired man of about mid to late thirties or forties in age, with a five o’clock shadow and a thick mustache. “Hi, you must be Rikoto. I’m Dwain Hope, a friend of your parents,” he said, introducing himself. “Aw, Dwain, how have you been you sorry old dog?” Zikeno asked when he and Lorena walked behind Rikoto at the door. The two men gave each other a bear hug in laughter, whereas Mr. Dwain gently kissed Lorena’s cheek while she did the same thing to him.

“Rikoto!” screamed a little girl’s voice from behind Mr. Dwain. Delilah jumped around him and practically tackled Rikoto, hugging him tightly with her skinny little arms. “This must be your little angel. The last time I saw her was at her mother’s funeral. She sure has grown since then,” Lorena said, smiling at the children. “She looks more like her mother every day,” Mr. Dwain replied. She bent down and looked into Delilah pretty eyes. “Hi, Delilah, I’m Mrs. Lorena. Do you remember me?” Delilah smiled but shook her head. “Why don’t you two go play in the backyard? Just remember to come back in when it gets dark.” Zikeno said to the kids, who obliged happily. The parents however, went into the kitchen and caught up on old times with one another.

“Rikoto, do you have a ball?” Delilah asked him before they even got to the back door. “Uh huh, it’s in my room,” he answered, and they both went to get it. Rikoto opened his bedroom door and held it open for Delilah to walk in before he went to get the ball from his closet. “I like your room, Rikoto,” she told him. She sat on his bed with a bounce and watched him eagerly as he pulled out his ball. “How long have you lived here?” “Mom said I was born here,” Rikoto answered her. “Here’s the ball, are you ready to go play catch?” But instead of answering him, she just sat there and stared at him. “Rikoto, do you think I’m cute?” Stunned by the question, Rikoto didn’t know what she was talking about. But then he thought about it for a bit before he answered her. “Y . . . yes I think you are cute.” Her face lit up as bright as a Christmas tree and she giggled. “I think you’re cute too. Have you ever thought about what you wanted to do when you got older, like with a girl? I’ve always thought about it, because Mommy always told me I should think about it when I get older before she died and went to heaven; not with another girl of course, but with a boy . . .  someone I like a lot, someone like you.” He stared at her, confused about what she was talking about. He never really thought about it, whatever “it” was. “Do you want to play truth or dare?” Truth or dare? what’s that, he thought. “Uh, how do you play it?” he asked, now nervous

 “It’s a game where you say truth or dare: if you say truth, I ask you a question and you can’t lie. If you say dare, then I can dare you to do something and you have to do it.”

The explanation sounded weird and scary at the same time to Rikoto, but his parents taught him to play whatever his guest wanted to play. “O . . . okay,” he stuttered. Delilah sat further up on his bed so she wouldn’t fall off and folded her legs together. She patted her hand on the bed in front of her, telling him to sit down with her. Reluctantly, he walked over and sat in front of her and faced her. “Okay, since you don’t know how to play yet, I’ll go first,” she said. “I pick truth, so now you can ask me anything you want and I have to tell you the truth.” His mind was a blank because he didn’t know anything he could ask a girl that wouldn’t sound dumb. “Uh . . . what’s your middle name?” he asked her. “My name is Marie. Okay, it’s your turn. Truth or dare?” she giggled, obviously having fun with this strange game. The “dare” part of this game sounded scary to him, so Rikoto picked truth too. “Okay, do you like me, Rikoto?” she asked him. And he was worried about asking her a stupid question? “Yes, I like you. We’re friends aren’t we?” Again, Delilah giggled, but he didn’t seem to get what was so funny. “It’s my turn. I choose dare this time,” she told him. Think, think. “I dare you to hop on one foot.” Delilah jumped off the bed and hopped on one foot for about a minute before she finally stopped and got back on the bed.

“Kids, dinner is ready.”

“We can keep playing when we eat dinner, and it’s your turn too,” Delilah smiled, indicating something to Rikoto that he didn’t get apparently. They ran down the stairs and into the kitchen to wash their hands. “Rikoto, you can sit across from Delilah, okay?” his mother said to him. He nodded in agreement. “Rikoto, can you help Delilah make her plate?” “Yes ma’am.” The families all sat down, said grace, and began to eat the wonderful dinner Lorena made. “So, what were you two playing upstairs?” Mr. Dwain asked the kids. Delilah was the first to speak up, saying “I was teaching Rikoto how to play truth or dare. It’s still his turn too.” Zikeno coughed on a bite of his meatloaf, his eyes almost popping out. “I hope he was learning quickly, Delilah,” Lorena said to her. “Honey, you do remember what that game is, don’t you?” Zikeno asked her. “Yes, of course I do. Now stop choking yourself before I send you to your room without dessert. Okay, Delilah, what have you two been doing in the game?” Delilah finished chewing on a piece of broccoli before she answered. “Well, I picked truth and he asked me what my middle name was. Then he picked truth and I asked him if he liked me. After that he dared me to hop on foot.” While all this is going on Rikoto just sits there and eats his dinner. All of a sudden he feels something rubbing against his foot; he looks under the table and sees Delilah’s feet around his. Sitting straight up again he looks across the table and Delilah’s face, he sees, is red with her cheeks burning brightly and a big grin to go with it.

“Rikoto, are you ready to keep playing truth or dare?” Delilah asked when they had finished eating dinner. Rikoto looked from her to his mother, asking if it was all right with his eyes. She nodded and he went to play with his friend some more. Delilah took his hand and led him back to his room. They sat down on his bed and she reminded him that it was his turn. “I think I’ll stick to truth,” he said to her. “Have you ever been kissed by a girl?” she asked him. “No, and I hope I don’t. Dad told me something bad will happen if I let a girl kiss me,” he answered strongly. Delilah started laughing hard then, but Rikoto didn’t find it funny at all. “That’s silly, Rikoto. Mommy and Daddy have kissed lots of times before she died and nothing bad happened.” “I still hope I don’t get kissed by a girl,” Rikoto said, crossing his arms together. Lorena opened the door a little bit and knocked on it lightly. “Hey guys, what’s going on in here?” she asked. “Mom, is it true what Dad said about kissing?” Rikoto asked her. “I don’t know. What did he say?” “He said that bad things would happen if I let a girl kiss me, just like what happened to him.” Lorena’s face turned slightly serious now. “I’m going to have to have a little talk with your father, Rikoto. But no, nothing bad has ever happened from a boy and a girl kissing,” she assured him. The door closed and they were alone again. “All right, it’s my turn again and I pick truth,” Delilah said to him. The door opened again and Lorena poked her head around. “Delilah, your father says it’s time to go home,” she said. “Okay, Mrs. Lorena. Bye, Rikoto, I’ll see you tomorrow on the bus.” Delilah gave Rikoto a big hug and walked out of his room waving good-bye to him. “And you, little mister, it’s getting close to your bedtime. Go ahead and get ready,” Lorena told Rikoto when Delilah had left the room.

It was a beautiful December morning, and Rikoto couldn’t wait to get to school because he and Delilah were going to play kickball with the other kids. But when he went outside he found the ground to be covered with a white powder. “Mom, Dad, it’s snowing out here,” he told them when they joined him on the porch. “It does look like snow, doesn’t it?” Lorena said. “I guess this means you’ll get to play inside instead.” The bus rolled up; Lorena kissed Rikoto on the cheek waved at him as he got onto the bus and went to school. He sat next to a window and looked out at all the snow and thought about everything he could do with it. First, I’ll make a snowman, then I’ll build a snow fort, and then I can make snowballs and throw them at anyone I see coming to find me, he thought to himself. Delilah sat next to him and he had a big grin on his face, just waiting to get back home so he could play in the snow. “Good morning, Rikoto,” Delilah said to him. “Good morning, Delilah. Have you ever seen so much snow before?” he asked her. She shook her head no, but the smile on her face told him he might have someone helping him with his snow fort today.

When they got to their classroom there was a big Christmas tree standing in the corner behind Mrs. Alie’s mahogany desk. “Good morning class, I’m sure you’ve all seen the snow outside when you got off the bus. That means that Christmas is just around the corner. And the school’s Christmas party will be here next Monday,” she said to the class. Everyone screamed in excitement about the party. “So I’m going to come around with this little red hat . . .” she held up a Santa Claus hat. “. . . and everyone’s name is in it. Now I want each of you to pull out one piece of paper and let me see whose name you picked. But don’t show it to the person that you picked, okay?” she went around the room with the hat, left to right. Sara Higgins jumped up and down at hers: Daniel James, a freckled red head, dropped a frown and sat down in his chair. Delilah looked around to try and find the person who matched the name she pulled. There were three pieces of paper left, which made the suspense for Rikoto even greater because he didn’t know who had already been picked, but he thought that the last three must be very special people. So he took his time. he felt of each paper, the way the edges were torn, the texture of the paper. Then he halfway pulled the first two out before he finally decided that the third was more special than the first two. “Okay, Rikoto, let’s see who you’ve got,” Mrs. Alie said to him. So as not to let anyone else but himself and the teacher see it, he unfolded the paper and read it silently:

                                                                Delilah Hope

“You must have known this one was untouched. I think you’ve got a very special name for a very special reason,” Mrs. Alie whispered to him, knowing that his recipient was sitting right beside him. Later at lunch everyone was either huddled beside a heater or playing something just to keep them warm; Rikoto and Delilah were throwing a basketball and trying to make it in the hoop. “Whose name did you pick for the Christmas party?” Delilah asked Rikoto. “I can’t tell you, because you might tell that person,” he told her. “Do you know what mistletoe looks like, Rikoto?” Rikoto had never even heard of mistletoe, so he just shook his head. “It’s this plant people hang in doors and if two people are standing under it at the same time they have to kiss each other,” she explained. “Mommy and Daddy told me about it one time when I asked.” Her face went red again, but Rikoto was still puzzled. Why was she asking him about kissing a girl and mistletoe so much? She must have a reason for it, but what was it? “It sounds like it makes people do dumb things to me,” he told her. Delilah’s cheeks lit up redder than a lollipop, and her smile faded away. “But would you like to help me build a snow fort in my back yard? It’s still snowing outside and I want to surprise Mom and Dad with a snow ball fight.” Delilah dropped her head and closed her eyes.

“Delilah, are you okay?” he asked. He looked closer and noticed a tear on one of her rosy cheeks. She looked up at him and snuffled. “You said kissing is dumb,” she sobbed softly. “I . . . I’m sorry, Delilah. I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. He got closer and hugged her tightly, making her drop the ball on the hard floor. “Please stop crying, I don’t like seeing you cry.” “So if I kissed you, you would say I’m dumb?” she hiccupped, pulling back and looking at him. “N . . . no I wouldn’t; I’ve never been kissed by a girl before,” he told her. “Please stop crying.” Mrs. Alie saw them standing there holding each other and walked over to them. “Hey, what’s wrong you two?” she asked. “I told Delilah I thought mistletoe made people do dumb things and she started crying,” Rikoto explained. “That’s not true, Rikoto. It’s not mistletoe that makes them do silly things, it’s how those people feel about each other that make them do it.” Mrs. Alie sat on the floor and scooped Delilah up in her arms and set her in her lap. “Shhh, it’s okay, Delilah. I’m sure Rikoto is sorry for hurting your feelings,” she said softly. Delilah wiped her eyes and looked at Rikoto. “Are you really sorry?” she asked. Rikoto nodded his head, trying not to break into tears himself. He knelt down and hugged her again.

“Do you feel better, sweetie?” Mrs. Alie caressed Delilah’s hair out of her crystal blue eyes, and she nodded. They all got up and Mrs. Alie pulled Rikoto away from Delilah for a minute. “Mrs. Alie, why did what I said hurt Delilah like it did?” he asked her. “Rikoto, girls aren’t like boys when it comes to their feelings,” she explained. “When something like that is said to you, you wouldn’t think much about it; but Delilah really likes you a lot, and when you said that thing it hurt her feelings.” “I know she likes me, Mrs. Alie. I like Delilah too, she is a really good friend to me,” Rikoto told her, confused. She knelt down so they were at an equal eye level. “No, Rikoto I don’t think you understand. I think Delilah has a crush on you, but when you said you what you thought about mistletoe, you hurt her feelings a lot. I saw you try to cheer her up before I walked over here, which means you care a lot about her as well, but remember she is a little girl whose feelings can easily be hurt. Do you understand now?” Rikoto thought about what Mrs. Alie said. “I think so,” he said to her. On the bus home they sat together on the last seat to the right. Rikoto let Delilah sit at the window this time, but they didn’t make any eye contact. Finally, Delilah turned to him and asked, “Can I still help you build a snow fort at your house?” Rikoto looked at her and smiled, happy that she had spoken to him without tears of sadness and hurt in her eyes. “We can make it as big as a tree,” he told her, and she laughed. He joined in her laughter, and it was almost as if nothing had happened hours earlier.

Lorena walked out onto the porch to wait for Rikoto to get off, but instead she saw two children getting off the bus. “This is a nice surprise,” she said happily, watching Rikoto and Delilah run up to her house. “Mom, can Delilah stay and play with me, please?” Rikoto asked her. “Of course she can. I’ll call her father and let him know where she is. But before anyone does any playing, I want both of you doing your homework.” They nodded their heads and went into the kitchen to start. “Mrs. Lorena, can you help me please?” Delilah asked. “Of course I can. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Lorena said. Rikoto had already finished his homework and put his books away; he ran upstairs and changed clothes so he wouldn’t get his good clothes dirty. “Rikoto, can you get Delilah one of your shirts and a pair of your pants, please? I’m sure her father wouldn’t like for her clothes to come home dirty,” his mother called from the kitchen. “Okay, Mom,” he said. “This is fun, Rikoto. What are we going to do with the fort and the snowman?” Delilah asked him while they were building the snow fort. “The snowman is going to keep Mom and Dad from looking at the fort if they come out here. When they get close, we can throw snowballs at them and surprise them,” he answered her with a sneer.

All of a sudden, a snowball hit him in the back of the head. “We’re under attack!” he yelled to her, running around to the other side of their fort. “Get them, Lorena,” Zikeno laughed, throwing more snowballs at the kids. Lorena came around the other side of the fort and threw snowballs at them, having a clear shot. The snowball fight went on for a few minutes, with Rikoto and Delilah fighting hard against the adults. Eventually, the fort started to fall apart from the beating and the kids had no defense. “We surrender! We surrender!” Delilah laughed, throwing up her hands and dropping what snowballs she still had left. “What about you, Rikoto? Do you surrender?” Lorena asked him. Rikoto jumped up from his last piece of fort left standing and shouted, “Never!” before one of Zikeno’s snowballs hit him in the chest. He fell back on top of Delilah, feeling like he got hit with a pillow. “What about now?” his father asked him, holding a snowball the size of his own chest. Rikoto put an angry face on, but before he could say anything he was covered with snow. “Come one, kids, give us your hands,” Lorena laughed as she and her husband helped Rikoto and Delilah out of the snow.

There was a knock at the door. Lorena walked over and answered it. “Hi, Dwain, Delilah’s sitting by the fire with Rikoto drinking some hot coco. Would you like some?” she said. “Thanks; that would be great right about now. Can I talk to you and Zikeno in the kitchen please?” he asked her. She nodded and led him into the kitchen, leaving the kids in the living room by the fireplace. “Do you know what you want for Christmas, Rikoto?” Delilah asked him. He thought about it, but couldn’t really think of anything, so he shook his head. “What about you?” Delilah scooted herself closer to him and slid her head onto his shoulder. “I want to be friends with you forever and ever,” she said, closing her eyes. They sat there by the fireplace with their blankets for what felt like a long time; Rikoto looked over at Delilah and noticed she had fallen asleep on his shoulder, so he gently moved her head off his shoulder and laid her down on the soft carpet. He crawled to the couch and pulled two pillows off of it and brought them back. He slid one under Delilah’s head and lay down next to her with the other one. It wasn’t long until he had fallen asleep himself, but when he woke up, he was in his bedroom under his covers.

He walked down for breakfast wiping his sleepy eyes, nearly tripping over his own feet. “Good morning, Mom. Good morning, Dad,” he yawned. Zikeno was sitting at the table hidden behind his newspaper, and Lorena was at the stove. She turned and smiled at him as he made his way to a chair at the table. “Good morning, sweetie. How did you sleep?” she asked him. “I remember lying down beside Delilah last night, and then I was in my bed this morning,” he said. “We saw that. Mr. Dwain went to pick Delilah up in his arms to take her home, but we had to get your hands apart first,” Zikeno explained. Rikoto didn’t know anything about that. “Honey, you know they’re just kids. There’s nothing wrong with friends holding hands when they sleep,” Lorena said, taking her son’s side. “I know there’s not, but I think Dwain would agree with me when I say they didn’t have to holding each other’s hands so tightly that we almost needed a crowbar.” Rikoto tried to eat his breakfast quickly, knowing that the bus would be here soon and he hadn’t even taken a bath yet. “Your backpack is on the couch waiting for you,” his mother whispered in his ear, then she kissed him on the forehead. “Don’t forget to comb your hair. Oh, and your teacher call me yesterday about your party and I bought Delilah a locket from you. It’s already wrapped and in the outer pocket of your backpack.”

Later at school, Rikoto found the place to be covered in giant paper snowflakes on the walls and ceiling. “Oh, Rikoto, I’m glad you could make it in time. Go ahead and put your present under the tree and we’ll open them later. There’s a nice place for it under that snowflake ornament,” Mrs. Alie whispered to him.  No one touched the tree until after lunch, when Mrs. Alie picked up a gift and called out who the gift was from and who it was for. “Okay, this one is from Kaylie, and it’s for Rikoto.” Rikoto walked up there and opened it at his desk. The little red haired girl had gotten him a red scarf with white glittery snowflakes on it. He looked over at her and smiled. “Thank you, Kaylie,” he said to her. “My mother made it,” he heard the little girl say to him. “Okay, and this tiny box,” Mrs. Alie continued, “is from Rikoto and it’s for Delilah.” Delilah’s face lit up as she walked up to get it and unwrap it. As she began to open it, he could see the excitement in his best friend’s eyes with every second. She finally got it open and found a heart-shaped locket, and inside it there was a place in both sides for a photo. “Oh Rikoto, it’s beautiful. I love it, thank you,” she said as she hugged him tightly. “Okay everyone, pick up all your garbage and throw it away. Then if you want to, we can all go outside and play in the snow,” said Mrs. Alie. “Mrs. Alie, can you help me with my locket, please?” Delilah asked her on the way out. “Oh, did he get this for you? It’s so beautiful.” Mrs. Alie glanced at Rikoto while she fastened the locket around Delilah’s neck. Rikoto’s cheeks went red with embarrassment.

                The last school bell rang and Rikoto was finally free for the holidays. “Rikoto, over here,” Delilah said, calling out to him. She was standing at the door to the class room. He got his backpack and walked to her. “What is it, Delilah?” he asked her. She pointed up to the ceiling, where a green plant with little red bulbs was hanging. “What’s that?” About the same time he asked, he felt a small pair of lips on his cheek. His head jerked down at Delilah, whose face was red. “It’s mistletoe, silly. Remember; if two people are under one, they have to kiss,” she laughed. Rikoto was dumbstruck; he had never been kissed by a girl before, nor had he really thought about trying it. Delilah’s smile got even bigger as she watched him, which must have meant she could see him blushing. “Rikoto, Delilah, you’re going to miss the bus if you don’t hurry,” Mrs. Alie called to them. Delilah grabbed his hand and pulled him. “Come on,” she said. Rikoto might as well have been dead weight because he was still in shock from his best friend kissing him. When he got into the front door he found his parents packing a few bags and suitcases. “Why are you packing? Are we moving somewhere?” he asked them. “Oh, hi sweetie. No, we’re just getting ready for the holiday trip to the lake. Do you remember us talking about it?” his mother said. That’s right, their annual Christmas vacation started tomorrow. How could he have forgotten about that? Then he remembered something else. “So, how was your day at school, buddy?” his father asked him. “It was okay. I got a new scarf from Kaylie Rogers, see? Her mother made it,” he pointed out to them. “Ohh, it’s beautiful. I’ll have to talk to Carol and see if she can teach me,” Lorena said when she admired the scarf. “And then when we were walking out to the bus Delilah kissed me. She said it was because we were standing under some mistletoe.” Zikeno dropped a heavy suitcase on his foot, and then spun around when he got it free. “What? Lorena, we need to get him to a hospital now.” Rikoto started to worry about being kissed by the look on his father’s face. Lorena, however, looked at him like he was stupid. “Don’t listen to your father, Rikoto. Being kissed by a girl is perfectly alright, and kissing a girl back is no different,” she assured him. “Then why did I get a knot on the back of my head for doing it?” Zikeno asked her. “You kissed me in front of my grandmother, and she didn’t like you. So, it’s understandable that she felt compelled to hit you with a frying pan. Now if you keep giving our son these dumb ideas of yours about girls, I’ll hit you with a frying pan.”

                The next day as everyone was loading the car, the doorbell rang. “Oh hello Dwain, please come in,” Lorena said. “Thank you, Lorena,” Mr. Dwain replied, “I was wondering if Delilah could have a photo of Rikoto for the locket she got from him; she said she wants to ‘put him in her heart’ or something like that. You know how kids are.” “Of course she can, I’ll go get one. The boys are in the garage if you want to see if they need help.”

                Stepping into the garage, Mr. Dwain noticed Rikoto was struggling with the spare tire. “Hey Rikoto, need some help?” he asked. “Thanks, Mr. Dwain. Would it be all right if Delilah spent the night after we get back home?” Rikoto asked him. “I’m sure she would love to, and if your parents have no problem with it then it’s alright with me.” “Fine with me; might be nice to see a new face at the table for one morning. Rikoto, why don’t you see if your mother needs any help?” Zikeno said. “Okay,” Rikoto said as he turned his back to look for his mother. He got to the door just as his mother was walking through it holding a picture in her hand. “Whoops, watch out, roadrunner,” she told him. “Here you are, Dwain. If you trim the edges a bit, it should fit inside her locket.” She gave Mr. Dwain the picture and then turned to pick up a couple of bags. “Thank you, Lorena. I’m sure Delilah will love it. Well, I guess I’ll be going, but Delilah said she wanted to see her friend off,” he said, making sure Rikoto heard him. “Oh, did you hear what happened with them?” Lorena asked him. He tilted his head slightly and she explained. “Delilah tricked him into walking under some mistletoe with her. Honestly, I think it’s cute, considering their age.” “You just watch, Rikoto. The next time Delilah kisses you, it’ll be when you’re standing beside her in front of a preacher. When that happens, she’s gonna put one of these little shackles on your finger,” Zikeno told Rikoto, pointing to his wedding ring. “Would you stop that, already? Besides, you asked me to marry you.”

The car was loaded, the snacks for the trip were ready, and Rikoto was in the back seat waiting on his parents. They had never taken this long locking the house, so what was keeping them? A sudden knocking on his window startled him; he turned and looked who it was when Delilah popped her head in it. He opened the door and jumped out of it and Delilah hugged him. “Daddy told me you were going camping. I wanted to say good-bye before you left,” she said. “Oh, look: now wherever you go, I’ll still be able to see you.” She showed him the inside of her locket and there was a picture of them both. “You’ll be close to my heart, Rikoto, forever.” They heard his parents coming out of the house and Delilah gave him another big hug before they got to the car. “Hi Delilah, did you come to see Rikoto off before he goes camping for the holidays?” Lorena asked her with a smile. “Uh huh; Rikoto’s the best friend I’ve ever had, Mrs. Lorena. See, he’s close to my heart, and I’m only going to keep my best friends close to my heart,” Delilah answered, showing Lorena her locket. “That’s great, sweetie; be sure to tell Rikoto bye when we drop you off at your house, okay?” Delilah nodded her head and jumped in the car next to Rikoto. “All right, Delilah, this is it. Make sure you say good-bye to Rikoto,” Lorena said, looking at the children through the mirror. Delilah grabbed Rikoto, squeezed him tightly like she wouldn’t let go, and then kissed him on the cheek. “Bye Rikoto. Tell me how it was when you get back, okay?” she told him.

Chapter 2

 So, Rikoto, it looks like you have a little girlfriend,” Lorena said sweetly. Rikoto had finally started paying attention to his parents after a few minutes had past. “Huh?” he said, confused. “Don’t worry, son; having a girlfriend isn’t so bad when you get used to it,” his father told him. All of a sudden the car started to flip into the air; when it finally stopped rolling on the ground Rikoto found himself lying on the roof. His cheeks were bleeding, his head throbbed. Then he heard footsteps approaching: he looked around to find them, when he saw his mother and father both on the ground unconscious Lorena began to move around, but Zikeno was still asleep. “M . . . Mom? What happened?” he asked weakly. The footsteps started up again, only this time he saw them. They stopped in front of Rikoto’s father and then he heard a loud popping sound and saw a bright light. He watched as the feet walked around to his mother’s side of the car. “Where is it?” he heard a man’s voice say. Lorena turned her head to face Rikoto and smiled at him. “It’s okay, sweetie,” she whispered. The loud pooping noise rang in his ears again and the light flashed again, only this time Rikoto knew what it was. He crawled out of the car and chased the person who killed his parents. “Kill him,” the faceless man said, and a dog of some kind attacked him.

Bright light, a beeping sound. Opening his eyes, Rikoto looked around. But he could only see through one eye: his left eye was covered with some cloth. A lady in a pink outfit walked in his room. “Hey, it’s okay. You were in an accident,” she said, taking his hands away from the bandage. “This needs to stay on your eye for a little while, okay? An animal attacked you.” Rikoto looked around at the room he was in: the smell of cleaner was intoxicating. “You should rest, little guy,” she told him. “Mom? Dad? Where are Mom and Dad?” he asked. He sat up in the bed and placed his hand on his head. “Poor thing,” the nurse sighed as she turned to leave the room.

Just then, he heard familiar voices talking. “Sir, you can’t go in there. The boy needs his rest,” he heard the nurse argue. The door opened and Delilah walked in, followed by her father and a police officer. The nurse came in after them, but the officer showed her his badge. “Rikoto, how do you feel?” Mr. Dwain asked him. Delilah jumped on his bed and hugged him, crying. “Mr. Dwain, where’s Mom and Dad?” Rikoto asked. The officer stepped forward a little so he could see him better. He looked older, possibly in his mid-fifties, with his hair a silvery gray color and combed neatly to one side. “Rikoto Sakuro, I’m Chief Williams with the Power City police department,” he said in a low but strong voice. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your parents have been killed.” Rikoto went deaf after those last three words. Everything else anyone said to him or each other was nothing but a blur. Dead; how could they be dead? They were supposed to go camping with him. They couldn’t be dead. “Rikoto, are you okay?” Delilah asked him. Tears filled his eyes, and his body began to quake. He felt her grip tighten around him and he wrapped his arms around her as well. “Listen, Rikoto, I’m sure this is terrifying for you, but I need to know if you remember anything about what happened,” Chief Williams explained, but Mr. Dwain turned slowly and tapped his shoulder. “We should probably talk . . . outside the room.” The man nodded and led him out the door. “I’ll be right back, kiddo,” he said, then followed the man outside.

Delilah let Rikoto go and sat straight up beside him. “Rikoto, what happened? When Daddy heard about it he picked me up and we came over here really quick,” she said. He just sat there, motionless almost. He was still in shock from the whole thing about his parents being killed. She leaned forward, looking into his right eye with concern in her own eyes. “Rikoto? Please say something,” she pleaded. His silence was beginning to scare her, and soon tears filled her eyes. Rikoto wasn’t paying attention to her though, but instead listened to what the men outside were saying:

“Look, I know you were their best friend, but I think he’d be safer staying here tonight.”

“No, Zikeno and Lorena both asked me to take care of him if anything happened and I promised them I would. I know I can’t replace them, but he needs to be around people he knows and trusts.”

“. . . . (sighs) Okay, but just to be safe, I’m going to have a squad car posted outside your house, for the boy’s safety. If whoever did this finds out Rikoto is alive, he might fear the boy could identify him. Child services have already been called.”

“I understand.”

They walked back in the room and Mr. Dwain stood beside Rikoto and Delilah. Chief Williams took out a pen and notepad. “Rikoto, I know this is hard for you, but I need you to tell the officer everything you can remember, okay?” Mr. Dwain said to him. “Red eyes, and claws,” Rikoto said quietly. Chief Williams took notes, still listening. “He asked Mom where something was, and she looked at me before he killed her. Then I saw red eyes and claws.” “Do you remember anything else? It’s very important that you tell me everything, okay?” the officer pressed gently. Rikoto shook his head: he didn’t even look at his best friend when she tried to get him to. “Can I go home now?” he asked quietly. Delilah looked at Mr. Dwain with concern and love in her eyes when she asked “Can he stay with us, Daddy? Please?” Mr. Dwain wanted to smile at his little angel because of her question, but remembering what happened just hours before with Rikoto kept him a serious face. He glanced up at the officer, who shrugged after he checked his watch. “The lady should be here in a few minutes. If he wants to go home now, I can give you her number and she can see you tomorrow,” he said. “Here you go, Rikoto,” Mr. Dwain said. He gave him some clothes, of which Delilah pointed out, “I helped him pick them out; I remembered they’re your favorite”. Mr. Dwain took Delilah’s arm and tilted his head, and Chief Williams walked over to guard the door out of sight.

Rikoto sat in the back of Mr. Dwain’s car, with Delilah beside him. All he did was look out the window, but he could feel her eyes on him. Eventually, he felt her hand on his; Mr. Dwain glanced up into the rear-view mirror at them and grinned slightly. “Listen, Rikoto, I don’t know how you must feel right now, but I do know what it feels like to lose someone you love,” he said. Rikoto didn’t say anything, just stared out the window. When they arrived at the house Mr. Dwain carried his bags in and Delilah led Rikoto inside. Like his house, there was a fireplace with furniture grouped around it. He looked around and saw pictures of Delilah with Mr. Dwain and a woman he could only assume was her mother. “Delilah, why don’t you show Rikoto to his room; I’ll make us all some hot coco,” Mr. Dwain said. “I’ll bring your bags upstairs in a little bit.” Delilah took his hand and led him up the stairs and down a short hallway. She opened a door and they walked in what appeared to be Delilah’s room. “This is my room,” she said, then pointed across the hall to another door. “And that’s your room. But if you want, we could share a bed . . . if you’re scared that is.” He shook his head and walked into his room. He didn’t want anything, not hot coco, not people to say they’re sorry for him; all he wanted was to wake up from this nightmare and never have it again. He slid his shoes off and crawled into bed.

He laid there for what felt like hours, but according to the clock on the nightstand, it was minutes. Then, the bed started to shift and he felt someone behind him. Not physically, but it was like he sensed a small body lying there, crystal blues eyes staring at him. He didn’t dare move, but just laid there. “I know how you feel, Rikoto,” she said. “I lost my mommy a few years ago. I still miss her, but I know she’s in my heart. Maybe that’s where your mommy and daddy are now, in your heart.” Finally, sleep found him, but there was no peace in his dreams. He kept seeing those red eyes. They didn’t belong to the animal that attacked him, but to the man that commanded it. He could see his hand pointing at him, claws bared instead of fingernails. Was that really a man, or was he just imagining it?

He woke up the next morning with Delilah beside him, still asleep in her pajamas with a white bunny under her arm. He still didn’t understand what Mrs. Alie explained to him about how much more delicate a girl’s feelings were than a boy’s, nor did he understand why Delilah liked him so much. He crawled out of the bed, careful not to wake her, and walked down the stairs to see if last night really was a nightmare. He stepped into the living room and looked around. This wasn’t his living room, and the bandage was still over his left eye. He really was alone then: no mom and dad, no more family camping trips, no more happiness. It was just him now, and he would have to grow up and take care of himself. He ran to the bathroom upstairs and, in anger of his loneliness, furiously ripped off his bandages. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw what the animal had done to him. Four claw marks ran down his eye, completely missing the eye itself by some miracle. The marks were still a bright red, which meant they hadn’t fully healed yet, but he could see everything clearly with both eyes. “Oh, good morning, Rikoto. I didn’t expect you’d be up this early,” Mr. Dwain said to him. Rikoto glanced at his reflection in the mirror instead of turning. Mr. Dwain had just woke up a few minutes ago judging by the way his hair was. “Are you hungry? I was about to wake you and Delilah up for some breakfast, but it looks like I just need to wake her up.” He didn’t say anything, but closed his eyes.

All day Rikoto did nothing but lie in bed by himself; Delilah came in several times asking if he wanted to play something, but he never moved an inch. He heard the door open downstairs and a woman’s voice when Mr. Dwain welcomed her inside. “Rikoto, please, come play with me,” Delilah pleaded the last time she came in the room. Mr. Dwain and the woman he heard earlier walked in and Delilah sat up next to him. “Rikoto? This is Mrs. Lynda. She would like to talk with us today,” Mr. Dwain said. Rikoto sat up on the bed and crossed his legs. Mrs. Lynda sat on the corner of his bed and opened up her clipboard. “Hi, Rikoto, I’m sorry for your loss. My name is Lynda Thorn, and I get a phone call whenever a child has been orphaned. I’m going to ask you a few questions and I just need you to answer them as best as you can, okay?” she said. He just sat there and looked at her. “Now, do you have any other family that can take care of you?” Rikoto shook his head. “Uh, he has an uncle but we have no way to contact him,” Mr. Dwain told her. “I see; does he have god-parents or any other legal guardian perhaps?” she asked. “His parents made me and my wife his god-parents when he was born. My wife died a few years back, so I’m pretty much it.” Mrs. Thorn made a note on her clipboard and looked at Rikoto when she asked her next question. “I understand you have a job interview in Chicago. When were you planning to leave exactly?” “I’m waiting until the weather lets up a little,” he answered her. “I hope you understand that, considering his state of mind right now, it might not be a good idea to place him in a new environment. I’ve seen this before: he’s still in shock from the whole thing right now, so there’s no telling if he’s stable enough to cope with new surroundings,” she explained.

“Daddy, I don’t want to leave Rikoto,” Delilah said finally. She took Rikoto’s hand and squeezed it. “I know, sweetie,” Mr. Dwain said with a grin. The sound of a doorbell rang downstairs: Mr. Dwain and Mrs. Thorn left the room. “Rikoto, will you please say something?” Delilah asked him, but Rikoto just sat there. He stared at the wall with blank eyes, until he decided to lie back down. He jumped from the bed and closed the door, knowing perfectly well that Delilah wasn’t going to leave him in here alone. He didn’t lock it, just closed it so he couldn’t hear the adults. Pulling the covers back over himself, he laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. Delilah, of course, lied down beside him and draped her arm over him. Before he dozed to sleep, she kissed him on the cheek and whispered, “I love you, Rikoto”.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

 “Rikoto? Rikoto, are you all right, man?”

It had been years since his parents were killed and Rikoto was still having flashbacks of that very night, but every time he could never see the guy’s face. Rikoto opened his eyes: a young man in his early twenties was looking down at him. “Yeah . . . yeah, I’m fine. I must have spaced out again,” he said to the boy. Roger Kane had short, brown hair with square glasses covering his brown eyes. His wardrobe usually consisted of holey jeans and long-sleeved shirts, neither of which matched the other on a good day. His hair was never kept, and the watch he wore couldn’t tell what time it was yesterday, let alone today. “Well, listen, we’re going to be late for class if you don’t hurry up. The ladies are waiting for us,” he told him. If they’re waiting on you, something is wrong with them, Rikoto thought to himself. He looked around: no one was close enough to tell he had passed out earlier, considering he was sitting in the middle of the street, so he got up and continued walking to class. “So, do you think Ashley will be there today?” Roger asked him, staring off into the clouds as he walked. “Don’t know, but maybe we should ask that blonde girl that’s been sitting in her seat every day in class. She might know,” he answered. Roger looked at him with an angry look. If there was anything he hated, it was Rikoto’s sarcasm.

He was now a junior in Power City University and had a job as a part-time mechanic. Nearly being late for bio-tech, Roger and Rikoto made it to their seats as Prof. John, a tall bearded man wearing a brown suit and tie with black dress shoes, handed out the tests they had taken the previous day after grading them. “Lucy, you made an A. Roger, a B. Rikoto, I don’t know of any past students of mine that have managed to do this, but you have another A,” he said with a grin on his face. “That’s because he’s been alive for hundreds of years,” said Craig, captain of the football team. “Well Craig, maybe he should tutor you, D-. You need to raise that grade if you want to stay on the team,” Prof. John replied as he continued to hand out everyone’s test results. Rikoto put his test under his books as he opened up his notebook. He looked over at Roger, who was staring stupidly at the back of a blonde girl’s head. His eyes were barely open and drool was practically oozing from the corner of his mouth. Rikoto waved his hand up and down in front of Roger’s face with no luck. Throughout the entire class Roger’s pencil never touched his paper, and since he was seated in the middle of the room behind the blonde girl, Prof. John didn’t pay much, if any, attention to him. When the bell rang and everyone left the room Rikoto slapped Roger in the back of the head, bringing him out of the trance he was in. “You’ve gotta stopped fantasizing about you and Ashley in the top of a tree, Roger. I'm getting tired of copying my notes for you,” he said. He handed Roger a napkin for the drool before they went to the next class.

Rikoto walked over to Tony’s Pizzeria and sat down in his usual place. Just then, Ashley walked up to take his order. “Well, if it isn’t my favorite customer. How are you doing, Rikoto?” she said. “I’m fine Ashley, how about you?” Rikoto asked. “I’m okay, but Mom wants to know if you’re ever going to ask me out. I’ve told her we weren’t together like that but you know how she is,” she giggled. “Well, tell her I’ll take you to see a movie. We don’t really have to do that, unless there’s a show you want to see,” Rikoto replied. “So, I guess you’ll have the usual?” she asked. Rikoto nodded, smiling at her as she walked off. A few minutes later, Ashley took her break and sat with Rikoto. “So how is Roger doing?” she asked. “He’s still trying to get me with the girl at Rick’s Bowling Alley,” Rikoto replied. “The Christmas dance will be here in a month, have you thought about who you want to go with?”

“No one in particular, but I would like to go with either you or Roger. I only go with friends.”

“You really like him don’t you?”

“Well, I mean, he’s cute. And I think he is lonely.”

“I’ll see if I can get him to ask you out. I can’t promise anything though, because he still . . . who am I kidding? I’ll convince him.”

“Thanks, you’re a good friend, considering the fact that I had to fall into your arms just to meet you.”

“You fell on my back because you weren’t watching where your feet were going.”

“Does it really matter? All I'm saying is if I hadn’t fallen in your arms –”

“– on my back.”

“We might never have met, and we never would’ve become friends. So, are you coming to the dance at all?”

“Ashley, we both know the answer to that one; what would I gain from going to a dance at night? Anyway, I gotta go, my shift is about to start. I’ll see you tomorrow. Tell your mom I said hi for me.”

Later that night, a young woman was walking home when she noticed a group of men following her. There were about five of them maybe, but she couldn’t be sure. She sped up her pace, and they did the same until she started to run. Finally, she turned into an alley, but by the time she realized it was a dead end she was cornered. “Well, look here boys, we’ve got a visitor in Power City,” said the man in front. “Please, don’t hurt me,” she said in fear. “We just want to see what you’ve got under your clothes.” Before they got a chance to lay a finger on her, something pulled one of the men into the shadows, startling the others. “Who’s there?” one gang member asked, pulling out a gun. Eventually, the same man who was pulled into the shadows was thrown on the ground. He looked as if he had witnessed something horrifying, his eyes were big, unblinking as he stared into the darkness of the night sky. The others tried to make him say something but he couldn’t talk, whether the thing he saw scared him too much or he was trying to catch his breath from the impact on the floor of the dark alley. Suddenly, the man with the gun just started firing it towards the shadowy walls, thinking he would hit whoever or whatever was hiding in them. As soon as the man’s gun was empty, a black shadow jumped from the darkness and disarmed the man and knocked him unconscious, then moved on to the others until finally the only ones left standing was the girl. As the police arrived, the young woman turned to see who or what had just saved her, but it was gone.

At Power City University the next morning, Rikoto had a strange feeling during class. “Class,” he said, “we have a new student from Chicago. Say hello to Delilah Hope.” “That’s Delilah? She looks so grown up,” Rikoto muttered to himself, looking at the brown haired little girl he knew when he was a kid. “Let’s see,” said Prof. John, interrupting Rikoto’s concentration. “Ah, here’s you a spot right next to Mr. Sakuro. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.” “Until sunset anyway,” said Craig. “That’s enough Craig,” said Prof. John. After class, Craig didn’t seem to waste any time to get his arm around Delilah’s shoulder. “Hey, baby, how are you doing? A couple of my friends and I were just going to the park, do you want to tag along?” he asked. Rikoto stood a few feet away, watching and listening to the conversation that was disgusting him in every way. Anything Craig Kindle and his gang did disgusted everyone: Rikoto was just the only one who said it to their faces. “No thanks, I don’t go out with football players,” Delilah said, taking Craig’s arm and returning it to him in a manner that irritated him. When he grabbed her by the arm, Rikoto finally intervened. “Craig, leave her be, or I’ll make you.” “You think you can make me do something, freak, then why don’t you try it,” Craig answered as his ‘buddies’ formed a circle around the spiky haired young man like wolves around their prey.

Before anything could start in the hall a short balding black man wearing a shirt and tie walked out of his office to observe the situation. “Is there a problem here, boys?” he asked. Startled by the principal, Craig let Delilah go and went his way, shooting Rikoto an ugly look. Rikoto didn’t stop staring at Craig until his buddies followed him down the crowded hall. As he turned and began walking to his locker, Delilah walked up beside him. “Sorry about Craig, he’s a real pain.” Rikoto said, startling her. “Oh, don’t mention it,” she said, “I got that a lot back in Chicago. I’m used to it.” Once they got to the lockers, Rikoto noticed they were ‘locker buddies’ as Roger would’ve said. “Oh, I can’t get my locker to open, it must be stuck.” she huffed. “Mind if I try?” he asked, “It did this with the last guy. You gotta press hard against the lower hinge when you open it.” “Thanks,” she said, “It’s Rikoto right?” “Yeah, I know it’s a weird name,” Rikoto replied, “I’m the only one here who can spell it right.” “I think it’s a nice name,” she said. “You look familiar, have we met before?” “Yeah, we were friends in elementary school,” Rikoto answered. “Well, I’m on my way to the cafeteria to meet a friend of mine; you can come if you want to or you can stay here and continue being flirted with.” “That’s right, now I remember!” Delilah exclaimed excitedly. She ran up beside him and smiled at him. “How have you been, Rikoto? The last time I saw you, we had to say good-bye to each other. Remember?”

They had almost reached the doors to the loud lunchroom when they ran into Roger. “Hey Rikoto, who’s your friend?” he asked, looking like he fell on a food tray. “Hey Roger,” Rikoto replied. “This is Delilah Hope, the new girl here at Power City University. Delilah, this is Roger.” “Hi Roger, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Delilah said. “The pleasure is all mine,” replied Roger. “Oh, that reminds me,” he added. “Rikoto, have you found a date to the Christmas dance yet?” “No I’m not going to the dance. We’ve discussed this before,” Rikoto said. Delilah had walked in the ladies room when Roger suggested that Rikoto ask her to the dance which he disagreed with him completely because he had work to do that night.

After lunch, Roger, Delilah, and Rikoto were headed to the library when Roger broke the silence. “Delilah, would you like to attend the Christmas dance with Rikoto?” Roger, don’t you dare do it! Rikoto thought to himself, but aimed it toward Roger. “I would love to go with him, but is he asking or are you asking for him?” she asked. “He’s asking for me,” Rikoto answered with an irritated voice. “But it’s not the first time this has happened. Besides, I’ve already got something to take care of that night anyway.” “Oh, okay. Maybe next time then,” she replied. “Could I help you with that something?” “No . . . it’s not exactly something you could help me with,” he answered. “Well, how about dinner sometime?” she asked as she twirled her hair around her fingers. This girl doesn’t quit does she? “Yeah . . . I guess I could find an open spot for dinner,” Rikoto huffed, regretting his answer. “Great! You can pick me up at seven o’clock for the dance,” Delilah said with a huge smile. When she started walking away, Roger leaned over to Rikoto, whose jaw had just dropped, and whispered, “It looks like I’ll be seeing you at the dance. She should’ve come here years ago”. Rikoto shot him a look and followed Delilah, leaving Roger by himself as he muttered to himself then ran after the two. “So how have you been since you went to Chicago?” Rikoto asked. “I’ve been okay; I wish there was something more I could’ve done when your parents died though,” Delilah answered, adjusting the grip on her books. They walked around the corner and Roger nearly got hit in the face with the door to the home-economics room, being stopped by Rikoto. “Well, this is my class, so I guess I’ll see you later, Rikoto. It was nice again to meet you Roger,” Delilah said as she walked around the open door and disappeared behind it as it closed. Rikoto then decided to walk toward his next class.

“I like your friend back there. She knows how to trick someone,” Roger said as the two were walking toward the gymnasium. “Don’t get used to it, because it won’t last for long,” Rikoto said. Roger dropped his smile to a frown as the door opened and the two walked in. There, they saw Ashley, who was playing volleyball with other girls. “Aren’t you going to ask Ashley if she’ll go to the dance with you, she’s right over there,” Rikoto said, putting his gym bag down in the boys’ locker room. “She’s probably going with Craig, so I won’t bother,” Roger said nervously. “You and I both know she’s a cheerleader. Cheerleaders always hang out with football players.” “Not all of them,” Rikoto muttered to himself as he wrapped black bandages around his hands. “Come on, you’re hitting the mat first.”

The two young men walked out of the locker room and headed straight for the boxing mat, only to meet Craig and his gang between them. Craig was wearing a pair of white jogging pants along with a black karate belt. “Hey freak, I didn’t know you were boxing. Oh well, at least I get to kick the snot out of you both,” he said with a mean-looking grin on his face. “We’re not fighting you Craig, I’m showing Roger how to defend himself from jerks like you,” Rikoto answered, putting his hand on Roger’s shoulder rather hard, keeping his friend from trying something stupid (like hitting Craig in the face). Stepping into the ring, Rikoto picked up some mitts and stood in defense position while Roger put on a pair of boxing gloves and began punching which ever mitt Rikoto held up. “Anyone could do that,” Craig said to his buddies. “Come on Roger, hit it hard, like it’s Craig you’re hitting,” Rikoto said, trying to make his friend hit harder. Craig shot them both a look that meant he heard the insult. He picked up a basketball and threw it, aiming for Rikoto’s head. “Rikoto look out!” Ashley yelled from the center of the gym. Rikoto did a back flip to dodge it and kicked it back toward Craig, barely missing him and landing in the trash can. He looked around and noticed everyone’s eyes were on him. Crap, he thought. He didn’t need to do anything like that. “I think that’s enough for today, Roger; we’ll finish up tomorrow . . . at my place,” Rikoto said as he took off the mitts.

After all their classes were over and everyone packed up to go home Rikoto was the last one to leave the university as usual, thinking something might hold him back: he looked around to see if he was really alone and walked back to his house like he always did to drop off his books, then headed to the garage to work on a project only he and Roger knew about. Roger showed up shortly after he had uncovered the project. “Whew, I swear; every time we work on this thing I think it comes to life,” he said as he admired it; shortly after finding one, Rikoto had bought a nineteen-sixty-nine ford mustang GT and ever since then had been working on it, hoping to get it up and running. “So, where do we start today?” Roger asked him. Rikoto tossed him a wrench. “We start where we left off: you on the under carriage and me on the engine.”

They had started on it only for about half an hour when Roger broke the silence (other than their occasional asking for tools and parts). “So, how do you know Delilah anyway?” Stunned but also unsurprised by the question, Rikoto stopped turning his wrench for a second then continued working as he spoke. “I met her in elementary school. We were best friends until she left with her dad for Chicago. She’s written to me for a year or so but I guess she eventually forgot about me or something because she stopped writing,” he answered as he glanced at the blueprints of their project again. “Shortly before she left . . . my parents died. But I’m fine now, and I was shocked to see her again after so many years. Then again, she did promise she’d come back.”

They had spent probably an hour or two on their project when they put it on pause until next Tuesday and Roger walked home. Out of nowhere came Ashley wearing her uniform from the pizzeria looking exhausted. “What’s wrong Ashley, is Tony’s doing delivery services now?” Rikoto asked, watching Ashley continue to huff as she tried to catch her breath. “No, but I got a message for you. Some guy gave it to me and asked to deliver it to you as soon as possible,” Ashley said as she pulled out a small yellow envelope and handed it to Rikoto. “Hmm, this is interesting; did he tell you his name or anything?” Rikoto asked even though he knew the answer already. “No he didn’t,” Ashley answered. “Well, I guess you’ll want to be alone so I’ll see you later okay? About the movie – you can pick me up a seven.” And Ashley walked home, muttering to herself as she went. Rikoto stared at the package and wondered what it could be. Should he take it to Chief Williams in case it’s something dangerous? He decided to go with his gut and take it inside with him, because if someone wanted Ashley to give it to him then it should only be him to see what’s inside. He took it in and opened the envelope, holding it upside down so the contents can slide out onto the coffee table next to his chess set. Everything that fell was a note. He read it carefully over and over again, trying to decode what it meant. He looked in the envelope again to see if there was anything else in it, pulling out part of a newspaper. He looked at the date of publishing and found it was from 1985. What would a twenty-five year old paper have to do with him, this was before his time. He read the portion of the paper he had carefully.

                                DARK PHANTOM SAVES GIRL FROM BURNING CAR

In light of what seemed like an impossible job for the Power City fire department, people watched in fear and amazement as the Dark Phantom lunged himself into the small gap between the collided vehicles and pushed the pickup truck out of the way and ripped off the driver side door of the smaller car. As he carried the high school student to safety firefighters continued their attempt to extinguish the fire erupting from the front of the car with little success. Without hesitating, the black figure ran back to the vehicle that looked like it could explode at any moment and pulled out an infant from the back seat just in time. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it until I saw a black figure pull me out,” said Lorena Tamelle, the driver of the car, “I was just on my way to the Robinsons to drop off their daughter when it happened. I’m just happy everyone survived the accident.” The masked hero remains known to no one but himself, but the chief of police says “as long as he continues to save people, he could be my next door neighbor for all I care. He’s doing a great job helping this city and I hope he never stops.” “The city needs more people like the Dark Phantom,” said another police officer.

                Rikoto read the piece of paper two more times before he finally grasped the meaning. There had been at least one other Dark Phantom in the past before now. Roger would be interested in this, but why had he received it? Pacing back and forth in the living room, Rikoto continued to try to understand the point of the envelope. He finally decided to take a cold shower when the phone rang. “Hello? Oh, hey Delilah,” he said as he answered it, “go see a movie? Uh . . . I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it tonight, sorry. No I’ll be working on a project with Roger next Tuesday as well. Okay, bye.” He hung up the phone and continued his way upstairs to the shower, hoping the cold water might take some tension off his headache. Later as he slept that night he thought about the letter he got from whoever sent it. Who would send him something Roger collects every time the paper mentions something about the Dark Phantom? Unless, they know and they’re letting him know it could be arriving in tomorrow’s edition for everyone to read. He tossed and turned in his bed, thinking about the mysterious man who sent the envelope, and then his parents’ murderer. As he began to doze off, his train of thought came to a halt and changed course to Delilah, how she looks now, and still seems like the little seven year old girl he cared deeply for. Why had she really come back to Mankato, and why in the world did he decline her invitation to watch a movie with her? He could’ve accepted her offer and they might’ve talked about what happened in their separation. He felt like an idiot, but he must’ve had a good reason for it surely.

Chapter 3

The next morning as Rikoto took his normal route to the university he ran into Roger, struggling with his backpack. “Hey Roger, need some help?” he said, getting his friend’s attention. “Hey Rikoto, no I’m fine if I can get this report into my bag,” Roger said. After helping him get situated, the two friends walked down the noisy boulevard until they came to a halt at the traffic light. “Oh, before I forget, here’s you another clipping for your ‘wall of the Phantom.’ Honestly, I just don’t get why you’re so fascinated with him, especially when I thought you liked Ashley,” Rikoto said as he handed the twenty-five year old paper to Roger. “Somebody needs to start a fan club about him, and I don’t see anyone else volunteering,” Roger answered, examining the paper with curiosity. He held it up to the sunlight as if checking to see if it was a fake or not. “Hey boys, morning Rikoto,” said a voice behind them which Rikoto recognized immediately as Delilah. Turning to face her, he tried to put on a smile. “Hey Delilah, how did you sleep last night?” he asked in an attempt to sound kind. “I slept great thanks, so when do you suppose we could catch a movie, preferably when you’re not busy,” she answered, still smiling. “Where did you get that idea Delilah, Rikoto is never –” Roger said, catching Rikoto’s eye before going on, “uh . . . free . . . for anything. But I’m sure he could squeeze in enough time for a movie, especially for an old friend like you.” The traffic light had just turned green when he finished and Rikoto was almost half way across the street when Delilah ran beside him, leaving Roger in the back with his new clipping for his wall. “That’s great, if you can find time after all,” Delilah said, delighted in the false news Roger gave her. “Where did you find this clipping, Rikoto? I don’t remember hearing about the Dark Phantom when we were kids,” Roger said as he finally caught up with the two. “Someone sent it to me yesterday when you left my place,” he answered.

They finally arrived at the university when Rikoto heard the five-minute bell. “Well, this is it. I guess I’ll see you in biotech, Delilah,” Rikoto said as he and Roger left her in the hall. When they were far enough away Roger asked, “Dude, what is up with you? Ever since yesterday when you introduced me to Delilah you’ve been evasive of her, what did she do to you that made you this way?”

“I just don’t feel like hanging around her okay? It’s not important –”

“‘It’s not important’? You’re the one trying to get me to ask a girl to the Christmas dance when at the same you are trying to avoid an old friend from your childhood.”

“Let it go Roger, it’s my business to take care of. And I told Ashley I would get you to ask her to the dance; she really wants to go, but only with someone she knows and likes; someone like me or you.”

In the gym, Rikoto and Roger were in the boxing ring when Delilah showed up with her head in a cooking book. “Psst, Rikoto, don’t look now, but there’s Delilah again. I swear it’s like she can find you with a GPS,” Roger said, wiping his face with a towel. “Yeah, I’m starting to wonder that myself,” Rikoto said to Roger then turning to address Delilah when she put the book down. “How do you keep finding me, Delilah?” “I thought you would be in here since you’re a boy. All the boys in Chicago went to the gym,” Delilah said as she placed her book in her bag. “Well, as long as you’re in here, I want you to meet someone I know,” Rikoto said, taking Delilah’s arm and walking toward the center of the gym floor where the girls were playing volleyball. “Ashley, could you come here for a moment please?” he asked as the bright blond haired girl wearing navy blue shorts and a white t-shirt turned to see who had called her. “Oh, hi Rikoto, what’s up? I’ll be right back Cari Ann,” Ashley said, walking up to him with Delilah at his side. “I just wanted you to meet an old friend of mine,” Rikoto said. “Ashley, this is Delilah Hope; Delilah, this is Ashley Swene.” “Hi, it’s great to finally meet you Delilah. Rikoto has told me so much about you,” Ashley said, sounding as cheerful as if she was proposed to. “Oh really, well I guess I’m flattered about that,” Delilah said, bewildered of whether she should be glad of the news or embarrassed. Looking at Rikoto’s face Ashley thought quickly and said, “So, would you like to play some volleyball with us? We’re a little uneven at the moment and could really use another player.” “Uh . . . sure why not, that is if it’s all right with you Rikoto . . . . Rikoto? Where did he go?” Delilah replied, looking around to see where he went.

Back in the boys locker room Roger was putting his stuff in his bag when Rikoto showed up, looking over his shoulder every few seconds. “Good grief, this chick really that annoying?” Roger asked, tying his shoes. “No, I’m just trying not to get attached to her again, and this is the hardest way,” Rikoto answered, closing the door. “I’ll say, you look dumber every day when you think you’ve lost her. On a scale of one to ten, how close were the two of you?” Roger asked in curiosity.

“Some people would’ve probably said we were about a nine.”

“Yep, you’re stuck with her my friend.”

Just then, the door opened. One of Rikoto and Roger’s fellow students at the university walked in carrying a bag full of basketballs, looking like he had climbed a mountain with them. “Hey guys,” he grunted, struggling with the basketballs. “Hey Jim, let me help you with that,” Rikoto said as he grabbed part of the net like bag. “Thanks. The coach thinks that for some odd reason the university needed more basketballs. If you ask me I think he is a complete nut case,” Jim said as he and Rikoto and Roger put the balls on the racks. “Well, the ladder from last year would explain everything since it knocked him out cold. We’ll see you later Jim,” Roger said, walking out of the locker room with Rikoto behind him.

After successfully sneaking past Delilah in the gym Rikoto and Roger were walking in the hall toward their lockers when the speakers came on, screeching in everyone’s ears at first. “Rikoto, please come to the principal’s office immediately, thank you,” said Principal George’s voice from the speakers. “What did you do?” Roger said as he tinkered with his combination lock. “Don’t know, but I guess I better go and find out. We’re still going to Tony’s right? I will see you there. Don’t wait for me,” Rikoto said, walking further down the hall to the principal’s office. He knocked on the door two times when a voice inside said, “It’s open,” and walked in the room. “You wanted to see me sir?” he asked. “Ah yes, Rikoto, please sit down. Can I offer you a soda or something?” Principal George said, getting up from his desk and walking over to a small refrigerator and opened it. Rikoto shook his head. This had been the first time he had come in here since he enrolled himself into the university; there were photos on the walls: a bookshelf stood in the left-hand corner packed with books: an out-dated calendar hung on the opposite wall. On his desk were several stacks of papers, along with a desk lamp. “I called you in here because I wanted to talk to you about what you might want to do for an occupation in later years,” the principal began, opening his drink. “From what I understand from your teachers, you have been keeping your grades up surprisingly well, except for one or two pop quizzes which are understandable, but they never dropped dramatically. From their descriptions, you could be the next Albert Einstein if you’re not already.” He chuckled a little but Rikoto kept his straight face. “Anyway, what is it that you think you might like to do?” Rikoto sat there thinking for a few seconds, perhaps a few minutes. Finally he said, “I don’t really know what I want to do yet. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to think it over for a few days and get back to you.” The principal nodded. “Well, now that we have settled that discussion, I want to talk about what happened yesterday. When Craig’s friends made a circle around you, you didn’t even blink, why is that?”

“My dad taught me to never show any sign of fear. As you might have noticed over the past two years I’ve been here, I’ve never started any fights, nor have I ever stood around and watched as someone got bullied.”

“Yes I’ve certainly noticed that quite a lot. You show a great deal of bravery. I’ve also noticed you’ve volunteered in several occasions: preparations for dances, parties, and you’ve even helped out when younger students from other lower grade schools have visited, but you never attended a dance or party. You’ve even instructed other students here whenever a teacher couldn’t oversee some of those preparations for one thing or another, but you never attended. Forgive my curiosity, but I would like to know why.”

“I’ve been busy those times. I work part-time as a mechanic and sometimes I do a little overtime.”

“You’ve also declined any rewards we’ve offered you for your help. Whenever you had an opportunity to be a leader in one of this university’s youth groups you declined it.”

“I don’t want anything for helping around here, and I don’t think I would be a good leader. I’d rather be the led than the leader.”

“Well, a lot of your fellow students could learn something from you. Everyone has the qualities of a leader, Rikoto, but most of them blind themselves with those qualities. You on the other hand, would rather be put under leadership of another, and that is why you would be a great leader yourself. I don’t know if it’s in any of your future plans or not, but if you ever decide you want to be the next president of the United States, you’ve definitely got my vote.”

Just then, the final bell rang and the two heard footsteps and people talking outside. Noticing what time it was, Principal George said, “Well, that’s all I wanted to talk about. I’m sorry it took so long. You can see yourself out.” He had just gotten to the door when the principal added, “By the way, is there a love in your life?” “No sir, I don’t really have time for love,” Rikoto answered. Walking out of the principal’s office, he was greeted by Roger. “So, what did he want? You’re not in trouble are you?” Roger said, adjusting his book bag strap. “Actually, it was the opposite. He wanted to discuss my plans for the future. I thought I told you not to wait for me,” Rikoto said. “Rikoto, there you are. I couldn’t find you anywhere until I heard that the principal wanted to see you,” said Delilah as she caught up to them outside Principal George's office. “Well, Roger and I were just on our way to Tony’s Pizzeria. Just out of curiosity, you wouldn’t by any chance think you might want to come along, would you?” Rikoto asked, hoping for Delilah to say no. Instead, she cheerfully said, “I’d love to.” and there was nothing he could do to keep her from joining them as they left for the pizzeria.

A little later, Rikoto, Delilah, and Roger were almost at Tony’s Pizzeria when a man walked up to them. “Please help me, he’s after me for witnessing it,” he said. “What? What are you talking about?” Rikoto asked as the man fell to his knees. “He is after me. I witnessed something I shouldn’t have seen,” the man repeated. “What did you witness?” Delilah said, a little scared at the moment.

“The Sakuros’ deaths. I saw him kill them, the poor souls he took that night.”

“You witnessed their deaths? What does their killer look like? Please, tell me who he is,” Rikoto said, begging the panicking man. But he had already run across the street, nearly getting hit by a car. Rikoto started to run after him, but was stopped by a white haired man behind him. “Hold it, Rikoto!” he said, letting go of Rikoto when he looked back. “Who are you?” Delilah asked when she examined the tall slender man wearing a pair of tan dress pants and a grey t-shirt. “My name is Sakrone, and what in the world were you thinking, Rikoto, running into the street,” the man answered. Rikoto looked at him, then shook his hand off his shoulder and began to walk away. “You stay away from me,” he said, motioning the other two to follow him down the street.

 “So, you’ve got these weird abilities that make you different and you’ve been hiding them from people?” she asked. “Yeah, I said you wouldn’t want to learn more about me; I guess I was right,” he answered. “No actually you’re wrong,” she insisted. “I’m glad you told me this because now I know why you didn’t want to attend the dance. You’re scared of getting close to me if you went and if something came up you would have to leave me there by myself for the rest of the night.” When Rikoto heard Delilah say that he wondered if Roger figured that out and didn’t say anything about it or if he was just as clueless as she was before he told her the truth. “So, what are we getting?” asked Roger when he got back. Just before they debated on what they wanted, Ashley walked up to their table and asked, “Are you guys ready to order yet?” “Yeah,” Rikoto answered, “we would like a pepperoni and sausage pizza please.” “Ashley Swene? What are you doing here?” asked Roger. “I’m a waitress here,” Ashley said, “can’t you tell?” After she walked away, Roger asked, “Why didn’t you tell me the hottest girl in college worked here, Rikoto?” “I did,” Rikoto answered, “but you were in another world with Ashley in your head during trigonometry. Pull your head out of the clouds once in a while would you?” When she got back with the pizza, Rikoto asked her how her mother was feeling. “Oh she’s doing great,” Ashley replied, “thanks for asking, Rikoto.”

On the way home the girls wanted to stop at the shoe store while the guys went in the tool shop. “Well, if it isn’t my little brother. How you been, Roger?” said a tall redheaded man resembling Roger a little. “Hey Bill, we’re just looking around until the girls get done in the shoe store,” Roger said. “Let me guess which one is yours: the brunette? No, it must be the blonde chick,” Bill replied, looking across the street. “Neither. Roger hasn’t asked Ashley to the dance yet, and the brunette is . . .,” Rikoto said.

“Interested in you?”

Rikoto ignored him and went to the back of the store, not paying any attention to Roger and Bill. “Hey Rikoto, I got that part you asked about. Do you want me to get it for you?” Bill asked. Rikoto shook his head and went back to his own thoughts. He thought about what Bill said to him; why would Delilah be interested in him? It might make sense if Ashley had a sort of crush on him, but Delilah had just got back from Chicago. His father did tell him there would be a day when girls would start being attracted to him; but then why hadn’t any other girls (except for Rebecca at the bowling alley) been getting close to him like the way Delilah had? He wasn’t that handsome surely, especially since he had a scar over one of his eyes. There weren’t that many girls at the university who liked scarred guys.

The door opened and Rikoto could hear ruffling footsteps against the ground. He knew in an instant who had just come in; he walked to the front of the shop and bid Sergeant Trey a good evening. “Good evening, Rikoto. I just came in for a car jack for my wife,” he said in a hoarse voice. “That depends on the kind of jack you want. Is the jack for your wife, or her car?” Bill asked. “Sometimes I wonder that myself,” the sergeant replied. The door opened again and Delilah and Ashley came through it. “There you are. Come on, let’s go,” Delilah said, taking Rikoto’s hand. He looked back and saw the sergeant and Bill both looking at him funny. Rikoto looked behind him as they walked, confused whether he should see someone following them. “Something wrong Rikoto?” Roger asked in a low voice. “I don’t know. I’ve got this strange feeling we’re being followed.” “It’s probably nothing,” Roger said. Rikoto nodded in agreement but continued to look back every few seconds. Finally, he broke off from the other three and quietly slid into the alley they passed and waited for a minute. He listened closely and heard footsteps creaking slowly and silently up the street, stopping and starting again. He waited another few seconds until the man passed him then grabbed him and dragged him into the alley. “Why were you following us?” he asked the man. “I’m supposed to give Rikoto Sakuro this package,” the man said, pulling an envelope out of his coat. “I’ll give it to him,” Rikoto answered, taking the envelope from the man and releasing him. The man pulled his hood back over his head and walked off in the other direction. Rikoto snuck back with his friends without the girls even noticing. He slid the envelope into his jacket pocket and pretended he never left. “What’s in the package?” Roger asked, noticing the envelope. “Don’t know, but I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Rikoto replied, covering it with his hand.

After everyone went their separate ways, Rikoto ran home with nothing on his mind except for what might be in the package. He slammed the front door and locked it, then cut the envelope open and took the contents out, checking for anything else in it before looking at what he already pulled out. It was the same as before: a short letter and an old, yellow-faded newspaper clipping talking about another Dark Phantom. This clipping talked about the masked figure’s outbreak that nearly destroyed the city. He then read the letter, but he recognized the hand-writing this time – his mother’s hand-writing. It was a love letter addressed to his father. He hadn’t visited their graves in a few years, after thinking about it for a while. Maybe he should do it in a day or two?

It was the month of December and the snow had started coming down in handfuls. Snow plows were rolling up and down the streets: joggers were coming outside less often: and the pond in the park was frozen solid. There were two days left before the Christmas dance and Roger had asked every girl in Power City University to go with him and every time he was rejected, partly because they were already asked by someone else. Coming from the library, the two walked to the cafeteria when Roger started freaking out. “I think I’m losing it, Rikoto. I don’t have a date to the dance, I’m too freakin’ scared to ask another girl, and I . . . I . . . I,” he said quickly, his words becoming more blurred by the second. Finally, Rikoto grabbed Roger by the arm and slapped him in the face, saying, “Snap out of it! You’re going crazy. You’re overreacting about something so stupid that it’s made you stu–” Roger slapped Rikoto back, and Rikoto slapped Roger again, much harder this time.

At lunch, Rikoto told him to ask Ashley out to prom because no one had asked her yet. “What if she says no?” Roger asked. “I doubt that she will reject you Roger,” Rikoto answered. “The only people who know where she disappears to are me, you, and Delilah. Besides, I’m friends with her and she told me she liked you a lot. Just ask her if she will go to dance with you . . . or I will.” “Alright,” he agreed, “I’ll ask her today at Tony’s.” Rikoto slammed his hands on the table in frustration. He wanted to slap him again, but didn’t feel like it this time. “That’s it, you leave me no choice,” Rikoto said as he got from his seat. Clueless, Roger tried to figure out what Rikoto meant while he walked over to Ashley and invited her to their table so she won’t be lonely all the time. When Roger saw what he was doing, he was seconds away from punching him in the mouth. Instead, he kept his mouth shut about it and sat across from Ashley. Finally, Rikoto threatened to ask her for him, so Roger decided to spare himself the embarrassment and said, rather quickly and stupidly, “Ashley, would you the Christmas ants with me?” “What did you ask?” Rikoto asked him, puzzled but also amused at the question. “I’d love to go with you,” she answered. “Great. So I’ll pick you up at 7:30?” he replied. Rikoto glanced at Ashley for a second, just long enough to see her face brighten; then, he turned to Roger who dropped his head, passed out on the table. “Should we do something?” Ashley asked when she noticed her new date hadn’t moved for nearly a minute. Rikoto shook his head. “I think he fried his brain trying to properly ask you out to the dance. I’m surprised he managed a time he’d pick you up at.” He poked at Roger a few times, making sure he wasn’t dead.

Later that day, while the girls went to pick out what they would wear for the dance, the boys went to get Roger a tuxedo. “What? You don’t have a tux?” Roger asked, shocked at Rikoto. “No, I don’t have a tuxedo. Would you like to close your mouth now, your breath stinks,” Rikoto answered. “Okay, after we find something for me, we’ll head to your place and see what you do have,” Roger replied.

At Rikoto’s place, he and Roger were searching in the closet for something for him to wear at the dance. They went through many things until finally all that was left was Rikoto’s best black pants with a matching dress shirt and leather jacket. “Well, it’s not a tux, but it is your best suit of clothes in your closet. Plus, it makes you look like the cool guy from Happy Days,” Roger said with a small grin. “Thanks Roger, I feel a lot better now that you’re criticizing the fact that I’ve never had use of a shirt and tie in several years. This is one reason why I didn’t want to go to the stupid dance,” Rikoto replied.

“So I wouldn’t talk about your wardrobe?”

“The fact that I didn’t have a suit.”

“Okay, so what’s the other reason?”

“Delilah is my friend. I didn’t want to go on a date with my friend. How would you feel if me and you….”

“Agh!! Okay, okay, I get it. Just don’t gross me out like that again.”

Meanwhile, at Delilah’s house, she and Ashley were getting to know each other after Rikoto introduced them at the university. “So how was Chicago?”Ashley asked. “Oh it was great. But it’s nice to be back at home,” Delilah replied, “Roger seems like a nice guy, do you ‘like’ him?” Ashley blushed before answering, “Yeah, I guess I do like him. I also like Rikoto, but we’re just friends. He’s told me a lot about you though. It’s almost like I’ve known you for years.” They both laughed until Delilah’s father knocked on the door. “Delilah, I’m going to a convention out of town in a few days. You’ll need to find someone to live with while I’m away,” he said. “Okay Dad,” Delilah replied. “Oh, I love that locket you’re wearing. Did Rikoto give it to you?” Ashley asked, pointing to the heart-shaped gold locket around Delilah’s neck. “Yeah, he gave it to me for Christmas when we were kids. It was so sweet. Here, take a look inside it,” Delilah insisted. Inside, there was a picture of Delilah on one side and a picture of Rikoto on the other. “Aw, Rikoto was cute back then. This must have been before he got the scar over his eye,” Ashley said. “You two probably had a nickname in school didn’t you?”

“Everyone called us ‘love bugs’ because we were so little and we were always together.”

“I bet he was always nice around you.”

“Come to think of it, he was except for this one time. Anyway, when did you meet him?” Delilah asked, putting a short blue dress back in her closet. “I met him in high school. We were having a prom and I was on a ladder putting up bows when my foot slipped. Luckily he was standing there in time to catch me. Well, actually I fell on top of him,” Ashley answered as she looked at the next dress that Delilah pulled out when she hung it in front of her. She shook her head at the choice and Delilah put it away. “Well, he caught you either way you look at it, whether you fell on him or he caught you in his arms,” Delilah said in her opinion. “I know, right! But try telling him that.”

Just then the door opened and in walked Mr. Dwain, looking like he did twelve years ago with a few more wrinkles here and there: his hair was starting to show strands of grey in a couple of places. “Delilah, I was just skimming through my closet when I found this in it. It was your mother’s and I thought she would like you to wear it to the dance,” he said as he held up a white dress laced with little pink roses around the waist and making a heart on the chest. “Oh wow, it’s beautiful,” Delilah said softly as she took it slowly and gently as if it would dissolve in her hands. She twirled with it, looked into the mirror, and saw the eye-blinding beauty standing there. She began to cry a little as she hugged her father and said, “Thank you Dad; it’s perfect.” “You look just like your mother,” Mr. Dwain said when he gazed into Delilah’s tearful eyes. “Well, I guess I’ll leave you two alone now.” He shut the door behind him and left the girls alone to admire the pretty white dress. “I think you’re gonna be the prettiest girl at the dance with this dress” Ashley said, feeling of the material it was made of. “When I was a little girl my mother and I used to play dress up and she’d wear this dress every time. She looked so beautiful in it that she had someone make me one, but instead of wearing it when we played dress up I wore it to her funeral,” Delilah said as she sat down on the bed. Getting up after sitting for an hour or two Ashley stretched and said, “I need to be going. It’s getting late.” and left the room and went home, leaving Delilah alone with her mother’s dress.

That night as Rikoto lay in his bed he thought about whether he was doing the right thing about him avoiding Delilah like he has tried to do for the past few weeks. Finally he fell asleep, finding himself in a field of black roses. Unlike the other dreams he has had in the past, he could smell the roses and feel the wind blow across his face. He looked around until he saw a woman walking up to him. He couldn’t make out her face ‘til she was feet from him. It was Delilah he was seeing in the field with him: she wore a pink buttoned shirt with a white knee-length skirt. She was smiling at him when she walked closer toward him, holding her hand out to him. “Take my hand Rikoto, please,” she said. “Delilah, what are you doing here?” he asked her, but when she opened her mouth to answer he heard his alarm clock go off, waking him up.

As he was getting ready for his classes he looked out the window to find no roads or cars outside. “Hmm, the snow must’ve come down pretty hard last night,” he said to himself, fixing a cup of tea. As he watched the snow continue to fall he noticed the mailman walking toward the front door. “Ah, good morning Rikoto, beautiful day isn’t it?” the mailman said, greeting Rikoto at the door to hand him the mail. “Yeah, I guess it is. Hey Bob, any idea whether the university will be open today?” Rikoto asked. “No, but it will be tomorrow, especially since the Christmas dance is scheduled already. I hear you’ll be attending it this year, what changed your mind? Did you finally find a girl you liked up there?” Bob answered, unfolding a grin. “Have a nice day, Bob,” Rikoto said as he closed the door. He sat down at the kitchen table and opened the newspaper, as black and white as it always was, showing the mayor’s re-election, deaths and accidents if any, and on the first page (like all the other thousand or more past papers), a photo of the Dark Phantom. Although amused that the media somehow always managed to get a picture of the cloaked hero, he was starting to get bored with the front page and skipped it most of the time.

Chapter 4

Walking down the snow covered street, he continued to read the paper, this time reading the classifieds to see if Roger had finally come to his senses and decided to get rid of his ‘wall of the Phantom’ as he called it. Eventually he found himself at Tony's Pizzeria. He went inside to find the place completely changed: each table was decorated with a green and red tablecloth with a candle in the center of each, and above them were mistletoes: the waitresses were dressed like elves and the cashier looked like Santa Claus. He looked back to make sure he was in the same pizzeria he had always walked into daily and finally deciding he had, took his normal seat. “Hey Rikoto, can you believe the weather today?” asked an elf that walked up to him. He looked up from his paper and saw Ashley, dressed from head to foot in green and red clothing with bells on her shoes. Trying not to laugh, he answered, “Hey . . . Ashley, yeah the weather is . . . pretty white today.” “Go ahead and laugh, all my other customers have so far,” she said as she adjusted her ridiculous elf hat that appeared to be too big for her. “I’ll go ahead and get you the usual. Well, well, look who it is – your girlfriend, Delilah. I think I’ll double that order.” And Ashley walked away, her shoes jingling all the way to the back as she went. “Good morning, Rikoto, nice weather isn’t it?” Delilah said as she sat next to him, taking off an old winter coat that fell to her ankles. “Are you following me or something? I could swear I saw nobody behind me when I walked in here,” Rikoto said as he continued to read his paper again. “No, but I thought you might be here, and everywhere else has closed until the snow plows clear the road so I came here,” Delilah replied, glancing at the front page. “Who’s the Dark Phantom? He looks scary.” Feeling relieved that the subject had finally changed he lowered the paper and looked at her before answering. “He is someone who has been helping the police around here keep the city safe for everyone to sleep at night. In fact, the night before you came to the university he saved a girl from the Dragon Claw’s. I sure would like to meet that girl, find out what it was like to be in his presence, you know.” “I was that girl,” Delilah said. Rikoto lowered his paper again and she continued, “I felt like I was about to die when something attacked them. I thought I was next until I realized it  . . . he was helping me.” “What did it feel like, being in his presence I mean,” Rikoto asked, leaning forward a bit.

“At first I felt scared, but then reassured, like I was safe again. It was almost like a baby in its mother’s arms.”

Rikoto grinned a little and returned to his paper, looking satisfied with Delilah’s answer. “Here are your plates, guys. I wish it would stop snowing for a while, we might get more customers then,” Ashley said as she walked up to them, still jingling. “Thanks Ashley. You know, I never thought you’d look good in red and green,” Rikoto said. “Very funny Rikoto,” Ashley replied, nudging Rikoto on the shoulder then walked away just when he got a call. “Hello? Hey Roger, what’s going – you got robbed? That’s hard to believe. You have nothing to steal, that’s why. Okay, I’ll be right there, bye.” “What’s wrong?” Delilah asked as Rikoto stood up. “Apparently, Roger has been robbed. It’s odd really, since he has nothing to take for extra money,” Rikoto answered, putting his coat on and making his way to the door.

It didn’t take Rikoto long to get to Roger’s place since he lived a few blocks from the pizzeria. Since he was being expected he just opened the door and walked in to find Roger pacing up and down the room, looking worried. “What took you so long?” Roger asked, grabbing Rikoto by the arm. Jerking his arm back, Rikoto asked, “So what did they steal?” and Roger pointed to the wall which held every single article of the Dark Phantom. Rikoto shot him a look of confusion and Roger sat down on the couch. “Don’t you see what’s missing?” Roger asked. Seeing Rikoto had no idea he walked over to the wall and pointed out a vacant spot on it. “Someone took last month’s edition of the Dark Phantom! It’s not here, I can’t find it anywhere!” he exclaimed. “You called me over here because of a missing newspaper clipping?” Rikoto said, irritated about the false alarm. Roger hit him in the face, startling Rikoto. “You don’t know what this wall means to me. I spend every day trying to find out who his real identity is ever since he first hit the papers. Every article is essential to my theories,” Roger said, calming down now. “You’re investigating the Dark Phantom’s real identity? This explains everything now,” Rikoto said, rubbing his left cheek. “I have one question though: what do you plan to do when you get married and your wife wants to redecorate that wall?” Roger was about to answer when someone knocked on the door. Rikoto walked over to the door and opened it, revealing Delilah standing on the doorstep, shivering from head to toe. “I heard you got robbed Roger, what did they take?” she asked as she walked in and took off her coat. “They took a newspaper clipping off his ‘wall of the Phantom.’” Rikoto said, placing Delilah’s coat on the coat rack next to the door.

“Wall of the what?” she asked, confused. “I’ve been investigating the Dark Phantom’s real identity. Come look,” Roger answered, walking to the wall again. Delilah examined the photos very carefully, not knowing what she was supposed to be seeing. “Look at the faces. You can see the features are the same in every picture. It’s one guy who’s doing this stuff. I just can’t figure out what that is over his eye.” Rikoto looked up in surprise and horror. “It looks like a cut of some sort,” Delilah said, looking at one of the photos more closely. “The odd thing is, that in the clipping Rikoto gave me the Dark Phantom looks exactly like today’s except the left eye, and of course the clothing style,” Roger replied. “It might be a copycat trying to get all the glory of what someone did in the past. It’s happened before,” Rikoto said, trying to change the subject but when he saw it made no difference he finally said, “Delilah was saved by the Dark Phantom.” Roger turned his head so quickly he got a crick in his neck. “You saw him? Please, you must tell me everything that happened. It might help me discover the truth about who he is,” he said, pulling up a seat for Delilah. While she retold what had happened Rikoto walked out the door and went to the university, apparently forgetting his coat. He didn’t want to go back to get it because he was afraid of what questions Roger might ask if he returned. He walked on, facing the cold weather as it bit him in the face and heard nothing but his own thoughts and the snow as it crunched beneath his feet.

Seeing the front doors to the gym were blocked by the snow, he decided to try the side door. He walked in and noticed more people than last year working on the gym. He shook off what snow had fallen on him and walked further in. “Ah, Rikoto, it’s nice to see you weren’t held back by the weather. Where is your jacket?” Prof. John said, carrying a box of decorations. “I forgot to grab it when I left Roger’s place,” Rikoto lied. “So, what can I do to help?” “You can start by getting these stringers up across the ceiling,” Rebecca said as she held up a box of ornaments for the tree at the other end of the gym. “Then you can put the ball where it went last year.” Rikoto nodded and went to work. It had been a few minutes after he started when he smelt roses, making him remember the dream he had of Delilah. “Hey Rikoto, do you need some help?” asked a familiar voice behind him. “I don’t think so. I’ve got to put these stringers up across the ceiling,” he said. “I can do that if you’ll hold the ladder for me,” she said, climbing the ladder immediately. “Uh, no think I better do it. It’s safer if a guy does it,” he explained, hoping she would get down and let him do it. “Don’t be silly, Rikoto. It needs a woman’s touch. You hold the ladder still and I’ll hang the stringers.” Since the ladder was on wheels he was able to pull it across the gym without Delilah having to climb up and down repeatedly. He felt a little embarrassed though, standing at the bottom of the ladder with Delilah at the top since she was wearing a skirt. He did his best not to look up until he heard her constantly asking him how the stringers looked, as if he would know. He just wanted her to hurry up and get done so he wouldn’t have to look up at her. “Okay, I’m done,” Delilah said, climbing down the ladder. “It’s about time,” Rikoto muttered to himself. “Okay, now I need to hang the ball up in the middle of the ceiling,” he said, walking toward the large box with a disco ball inside it. Picking it up, he examined it like he did last year and seeing nothing wrong with it he took it right under where it’s supposed to hang. Being very careful not to drop it, he climbed the ladder and looked for the hook the ball hung from.

“I think they should try to hang giant artificial mistletoe instead of a disco ball. What do you think?” Delilah asked him as they were admiring their work. “I honestly don’t care what they do. The only reason I’m going to the thing this year is because you tricked me.” Rikoto kept a straight face as he said it, and didn’t care if anyone heard him. “That was mean, Rikoto. Don’t you care if other people want to enjoy their dates tomorrow night? I mean, it is the Christmas holidays,” she told him. Rikoto just turned and walked away, hoping Rebecca would have something . . . anything . . . else for him to do.

Over the small amount of time they worked on the gym to get it ready for the dance, Rikoto realized that he had been foolish to avoid Delilah. She was smart, beautiful, and funny. What in the world was wrong with him? He was passing up a girl like this, she obviously wanted to be around him a lot and he has been trying to stay away from her like she was sick with something contagious. And yet he still tried to avoid her all that day, finding something she could do, far away from him. The only problem with it was that he didn’t want to date her. “Rikoto, can you go to the music store and find some music that would sound good for the dance please?” Rebecca asked, still carrying the same box of ornaments. He nodded and headed out the door, not knowing or caring if Delilah saw him leave. The outside air didn’t seem to bite at him as bad this time. Perhaps the temperature came up a little, or maybe he had gotten used to the winter air. Either way he crunched through the snow onward to his destination, thinking of his dream and wondering why he smelled those roses when he was inside the gym.

“Oh, I didn’t see you there, Rikoto, come on in,” the man at the door said, looking like he came out of a 1970’s movie. He wore a ‘Peace out’ t-shirt with jeans that had holes in them and sandals (it was a miracle his toes didn’t freeze off). “I think I know why you’re here – the annual Christmas dance, am I right?” Rikoto nodded and the guy continued. “Yeah, I remember my years at the university. Anyway, you’re looking for some music for the dance. I got just the thing.” He left the room and came back a few seconds later with some records in his hands. “Thanks George, I’ll see you next year,” Rikoto said, paying him for the records and walking outside again, into the cold weather (still without a coat). As he crunched through the snow toward the university he looked around at the people trying to unbury their cars from the white blankets that encased them. “Where is all this snow coming from?” one man said, shoveling snow off his car’s windshield. He had a point though; the forecast never said anything about nearly two feet of snow in Power City, and it was getting deeper by the minute. Around the corner came snowplows running through the streets and pushing snow to the sides, finally allowing vehicles to drive to their destinations. “Rikoto, you forgot your jacket,” Roger said as he walked out his front door when Rikoto passed. “You’ve already got the records for the dance I see. Ah well, maybe there will be something for me to do at the gym.”

Everything was fixed, repainted, put up and arranged when they walked through the side door. “Roger, take these to Rebecca while I find Delilah,” Rikoto said, handing the records to Roger and walked away. He wasn’t really looking for her since she was in plain sight, standing on a step ladder while putting some mistletoe above a door. She looked back and saw Rikoto rubbing his head as he sat down in a chair not too far from her. He looked like he had a headache and he felt like it too: his head was throbbing with pain. It felt like someone hit him in the head with a sledge hammer. Just then, Craig and his buddies came in the gym throwing a football around. “Hey, toss it that way,” Craig said, pointing to his left. The ball was thrown and Craig had already begun running in the same direction. He jumped for the catch but missed it by inches, and the ball hit the shorter leg of the step ladder that Delilah was standing on. With it unbalanced to begin with, the small ladder leaned too far over to one side with Delilah still trying to fix the mistletoe. She fell along with the ladder and almost landed on top of it; she opened her eyes and saw Rikoto holding her in his arms. “Are you all right Delilah?” he said as he let her down. “Yeah I’m fine, but how did you get here so fast?” she asked. Before he could answer Craig walked up and grabbed the football, looking at the two. “Nice catch, Dracula,” he said. “Yes it was a nice catch and a lucky one if I might add,” Prof. John said, walking up to them, look furious. “If it wasn’t for Rikoto’s quick save Delilah could’ve been hurt, but regardless of that you won’t be playing football at any of next month’s games for your foolishness. Now put that ball up and get to work or get out of here.”

“You can’t do that to me! The team –”

“– will be fine without you for a month. Now go.”

“You’ll be hearing from my father for this!” Craig yelled as he walked away, slamming the door behind him with such force that a few of the stringers fell. “I expect I will hear from him, as well as a few of his ‘friends’,” Prof. John muttered, picking up the old step ladder. “You didn’t have to do that Professor, not if you could get into trouble,” Delilah said. “I don’t mind, especially since he’s needed this for a while. Besides, it’s not like it’ll hurt me anyway, I’ve got a few more years until I retire,” Prof. John said. “I’ll be there when Craig’s dad comes after you, Professor,” Rikoto said as he folded the ladder. “And I’ll fix this ladder too. It’s needed to be replaced or fixed ever since the coach hit his head on it.” “Just throw it away. Well, I guess we’re done for today. The only thing we’re missing now is everyone that’s coming to the dance tomorrow night. I’ll see you two in the morning,” Prof. John said as he walked away. “I guess we should be going too,” Delilah said, stretching her arms. Rikoto had already started walking toward the door when Delilah caught up to him. “You didn’t tell me how you did that,” she told him as they grabbed their coats. “Delilah, does it really matter how I got under you so fast? You’re not hurt, are you?” Rikoto argued, trying not to upset her. “Dude, the way you said that did not sound right,” Roger said, running up beside them. Just as the three were about to walk out the door, Rebecca jumped in front of them, holding a cardboard box. “Oh good, you’re still here. I need you to take this to the post office. I’d do it myself but the weather has been horrible today,” she said. “Yeah, I guess I could do that. Oh, Rebecca, this is Delilah, the girl I’m going to the dance with,” Rikoto said, taking the box so the two girls could shake hands. “So you’re the one who got him. Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Rebecca said with a frown. Looking at his watch Roger nudged Rikoto in the side and said, “We should be going. The post office will be closing soon.”

They said good-bye to Rebecca and left, first going to the post office then crunching their way through the snow to the pizzeria where ‘elves’ worked. “Roger, before Ashley gets to our table you need to promise me you won’t laugh at her,” Rikoto said to Roger before they walked through the doors. “No problem, I wouldn’t laugh at Ashley if she was wearing an elf costume,” Roger said as he opened the door. “We’ll see about that,” Delilah whispered to Rikoto. When they walked in the place seemed different: most of the tables were empty, the waitresses were sitting at the table in the far back gossiping about who knows what, and the cashier was standing behind the counter reading his paper. “Hey Carlton, where’s Ashley?” Rikoto asked, noticing his blonde haired friend was nowhere in the pizzeria. “She ain’t here if that’s what you’re asking,” Carlton said, turning a page of this morning’s newspaper. “What happened to her?” Delilah asked. “Some moron walked in here and said something to her. I imagine it upset her because she ran out the doors and left the guy sitting there, and he was ready to order too,” Carlton answered, still reading his paper. “What did the man look like?” Roger asked, looking a bit mad.

“He had white hair and was a few inches taller than you, Rikoto. He didn’t look very muscular but I could tell by his voice that he’s not one you want to mess with.”

“Come on,” Rikoto said to Roger and Delilah as he walked back out the door, this time going to Ashley’s house. Hey ran down the snow covered street throwing snow behind them as they ran. They barely reached the front door when it opened up and Ashley came walking out, crying. “Ashley, are you okay?” Rikoto asked. “I’m fine, I just caught something I guess,” Ashley said, sniffling. “We heard what happened; I want to give him a piece of my mind,” Roger said as he pulled up his coat sleeves. A freezing cold wind blew across the four of them and Roger threw his sleeves back down his arms. “There’s no need in that. I’m fine, really. I just don’t think I can go back to the pizzeria today,” Ashley answered, rubbing her nose. “Ashley, can I talk to you in private inside?” Rikoto asked, opening the door a little. She nodded and they all went in and Rikoto and Ashley walked into the kitchen. Turning around to face Ashley, Rikoto continued, “I know who spoke to you in the pizzeria. What I don’t know is what he said to you.” finally realizing she couldn’t hold it in any longer Ashley cried, “You’re right. That man did talk to me, and what he said was just . . . just –” she couldn’t continue as she threw herself into Rikoto’s chest, still crying. He stood there like a statue, shocked by her embrace. “It’s all right, they were only words. Whatever it is that he said I’m sure none of it was true,” he said softly, wrapping his arms around her as she cried. “You know, Delilah still wears that locket you gave her. I think she really likes you,” she said.

They walked in the room where Delilah and Roger were sitting: pink flowered wallpaper on the walls with a few pictures here and there, a small sofa sat in the middle of the room: a fire was lit in the fireplace and on the mantle was a picture of The Last Supper. “What did he say to her?” Roger asked, standing up so Ashley could have his seat. “I don’t know but I’ll find out from the original source,” Rikoto said as he walked over to the fireplace, listening to nothing else but the crackling of the fire. “Ashley, can you come here please?” said a voice from upstairs. “I’ll be right back guys. Help yourselves to some peppermints,” Ashley said as she left the room to help her elderly mother. Realizing what time it was, Rikoto walked over to the front door and just as he was going out it Delilah asked, “Where are you going Rikoto?” He didn’t answer but continued out the door into the icy cold weather. He knew exactly where he was going and he didn’t want anyone to follow him so he walked through a dark alley. Since the snow fell the city had looked more welcoming than ever; it was a shame it would only last as long as the snow remained. Walking out of the alley on the other end of the block he made his way to the clock tower which overlooked every other building in Power City. The streets seemed quiet: no vehicles were coming around the corner: no people were talking as they walked. The only noise he could hear was his thoughts racing through his mind. “I wonder,” he said to himself as he shuffled through the snow. He nearly slipped on the ice that covered the crosswalk, but continued on through the weather.

He finally reached the clock tower and immediately began searching for the back door that led to the top of the tower. He stepped into the elevator and pushed the roof button. The doors clamped together and the lift began to ascend. It creaked and rattled up the tower, making someone think they would get stuck or the cables would break. The lift reached the top and as soon as the doors opened about a foot Rikoto jumped out of it and walked around. A tall white figure walked out from around the corner of the slanted roof and stood in front of Rikoto. “What do you want?” he asked. “What did you say to Ashley? She didn’t tell me but she said a white haired man talked to her,” Rikoto said, crossing his arms together. “Are you talking about the little elf at the pizza place? I didn’t know she was a friend of yours. To be honest, I think she is out of your league personally,” Sakrone chuckled. “Anyway, I asked her about her father. She told me about him and I told her what I thought about his situation.” “Well, you hurt her feelings,” Rikoto said as he stood there with the cold wind beating down on him. Sakrone walked over to the edge of the tower and turned to face Rikoto. “I hope you don’t expect me to apologize to her, because I’ll do just the opposite.” he said, spreading his arms like an eagle; he leaned back a little and fell off the edge. Rikoto ran to watch him drop, but when he looked down Sakrone was nowhere to be seen. “I got a bad feeling about that guy,” he said, then turned to take the elevator back down the tower.

As he walked home he thought about the last thing Sakrone said before he vanished off the edge: I’ll do just the opposite. What did he mean by that? Was it a threat that he might try to hurt his friends or something? Whatever it was, he, knew he would be caught in the cross hairs of it when it happened. He had just turned a street corner when he saw a girl on his door step. At first he thought it was Delilah until he got closer to realize it was a little school girl, trembling in the cold without a jacket. “Hey, what are you doing out here without a coat?” he asked, pulling off his jacket and throwing it over the girl. “I . . . got . . . lost,” she said, shivering even more now that a breeze had come through. Rikoto unlocked the door and brought her inside. He went straight to the fireplace and ignited it, then went into the kitchen. She sat down in the chair opposite the fireplace, now making the room much warmer. “So what’s your name?” Rikoto asked, coming back in the lounge with two cups of hot coco. She didn’t answer, but rummaged through her pockets and pulled out a card which she gave to Rikoto. Looking at it, he said, “So your name is Maria?” when she nodded he got up and walked over to the house phone in the room. “Well, it’s a good thing you’ve got this; it makes it easier for me to contact your parents. I’ll just call them and let them know where you are so they can come get you,” he said as he dialed the phone. “My mum is dead, and my daddy is at his work,” the little girl said with a British accent. “He dropped me off at school and left me there. The bus I was on had problems and I snuck out when the driver got out and checked the problem. I wanted to visit Mum’s grave but I got lost.” “Yeah, it’s not hard to get lost in Power City,” Rikoto said, sitting down in a wooden chair he pulled out of the kitchen.

“Drink up, and if you want to, you can go upstairs and take a nap. There’s a bedroom down the hall to your left.” She nodded and walked up the steps: Rikoto took both of their cups to the kitchen and went to find the little girl’s father, locking the door behind him. Looking at the card more closely, he recognized the handwriting. He crunched through the snow to the address on the card, not knowing who he might find there. “There you are, Rikoto. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” said a voice behind him. Delilah walked up beside him, her coat swaying in the wind as she walked. “Where’s your jacket?” “I left it at home with a girl,” Rikoto answered. “Oh, I didn’t know you had a girlfriend,” Delilah said, looking saddened by his answer. Rikoto looked at her stupidly before saying anything. “I don’t have a girlfriend. She is a little girl I found on my door step. She was trying to see her mother’s grave but she got lost,” he answered. “Where is her father?” Delilah asked. “The kid said he’s at work, so I’m going to her house to find out where exactly that is. He needs to know where his daughter is and why she’s so far from where she is supposed to be,” Rikoto answered, turning the corner. He finally stopped at the crosswalk, now working again. “Delilah, can you go to my place and stay there with the kid. Here’s my key,” he said as he handed Delilah his house key. She nodded and turned to walk back to Rikoto’s house, leaving him alone in the snow. Just then, he heard a ruffling in the alley closest to him and out walked a wolfish looking dog, its eyes glowing bright in the light. “Hey Shadow; come on, boy, we’ve got something to do.” Rikoto said to it. He shook off the snow that covered him and slowly walked beside Rikoto when the sign turned green.

The two crunched through the snow for nearly an hour, getting looks from everyone that they past; checking the card with the girl’s address on it regularly, Rikoto and Shadow finally came up on a small brown house: the windows were all closed: there weren’t any bushes at all. The looks of the outside of this house could easily have been duplicated from a brief description of the way Rikoto felt after his parents died all those years ago – cold, lonely and uninhabited. “Looks cozy doesn’t it, Shadow?” Rikoto asked his husky wolf. Shadow looked up at Rikoto and back at the house and snorted, his ears still pointed upward. “I’m thinking the same thing,” Rikoto said. They walked up to the front door and knocked on the wood, ignoring the doorbell beside it. They waited for a minute or two before they turned to leave. The door creaked open and an elderly woman poked her head out the door to see who was there. “Can I help you?” she asked, opening the door a little more. “Yes, I think you can. I found a little girl at my house and she told me she lived here with her father. I was wondering if you could tell me where I might find him. The girl’s name is Maria,” Rikoto said. The woman took a few steps out of the door way and looked at Rikoto with confusion. “What was Maria doing at your house? She is supposed to be at school,” the woman said, wrapping her blanket around herself. “She said she wanted to see her mother’s grave. Can you tell me where her father works?” Rikoto asked again. “He works at the police department. Ask for William James,” the old woman said. Rikoto thanked her and he and Shadow were almost at the end of the drive way when the old woman called back at them. “Is that what I think it is – a wolf, here in Power City?” Shadow looked at her with his eyes still glowing; Rikoto turned and answered, “Yes ma’am it is. His name is Shadow.” After seeing the lady walk back in the house, Rikoto and Shadow walked into the nearest alley, taking a shortcut toward their destination.

Darkness was falling upon Power City as the sun had finally set and the stars made their appearance; Rikoto and Shadow reached the police station when they saw a tall, skinny man wearing a large trench coat walking out. “Excuse me, but can you tell me where William James might be?” Rikoto asked. “You’re looking at him. What’s your name, son?” the man said with a British accent. “I’m Rikoto Sakuro, and this is Shadow,” Rikoto said, watching Shadow raise his paw to shake Mr. James’ hand. “Your daughter, Maria, is at my house sleeping. She’s all right, and if you would like to come with me and take her home I’ll explain on the way.” “Let me guess, she wanted to visit her mother’s grave. I’ve been meaning to take her to see it but I’ve been so busy lately,” Mr. James said. “I hope she wasn’t any trouble.” Rikoto shook his head and led Mr. James to his house.

 As they walked, Mr. James and Rikoto talked to make the trip seem shorter. “So, I understand the chief took you in after your parents’ deaths,” Mr. James said. Rikoto nodded and the man continued. “I’m sorry to hear about them, I’m sure they were great parents.” “Yeah, they were. Everyone in Power City knew them and when I was born it was like finding out a celebrity had come through,” Rikoto said. They finally reached Rikoto’s house when they noticed Shadow wasn’t with them anymore. Probably went around to the doggy door behind the house, Rikoto figured. They walked in and found Delilah sitting on the couch reading a book. “Hey Delilah, is Maria upstairs?” Rikoto asked. “Daddy!” said a voice from the top of the stairs. Maria ran down and jumped in her father’s arms, wrapping herself around him tightly. “Thank you for watching her,” Mr. James said to Rikoto and Delilah both; Rikoto nodded and watched as father and daughter walked out the door, remembering a time when he did that with his parents. But that memory didn’t last long, because he then remembered something else he had to do. “Don’t you wish you could do that with a kid of your own?” Delilah asked. “It’s getting late, you should probably go. I’ll see you in the morning. Lock the door on your way out.” Rikoto said, walking up the stairs to his room. “Oh, okay. Good night Rikoto.” Delilah said, puzzled by Rikoto’s quick response and urgency to get her out of the house.

Rikoto waited for the sound of the front door to close before he walked back downstairs and locked the door. He started to close the curtains when he felt a sharp pain pierce him like a knife. He looked up into the night sky and saw something red behind a thin cloud. The cloud moved away and the red thing he had been looking at was the moon. He feared this moment for a while since the last time it happened a month ago. The pain in his chest had spread throughout his entire body, forcing him to hit the floor. His pain was hurting more and more with every second: he was seeing so many things he had seen before and things he had never even dreamed of seeing. He was in the middle of the street watching as people ran for their lives in panic. Then he was at the cemetery watching as they lowered a coffin into the dug grave. Finally he was back in his own house looking at his hands. There were claws instead of finger nails. He staggered upstairs to the bathroom and looked into the mirror on the wall. His eyes were glowing bright red like Shadow’s and he had fangs sticking out of his mouth. The pain was excruciating, he couldn’t take it anymore. It had to stop or he might lose his mind. It lessened a little and his fingers went back to normal, his eyes were grey again and he didn’t have long fangs anymore. He fell to the floor and breathed heavily, relieved that the torture was over for the moment. He didn’t want to try and walk to his room so he just lied there and fell asleep.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

Chief Williams drove Rikoto to a small diner for a bite to eat, hoping he could get him to say anything at all. “I told the lady today that you could stay with me since Mr. Dwain had to go to Chicago. But I promise, I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to, okay?” he said to him, but got no response. He got out of the car, followed by Rikoto who walked in slower than the chief. They walked to a booth in the left-hand corner of the café and sat across from each other. Behind Rikoto’s seat there was a blonde haired girl with a coloring book in the neighboring booth. An older lady in a blue and white outfit walked up to Rikoto and Chief Williams with intentions to take their order until the blonde girl caught her attention with the napkin dispenser. “Ashley, stop playing with the dispenser like that,” she said to her daughter. “Sorry about her, the babysitter cancelled tonight; so, can I take your order, little man? Hey, Chief, how’ve you been?” “I’m fine, Beth; this is Rikoto Sakuro. I just took him in after his parents passed away,” the chief said. Rikoto just sat there, staring aimlessly at the table. “Oh, that’s terrible. I’ll tell you what, handsome, you can have anything you want and it’s on the house. Oh, this is my daughter, Ashley, and I’m Mrs. Beth Swene. Remember, anything you want,” Mrs. Swene said to Rikoto. “And what will you have, Chief?” “That depends; is mine gonna be on the house as well?” the chief asked.

“Nice try, but you have to pay.”

“Okay, then I’ll have the usual. Thanks.”

A few minutes later Mrs. Swene came back with their meals and drinks, and then got onto her daughter again. “So, if you want, you can sit with that little girl behind you. I know you probably miss Delilah now that she moved away, but I’m sure she would want you to make some new friends.” When they got home Chief Williams showed him to his room, which was a little bigger than his old room. he went in and sat on his bed, still not saying anything.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

He woke up to the sound of someone calling his name. Rikoto rose to his feet slowly, still feeling a little bit weak from the night before. The bathroom door opened slowly and Delilah’s face peeked around the edge of the door. “Rikoto, are you all right?” Delilah said, kneeling down beside him. “Yeah, I’m fine. What time is it?” Rikoto said as he used the sink to support him while he struggled to stand up. “It’s six o’clock. Are you sure you’re okay, you look a little pale in the face.” Delilah said, sounding concerned this time. Rikoto nodded and walked out of the bathroom into his room, shutting the door behind him.

                                                                                            Chapter 5

A few minutes later he and Delilah were walking down the street toward the university when Roger ran behind them. “Rikoto, Prof. John is getting his butt chewed out in the principal’s office,” he said. The three ran as fast as they could through the front doors to the university and Rikoto nearly busted through the door of Principal George’s office. He found the very people he expected to find in the small square office: Prof. John in his brown suit with a red tie standing behind the desk beside Principal George. “And who might you be?” asked a tall dark haired man with a French-style mustache, looking like he was a lawyer. “Samuel, this is Rikoto Sakuro, our brightest student in his class. Rikoto, this is Samuel Kindle,” Principal George said, motioning Rikoto to shake his hand. “I’m sorry I’m late, Professor, I over slept this morning,” Rikoto said. “It’s all right Rikoto,” Prof. John said, nodding to his star student. “No, it is not ‘all right.’ My son is the best player on your football team. You have no right suspending him from the team for a month!” “He had every right. Craig almost caused Mrs. Hope to get hurt,” Principal George said calmly. “My son was practicing for his next football game, which is much more important than your ridiculous parties,” Mr. Samuel argued. “And if it wasn’t for Rikoto, Mrs. Hope might be wearing a cast on her arm or leg right now and your son wouldn’t be in the university until Christmas break is over!” Prof. John snapped, looking cross.

“How dare you? From what my son told me, Mrs. Hope was even more ‘reckless’ than he was. He told me that she was standing on the very edge of the ladder, and he hardly had anything to do with her accident. Anyway, I understand the girl is fine, which means –”

“– which means she is lucky she isn’t hurt,” Rikoto said, emerging from the corner he stood in. “Craig told his teammate to throw the football in her direction, knowing perfectly well the risk of hitting her or the ladder she was standing on.” “You seem very confident in what you’re saying, boy,” Mr. Samuel said, taking a few steps toward Rikoto. “I speak the truth, unlike your son,” They looked into each other’s eyes then Mr. Samuel said, “You’re the son of Zikeno and Lorena Sakuro aren’t you?” Rikoto nodded and Mr. Samuel continued, “How does it feel to be the orphaned son of two cowards? I heard they begged for their lives the night they were killed.” “That’s enough!” Principal George said, slapping his hand on his desk. “John did his job and I will not change his decision. If that is all you came here for, Samuel, then you may leave.” “This isn’t over,” Mr. Samuel said as he opened the door to leave. There was a short silence between the three men. Finally, Principal George said to Rikoto, “Your parents were not cowards, Rikoto. I knew them before I became the principal. They were brave people.” But Rikoto was already walking toward the door when he collapsed in the floor. Both men ran toward him as he struggled to get up. “Rikoto, are you okay?” Prof. John asked, grasping his left arm. “I’m fine,” Rikoto said weakly. “The heck you are. You’re as white as a sheet. John, get Mrs. Hope or Mr. Jackson and have them take Rikoto home,” Prof. John nodded and he helped Rikoto to his feet and led him out the door where Delilah was, standing beside the lockers. “Mrs. Hope, can you take Rikoto home, please?” Prof. John asked. “I don’t need any help, Professor. I just need a little rest. I’ll see you at the dance tonight,” Rikoto said, staggering away from them and toward the doors.

Later that night, Rikoto arrived at Delilah’s house, still looking a little pale. “Hi Rikoto, please come in,” she said, wearing a bath robe. She had obviously just come from the shower because her hair was wet and he could smell moisture coming from her. “How are you feeling?” “I’m better now. I was just a little tired earlier,” Rikoto said. “Well, the last time I checked, someone who is a little tired usually goes to their bedroom before going to sleep, not the bathroom,” Delilah chuckled. “I’ll be ready in just a minute.” She walked upstairs and Rikoto walked into the living room. While he waited, he decided to walk around the living room. Everything looked the same as it did years ago, with the additional pictures of Delilah. She seemed to grow up in each of the photos on the mantle above the fireplace. He was getting comfortable, Mr. Dwain walked into the room. “Hello Rikoto, it’s been a long time,” he said. “Yes sir, it has,” Rikoto responded as they shook hands, “it’s great to see you again.” “So I noticed you were admiring the pictures of Delilah.” “Yeah, she sure has grown up since I saw her last.” “Sir, I have to be honest: I didn’t really plan on going to the Christmas dance. In fact, this is my first dance . . . ever . . . in my entire life,” Rikoto answered. “Hmm hmm, she’s just like her mother. That’s actually how I met her,” Mr. Dwain chuckled. “So, I understand you work as a part-time mechanic. Am I correct?” Rikoto nodded and Mr. Dwain continued. “With a brain like yours, I hope you decide to do something more than work on cars, unless you enjoy it. I know your parents would be proud of you no matter what you decide to do, bless their souls.”

As they continued to get reacquainted, Delilah walked down the stairs and Rikoto couldn’t believe what his eyes were seeing. She was wearing the white dress her mother wore all those years ago. Mama Mia, Rikoto thought to himself, gaping at the site he never thought could look so beautiful. She seemed to glide gracefully down the remaining stairs as she joined the two men in the living room. “Wow,” he said, clearing his throat. “You look beautiful, Delilah.” “Thanks; you don’t look half bad either.” she replied. Rikoto just rubbed the back of his head and grinned, then took her hand and escorted her out the door as Mr. Dwain closed it behind them. It was a chilly night outside: a light snow began to fall down on everything, making the city look ever as beautiful as Delilah. Even the dark alleys seemed to look welcoming. Rikoto put his arm around Delilah’s waist and pulled her closer to him as if to protect her from something that wasn’t there. He couldn’t believe what he had just done, putting his hand around his best friend’s waist. It was like he had no control over his arm at that very moment. “Here, I’m sure you must be cold since you didn’t get your coat,” he said, taking his jacket off and placing it over her shoulders. “Thanks. Where did you learn to be such a gentleman?” she asked. “This kind of stuff I do comes naturally,” he answered. “Well, I like it. Please don’t stop,” she replied softly.

Roger and Ashley joined them, Roger looking like he fell in a tub of glitter. “Roger, that is not the tux you picked out when I went with you to the store,” Rikoto told him. “I know; my brother told me this one would look better on me than the other one. He said it makes me look ‘hip and cool’. Look at me; I look like a disco ball with legs and arms!” Roger answered with a frustrated look on his face. “Well, at least they’ll have an extra one if they break the first one,” Delilah giggled. “That’s what I told him. I still think he looks nice though,” Ashley replied. “At least he’s not naked,” Rikoto finally blurted out. “I was tempted,” Roger stated. “No you weren’t.”

“I would’ve done it.”

 “No you wouldn’t.”

“I’ll go back and take this off. And then I’ll walk through those doors –”

“Just shut up.”

By the time they got there, Craig was talking with some of his buddies outside. “Excuse us,” Rikoto said. “Hold it, Geek,” Craig said as he grabbed Roger’s arm. Rikoto told the girls to go in ahead of them because he knew what would happen and he didn’t want them to see it. “What’s wrong Craig?” Rikoto asked. “You boys know the rules,” Craig answered, “no one gets to bring a hotter date than me without getting punched in the face.” Just as he was about to swing his fist at Roger, Rikoto caught his wrist and pulled him to the ground. “If you mess with my friends,” he said, “you mess with me. Roger, go inside and tell Delilah I’m right behind you.” “No way, if you’re fighting, then I’m fighting,” Roger argued, until he slipped on some ice. “Oh yeah,” Craig replied as he rose back to his feet, “and what are you going to do about it, Bloodsucker?” He threw the first punch, missing Rikoto by inches and nearly tripping over himself. Craig turned around and pulled out his pocket knife. “Now what are you gonna do?” he said with a grin. Rikoto grabbed the knife blade and snapped it in two, with Craig still holding the shaft. Rikoto turned to the other four boys with Craig and asked, “Anyone else want to mess with me and my friends?” They backed off and he and Roger returned to the girls.

“Where did you two go?” Delilah asked them after they came back in. “We had a little ‘talk’ with Craig and his buddies,” Rikoto told her, winking at Roger. The music changed from fast to slow when he and Roger joined the girls, so Rikoto asked Delilah if she wanted to dance. “Okay,” she answered. Roger and Ashley decided to get to know each other instead. Walking into the center of the floor, Delilah turned on the spot and put her hands around Rikoto’s neck as he placed his on her waist. This whole thing felt wrong, so he thought, but he didn’t understand why. “I should tell you now, I have no clue how to dance,” he whispered in her ear. “I don’t know how to dance either,” she whispered back. “Okay, I feel a lot better now. I’m in the middle of the gym floor at a Christmas dance with a girl and neither of us knows how to dance,” he said. They both laughed at his joke, then Delilah put her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. “We should learn how to dance after tonight, then we won’t look like fools next time,” she said softly. Rikoto looked down at her in shock. He wasn’t intending on going to another dance. Yet, this was turning out to be a good night after everything he thought could go wrong. “Yeah, maybe we should,” he replied. “So, why haven’t you ever come to one of these dances before, at least by yourself?” she asked.

“I’ve been a little busy most of the time. And if I came by myself I would look like Roger does every year: a lonely guy waiting for the chance to steal some other guy’s date.”

“That makes sense. Of course, I’m sure you could easily get any girl to go out with you.”

Rikoto didn’t say anything but continued to try his best not to step on Delilah’s feet. “Okay everyone, I hope you all have had a little fun so far,” said Prof. John as he stepped onto the podium next to the record player. “I need everyone to take a number off the wall. If you came alone, one of the staff will participate with you.” Rikoto and Delilah were the last ones to pick their numbers. After a few seconds, Prof. John spoke again. “Now, I hope you all got a number. When I call a number, the person with it is to come up here and receive the present with the same number, okay? And remember; only the janitor knows what is in the numbered boxes because he’s the one who picked out the gifts. I just thought I should warn you. Ready? Here we go. The first number is, twenty-two. Who has twenty-two?” Craig walked up on the podium and took off his number. “Here you go, Craig, Merry Christmas. Open it up and let’s see what you got.” He opened his present and pulled out a piece of paper saying “kick me,”. “Don’t forget to wear that next month,” Prof. John said, making everyone laugh. “The next one is, fifteen.” Roger stepped up and took his present. He opened it up and pulled out a girl’s make-up kit. “This can’t be right, who numbered these boxes?” “I did, you got a problem, take it up with my broom,” Tom yelled from the side. “Well, there are no take backs so maybe someone can swap with you unless you wear make-up. God help us if you do.” Everyone laughed at Pro. John’s joke. “The next number is, one. Number one please step up and receive your Christmas gift.” Rikoto hesitated a bit. “Number one, please come up here,” Prof. John repeated. Delilah pushed Rikoto forward and he walked up next to Prof. John to receive his gift. He opened it up and pulled out a pair of new dress shoes. “I don’t know what size they are, but hopefully you can wear them. Now, the next number is, twelve.” Delilah walked up as Rikoto was going down to join Roger and Ashley; Delilah opened up her present and revealed a corsage.

“Wait a minute. Thomas, where did you say you got these gifts at?” Prof. John asked. “I found them in your closet. Just wait and see what your present is,” the janitor answered, gulping down some punch. Everyone laughed at the janitor’s joke. “I’m almost too scared to find out. Merry Christmas, Delilah,” Prof. John replied as he put his hand in the jar full of pink and blue numbers. “Well, I don’t think I will have any need for this,” Roger said, looking in the make-up kit. “I’m sorry, Roger,” Ashley giggled. “Don’t worry about it, Ashley. Roger could always use it,” Rikoto said. Delilah got down there with them, holding her present in her hand. “Although the night is almost over, I think I’ll wear this. Rikoto, could you help me with it please?” she asked. While Rikoto tied the corsage around Delilah’s wrist, Prof. John read the next number he pulled out of the jar. “And the next number is, seventeen. Number seventeen, please come up and get your prize.” Ashley walked up there and opened her present. Pulling out mistletoe, Prof. John let out an “Ooh, looks like someone is going to get a kiss from this little lady before the night is over”. Roger took a big swallow and smelled his breath. “Okay, let’s see who the next lucky person is, shall we? Number three, come on up.” This time, instead of a student going up on the podium, a teacher did. “Mrs. Jessica, here is your present.” She opened it up and pulled out a box of hot coco. “Oh, wait, there is something else in here,” she said, pulling out a wig. The janitor jumped on the podium and took the wig. “I was wondering where that went,” he said. “Thomas, may I suggest a bottle of glue for that head of yours,” Prof. John said. “No thanks, John, I prefer some head polisher if you don’t mind. But if you don’t have any, I’ll just borrow your hair gel in your desk drawer,” the janitor told him. The whole gym filled with laughter.

After the dance was over, Roger and Rikoto walked the girls home. “Well, if I was going to wrap the gifts, I would’ve made sure my wig was still on my head,” Roger said, still carrying his make-up kit. “I’m not hanging around you if you start wearing a wig,” Rikoto said. They all laughed. “Well, here’s my stop. I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Roger, you can come in if you want to. My mom is asleep,” Ashley said as she opened her front door. She held up he mistletoe and walked in. “I’ll see you later,” Roger told him and then followed though the door. After Ashley and Roger said goodnight to everyone, Rikoto walked Delilah home. When they got there, Delilah broke the silence between them saying, “Well, I had a great time tonight Rikoto. I hope we can do this again sometime, when you’re not busy”. “Yeah, maybe,” he said. “Good night Rikoto,” she replied, and then she kissed him on the cheek before he could get an answer out. “Good night Delilah. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he walked down the steps backwards. He walked down the street to his place when something bumped the trashcans in the alley. It came out of the shadows and walked up to Rikoto, covered in snow. “Hey Shadow. I think I just went on a date with Delilah,” he said. Shadow let out a short huff and they both walked down the street. The next day, they were out for Christmas vacation and Delilah, Roger, Ashley and Rikoto went straight to Tony’s Pizzeria. “So,” Roger said, “what are the two of you doing this Christmas?” “Don’t ask them that,” Ashley interrupted, “Maybe they don’t want to tell us.” “Actually, I don’t have any plans this year,” Rikoto said. “You never have plans for the holidays,” Ashley told him. “My dad said I would have to stay with someone for the holidays because he has to go to a convention or something like that,” Delilah replied.

“You can crash with me if you want to.” The words escaped Rikoto’s mouth before he knew what he had said. Before Delilah could accept Rikoto’s offer, Roger suggested that all four of them watch a couple of movies for the weekend. The four of them watched the Scream Marathon on the horror channel – all four movies which was Roger’s idea. He said it would make the girls want to grab them for some reason that Rikoto didn’t understand. Although it worked on Delilah, Ashley didn’t get any closer to Roger than she already was. During a commercial break, Rikoto asked Roger if he had any luck with his scary movie trick because it was working so well on Delilah that she almost cut the circulation off from Rikoto’s arm, but he said to let it go. Unexpectedly, there was a sleepover at his place so they all agreed that the girls could sleep in the bedrooms upstairs and the boys would take the lounge.

The next morning, Delilah woke up and went down stairs to cook breakfast. When she walked into the kitchen, she looked back toward the living room to see Rikoto missing. “Roger, wake up. Where’s Rikoto?” she asked as she woke him up. “Huh? I have no idea where he is,” Roger yawned then dozed back to sleep. Just then, Rikoto walked in the back door wearing a pair of black jogging pants and a black sleeveless shirt. “Where have you been?” she asked. “I went out for run around the park. I’ve been up for hours,” Rikoto replied. “In the cold winter air?” she pressed, and he nodded.

“Well, have you had anything to eat yet? I was just about to fix some eggs and . . .”

“Yeah, that’s sounds great. I’ll wake Roger up. Is it okay for me to go in the bedroom and let Ashley know about breakfast?”

“I think it’s safe for you.”

Before waking Roger up, Rikoto walked upstairs to his bedroom door and knocked on the door. “Ashley, are you up? Delilah is cooking breakfast, do you want some?” he asked. “Yes I’m up. You can come in if you need something, I have clothes on,” Ashley giggled. As Rikoto entered his room, Ashley was buttoning the top of her shirt. “So how did you sleep?” he asked, turning to his closet. “I slept great, thanks for asking. How about you?” she replied. “I slept okay, but I think Roger slept even better; he’s still snoring down stairs,” Rikoto answered. “You look a little pale, Rikoto. Are you all right?” she asked, walking up to him and feeling his forehead. He staggered backwards a little before regaining his balance. “Yeah, I’m – I’m fine. For some reason, I can’t get a tan at all,” he answered. He walked back to his closet and got a rope out of it. “No, that’s not what I meant by that . . .” Ashley said. “Well, I’ve been feeling a little tired for a while, but it’s nothing really,” he answered as he left his room and walked downstairs and shook Roger. “Hey, get up. Breakfast is cooking,” he said. Roger remained silent and kept snoring. “Okay, I hate to do this but . . . well, not really.”

Roger finally woke up to the smell of eggs and bacon minutes later, but also the sound of the news on the television which Rikoto had turned on. “Something smells good. Hey! Who tied me to this chair?” he said, struggling to get loose. The other three just laughed as their friend continued to fight through the rope that kept him still. “Hold still Roger and I’ll get you loose. You have to admit though, this was funny,” Rikoto laughed, “Your plate is on the table over there.” Everyone’s laughter fell to utter silence as the broadcaster announced the news. “And yet another death has occurred. The police are still investigating but sources say this might be the work of the Dragon Claw’s.” Rikoto was confused to hear it – had the Dragon Claw’s stopped taking their usual mysterious break during Christmas? “Just when you think nothing could possibly go wrong during Christmas, this happens,” Roger said as he took a gulp of his orange juice. “Someone else did this,” Rikoto said as he put his jacket on. “Where are you going Rikoto?” Delilah asked.

“I’m going to the police station. Chief Williams might tell me something about their investigation.”

Instead of going alone, the four friends went together to the station and when they got there, Rikoto went straight to the Chief’s office. “Hey Chief, can you tell me anything about the murder last night?” he asked. “Sorry Rikoto, but all I can say is that the killer used a knife,” the chief answered, “Look, I know you come in here every time something happens, hoping that it might bring your parents’ killer to justice, but that case hasn’t been opened for years.” Disappointed, Rikoto turned to leave the office when Chief Williams stopped him. “Wait, if it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll take another look at the case files and see if I can find any new evidence. How does that sound?” all Rikoto could do was nod then walked through the door, accidently running into Sergeant Trey. “What did he say?” Delilah asked. “He said they had no leads except for the type of weapon that was used,” Rikoto answered, “Come on, let’s go. Ashley, your mother called this morning while you were asleep. She wants us to come visit her.”

When they arrived at Ashley's mother’s house, the door flung open and an elderly woman welcomed them and urged them to come in. “Can I offer you kids some drinks?” the old woman asked, making her way to her rocking chair. Rikoto shook his head but Roger and Delilah nodded and took a cup of tea. “Mom, this is Delilah Hope and Roger Kane, and I know you remember Rikoto,” Ashley said. “Well of course I remember him. He still hasn’t asked you out has he?” Mrs. Swene replied. “Mom, I’ve already told you. Rikoto and I are just friends. Besides, Roger is my boyfriend,” Ashley answered. “Okay, so when can I be expecting grandchildren?” the old lady asked. Roger had taken a sip of his tea when she asked him that; he spit it out at the sound of the word ‘grandchildren’, his face turning red. Everyone turned their eyes toward Ashley and Roger, who blushed in embarrassment. “Excuse me,” Roger said, his face still red. “Mom, don’t ask that!” Ashley exclaimed, but her mother ignored her and turned to Rikoto. “Rikoto, I have something for you. It’s something your father and I found on a fieldtrip years ago when we were kids,” Mrs. Swene interrupted as she gave Rikoto a small box, then continued, “He said you would know when to use it.” “What is it?” Rikoto asked as he took the box.

“It’s something that scared Zikeno, but he knew you wouldn’t be afraid of it.”

Back at Rikoto’s place, everyone was sitting around the coffee table staring at the box that Mrs. Swene had given Rikoto. “Why would Dad give this to Mrs. Swene for safe keeping?” he asked. “Maybe it was too important to leave it in the house. Everyone knows that the police take everything they find as evidence and put it under surveillance,” Roger said. “You watch too much Law & Order, but you might be right Roger,” Ashley replied. “But still, what could be so important that he would hide it from everyone?” “I’m just gonna open it,” Rikoto said as he reached for the box. As he took the lid off, whatever was inside it began to glow. “Be careful Rikoto,” Delilah urged him as he sunk his hand in the box and pulled the small object out of it. When Rikoto opened his hand so his friends could see it, they all noticed it was a black stone with an emblem on it. “A rock? Your dad hid a black rock away for safe keeping?” Roger asked. “There was obviously something special about this rock; I mean, look at the marking on the top of it,” Ashley replied. Just then, the phone rang. “Hello?” Rikoto said, “Yeah, I’ll be right over. Thanks, I’ll see you.” “Who was that?” Delilah asked him. “It was Chief Williams; he said he found something I might want to see. I’ll be back shortly,” he answered, grabbing his jacket and heading out the door.

Rikoto went straight to Chief Williams' office but the sergeant stopped him. “Hey Rikoto, where are you going, the chief just left for the coffee shop. He told me to tell you,” Sergeant Trey said, “I thought you would’ve seen him outside.” “Thanks Sergeant,” Rikoto said as he ran out the door to the coffee shop. On his way to the coffee shop, Rikoto finally caught up to the chief. “Chief Williams, wait up. So what did you find that was so important?” Rikoto said. “Take it easy Rikoto; I was only walking for two minutes. Anyway, I found an address that someone must’ve missed,” the chief replied. Looking at the piece of paper, Rikoto remembered where that place was – it was the cabin he went to with his parents. “The weather is too bad to go up the mountain by car,” Rikoto said.

“You want me to see about the snow plows?”

“No, I’ll pack my bag tonight and go up there on foot.”

Later that night, as Rikoto was looking for his duffel bag, Delilah was arguing about him going. “There could be something at the cabin that can help the police find my parents’ killer. Where is that bag? Ah, here it is,” Rikoto said, finally being able to pack for the hike up the mountain to his family’s cabin. “If it’ll make you feel any better Delilah, I’ll go with him okay?” Roger interrupted, “I’ll even take my rifle with us; that way you won’t have to worry as much.” “I still don’t like idea of you going, Rikoto. You could get hurt, or a blizzard could trap you up there,” Delilah argued. “Don’t worry Delilah; I’ll be back in a week or two, depending on how hard the weather comes down. Besides, I’ve got a good luck charm,” Rikoto replied, holding up the fang he took an animal that attacked him years ago.

Later that night during supper, instead of eating with his friends, Rikoto ate in his room alone. As he ate he thought about the mysterious black rock Mrs. Swene gave him. What was so important about it? Why did his father fear the small smooth rock? He had so many questions but there was nowhere he could go to find the answers, no one to ask that might know. The more he thought, the more he wished his parents were still alive, that way he could ask them and they might be able to answer him. Just as he was finishing his meal, Delilah was knocking on his bedroom door. “Rikoto, can I come in please?” she asked. “Yeah, come on in,” Rikoto answered. “I was just getting the rest of my stuff packed for the hike up the mountain.” “Rikoto I don’t like the idea of you going up there. You don’t know what could be waiting for you when you make it,” Delilah said, opening up their argument from earlier that day. “Delilah, Roger already said he’d go with me. He even said he’d take his rifle with us for the trip. I don’t mean to sound mean or anything, but you’re starting to sound like my…” Rikoto said, pausing to remember the person he was talking about. “… my mom.” He turned away from Delilah to keep from looking at her. He stared out the window next to his bed, although the curtain had been closed hours earlier. “Rikoto, I – I’m just worried I might not see you again if you go. I waited for years to come back to Power City ... to come back to you,” Delilah said softly, sitting on the bed. A few minutes later the two friends were sitting on the bed looking at some photo albums of their childhood. “Hey guys, we’re gonna go. I’ll see you in the morning okay Rikoto?” Roger said, stepping into the room. As he and Ashley walked out the front door downstairs and closed the door behind them, Delilah got up to stretch her arms. “Yeah, I guess it is getting late. Goodnight Rikoto,” Delilah yawned.

As Rikoto lied there on the couch he thought about what Delilah said earlier. She waited years to come back to him. What was so special about him that she waited to come back to? Surely she didn’t like him as anything more than just a friend. Why would she, he was a monster. He came from a completely different world than she did. His train of thought then turned from Delilah back to his parents. He remembered the looks on his mother’s face as he watched someone kill her.. He turned over to erase the dream he had been having about his parents’ deaths for so long, but without success. Unable to find sleep, he finally decided to walk outside to the back yard, still covered in soft, fluffy white snow. It had been so long since he had come back there with a happy face that he had forgotten how much fun he had with his father. After a few minutes of standing outside in the freezing cold weather, he went back to bed.

The next morning, Rikoto and Roger both got up early so they could get as far up the mountain as possible. They said good-bye to the girls and started the hike through the treacherous weather, both wondering if they would see Power City again. “You can still turn back Roger, if you don’t want to go through with this,” Rikoto said. “Not unless you change your mind. I’m with you all the way Rikoto,” Roger chattered through his teeth. The further they went up the mountain side, the harder the snow came down on them, but they kept on going, often slipping on some ice. Finally reaching the cabin, Rikoto ran straight to the door while Roger tried to catch his breath. “Rikoto, wait for me,” Roger huffed, trying to keep up with him. “Roger, stay here while I check out the inside,” Rikoto said. As he walked in the door, he noticed something that wasn’t there the last time he came up the mountain – a photo of him and his parents the day they brought him from the hospital. Picking it up, a tear ran down his face. They looked so happy that day when he was born. He wanted them back so badly, but knew it would never happen. “What’s this?” he thought as he examined the photo more closely, noticing a man in the background.

 “Hey Rikoto, come check this out. I found something,” Roger said, pointing to some animal tracks. Looking at the tracks, Rikoto and Roger both noticed black dust in the prints. “What is this stuff?” Roger asked himself, although Rikoto heard him quite clearly. “It’s burned ashes, and it smells sweet,” Rikoto answered, sniffing the ashes he took in his hands. “From what, a maple tree?” Roger asked. “No, it’s from a cedar tree. Come on, let’s follow them,” Rikoto replied, beginning to run in the direction of the footprints. The animal tracks took the two into the woods which lead to the same spot that Rikoto went when he was just a kid the last time his parents brought him. “Roger, get your gun out now and get ready for whatever we encounter,” he said. Just as Roger cocked his rifle, a wolf walked out from behind a tree on the other side of the stream that the boys were across from. Roger had a clear shot to take the wolf down, but instead Rikoto put his hand on the gun barrel and pushed it downward. “Shh, be quiet. We don’t want to scare him,” he said. Leaning down to take a drink of water, the young wolf looked upward to see the two-legged creatures watching him as if they were frozen statues, which Roger felt like at that moment. After he was through drinking and staring at the boys, all three of them heard something. All of a sudden, a black object jumped out of the shadows and attacked the wolf, biting into its neck. Before Roger got a chance to raise his gun, Rikoto had already jumped the stream and grabbed the creature’s jaws, loosening its grip on the wolf’s neck. “Roger, shoot it! Shoot now!” Rikoto yelled, raising the animal chest high. “What!? Are you crazy, I could hit you instead,” Roger replied.


A loud crack filled the atmosphere, shaking every bone in Roger’s body.

                                                                                            Chapter 6

In Power City, Delilah and Ashley were at the store looking for a Christmas present for Rikoto and Roger before they got back. “So what are you getting Roger?” Delilah asked. “I thought I would get him a tool set; every Tuesday night, I hear him and Rikoto working on something. What about you?” Ashley replied. “I honestly don’t know. It’s been so long since we’ve been together that I have no idea what to get him for Christmas; do you think you could help me find something to get him?” Delilah answered. Although Ashley agreed, neither of them could think of anything that Rikoto might like because he wasn’t much of a talker since his parents’ death.

Finally, they decided to stop by the music store to see if they might have any luck there. “Hello ladies how can I help you? Oh, Ashley guess what, I finally got that CD you asked me about. It just came off the truck yesterday,” George said, laying down his magazine. “Maybe later George; do you think you can help us find something for Rikoto? We can’t seem to find anything he might like,” Ashley asked. “Hmm, that dude is pretty hard to think like, but I might be able to help. Let’s see what I’ve got,” George said, rubbing his chin as he walked toward the back of the store then continued, “Has he said anything that might help me a bit, or is he still as mysterious as ever?”

“No, he’s still pretty quiet, but he has spoken a little after his childhood sweetheart returned to Power City. Oh that reminds me. George, this is Delilah Hope, the sweetheart.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I know I’ve got something that partly refers to him: ‘American Idiot’ by Green Day. If he doesn’t like this one, I’ll quit my job.”

After paying for the presents, Delilah and Ashley went back to Rikoto’s place. “Come on, let’s get these presents wrapped and put under the tree.” “I hope it’s the songs on this CD and not the name that describes Rikoto, because he’s really smart,” Delilah said, taking her coat and scarf off and placing them on the coat rack. “It’s the songs on the CD. Of course if Rikoto is dumb, he hides it very well,” Ashley said. “I wonder where he keeps the wrapping paper.” They looked all over the place for Christmas wrapping paper which they concluded, seemed to not exist in the house. They couldn’t find anything relating to any kind of holiday in his house. No cars, no tree, not even a scrap piece of paper with the word “Christmas” written on it. “Has he really been this way ever since Mr. and Mrs. Sakuro’s deaths?” Delilah asked, closing the closet door in the guest room. “I never would’ve imagined something that tragic could possibly have an effect this bad on someone like him.” Both girls sat there on the couch wondering about Rikoto after that horrible night years ago. Ashley decided to go back to her place for wrapping paper; Delilah continued to sit there on the couch and think.

                That night at the cabin, Rikoto had just gotten a fire started when Roger walked in with some dry firewood. “So what’s for dinner?” he asked, shivering. “Well, while you were doing whatever, I went out and killed a deer. I hope you like deer stew, and don’t worry, I already gave our friend over there his share of it,” Rikoto replied. “If it keeps us from starving, then I’m up for it,” Roger laughed. While they were eating, Roger asked Rikoto why he never talked much. “I just never felt like it since Mom and Dad died. When Chief Williams took me in, he understood me and gave me some space,” he answered, putting his spoon down, then turned to face the flames of the fire and continued, “It was like a part of me left after they died, but I’m fine now. We’ll need an early start in the morning if we want to get back before sunset, so let’s get to bed.”

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

A few years after what happened to his parents, Rikoto was back to normal – almost. He walked around like nothing had ever happened to him, but he rarely said anything to anyone. Once he would raise his hand if he knew the answer to a question his teachers asked the class, but now he just kept his head down and wrote down the answers while everyone else guessed at them. He didn’t interact with the other students either: he sat by himself at break and lunch, and whenever the children were allowed to play outside or in the gymnasium, he found an empty corner and sat down until it was time to go back in. One day when he was getting off the bus he noticed something was weird about Chief Williams’ house. It was more of a feeling than anything else, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He walked in the front door and was tackled at the ankle by a wolf-looking dog. “Where did you come from?” he asked the pup. “He’s yours, if you want him,” Chief Williams said from the living room. Today must’ve been his day off, Rikoto thought; otherwise he wouldn’t be home so soon. Rikoto looked at him in confusion, considering the fact that he never asked for a dog. “He’s half wolf and half German Shepherd, but he’s got no name yet. A friend of mine has had some problems with a wolf and couldn’t figure out why until this little squirt was born. I went over and bought it from him for you.” Rikoto stooped down to his knees and scratched the dog’s ear. “Just like you, this one’s all by himself. I figured you could both use a friend,” the chief continued. Rikoto walked upstairs to his room, the unnamed dog on his heels, and closed the door to do his homework. Hours had passed since he got back from school; he just laid there staring up at the ceiling until he remembered he had a dog in his room and figured he must have to use the bathroom. He got up and saw the dog laying on a dog bed the chief must have bought for him. Opening the door he said, “Shadow, do you need to use the bathroom?” the puppy, who looked surprisingly muscular for his age, looked up at Rikoto and wagged his tail.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

The next morning, as Rikoto and Roger were about to begin their hike down the mountain, they watched as the young wolf limped into the woods. “Hey Roger, merry Christmas,” Rikoto said as he handed Roger a fang from that thing he killed the day before. “It’s for luck, trust me.” As they started their hike down the mountain the snow began to come down on them even harder than the previous day. “Hey Rikoto, what did you get Delilah for Christmas?” Roger asked, trying to change the mood this weather was having on them as they hiked. “I got her a sweater. Don’t look at me like that, I haven’t seen her in years so how would I know what to get her,” Rikoto answered. “What about you? I’m sure you got Ashley something nicer than a sweater.” “Yeah I got her a diamond ring,” Roger said sarcastically. As they continued their hike, the snow beat down on them, the cold air was biting at their fingers right through the gloves they wore. The wind nearly blew them over when they carefully walked down a small icy slope.

Half way down, they noticed that the snow had covered the bridge they crossed the day before. “Great, now what?” Roger asked. They looked around for another way across, but only saw a slope a fool with a snowboard would go down. “You’ve got to be kidding me?! We’re stuck up here and we’ve got no way back down!” Roger’s loud voice echoed to the top of the mountain. The next thing they hear is the sound of a roaring mountain side as snow began to roll down it in an avalanche. “Well, I guess we go down then,” Rikoto said, rather calmly.

Back at Rikoto’s place, Delilah was pacing back and forth, wondering if the guys were all right. “Delilah, I’m sure they’re fine. Please come and sit down,” Ashley said, trying to calm her down a bit. “I can’t help it Ashley, I’m just worried they might not get back. You saw the avalanche on the news just as well as I did. What if they were caught in it?” Delilah replied, still panicking. The front door opened up and in walked two white figures brushing off the snow from their bodies. “Hey, sorry we’re late, but we had to race nature down the mountain. You should’ve seen the look on Roger’s face,” Rikoto said, still brushing some snow off of him. “I over here started an avalanche and nearly killed us….” Roger said, being interrupted by Delilah jumping on Rikoto and saying she was relieved that they were okay. Then Ashley walked over and hugged Roger and kissed him on the cheek, welcoming him back. “Hey Rikoto, maybe we should do this again tomorrow,” Roger said, making everyone laugh at him.

Later that night, they had a small Christmas party and exchanged gifts, although the girls thought the guys forgot about it. In the kitchen, Rikoto got a phone call. “Hello? Oh, hi Mr. Dwain, yes everyone is fine. No, I don’t know what caused it but I don’t think anyone was caught in it. Yes I’ll tell her. Merry Christmas to you too sir, bye.” Walking back to the lounge, Delilah stopped him in the doorway. “Who was that?” she asked, holding her cup of hot coco. “It was your dad; he wanted to make sure you were okay and to wish you a merry Christmas,” Rikoto replied, looking up to continue with a confused look, “Who put mistletoe here?” “Don’t know. It would be bad luck if we didn’t respect the tradition tied to it though,” Delilah said with a guilty grin. Delilah leaned forward slowly until their lips were together. “Shh,” Ashley whispered to Roger as she removed the cup from Delilah’s hand so she could wrap her arms around Rikoto. Rikoto however, had been thinking about everything he had been through in that very moment: the dreams he had been having, the visions he was seeing, and then he remembered why he had been avoiding Delilah. This all felt wrong, kissing someone he had no feelings for. “No, I can’t do this. It isn’t right,” he said as he let go of Delilah and pushed himself backwards. Delilah just stood there, looking shocked by what he’d just said. It isn’t right. What wasn’t right about two people kissing? She was hurt by it and he could tell, but the damage had already been done, so he let it go.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Rikoto said, walking to the door. He opened the door to find no one on the step, but looked out into the street and saw someone standing in the middle of the street. Because the snow was still coming down hard, he couldn’t make out the person’s face. The figure walked away and vanished in the snow. As he was closing the door, Ashley asked, “Who was it?” “I don’t know. It must’ve been a prank of some sort,” he answered, “It’s still snowing hard outside, I guess we’ll be having another sleep over.” “Yeah, I guess we should get to bed. Goodnight guys,” Roger added as he kissed Ashley on the cheek and went to get his sleeping bag. “Goodnight Rikoto, I’ll see you in the morning,” Delilah said as she went to bed with a sad look on her face. Ashley followed soon after. “Are you okay? You just missed a good chance at getting a girlfriend,” Roger said when he returned from upstairs. Rikoto said nothing but went around the house making sure the doors and windows were locked and the lights were turned out. But as he was about to turn the lights out in the lounge, he saw himself on a battle field after the fighting had stopped. On the ground, he saw that same black figure on the ground, crawling away from his dead enemy. He finally snapped out of it and went to bed, still wondering why he was having these visions.

“Are you alright, Delilah? You’re crying,” Ashley asked while she and Delilah were brushing their hair for bed. “Yes I’m  . . . I'm fine. I just had something in my eye.” She answered, but continued to cry. “Is it about you two kissing? Delilah, you can tell me anything, now what’s wrong sweetie?” Delilah giggled a little and looked at Ashley. “You sound like my mom. She always called me that when something was wrong.” Then she went to bed and didn’t say another word about the whole thing.

The next morning after everyone had woken up, Rikoto and Roger went to work on that project of theirs while the girls went to the library. “Hey Roger, can you hand me a wrench?” Rikoto asked, looking like he went swimming in a tub of oil. “So, what was up with you and Delilah anyway?” Roger asked, picking up a large tire. “You saw it huh? I don’t know, we’ve been friends since we were kids. I’d hate to mess that up over a kiss. Don’t forget to tighten the bolts on your end,” Rikoto answered while struggling with the seat he was trying to put into place. “It looked like you chickened out to me. If I wasn’t with Ashley, I’d probably be with her. Hand me the blow torch,” Roger replied. Igniting the torch and aiming it where he needed it, Roger accidently burnt himself and dropped it. “Hey Roger are you okay?” Rikoto asked. “Yeah, I just wanted to make sure the flame was hot enough.”

Meanwhile, at the library, the girls were looking for a certain book when Ashley asked Delilah about the previous night. “Look, Rikoto’s been going through a lot. It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have kissed like I did,” Delilah said, dropping a book on medicine. “Don’t think that way. It’s not your fault. If anything, it’s his fault because he refuses to see what you’re trying to do for him. I think you were right to kiss him, he just wasn’t thinking clearly.” Ashley told her. “Maybe, but something didn’t seem right with him, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask him what was wrong with him later. I hope it’s just something he and I can get through, because I really like him. In fact, I . . . I think I love him.”

“Then tell him how you feel. He’ll understand or I’ll help him understand.”

All of a sudden, three men came in and fired their guns. “Everyone get on the ground now! All purses, wallets, jewelry, and watches up front!” one of them yelled, pointing his gun at a woman holding her daughter’s arm tightly. Delilah and Ashley bent low to hide from the men. Out of sight, Delilah silently called Rikoto. “Hello? Delilah can you speak up please; I can hardly hear you,” Rikoto said. “No, the library is being held up and I don’t know how long we can hide from them,” Delilah whispered. “Okay, I’ll be right over as quick as I can, just stay out of sight as long as you can,” Rikoto replied as he hung up the phone and ran to find Roger. “Roger, go to the police station now! The library is being held up and Delilah and Ashley can’t hide forever,” he yelled. Instead of saying anything, Roger got up from the ground and grabbed his coat as he ran out the door. Rikoto however, went straight to the library, changing out of his mechanic’s uniform on the run.

Back at the library, as the sun was beginning to set, Delilah and Ashley were having trouble staying hidden since one of the three men was walking up and down the rows of book shelves. “Mommy, I’m scared,” the little girl said to her mother, crying. “Hey guys, look what I found – two college girls, and it looks like one of them called her boyfriend,” the man said as he dragged Delilah and Ashley to the center of the room. The lights started to dim, darkening the main room where everyone was in. “You, go check it out. Take the librarian with you,” the group leader said to one of his men. The librarian took the henchman down the hall where he was pulled into the shadows. “Hey, is everything okay?” the group leader asked, hearing something in the hall. Then, out of the shadows flew the same man who was pulled into them. His face was frozen in shock, like he’d seen something horrifying. Delilah looked at him and her jaw dropped; she’d seen this same thing before on the night she had gotten back from Chicago. The first time she had witnessed the work of the Dark Phantom.

Before anyone could move an inch a black figure jumped out of the shadows and attacked the other two men, quickly returning to the darkness. Although it got one of them, the gang leader dodged the attack and grabbed the closest hostage to him, which was Delilah. “Not another move or she dies,” he said, holding a gun to Delilah’s head. Just as the man got a glimpse of the tall black figure, the lights went completely dark, rendering the man holding Delilah blind in the darkness. Scared of what might happen, the man began to put his finger on the trigger when both of his arms were pulled away from the girl and was pulled deeper into the darkness. When the lights finally came back on, the three gang members were tied up in the middle of the floor unconscious. When everyone came out of the building, Rikoto and Roger ran through the crowd to find the girls. “Rikoto, they’re over here,” Roger said, hugging Ashley and refusing to let go. “Delilah, are you okay?” Rikoto asked, although he already knew the answer. “Rikoto, I’m so glad you’re here,” Delilah answered, kissing Rikoto before continuing, “The Dark Phantom was here; he saved me from getting killed.” “That guy was here? Dang, does he have a social life?” Roger asked with sarcasm. “Come on, let’s go,” Rikoto interrupted as he started walking away with Delilah under his arm.

As the four friends were walking down the street, a patrol car stopped in front of the two. Out jumped a police officer with handcuffs saying, “Rikoto Sakuro, you’re under arrest.” After the rookie cop arrested him and took him to the station, Rikoto asked him what the charges were. “You should know what you did, Mr. Sakuro,” he said,” You committed the crime.”

                “Sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

                “Where were you the last time you saw Mr. Kindle?”

                “The Christmas dance.”

                “What was the last thing you said to him that night?”

                “I told Craig to back off and leave me and my friends alone.”

                “Then what happened?”

                “I went inside and that’s the last thing I said, did, and saw of Craig. I have witnesses.”

                Delilah, Roger, and Ashley busted in the interrogation room. “Rikoto was with me until 10:00 that night,” she said. “Craig disappeared before 9:45.” “Then explain how my attacker looked just like him,” Craig said as he walked in the room. “Plus, he bit my neck and tried to drink my blood.” Craig lowered his shirt collar to reveal two puncture wounds. When Rikoto saw it, he knew Craig was telling the truth, but it wasn’t him that did it though. “Is that all you wanted to ask me. If so, and since you have nothing else other than the word of someone who knows how to lie and nothing else, then I guess I’ll be going now.” Rikoto told the officer. “You little piece of –”

“That’s enough!”

Sergeant Trey stood inside the door to the interview room holding the door open. “Kowalski, you better watch yourself,” he growled. “Come on, kid. Get out of here, but make sure you see the chief on your way out.” Rikoto got to his feet and walked out, ignoring the look Craig and “Kowalski” shared on their faces as he did. He knocked on the door to Chief Williams’ office.

“It’s open.”

Rikoto walked in and found the chief sitting in his chair. “Hey, Chief; Trey said to see you,” he said, closing the door. “Rikoto, you haven’t seen a guy walking around Power City have you?” Chief Williams asked. “Does he have white hair, looks kind of young to be in his fifties or so, walks around like he owns half the country?” Rikoto asked him, describing Sakrone almost to a ‘T’. The color in the chief’s face drained; he stood from his chair and walked around to the front of his desk. “Rikoto, you need to stay away from him. He’s nothing but trouble; I ran into him when I was younger, as well as your parents,” he explained. Instead he walked out of Chief Williams’ office and past his friends who lost him when he busted himself through the front doors to the department. They looked in all directions, but never spotted him.

Rikoto had a box of files and papers scattered all over his dining room table when his friends knocked on the front door. He had the door locked, but Roger let them in with his key to the house. “Roger, remind me to get that key from you when I’m in a better mood,” Rikoto told him when they found him in the dining room. “Rikoto, are you alright?” Ashley asked him, but he didn’t say anything. Delilah walked closer and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. “Rikoto? Please, tell me what’s wrong. What did Chief Williams tell you?” “Everyone sit down; it’s time I told you something,” he said, and everyone took a seat at the table. “Everything you see on this table is a copy of what Chief Williams has on my parents’ case. He doesn’t know I have all this and that’s how I want it to stay,” he explained to them. “Today, he told me he thinks Sakrone might have something to do with their deaths but he can’t keep track of him.” There was silence for a while, then Roger spoke up. “So, what do you want us to do?” he asked.Rikoto looked at him like he was stupid. “How can we help, Rikoto?” Ashley added. “No one is doing anything but me. This is my business, not yours,” Rikoto told them firmly. “I didn’t tell you guys this because I needed your help. I told you because you have a right to know why I’ve been the way I am.” “Rikoto, you can’t do this by yourself. You need help with it,” Delilah said to him. “Look at yourself: you don’t go out, you rarely hang out with your friends during the day.” Ashley and Roger nodded their heads in agreement to what Delilah had said, but Rikoto wasn’t paying them any attention. “And right now . . . well, I hate to say this, but you look like crap, dude,” Roger told him. “Rikoto, you helped all of us when we needed it. Please, let us help you in return,” Ashley said.

They agreed to use Rikoto’s home as a base and whenever someone found something useful, they would page the others. “Do you have any idea why that rock is so important yet?” Roger asked, pulling out the files Rikoto had asked him to get. “No, nor have I had any luck getting information on the thing,” Rikoto answered as he sat down in his chair. “Okay, Ashley and I found all the locations in Power City. We’ve got them all marked on the map,” Delilah said, laying out the map of the city on the table. Instead of saying anything, Rikoto walked outside to stand on the balcony to think. Although he was grateful to Delilah for supporting his statement, he didn’t feel like being around her at the time. As he rolled the black rock in his hand, Delilah went downstairs to make some tea. “Rikoto seems pretty tense doesn’t he?” Ashley asked as she followed Delilah to the kitchen. “Yeah he does, and I don’t know how to help him. I wish there was something I could do,” Delilah answered, looking for a pot in the kitchen cabinet. “I’ve never seen him like this before either since I first asked him about his parents. Maybe you could show him that you’re there for him,” Ashley replied, trying to help Delilah.

                Back upstairs, Roger was looking through the files on the table while Rikoto remained on the balcony, thinking. “Hey Rikoto, are you feeling all right? You look a little pale and weak,” Roger said, trying to choose his words wisely. Rubbing his head, Rikoto answered, “Yeah, I’m fine. How are we doing with the unsolved cases?” “Not so good. I found this file and I didn’t know if you knew about it or not,” Roger replied as he gave Rikoto the file on his parents’ deaths. He wasn’t surprised that Roger would find it so he let it go and didn’t say anything about it. He threw it back on the table and went back to the balcony. A few minutes later, the girls got back with some tea. “Here Rikoto, I made you some tea,” Delilah said, setting Rikoto’s cup of tea on the railing when he didn’t take it in his hand. Sitting down at the table, she noticed the file about Rikoto’s parents’ deaths and picked it up to read it. As she read it, she began to understand why Rikoto hadn’t been communicating with his three friends that whole night. She also began to figure out what her friend might be thinking. She looked up at Rikoto and wondered what she should say to him until Ashley read the report over her shoulder and gasped. Rikoto lowered his head and dug in his pocket for the little black stone his father had left him.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

                Rikoto always kept his mind on nothing but that night when his parents died. “Help! Someone please help me!” a woman’s voice rang out. Stunned, Rikoto ran to the woman. He turned a corner and looked down an alley and saw two men trying to rob her and her husband. Anger filled his heart as he watched and he ran down to help them. “Leave them alone!” he shouted at one of the men as he grabbed his arm. The man spun on the spot and hit Rikoto in the nose. He fell backwards onto a pile of slimy trash bags, but when his senses came back he got up and did it again. This time though, the man grabbed his shirt and began to throw him.

                Rikoto’s blood pumped throughout his body faster than it usually did. Before the man could release him, he and Rikoto both fell through a corridor of some sort that neither of them knew was there. As they tumbled, the man’s grip loosened and he continued to roll. But Rikoto stopped almost immediately, and watched as the man disappeared. He got up and began to chase after him until he saw what was down the slope from him: thousands of screaming people, half of them skin and bones, the rest half naked. Frightened of the sight, he didn't even move when the man he assumed brought them here was clawing his way back up. The screaming people had grabbed his legs and were pulling him down the slope with them, and Rikoto could see his face thinning out as their grip on him tightened and his eyes sunk into his face. Rikoto got up from his place and began to run until he found himself falling through another corridor. When he stopped rolling, he looked up and saw his bed. It was himself who was teleporting to different places. But how, and where was that place he took that man? Could he control it? Maybe, if he could, he could help people in need with this thing he could do.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****


                Someone shook him by the shoulder and he was instantly back in his home on the balcony. “Rikoto, are you all right?” Delilah asked. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. I just spaced out for a minute,” Rikoto said. “It’s been more like fifteen minutes,” Roger muttered as he continued to scan through the reports on the table in front of him when everyone but Rikoto turned to face him. “What, I can’t help if I kept track of the time he spaced out. I’ve been stuck in this paperwork, what else could I do?”

Delilah walked back to the balcony where Rikoto was standing. “Rikoto I’ve thought about this for a while now and I – I don’t want you to keep doing this. You could lose yourself in the process more than you already have. And I don’t want to lose you,” she said. “I feel the same way about you Delilah, but I have to find out who killed my parents,” he replied. “You can’t do it, Rikoto!” she shouted with tears running down her cheeks. “The reason why I don’t want you to is because I love you and I don’t want to see you like this . . . or worse!” Delilah loved him? He never would’ve thought he would hear anyone else say they loved him after his parents’ deaths. “How could you love a monster like me?” he asked, trying not to look at her. “Look at my face; heck, look at what I am.” “I don’t care what you look like. And we’ve been friends for so long, and I don’t care what you are. It’s who you are that matters to me,” she answered. “I’ve been trying to avoid you ever since you got back from Chicago,” Rikoto said. “I don’t care. I’ve tried to be your friend and ignore my feelings, but I can’t do it. And what you’re doing needs to stop, if not for yourself or me, then do it for your parents. Please.”

“Come on, let’s leave them alone,” Ashley said, pulling on Roger’s arm. “We’re gonna go and let you two sort this out. Bye.” “We’ll see you tomorrow,” Roger said, closing the door behind them. “I think it’s time we went to bed as well. I’ll see you in the morning,” Rikoto said, looking into Delilah’s tearful eyes. Seeing she could do nothing else, she said, “Good night Rikoto,” and went to bed.

The next morning, Rikoto woke up to find himself in his sleeping bag on the floor, surprisingly next to Delilah. What was she doing in the floor next to him when there was a perfectly good bed upstairs? After he got done in the shower, the door opened and she walked in, luckily after he had put a towel on. “Oh!” Delilah shouted, “I’m terribly sorry Rikoto!” “It’s not your fault,” Rikoto replied, “I’ve been meaning to put a lock on the door so this wouldn’t happen.” Later that day, no longer traumatized by that same morning, the two friends went for a walk in the park. “Hey Rikoto, did you feel anything that night under the mistletoe?” Delilah asked, cuddling up to Rikoto while still walking. “Other than your lips on mine, no, I don’t think I did. Did you feel something?” Rikoto replied, trying not to hurt her feelings.

                “Yeah I think I did.”

                “So do you want to go to dinner with me tonight?”

                “Dinner sounds great! I can be ready by ten o’clock.”

                “I’ll pick you up.”

                As Rikoto was getting ready for is date with Delilah, Roger walked in the room looking like he had gotten into a fight. Both his eyes were black and he was limping as if he stepped on a nail. “What happened to you?” Rikoto asked, trying to keep his spiked hair down with some hair gel with no luck. “I got into a fight. Some guy in a wheel chair said the Dark Phantom was a filthy good for nothing crook, and that he was secretly leading the Dagon Claw’s,” Roger replied. “You got beat up by a guy in a wheel chair?” Rikoto laughed. “No, the woman that was with him beat me up. Don’t tell anyone about this, got it? Do you have any aspirin?” Roger answered, rubbing his forehead.

                “Yeah, it’s in the cabinet in the bathroom.”

“Thanks. So what are you doing tonight?”

“I am going on a date with Delilah.”

“Really, what happened to you not wanting to date your friends?”

Instead of answering, Rikoto threw the small bottle of hair gel at Roger while he was getting some aspirin from the cabinet. “Anyway, I’m gone, see you later,” Rikoto said as he went out the door and headed to Delilah’s house to pick her up. Meanwhile, Roger called Ashley with Rikoto’s house phone. “Hey Ashley, what are you doing tonight,” he asked, “Well, I’m at Rikoto’s place alone if you want to come over. Great, I’ll see you then. Okay, bye.”

After picking her up for their date, Rikoto and Delilah went to see a movie before dinner. At the ticket booth, they ran into that same man in a wheel chair with a woman pushing him out of the theatre. Behind them was a younger man arguing with him about the Dark Phantom. “I’m just saying that if he was really a criminal as you say, would we be out here wondering when he could attack us?” the younger man asked. “Martin, you aren’t looking at the facts. He wants us to believe what we hear about him until we stop looking behind our backs; that’s when he’ll hit us hard,” the older man in the wheel chair argued. “I’m sorry for butting in, but I think he really is a hero and he only wants to protect us from harm. He works with the Power City police department,” Delilah interrupted, though making a reasonable point. “What do you know about him, lassie?” the man in the chair asked. “He saved my life twice, and almost everyone at the university talk so highly about him. The cheerleaders made a petition to change the mascot after him,” she replied.

                “You young folks wouldn’t know heroism if it slapped you in the face. If he really was a hero, he would come out of the shadows and show his face. Did you ever see his face, lassie?”

                “Well, no I didn’t. but that doesn’t mean –”

                Finally satisfied, the stubborn man was wheeled away and Rikoto walked Delilah inside. “Why didn’t you say anything Rikoto? You stood there as if he was talking about you,” Delilah said, looking at Rikoto with a disappointed look on her face. “It wasn’t really my place to say anything,” Rikoto replied. “It wasn’t my place either, but I said something regardless,” she answered. “So did Roger; he got the snot kicked out of him by the woman pushing that guy in the chair for it too,” Rikoto laughed, “Come on, let’s find our seats, the movie is about to start.” After the movie was over, Rikoto and Delilah went through the park before they headed to the restaurant. With time to spare, the couple skipped some small rocks across the pond when Shadow walked out from under a tree to sit next to his master. “Do you have anything else planned for this beautiful night?” Delilah asked. “No, I don’t, I’ve been going with the flow. Well, it’s about time for the show so I guess we better get going,” Rikoto said, taking Delilah’s hand in his own. “Where are we going now? What show are you talking about?” she asked, but he didn’t answer. At the restaurant, the waiter showed them to their table on the patio next to the beach. “Seriously Rikoto, what are you planning?” Delilah asked, still wondering what he had up his sleeve. “Just wait for about two more minutes and you will find out,” Rikoto replied, looking down at his watch, “So what were you planning for New Year’s?” “Um, I didn’t really have any plans. Are you asking me out before our first date is over?” Delilah answered. Just then, fireworks were going off and people were yelling all around “Happy New Year!” “Happy New Year Delilah,” Rikoto said. Before she could say anything, a heart-shaped firework went off, and another one went off in the center of the heart, shaped like a D. “How did you do that?” she asked. “Someone owed me a favor. Do you like it?” he answered.

                “I love it. Thank you and happy New Year. You do realize the d could also be for the Dark Phantom don’t you?”

                “True, but then I got to thinking about that: he probably doesn’t like pink, and there would’ve also been a ‘p’.”

                As the fireworks continued, a violinist walked slowly between tables of customers, playing his violin; although it wasn’t part of his plan, Rikoto didn’t seem to care. Finally stopping at the railing of the patio, he continued to play soft music although no one could hear him over the fireworks. Leaning over to set her head on Rikoto’s shoulder, Delilah closed her eyes and smiled as if the night would never end. “The violinist wasn’t my idea,” Rikoto whispered in her ear. “It makes a beautiful addition to the fireworks though,” Delilah whispered back, still smiling. After the show was over, Rikoto and Delilah got their coats and started walking back to Delilah’s house when Roger called. “Hey Roger, what’s up?” he said as he answered his phone, “No I’m gonna drop Delilah off at her place then I’m heading home. Why do you ask? You and Ashley are at my place aren’t you? Okay, I’ll see what I can do, bye.” “Would you like to stay at my place for a little while? Daddy still isn’t home yet and it gets lonely sometimes,” Delilah asked, wrapping her arms around Rikoto’s arm. “That sounds good since Roger and Ashley are invading my home,” Rikoto answered, making Delilah laugh.

                                                                                            Chapter 7

                On the roof of the police station, Chief Williams was standing there like a statue while Sergeant Trey was pacing back and forth, both waiting. “What’s the matter Sergeant, getting anxious?” a dark figure said as he walked out of the shadows. “It’s about time you got here. One of the guys we arrested at the library said they worked for a man named Sakrone,” the chief said, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “What about him?” the figure asked. “They said he is planning something for us ‘humans’ and he intends on starting with you. We managed to squeeze a hiding place out of the guy; I thought you might like to go in alone,” the chief replied. The figure vanished back in the darkness. When they were sure they were alone, the sergeant turned and said, “You really think he can stop whatever this Sakrone clown is planning?”

                “If he can’t, no one can. He might be our only hope for Power City, Trey, you never know.”

                Delilah was just locking the front door to her house when Rikoto knocked on it. “It looks like you could use a bath, Rikoto,” Delilah giggled, opening the door to let him in. He was covered in dirt and mud, looking like he fell down a hill. “Yeah probably, and I’m sorry about it taking so long. I didn’t expect Chief Williams to keep me for nearly an hour,” Rikoto said. “Well, I just came out of the shower but the water is still warm if you would like to take one here,” Delilah replied, wrapped in her bath robe. Just then, Mr. Dwain walked in behind looking rather tired. “Well, this is a surprise. I get to see my lovely daughter and the very young man I’m looking for at the same time,” he said with a smile on his face, making Rikoto a little nervous. “Hi Mr. Dwain, I was just leaving,” Rikoto said as he stood there like his feet were glued to the floor. “Non-sense, Rikoto, I need to talk to you anyway,” Mr. Dwain said as he kissed his daughter on the cheek. When he walked into the garage, Rikoto followed him although still a little nervous since he was found with Delilah wearing her bath robe. “You know a lot about cars don’t you, Rikoto?” Mr. Dwain asked, picking up a wrench. “Yes sir I do. Are you having car trouble: because if so then I can most likely help you out with it. But I don’t think that’s the reason you brought me out here,” Rikoto answered, walking around the car in the garage.

                “You would be correct. I wanted to talk to you about Delilah. I know you will probably say you weren’t doing anything because I walked in unexpectedly and found you with her wearing a bath robe.”

                “Sir, what are you getting at? You arrived just two minutes after I walked in.”

                “I know. I’ve trusted you in the company of my daughter ever since you were kids. You’re a good kid, Rikoto. I know she is in good hands.”

                “What are you saying?”

                “Delilah really missed you when we left for Chicago. I admit, when she made some new friends she still thought about you, just not as much. But when she met someone that she really liked he hurt her in a way that would’ve destroyed her mother if she was still alive. Now I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt her but I want you to promise me something – please do everything in your power to keep her safe, no matter what it takes.”

                “I promise Mr. Dwain, I’ll keep her safe.”

                Just then, Delilah walked in and wrapped her arms around Rikoto. “Daddy, please don’t scare Rikoto off. Whatever he said about us when you walked in is true,” she said. “Actually, I saw him go in just before I pulled in the garage. Don’t worry honey, I’m not scaring him off, I’m encouraging him to stick around,” Mr. Dwain replied, shaking Rikoto’s hand and bidding them both goodnight. “Yeah, I should go too. Tomorrow I’ve got to stop by Chief Williams’,” Rikoto said as he kissed Delilah and left.

                Later at his place, Rikoto walked in and found Roger and Ashley both sleeping on his couch; instead of waking them up, he put a blanket over them and went to bed himself. Sitting on his bed, he thought about the black rock his father had left for him – why was it so important? Were there more like this one? And why was there a riddle on the black stone? Those thoughts raced in his head as he slept, but it seemed almost impossible for sleep to fall on his eyes.

                The next morning, Rikoto had just started making some breakfast for his friends when he heard a thud. When he walked in the living room, Roger was in the floor snoring and Ashley was standing beside the couch putting her shoes on. “Good morning Ashley,” Rikoto said, handing her a cup of hot coffee. “Oh, good morning Rikoto. I hope we didn’t disturb you,” Ashley replied. “Nah, I was just cooking some breakfast. Would you like some?” he asked. She nodded with a smile then walked in the kitchen with him while Roger continued snoring. “I think this is the first time you’ve ever served me something to eat Rikoto. You’re not hitting on me are you?” Ashley giggled. “No, I just thought I would surprise you by showing that I can cook . . . though not very well,” Rikoto replied, busting an egg yolk when he flipped it. “So how did you sleep?”

                “I slept wonderfully well, thank you. I heard you and Delilah went on a date a few nights ago. Is there something between the two of you?”

                “Honestly, I’m not sure. She’s a great friend; she’s beautiful, smart, and funny.”

                “Aw, my little boy is finally growing up.”

                “Ha ha, very funny, you should be a comedian.”

                “So do you think you two might get together?”

                “I know I haven’t been with her until she got back from Chicago. I don’t mind hanging out with her, and even though at times it seems we’re complete strangers at other times it’s as if she never left. But then again, who would want to be with someone like me? In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got claws marks from an animal going down my left eye.”

                Before Ashley could get her answer out, Roger staggered sleepily in to the kitchen and greeted them both. “Good m – m – morning guys,” he yawned. “Good morning sleeping beauty, how did you sleep last night?” Rikoto said. “I slept like a log,” “I’m surprised you were still sleeping after you rolled off the couch when I woke up,” Ashley said, taking a sip of hot coco. “Hmm, I wondered how I wound up in the floor,” Roger replied, making them both laugh. “Here is your breakfast Roger, help yourself,” Rikoto said.

                Delilah walked in the door, looking as beautiful as she was the night of the Christmas dance, though a little on the mad side. “You will not believe what the newspaper said about the Dark Phantom!” she exclaimed angrily, walking into the kitchen and slamming the paper on the table. “Well good morning to you too Delilah,” Roger said sarcastically. “They said he blew up a building at the docks. I admit I haven’t been back in Power City long enough yet, but even I know when a hero is falsely accused of being a criminal,” Delilah continued. It was then Rikoto’s head ache from last night returned to him. “Which newspaper is this?” he said, taking a look at the front page of the paper. “Oh, you got the Weekly Publisher. I wouldn’t worry too much about it Delilah. The Weekly Publisher is always talking trash about him whenever they catch wind of him emerging from the shadows. Hardly anyone reads it now.” “Yeah, it’s a miracle that they’re still in business after all the trash they write,” Roger interrupted, taking a huge bite of bacon. “Especially after what happened two years ago when someone sued the Publisher.” When he said this, Rikoto pointed a finger at him. As she sat down in a chair, Delilah took a breath of relief. “So none of this junk is true?” she asked. “It’s only true to those who believe it,” Rikoto answered, handing Delilah a plate. “Here, I fixed some breakfast if you want it.” “Thanks. So Roger, I met the old man you got beat up by last night. He looked like you never touched him,” she said, with a giggle inside that last sentence. “It was the woman who was with him that beat me up!” Roger coughed. “You’re just making it worse for yourself, Roger,” Rikoto said, reading the junk that the Publisher had written. “And you promised you wouldn’t say anything about it to anyone!” Roger exclaimed, still coughing. “It wasn’t my fault we ran into the old man and the woman who beat you up,” Rikoto answered. “I thought you said the Publisher was junk?” Ashley asked sarcastically. “It is; I just like to read a newspaper.”

                It had been a month since Delilah’s outbreak about the Weekly Publisher; she seemed to be in a rather better mood, though she was still mad at them for typing trash about the Dark Phantom. Rikoto didn’t mind though, since he knew they couldn’t say anything that was true about him. The Christmas holidays were over and everyone had gone back to having homework. Craig was back to teasing younger students; teachers were putting exams together for their classes and Prof. John had finally come back to teach his students. “Finally, I can get my mind back in focus,” Rikoto thought to himself as he walked through the doors of the university wearing a pair of black baggy pants with pockets down the legs and an unbuttoned black dress shirt hanging over a red t-shirt. Before the first period bell students were racing the storm wearing rain coats or carrying umbrellas. Just before Prof. John walked in and closed the door, Delilah walked in looking like she fell in a tub of water. “I didn’t expect it to rain today. I hope everyone got here safely,” Prof. John said as he examined the class room, noticing someone was missing. “Where is Ashley?” “She had a migraine this morning,” Roger said, squeezing his wet baseball cap of rain water.

                Later after class Rikoto left the university during lunch; no one knew where he went but few people even noticed. “Does anybody know where Rikoto went off to?” Delilah asked, looking around the cafeteria. She sat down at the table she usually sat at with Rikoto, across from Roger who had already dug into his meal without a care in the world. “Don’t know, he must’ve got sick of coming here since Craig is here. Personally, I wish whoever snatched Craig that night never let him go,” Roger said, still munching on his food. It had been nearly thirty minutes since Rikoto’s disappearance and no one still had any idea where he had gone; although she knew he could take care of himself, Delilah was getting more worried about him as more time passed. Since Ashley was at home sick Roger was the only other friend she had at the university; they went to the gym hoping Rikoto would be there, but he wasn’t for a while. When Delilah decided to go look for him, he walked up behind her as she was putting her books away. “Hey Delilah, sorry I haven’t been here, but I needed to do something first,” Rikoto said, helping Delilah with her books. “Where have you been? I’ve looked everywhere for you but never found you,” Delilah said as she sat back down on the bench. “Well, I remembered something important today and I thought it would be rude of me not to do something about it,” he answered, pulling an object wrapped in newspaper from his back. “Happy birthday Delilah, I got you a present.” Delighted by his answer, Delilah unwrapped her birthday present to reveal an umbrella making her even happier than ever. “How did you know I didn’t have one before?” she asked, although she already knew the answer. “I saw Mr. Dwain bring his umbrella in the night after our New Years Eve date. Just before I left I looked back at the umbrella stand next to the door and figured you didn’t have one of your own and today proved my theory,” Rikoto answered, picking up Delilah’s book on sewing and placed it on the stack of other books. “Thank goodness you’re alive; Delilah has been bugging me about you ever since you left after lunch without a word,” Roger said, walking up to Rikoto and Delilah panting from his running.

On his way to Rikoto’s place Roger was stopped by an elderly man having trouble with his spare tire. “Excuse me, but can you help me?” the man asked. “Yeah, I guess I could spare some time. Do you have a wrench?” Roger said, rolling up his sleeves. Just then, a man jumped out of the nearby alley and shot both the old man and Roger. “Hang on sir, I’m calling the police right now,” Roger said weakly as he tried to dial 911, still bleeding badly. When the paramedics arrived, the old man and Roger were both rushed to the hospital. “Where is the young man?” the old man asked, looking up to the medic trying to stop the bleeding. “He’s being rushed to the hospital in the other ambulance,” the medic answered.

At the hospital, Roger and the old man were both rushed to the ER. “Get these men in the operation room stat!” the doctor shouted. In the ER, the surgeons worked hard to get the bullet out of Roger’s chest all night. In the other room, another group of surgeons worked hard on the old man to save his life. A few hours later, in his bed, the old man asked the nurse about Roger’s condition. “I’m afraid I don’t know. The doctors are still trying to save him, but when I hear something, I’ll be sure to let you know okay?” the nurse answered. “Ma’am, I was in the army as a doctor, help me out of this dog gone bed so I can help the young man,” the old man replied, beginning to sit up in the bed while the nurse tried to help him. Back in the ER, the head surgeon was just about to give up when the old man wheeled himself in the room. “Stand back sonny, and let me do this. You’re sweating your pants off,” he said. “Who are you to give me orders sir?” the surgeon asked as the man rose to his feet using his cane the nurse had given him. “I am Corporal John Striate. I was a doctor in the army, now stand back I said, before this young man dies,” he answered, holding his hand out for a scalpel from the assistant nurse. He worked on Roger for another two hours, digging inside for that bullet.

The next morning, Rikoto checked his cell phone to see if he had any missed calls, but he didn’t. On his way out the door, he found Delilah on his front porch. “Good morning Rikoto, how did you sleep?” she asked. “I slept pretty well except I didn’t see Roger last night. He said he would come over but he never showed up,” he replied. At the university, Craig walked up to him and said he was going to get it when he found proof that Rikoto attacked him. “Craig,” Prof. John interjected, “leave Rikoto alone.” “Thanks,” Rikoto said as Craig started walking away,” I’m sorry to hear about your wife, I lost my parents when I was a kid.”

                “It’s all right; I know you didn’t try to kill Craig.”

                “How do you know?”

                “I saw you escort Mrs. Hope to her home. By the way, we are both going to be late for class if we don’t shut up.”

                Later at class, Rikoto noticed that Roger didn’t show up which is strange since he was never late for bio-tech. On his way to the gym, Ashley ran up to him crying and nearly knocked him over. “Rikoto,” she screamed,” Roger’s been shot!” “What?!” Rikoto asked, “Who did it, Ashley?” “I don’t know,” she replied,” I just heard it on the news.” Just then, Delilah showed up and hugged Ashley. While they talked, Rikoto decided to go check this out for himself. As it turned out, she was right about Roger being shot. But he still couldn’t believe it would be Roger, his best friend. He thought long and hard about it, and finally figured it out: Sakrone had to have done something to him, and he had to find the truth. That night, Rikoto went to find Sakrone; he searched all over Power City and finally found him on the clock tower. “Sakrone!” he yelled, “What did you do to Roger?!” “I did nothing to him,” he replied, “nor do I know who did.”

                “You’re lying!”

                Just then Rikoto dashed towards Sakrone and they both fell off the tower which was fifty stories high. As they were falling, they fought but unfortunately, it didn’t take long before Sakrone landed on a ledge and Rikoto’s jacket got snagged on a flagpole. “Don’t try to fight me again,” Sakrone stated, “or I’ll take you down before you can even blink.” He was right about one thing though, Rikoto was too weak to fight Sakrone right now, but in time he would find a way to do it. Just then he noticed something fall to the ground. It was small and glowing yellow. Before he could get himself loose from the flagpole and retrieve it though, a car drove by and knocked the object into the sewers. It was two minutes later that Rikoto remembered he was supposed to be back at Delilah’s. When he got to the front door of her house, he found Delilah and Ashley both sitting on the couch side by side. “I’m sorry I’m late, I got caught up in traffic,” he lied, hanging his leather jacket, now with a hole in it from the flagpole, on the coat rack. “What happened to you Rikoto?” Delilah asked, noticing his clothes were torn in some places. “I had to take a detour through a construction site,” he answered as he walked over to the red cushioned seat between the couch and the fireplace. “We should all get some rest, and in the morning we can see how Roger is feeling.”

                The next morning they all went to the hospital to see Roger. “Hi, we’re looking for a friend of ours, Roger Kane,” Rikoto said to the nurse at the front desk. Just then, the old man that Roger helped limped with his cane toward the three to talk with them. “Excuse me, but are you friends with the young man?” he asked. They nodded and he continued, “He saved my life that night when we were both attacked. I’m grateful to him for that. This city could use more people like him. I imagine you would like to be left alone so I’ll just go, but here is my address if you want to talk. He’s on the third floor in room 3A. Good-bye now.” After the old man away, the three stepped into the elevator and went up. “I should’ve got him some flowers. Maybe they’ll have some up here,” Ashley said as they got out of the elevator when the doors opened up. While the girls looked for some flowers Rikoto searched for the room his friend was in. He walked in quietly and slowly closed the door behind him. “Hey man, how are you feeling?” Rikoto asked, noticing Roger with the remote in his hand changing the channels. “I’d feel a lot better if I hadn’t got shot. You were right by the way – this fang really was lucky,” Roger said. They both laughed for a few seconds. “Where are the girls?” “Ashley wanted to get you some flowers so she and Delilah went looking for some,” Rikoto answered, pulling up a chair and sitting down. Just then, the door opened up and Ashley and Delilah walked in, carrying flowers. “Are you okay, Roger?” Ashley asked as she put the flowers in a vase. “I’m okay. It’ll take more than one little gunshot to kill me,” Roger answered, hugging Ashley. “Yeah, this guy is tough as nails, almost,” Rikoto joked, making them all laugh. “Well, I’ve got something to do so I’ll leave you in the hands of these pretty girls. See you later, Roger.”

                Later as he was walking down the street Rikoto noticed there was a man following him since he left the hospital. Although he didn’t see Sakrone very often after that last fight, Rikoto saw plenty of that man. He figured the guy had been stalking him for a while and he never noticed it until now. It had been a week since he first noticed the man when he out-smarted him and confronted him in the alley. “Who are you?” he asked. “My name is Dave Ricochet,” the man told him. Rikoto glanced down at Dave’s right arm, seeing that his hand was behind his back. “Do you intend on robbing me or killing me?” Dave pulled his gun out and holstered it. “I’m looking for someone, and I wanted to see if you were with him,” he said. “If I was with someone, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.” Dave nodded his head slightly, then jerked his head around as if he was looking for someone. “Buy you a drink?” he asked, but Rikoto declined. “How long do you intend to stay here?” Dave turned to leave, and as he did so he said, “You’ll see me around”.

The next day he got a call saying that he had a visitor at the police station. At the station, the chief told him where his ‘little cousin’ was and he asked him what he was talking about. “She said she’s your cousin,” the chief answered, “Her name is Rachel. You never told me you had a cousin before.” “I didn’t know,” Rikoto replied as he walked in the room where a young black-haired girl with yellow highlights stood in the center of the room. “Rikoto,” she said, “it’s so great to see you!” “How did you know who I was and how did you know where I lived?” he asked. “I’m your little cousin: Rachel. Uncle Zikeno had a younger brother who was also a Dark Walker. He told me all about you and what we are.” She answered. Rikoto looked at her stupidly. “Long story; I’ll explain later.”

Rikoto opened the front door to his house and then showed his younger cousin where she could sleep. “So who all knows about you being a Dark Walker anyway?” Rachel asked as she put her bag down on the bed. “Just a friend of mine,” Rikoto answered. Handing some blankets to Rachel, he continued. “Are you in school, or were you home-schooled?” “Hey, I’m not that young. For your information, I was a senior in high school last year,” Rachel answered. “Well in that case, I’ll see if I can get you in the university. But if you don’t want to go there, then I think there’s another college here in Power City.”

“The university sounds nice. When can I start?”

“You can come with me tomorrow and see what the university is like and in August you can enroll yourself if you like it.”

                The next morning, Rikoto ran into Delilah on the way to class. “Who’s your friend Rikoto?” she asked. “Apparently,” he replied, “she’s my cousin. Delilah this is Rachel, Rachel this is my friend, Delilah.” At that moment there was an explosion in the classroom next to them. “That’s probably Jim again. I’ll bet you money that he is going to be a bomb maker. I might as well see what he blew up this time,” Rikoto said as he walked away. “So what did Rikoto tell you about us?” Rachel asked. “He told me that you’re gifted and each of you has a different ability and that’s it I think,” Delilah answered. “Do you want to get something to eat? There is a pizzeria down the street if you like pizza.”

                “Jim, Jim you all right?” Rikoto slapped Jim in the face trying to wake him up. Jim’s face was covered in smoke residue and dirt, as well as the rest of the classroom. He started to wake up, but Rikoto slapped him one more time to make sure. “Hey, you okay, man?” he asked. Jim looked around a bit before he said anything. “What – what happened?” he coughed. “A girl kissed you on the lips for once, but you must not have taken it too well,” Rikoto explained, helping him up into a chair. “I blew up the class room again, didn’t I?” Rikoto nodded his head and Jim placed his hand on his forehead and shook it. They looked around the room and finally Rikoto asked, “So what combination did you try this time?” “The first one,” Jim answered. “Really? It smells different than it did last time.” “I added something new to it, hoping to suppress the reaction. But I guess it enhanced it instead.”

                “Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we? The girls don’t want to rub themselves up against a dirt covered Jim.”

                                                                                Chapter 8

At Tony’s Pizzeria, Rikoto introduced Rachel to Ashley who wasn’t very fond of her at first, but eventually came around to liking her. Rachel was so excited about being in Power City, but she didn’t know anything about it. “So, what do I do if a boy talks to me?” she asked. An ease dropper at the next table was so shocked by the question she nearly choked on her food. Delilah asked, “You don’t know what to do when a boy walks up to you?!” “Okay,” Rikoto said. “I’m going to see how Roger is doing since he is supposed to come home today. I’ll see you girls later.” “Wait, I want to go with you. Ashley hasn’t stopped thinking about this Roger person and I want to meet him,” Rachel said. Ashley shot her an angry look as Delilah followed them out the door. “We’ll tell him you said hi,” Delilah said. As the three walked down the street Delilah crept closer to Rikoto until they were holding hands. Rachel noticed this which didn’t set well with her. “Do you think Roger will be happy to finally be able to leave the hospital?” Delilah asked. “Don’t know. He did say the food was disgusting and he doesn’t get to see Ashley much since she can’t take off enough to visit him so I imagine he will be the first one to the front doors of the place,” Rikoto answered. “He sounds like a real pain in the butt,” Rachel said, walking behind the two with a frown on her face.

“Just wait ‘til you meet him.”

Finally making it to the hospital and in the elevator, Rikoto noticed something just as the doors were closing. He placed his hand on the doors and pushed them open, trying to get a better look at what he was seeing. “Sir, you can’t leave yet,” a nurse said as she tried to grab someone’s hand. “I’ve already signed myself out so I know I’m feeling better. Now let me go or you’ll be following me out the doors to my house,” said a familiar voice. Rikoto stepped out of the elevator and walked toward the scene. “Roger, what is going on here?” he asked. “This nurse is trying to tell me that although I signed myself out, I’m not allowed to leave this dump. Can you believe that?” Roger said. “Actually, I can. You’re still wearing one of the hospital’s gowns. Take it off and she might let you leave. Here are you some clothes to change into,” Rikoto said. Both of the girls laughed. As they were walking out of hospital doors Roger asked, “So who’s the girl?” Before Rikoto could get an answer out Rachel butted in. “My name is Rachel, not girl. And I’m Rikoto’s cousin.” “Well, I can see there is no need for introductions so my job is done,” Rikoto muttered under his breath.

“Hey young man, stop right there,” said a voice that stopped Roger in his tracks. Everyone turned to see who was talking to Roger when the old man in the wheelchair pointed his finger at them. “You see now? Where was your hero when your friend got shot, huh?” he asked with a smile. “It’s you again. For your information, the Dark Phantom was probably chasing after the guy who shot me,” Roger said. The woman gave a walking cane to the old man and he stood up, looking Roger dead in the eye. “Now you listen to me, you young whipper snapper. That ‘hero’ as you call him is no such of the thing. If he was a hero, then he would come out of the shadows right now and show everyone his face.” “Come on, Roger. He won’t listen; he’s too busy reading the Publisher to let any sense enter his wrinkled brain,” Rikoto said as he pulled Roger away from the old man. “What did you say?” the old man asked in a higher voice. “You heard me. If you would get your head out of that stupid piece of crap you call a newspaper, then maybe you wouldn’t be so blind that you need someone to push you around in a wheelchair so you don’t trip over the truth around here,” Rikoto answered, though not turning around. As they were walking away Delilah looked back at the old man who had sat back down in his wheelchair. “I’ve never heard you lose your temper like that before,” Roger said, but Rikoto was shaking his head. “I’m just annoyed at the fact that the old geezer won’t listen to reason. I remember when I lived next door to the fool; he was constantly talking trash about someone or something every day to the chief in the mornings,” he answered.

Back at the pizzeria Rikoto, Delilah, Roger and Rachel were sitting down when Ashley jumped in Roger’s arms, hugging and kissing him. “I’m so happy you’re back, Roger. I’m sorry I couldn’t visit you more but I got a new boss and he only lets us take two days off each week,” she said when Roger let her down on the floor. “It’s okay, the times you could visit were pleasant enough,” Roger said. “Hey Ashley, I hope you’re not taking a break right now because you’ve still got customers to serve,” said a thin young man with a bushy mustache. “Hi, welcome to Tony’s Pizzeria. Please take a seat and someone will be with you shortly.” “I assume you’re the new manager here,” Rikoto said. “You would be correct, sir. I’m Timothy Patterson,” the man said as the two shook hands. “We should be going. We’ll see you two later,” Delilah said as she pulled Rikoto by the arm. Rachel followed them out the door, leaving Ashley and Roger in the pizzeria. “They seem like they might make a nice couple. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Kane; you have to admit it does have a nice ring to it,” Delilah said, placing her hand in Rikoto’s. “Hmm, we don’t do anything like that. Dark Walkers keep their last names even when they’re married,” Rachel said, “It’s said to be bad luck if both spouses have the same last name.”

“Well, that is a little confusing, but I guess it makes some sense. That way, if they separated there wouldn’t be any confusion on the last name. So, if Rikoto and I got married, would I have to change my last name?”

“Um, I think that would be your decision. Of course, the children would take the father’s last name,” Rachel answered. All this talk about marriage was making Rikoto sick to his stomach, and he wasn’t even in the discussion. The sound of kids made his stomach twist and turn all sorts of ways. How long could two people possibly talk about something like getting married or having kids? Finally irritated to the point of going crazy, he turned on the spot, took a big swallow and said, “Delilah, would you like to see a movie with me sometime?” Startled by the interruption Delilah could barely talk. “Uh . . . a movie . . . yeah, that sounds great. What time do you want to pick me up?” she said. “Rikoto, can I talk to you for a moment? Now, perhaps,” Rachel said as she pulled Rikoto into an alley. “Rikoto, you don’t need to get too close to this girl. The night I got here I saw what will happen to her in the future. It’s not good.” “That’s nonsense. Besides, I only asked her to a movie so you would both shut up about marriage and children,” Rikoto said but Rachel didn’t blink.

“Rikoto, I’m serious. If you try to keep her from dying, you’ll lose yourself in the process.”

But Rikoto ignored her and gave Delilah a good time for their movie. About week later Rikoto was running as fast as he could across the city, trying to make it in time for the movie. He already had to postpone their date again and again several times and this time needed to be different. Finally, he arrived just in time to make sure their tickets were ready and slipped inside as soon as she got there. As Delilah and Rikoto were walking down the street after the movie was over, they saw a group of men standing in front of them. “Hold it,” one of the men said, “We have strict orders from Sakrone to take both of you to him, with or without force.” Rikoto didn’t want Delilah to get hurt so they went with them peaceably. By the time they got there, several men were fighting each other and Sakrone was sitting in his chair hidden in the darkness. “Welcome to my humble home for the moment,” said Sakrone as he emerged from the shadows. “Why did you want both of us?” Rikoto asked.

                “I think it’s time I told you the truth, Sakuro.”

                “You didn’t answer my question. Call your men off before I put them down.”

“Always wanting to get right to the point aren’t you boy? Very well, I called you both here because I thought since you were going to tell your girlfriend anyway, that I should save you the breath. I know why the cops never caught the man who killed your parents and I also know who killed them. You see, Zikeno found a small black stone when we were children, but strangely, what it could do scared him. I didn’t find out what it was for a long time, but when I did I told him about it and what we could do with it. But your father, being the fool that he was decided to take you and your mother and go into hiding as far away from me and our people as possible. Seven years I searched for him until finally I discovered from one of my spies that he was leading a ‘normal life’ as the humans call it in Power City – the very place that was taken away from our ancestors that I would soon take back and rule as its new leader. The night they died, I intended to get the location of it out of him, but he died instantly. It’s a shame what happened to them, really, but I guess if it was their time then it was their time.”

                Right was enraged and wanted to kill him on the spot, but he looked around at the crowd. Everyone there seemed like they were waiting for him to make that move, so he stayed put to protect Delilah. “I’m going to let you go this time, Rikoto. But make no mistake; I will have that stone, as well as its sisters. And when I do you will make a choice: stand by me or die.” Sakrone raised his hand and they backed off and let them walk out the door, but Rikoto still looked over his shoulder just in case someone got jumpy.

                Rikoto and Delilah finally got to her house when she kissed him goodnight and closed the door. On his way back to his temporary apartment, Rikoto noticed Rachel limping out of an alley. “Rachel!” he yelled as he ran to help her up to the apartment,” what happened to you?” “Sakrone’s men jumped me,” she answered, bruised from head to toe. “I was able to fight them off for a while, but there was just too many for me to beat.” The first thing that popped into Rikoto head was revenge and he decided to go after those guys who jumped his little cousin and get back at them for what they had done. He found himself at Sakrone’s hideout in no time and inside he found about twenty men not counting Sakrone himself getting themselves and their weapons ready for something big. “Sakrone!” Rikoto yelled, “Where are the guys who attacked Rachel?!”

                “Who are you talking about?”

                “My cousin, and your men attacked her and I want to know why!”

                “Ah yes, that little thorn in my back other than you. I sent them to attack her because she is a danger to all of us including me and you.”

                “You really feel good about yourself, don’t you? Beating up kids who are barely out of high school?!” Rikoto shouted at him. “I’ve had enough of your tongue, you little –” one of Sakrone’s men snapped, but Rikoto grabbed him and disappeared into the darkness. He reappeared but the man remained a mystery, for he never returned. “Nice trick, but do you think you can do that with all of us?” Sakrone asked him. “Stay away from my friends and family or I swear I’ll swallow up this entire pier and send it to purgatory with you and everyone else here with it,” Rikoto threatened. “Even if it killed you?”

                “Especially if it killed me.”

                When he got back to the apartment Rachel was fast asleep on the couch so he decided not to wake her. After about two hours of thinking of how Roger used to always tell Rikoto the bright sides of everything and the way he made everyone laugh, Rachel came in and sat down beside him and told him he needed to try to think a little quieter because she could hear it. “Sorry,” he said. “Mind if I play some chess? I always wanted to try but no one would teach me,” she asked. Rikoto set up the board and they played for about an hour or so, carefully thinking out each and every one of their moves on the board. “Check mate. Wow, my very first game of chess and I won,” Rachel said, feeling better after what happened earlier. “Congratulations, you’re the first person to ever beat me at this game,” Rikoto said, looking up at the clock on the night stand. “Get some rest. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.” “Goodnight Rikoto,” Rachel replied as she left her cousin and went to bed.

The next morning Rikoto woke up early and walked to Mr. Dwain’s house and lightly knocked on the door, trying not to wake Delilah up since her room was above the front door. The door opened slowly and a tired, half woken man in his checkered pajamas looked around the door to see who was standing there. “Rikoto, what are you doing here so early? It’s five o’clock in the morning on a S – S – Saturday,” he yawned. “I’m sorry for waking you, sir. But I felt I should talk to you before Delilah woke up,” Rikoto said softly. “Very well, come in. What is it you wanted to speak to me about? Would you like some coffee?” Mr. Dwain asked, though he had just walked in the kitchen and picked up an empty coffee pot, pouring what his sleepy mind thought was fresh hot coffee. Rikoto shook his head and sat down in a chair. “I’ve been thinking about this all last night and honestly I don’t know if I’m thinking very clearly,” Rikoto started. “Well, the first sign of not thinking clearly is waking someone up early on a Saturday morning when they should both be asleep, but go on,” Mr. Dwain said, sitting down in a chair opposite from Rikoto, still holding the empty coffee pot. “If it’s all right with you, I . . . I would like to marry your daughter. Like I said before, I’m probably not thinking clearly . . .” All of a sudden, Mr. Dwain opened his eyes, completely woken up. He coughed for a second then cleared his throat before saying anything. “Are you . . . are you sure you want to marry Delilah? You do have my blessing, but are you sure you’re ready for something this big?” he asked, sitting upright in his chair.

“Sir, I’m going to be completely honest with you – I have no idea if I’m ready for this or not, but it somehow feels like I’m supposed to do this.”

They both sat there for a few seconds without saying anything. Finally, Mr. Dwain said, “You sound just like I did when I asked my father-in-law if I could marry his daughter, and that scared the hell out of me. You do realize that what you’re asking is a very big responsibility, right?” Rikoto nodded and he continued. “Well, I have one piece of advice: if you need help with the planning, don’t hesitate to ask me.” “Thank you, sir. I’m glad I came to you about this,” Rikoto said as he walked out of the kitchen and left.

After waiting for an hour or two Rikoto went over to Roger’s house to see what he thought about it. He knocked on the door and Roger opened it, wearing a fuzzy green bath robe. “Dude, what are you doing here so early? It’s Saturday,” he said as he wiped his sleepy eyes. “I know what day it is, but I need to talk to you. And it’s only nine o’clock. I already asked Mr. Dwain and I thought I should get a third opinion,” Rikoto said, walking in the door. “Can’t it wait for another hour or two, perhaps maybe even three?” Roger asked when they had both sat down. Roger turned the morning news on just as Rikoto told him, “I think I want to marry Delilah”. Roger looked at him stupidly, turned off the television and took a big loud gulp. “Are you thinking clearly? You’re not even out of the university yet and you want to marry Delilah?!” Rikoto shook his head, still looking Roger in the eye. “Dude, why would you want to? I mean, from what I’ve seen, you can hardly stand to be around her.” “I’ve been hiding my true feelings about her for a while since she got back. But if this is what you really think about the idea then I guess you don’t want to be my best man . . . so, I’ll be going,” he said as he got to his feet and started out the front door. Roger threw his hand on the door and stopped him saying, “Wait, I said it was a bad idea. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be your best man at the thing”.

“Thanks, and remember: not a word to Delilah about this. I want to bring it up myself at the right time.”

Roger ran his finger and thumb across his mouth in a zipping motion. “My lips are s – s – sealed, pal,” he yawned. Rikoto walked out the door and heard the door shut behind him with locks turning quickly. “You do know I have a key right?” Rikoto asked through the door. “I’ll get them changed,” Roger replied loudly, and stomped his way back to his bedroom. Rikoto laughed as he walked down the steps back to his house, picking up a newspaper on his way.

At Tony’s, Delilah, Rachel, Roger and Rikoto were sitting at one of the tables when Ashley said “Okay, this new boss of mine is really starting to get on my nerves”. Rikoto sat there for a few seconds, looking from Delilah to his pants pocket and back, his hand sweating uncontrollably. “Are you all right, Rikoto? You look a little pale,” Delilah said. Rikoto didn’t say anything but continued to stare at his pocket as if he was expecting something to fly out of it. “Oh yeah he’s fine. He might be a little nervous because he wants to ask you to . . . OUCH!!” Roger said when Rikoto kicked him in the shin of his leg under the table. “Ask me to what?” Delilah asked with a curious tone. “Fine, since Roger opened his big mouth I guess I might as well get on with it,” Rikoto said as he put his hand in his pocket. “Delilah, we’ve been friends for a while since you got back from Chicago. I’ve been thinking about this since last night and I talked to your father and he approved of the idea. I can’t say the same thing about Roger though.” Rikoto got out of his seat and stooped to his knees, pulled out a ring and said “Delilah, will you marry me?” everyone in there turned their heads to face the scene to see it with their own eyes. Delilah sat there for a few seconds and laughed, crying tears of happiness during the whole time. She shook her head and said “Yes, yes I will marry you, Rikoto”. Rachel got up and literally dragged Rikoto into the back room and asked, “What the heck are you thinking Rikoto?! I already told you about your future with Delilah, why would you try a stupid thing like marry her?”

                “Because the future is always changing with every decision someone makes. One day a child would say to his parents that he was going to be a teacher when he grew up, and then twenty years later he could wind up being a security guard at the public museum. That’s the kind of world we live in – nothing is certain just because you can see it.”

                When they got back to the group Delilah asked Rachel if she would be a bride’s maid at the wedding. Rachel looked at Rikoto angrily and turned her head back to face Delilah. “Yeah, I guess I could do that,” she huffed. “Great. Rikoto, where do you think would be a good place for the wedding?” Delilah asked. “What about the park? You could have the whole city come to the wedding and still have room,” Roger said, still typing on his laptop. “Yeah that’s a good idea, except for the whole city coming of course,” Ashley said when she walked by with a pizza in her hand. “Hey, check this out. According to this, tonight there is going to be a blood moon. Won’t that be fun to see?” Roger asked, but only Rikoto paid any attention to him. “What did you say?” he asked. Roger moved to the side and Rikoto looked at what he was talking about. It was true: tonight was going to be a red moon. “Uh, I gotta go, but I’ll see all of you later,” Rikoto said as he walked out the door without another word to anyone else.

Rikoto had almost made it across the street when Delilah came running up to him. “Rikoto, wait; is something wrong?” she asked with concern. He didn’t know how to explain to Delilah what happens to him. He knew if he told her the truth she would try her best to be there for him and he couldn’t let that happen. “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just that . . . every time a red moon appears . . . I want to be alone; but like I said, nothing’s wrong,” he lied. “Oh, okay, I guess I’ll just have a girl’s night out with Ashley and Rachel then,” Delilah said, though she wasn’t convinced everything was fine with Rikoto. As soon as she walked off, Rikoto took his phone out and called Rachel. “Rachel, I need you to keep Delilah as far away from the house for as long as you can,” he said, then put his phone away and continued walking down the street.

The sun was setting, everything in Power City was growing darker, and Rikoto was now running to his house trying to make it to his room before the moon made its ‘bloody’ appearance. He locked every door he went through that would lock and threw his hands on the bathroom sink. He could feel the pain that was soon to come. There were no windows in the bathroom so he could look for the moon, but he knew it was shining brightly across the city and for the next hour or so he would be in the floor with his arms wrapped around his stomach. All of a sudden the pain hit him like a sledge hammer; he was grabbing his gut and yelling in pain. In the middle of Rikoto’s red moon pain, Roger walked in the front door. “Hey Rikoto, where are you?” he said, walking aimlessly in the apartment. “Arghhhhhhh!!” “Rikoto? Is that you?” Roger followed the sound until he found the source coming from the bathroom. He knocked on the door and silence fell upon the whole house. Roger waited for a few seconds before he knocked again. There was a low growl like an animal, and before Roger knew it he was being knocked over on his back by something that busted through the bathroom door. He looked up and saw Rikoto standing there, only it didn’t look much like him; his eyes were glowing bright red; there were claws where there should have been finger nails; sticking out from under his upper lip were razor sharp fangs. “Rikoto, you’re freaking me out right now,” Roger said as he stared at his friend, but Rikoto just looked at Roger like a hungry predator. He spoke in an unknown language and slowly walked toward Roger until he jumped.

Roger barely dodged Rikoto by an inch and was running for the door when it opened and Rachel, Delilah, and Ashley were standing there. “What’s wrong with Rikoto?!” Delilah said when she saw her boyfriend acting like an animal. “All of you run now!” Rachel exclaimed as she shut the door and led them downstairs, but no one left. “Roger, has he said anything to you since this happened?” Rachel asked. “He didn’t say anything in English if that’s what you’re asking! He tried to kill me!” Roger answered. Rikoto took another step toward them, looking from one person to the other then collapsed in the floor on his hands and knees. He tried to scream but it was continuously changing into roars and back again. “Rikoto!” Delilah shouted as she tried to reach him, but Rachel stopped her. Rikoto looked up and with his voice sounding very low he tried to say “Go . . . leave . . . me!” “What’s wrong with Rikoto?!” Rachel glanced out the window to see how much the moon liked before it was completely white. “It’s the moon. Whenever a red moon rises, a few of our kind are affected by it and this happens; it’s like they’re werewolves or something but they can fight it and avoid the transformation if they’re strong enough. They can’t control their actions regardless which is why he wanted to be alone tonight.” she answered. “Well, is there anything we can do for him?” Ashley asked, looking as terrified as Delilah. Rachel shook her head. “All we can do is stay away from him until the moon changes its color, and it won’t be long until then,” she said.

Just then, Rikoto jumped on Rachel and pinned her to the floor. She stared at her cousin’s glowing red eyes, defenseless from her arms being pinned between her back and the floor. She closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see Rikoto end her life. He raised a hand and was about to strike his prey when Delilah screamed his name at the top of her lungs. Rachel opened her eyes and found Rikoto’s claws a few inches from her face; she looked around and saw Delilah standing there, crying as she made eye contact with Rikoto. He got off of Rachel and began screaming in pain; everyone looked out the window and saw the moon slowly turning from red to white. He fell to the floor and threw his hands on the floor, pulling them back to himself and leaving claws marks behind. He was seeing several things again; he was standing over a coffin as it was being lowered into the ground. Finally coming back to where he really was, he looked down at his hands and watched as his claws retracted back into his fingers leaving his finger nails. His vision went back to normal. He looked around the room at everyone that was there then fainted in the floor.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

He was lying in his bed staring up at the ceiling, thinking. The police would obviously try to catch him for a while until they realized he was helping them. A red light shined through his bedroom window, the light hitting his face. A sharp pain hit him like a semi truck; he couldn’t breathe and his body was jerking uncontrollably. When he looked at his hands, there were animal’s claws growing out of his fingers, pushing his fingernails back into the skin. “Arghhh!” His whole body hurt from the pain that didn’t stop. Then he felt something stabbing his lower gums. He managed to get to the mirror he had in his room, but what he saw was not himself. Whatever this was had fangs where his eye teeth should be and his eyes were as red as a fire truck. The pain brought him back to the floor and he lay there, grabbing whatever he could to hold himself still. He put his arm in his mouth and bit down to suppress the sound of his screaming, though he was sure someone outside had already heard it the first time. The pain felt like it would never go away until, after what seemed to be at least three hours, it faded.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

 “Rikoto, Rikoto, wake up.”

Rikoto’s dream was fading away as he opened his eyes, looking at familiar faces. “Rikoto, are you all right?” Delilah asked. She was sitting next to him on the bed just like she was so many years ago when they were kids. “Yeah, I’m . . . fine. I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” Rikoto said as he tried to sit up. He felt weak, like he had been running twenty laps around the whole city. Roger was still standing by the door with Ashley. Rikoto looked around and saw three more faces, faces he hadn’t seen in three or four years. One of them was a spiked blond headed man with blue sun shades on his head wearing a pair of blue jeans and white t-shirt with a blue denim jacket. Another one had dirty-looking red hair and was wearing a pair of brown carpenter pants with a red dress shirt and a bandana around his neck. The third man had dark brown hair with a green sleeveless shirt and grey pants, but unlike the other two he was bare-footed. “Yeah well, you’ve looked better after one of these nights last time we saw you,” the blond headed man said sarcastically. “I’m Cyril, and this is Firo, and Kashar.” The brown haired man waved when his name was called last, but the red headed man just leaned against the wall. “Guys, this is Delilah Hope, she’s a friend of mine. And that’s Roger Jackson, and Cyril, I’m pretty sure you remember Ashley.” Rikoto said weakly. Ashley looked over at Cyril and shot him a mad look. “I see you’re still mad at me for that little mishap,” Cyril said. “Mishap, you call shooting an arrow and nearly hitting me in the head with it a mishap?” Ashley said with anger in her tone before storming out of the room with a huff.

“Ashley, wait. I’ll see you later, Rikoto,” Roger said as he followed Ashley out of the house. “Well, I think she still likes you,” Kashar said, trying his best not to laugh. “I just don’t get why she still hates me for that one little accident,” Cyril said as he scratched his head. “I’m no genius, but I’m pretty sure it was because you tried to date her after you nearly shot her in the head,” Rikoto said weakly, trying to stand up. Just then, the door opened and Firo pointed his dagger at the person’s neck. “Who are you?” he asked. “I’m Dave Ricochet, and if you don’t get your dagger away from my neck, I’ll put a hole in your gut,” he said, pulling the hammer back on his gun. Firo put his dagger away and Dave did the same with his gun as he walked in the room. The bathroom door opened and Rachel came out with only a towel wrapped around her. When she saw that she was one of only two girls in the room, she put her arms around the towel and had a shocked look on her face. “Who are all of you?” she asked, though only looking in Kashar’s direction. “Rachel, these are my friends from a couple of years back: Cyril, Firo and Kashar. And this is Dave; I met him shortly before you arrived.” Rikoto said. “Uh, I think we should step outside, guys, at least until – Rachel, is it? – gets dressed,” Kashar said as he started to walk out the door until Rachel stopped him. “No, my bedroom is behind you.” She shuffled between them, rubbing shoulders with Kashar, and shut the door behind her. “Well, I just came up here to make sure these three weren’t working with Sakrone, so I’ll be going,” Dave said as he walked out the door and shut it behind him.

When the apartment door clicked shut Rachel, still working on the last button on her pajama top, burst out of her bedroom in a rampage similar to Ashley’s angry exit. “What in the blue blazes was a Hunter doing here?! Do you have any idea what kind of a danger he poses to us, Rikoto?” she asked. “I’m sure he has a good reason for it, Rachel,” Delilah said with a cold rag in her hand. “You don’t understand, Delilah. Hunters are to Karoshonians as werewolves are to vampires: they’re sworn enemies,” Rachel explained. “I did. Dave is only interested in killing Sakrone for the death of his family. He told me that himself,” Rikoto said, though not convincing his cousin. “I don’t think you realize this, but they lie, Rikoto. That’s what they do in order to get their targets, and from what I can see, he has just found four more targets,” Rachel argued. “I know we might not have a say in this, but I think Rikoto made a good move there, joining forces with a Hunter could give us an advantage,” Kashar said. “Look, it’s late and I’m sure everyone could use some sleep. I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Rikoto said, and Cyril, Firo, and Kashar went to find a place to sleep for the night. Rachel however, huffed her way to bed, not saying goodnight to anyone. “Well, I guess I should be going too,” Delilah said as she made her way to the door. “Wait, if you want to, you can sleep here with me and Rachel tonight,” Rikoto replied when he got to his feet slowly. She accepted his invitation and they went to bed together.

                                                                                                Chapter 9

The following week after his high school prom, Rikoto decided to go to his old house where all his memories of his past rest. Chief Williams had somehow kept it from being on the market for him. “In case you decide you want to go back and live there,” he said. Turning the key over in his hand, Rikoto walked up the driveway and unlocked the door. The place seemed to be in the same shape it was in the last time he saw it. Nothing had been moved or taken out. He rummaged through his parents’ closet, sorting the stuff to see what stayed and what went to the Salvation Army. He pulled some of his father’s old suits apart and picked up a shoebox. “For Rikoto” was written on the box lid. He set it on the bed and looked through it. There were pictures of him with his parents, birthday cards they had given him, even his baby teeth that his mother collected. Then he found a stack of pictures that were tied together along with a letter addressed to him. He looked through the pictures first, noticing another boy in them that resembled him and his father. He opened the letter and read it carefully:

Hi sweetheart,

How are you? I’m sure that if you’ve read your father’s letter first then you’re probably confused, but don’t worry. He’s always been that way. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures in the shoe box, so I’ll go ahead and explain that. You have a big brother, Rikoto, but at a certain age he ran away and we never saw or heard from him or of him since then. I never thought for a second that he was dead, but I didn’t want to tell you either because it still hurts me to think that he was out there somewhere and us not know if he was all right. As you saw, he looks a lot like you and your father. I don’t know why but neither of you got controllable hair like me: the same spiked hair one generation after another. Don’t get me wrong, I love you so much, spikes and all. But I think it would’ve been nice to have a daughter, or at least a son whose hair didn’t look like lightning struck him. Honestly, I was over joyed when Mr. Dwain asked your father and I to be Delilah’s god-parents. It kind of made me feel like I had a daughter without her actually being mine of course. But anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you haven’t lost all your family. And no matter what, Rikoto, I love you so, very much. And I know your father does too, but you know how he is with his jokes. I swear, it’s like raising two boys . . . and I’m married to one of them. Take care of yourself, sweetie, okay? Don’t lose an ounce of sleep no matter what. Gotta go. Love you, Rikoto: then, now, and always.


                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

The next morning Rikoto woke up with his arm hung over Delilah’s waist while she slept. Being very careful not to wake her he walked into the tiny kitchen to make some breakfast. He still felt a little weak last night but he did his best to fight falling in the floor. Just then, a tired, yawning Rachel staggered in the kitchen and nearly tripped over her own foot when she realized she wasn’t the only one awake. “Oh, I didn’t realize you were up, especially after how weak you were last night,” she said. “Yeah, I just got up. How are you feeling?” he asked as he opened the little refrigerator to get some eggs. Rachel rubbed her eyes and sat down before answering. “I’m okay I guess, but I’m still mad at you for being friends with a Hunter. I can’t believe you did that,” she said. Before they could continue their argument, Delilah walked in stretching her arms. “Good morning, Rachel,” she said. Rachel smiled slightly and watched as Delilah wrapped her arms around Rikoto while he cooked. “Good morning, handsome,” Delilah said very softly, almost like a hiss. She whirled around to Rikoto’s side and snuck a kiss from him. “Good morning, Delilah. How’d you sleep last night?” Rikoto asked. “I slept wonderfully, thank you,” she replied with a smile. She sat down in a chair across from Rachel and began to hum a song her mother used to sing to her as a child. Roger knocked on the door and walked in, looking like he had gotten into another fight. “You do realize now that there is a girl living here with me right?” Rikoto asked him. His shirt was covered in dirt, one of his eyes was black, and his pants were torn in some places. “Roger, tell me that woman with the old man didn’t beat you up again,” he said as he was giving Delilah and Rachel their plates. Roger brushed himself off and walked in the kitchen and said, “Okay, she didn’t beat me up again”. “Roger, you really do need to stop getting into fights with people. From the looks of you, it seems that you can’t win,” Delilah said to him, but Roger didn’t pay her any mind and continued. “It was one of those Dark Walkin’ characters.” Rikoto froze where he stood. “I think I need to have a talk with the guys,” he said as he ran out the door, leaving his breakfast on the counter.

Rikoto checked every hotel, every empty house, and other apartment buildings until he found them in Tony’s Pizzeria. He tried to calm himself down and walked in, sitting down at the table where Cyril, Firo, and Kashar were sitting. “Hey, how are you feeling?” Kashar asked. Firo was running his fingers across the sharp side of a knife blade when he noticed Rikoto’s face. “Sakrone sent someone to attack Roger,” Rikoto said. They all gave him a stupid look until Ashley got back with their drinks. “Oh, hi Rikoto, how are you feeling?” she asked. “I’ve been better,” Rikoto said with a grin, then Ashley gave Cyril his drink last. “You don’t know how hard it was for me not to poison your drink, Cyril.” She walked away and didn’t say another word to him afterwards. “Dang, I said I was sorry,” he muttered as he watched her walk away. “I think she loves you, she just doesn’t want to admit it,” Kashar told him. “So are we going after Sakrone or not?” Firo asked, still running his fingers across his knife. “No, I don’t want to rush him into his plan just yet. I want to see how long he waits before he puts it into action. Come on, we need to find Dave and talk to him,” Rikoto replied, and they finished their drinks and left to find Dave.

The four men walked down several streets, searching for Dave as they walked. They finally found him in a gun shop buying shotgun shells. He turned as he was leaving and said “Hey Rikoto, what’s up?” “We gotta talk, now. I’ll explain on the way,” Rikoto said as he grabbed Dave by the arm and dragged him outside. “Where can we talk that we won’t be over heard?” he asked. Dave thought a bit then decided his place would be the quietest spot where they could talk. “I’ll call Rachel and tell her to get the girls over to your place,” Rikoto said while he dialed his cousin’s number on his cell phone. When he got her on the phone he said, “Rachel, I need you to get Delilah to Dave’s place. I’ll send you his address”. “Is she still sour about the idea about me working with you?” Dave asked. “Sour? You could’ve heard her yelling from a mile away,” Cyril answered.

When they got back to Dave’s place, Rikoto found the girls to be watching the news. “Let’s go to the kitchen and discuss our dilemma.” Rikoto said. In the kitchen Dave, Cyril, Firo, Kashar, and Rikoto started to figure out a plan to stop Sakrone. Ideas were tossed around and eliminated for one reason or another. “I say we strike at Sakrone first,” Firo suggested. “That wouldn’t work because he would have the home advantage,” Cyril replied. “What about luring him out into the open?” Kashar asked. “What would we use as bait, a human?” Dave interrupted, sounding as if he was one of them. Just then a flaming arrow shot through the window and in a split second the whole place was on fire. “Delilah, Ashley, come on we gotta go now!” Rikoto shouted. The girls woke up and ran to the door. Delilah, however, ran to Rikoto as he tried to put the fire out. “What are we going to do?!” she screamed. Just then he discovered something that might save them both in the nick of time, a trap door under the kitchen rug that led to safety. “Hang on Delilah,” he said. And in a slight pull of the door and a bit of old fashioned split second luck they managed to slip through to the door before a fire ball engulfed them both. “I’m definitely not eating barbeque for a long time,” Delilah joked. After walking through the slimy tunnels, they found a ladder that led to the surface and to Rikoto’s surprise it took them a block from the fire. They could see Rachel trying to fight the others to let her go in and get them out regardless of whether or not they were still alive. “That’s very brave of you Rachel,” Rikoto said, “but we are standing right behind you.” And just like that he was getting hugged by his own little cousin again. “Thank goodness you’re alright,” she said,” I thought I lost the only family I’ve got left. Don’t you dare scare me like that again do you hear me?” “Yes mother,” Rikoto said. After he said that she punched him as hard as she could.

                About a week went by and the four friends were on their way to the beach to take a break from the suspense. They decided to bring Rachel since she didn’t know anyone else around Power City. Rikoto wore a pair of black swimming trunks and a red t-shirt; Delilah had on a towel with sandals. Rachel however, walked onto the sand with nothing but a string bikini on and a beach towel and sunscreen in her hand. Roger and Ashley followed them in suit in their own swimming clothes. “So, who’s ready to get dunked in the water?” Roger asked openly, though looking at Ashley. “Don’t know, but if anyone dunks me I’ll drown them,” Rachel told him firmly. “I think this has been long overdue. Don’t you agree, Rikoto?” Delilah said, wrapping her arms around his arm. “Don’t know, but I’ll be seeing you guys later,” he told her. He pulled off his shirt and walked into the water. “What does he mean by that?” Rachel asked. “Rikoto does this thing whenever he goes to a body of water,” Kashar said as he walked up to them. He waved slightly to Rachel, who noticed but kept her mind on something else. “He goes straight out into the deep water and stays under the surface. He says he’s training his lungs to stay under longer with each dive.”

Rikoto sat on a rock at the water floor, keeping his legs wrapped around it to stay under. He was probably twenty or thirty feet from the surface, he figured. Keeping his eyes closed, he thought about everything he had been doing recently. Why in the world did he feel compelled to propose to Delilah? Was he losing his mind? He did care about her a lot, enough to date her a couple of times. Maybe he’d figure it out later, but right now he had to concentrate.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

Two days before their high school prom, Rikoto’s classmates were running around getting decorations ready, asking each other out to the dance, and he just walked around watching them. He didn’t care about the stupid prom, nor did he care if there were twenty girls at the thing without a date, because he wasn’t going to the prom at all. Every girl in his class had asked him out to it and he politely lied to them about having something to do. He walked into the gymnasium because some kid he pulled out of a locker, named Roger Kane, told him to meet him there, but didn’t see him anywhere yet. Suddenly, he heard a short scream and then fell to the ground with someone on top of him. “Ugh, that hurt,” she said. “Oh, crap. I’m so sorry about that. I wasn’t paying attention to where my feet were.” He stood back up and looked at the girl: she had long blonde hair and blue eyes. Her wardrobe consisted of a flowered scarf around her neck with a green sweater and blue jeans. “It’s alright. Did you see a guy walk in here? He wears glasses and he’s got grey pants and a long sleeved shirt.” He told her. “Um, you must mean Roger. No, I haven’t – hey, you’re . . . uh . . . Rikoto, right?” she asked him. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Ashley Swene.” She held out her hand to shake his, but he kept his at his side. “Well, anyway would you like to . . . I don’t know, get lunch sometime?” Rikoto looked at her blankly, not even standing here with this girl mentally. His mind was somewhere else other than here. “Uh, no thanks. I’m working whenever I’m not in class,” he told her. “Even I don’t believe that crap. Surely you don’t work through the night when everyone else in the world is sleeping,” she pointed out. Instead of saying anything, he just walked away. What’s up with these girls, he thought.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

The sound of nothing but the water moving around him sounded so peaceful to Rikoto. Delilah tapped on his shoulder, making him open his eyes to look at her. From what he could tell, she was wearing a bikini similar to Rachel’s, though it was a different color scheme. Now that he thought about it, she really was a beautiful young woman. Even with the water being as dark as it was this deep, her smile seemed to radiate sunlight, brightening everything around them. She pointed up to the surface, asking if he needed a breath, but he shook his head and gave her a thumbs up, telling her he was fine. She tugged on his arm and he released his feet finally, following her up to the surface. He reached it first, and watched her breathe heavily as she released her oxygen. “What were you doing down there?” she asked him. “I was just sitting down there, meditating,” he told her. “Really; I didn’t know you could sit down under water?” “Well, technically I had my feet wrapped around a rock down there so I wouldn’t float,” he explained to her. “Oh, ok. Is there another rock next to yours for me to try?” she asked him. He stared into those eyes, still the same crystal blue color they were when they were children. They looked so peaceful to him, as if no evil could taint them. “I think there’s one somewhere down there,” he said.

They sat down there, Rikoto trying to concentrate on his meditation, but instead watching Delilah try to get her smooth, skinny legs wrapped around her rock. He explained to her before she joined him that if she reached her time limit, she could go on up and get another breath. She must have been on a swim team or something he figured, though, because she stayed under the surface almost as long as he could. He was impressed with her, especially when it took her nearly two minutes to comfort herself on her rock. They sat in a position so they could open their eyes and watch each other; after a while though they stopped meditating and began trying to make the other laugh away their oxygen. Delilah made faces to try and get Rikoto to laugh, but instead made herself laugh at the effort. Rikoto, however, just sat there and waited for his turn to make her laugh. He watched her go up for another breath and decided to follow. “This is fun,” she told him happily. “Yeah it is, for me. I don’t even have to do anything to make you laugh: you’re doing it for me,” he pointed out to her. Just then, something grabbed Delilah’s leg and jerked her down. Rikoto panicked, and followed her to see what it was. He looked and saw something that resembled a skull. “Rikoto, help me!” Delilah gargled at him. The skull-faced man pulled her further down, going deeper than Rikoto had ever swam before, but he still followed.

Delilah turned to try and peal the man’s hands off her legs, but his grip tightened. She looked back up and Rikoto was passing her and going straight for the masked man. He tackled the man, making him turn her loose, and they both fell deeper into the water. Fighting the urge to swim to the surface, she watched until she couldn’t see them anymore. She swam up as fast as she could, but found it difficult because of the depth. The pressure was heavier on her chest; she didn’t have any breath left from fighting that masked man who pulled her under, and the struggle itself took her energy away quickly. Everything was getting darker, but she kept trying to swim upward. Too exhausted to swim any more, she finally let go and watched the light from the surface fade away from her vision. Something touched her, and the next thing she sees is sunlight as Rikoto hangs his head over her, performing CPR on her. “Come on, Delilah: breathe,” he said. She coughed up water and laid her head down on the sand. She looked up and, at first thought she was dreaming. “Are you okay, Delilah?” Rikoto asked her. She sat up and grabbed him, holding him close in a hug. “Dude, what happened out there?” Roger asked. “One minute we saw you, and then the next minute you were gone,” Ashley added. Delilah looked at Rikoto and wondered the same thing. “I don’t know,” he lied. She could tell he was lying because he looked scared out of his mind as he looked back toward the water.

At his house, Rikoto explained everything to Delilah. “So you’re the Dark Phantom?” Delilah asked. “That’s right,” Rikoto replied, “I’m sorry I never told you.”

                “Rikoto, why didn’t you tell me before?”

                Delilah sat down on the couch while Rikoto walked to the nearest window. “So if you’re the Dark Phantom, then Cyril, Firo, and Kashar….” Delilah asked, looking up to Rikoto. “That’s right. I never told you before because I was afraid something might happen to you afterwards,” Rikoto answered, staring out the window.

                “Is there anything else you’re not telling me?”

                “No, there isn’t. I have nothing else to hide from you, Delilah. I don’t know if you will forgive me, but I’d understand if you didn’t. I am sorry about all this. I wouldn’t be surprised if you change your mind about marrying me either.”

                After a few seconds of thinking, Delilah got up from the couch and walked over to Rikoto, still standing at the window. “I would be a fool to even consider changing my mind. I love you Rikoto, even if you weren’t who you are,” she said, putting her head on Rikoto’s shoulder. Shocked by her answer, Rikoto turned to face her. “You still want to marry me, even after learning about my dark secret?” he asked. She smiled and nodded, still leaning her head on his shoulder. “I don’t care what kind of secrets you have; I still love you, Rikoto. There is no one else I would rather marry.” Just then, there was a knock on the door. Rikoto opened it and Roger walked in holding a letter high in the air. “I did, I did it,” he said with the biggest smile on his face. “And what is it that you did, exactly?” Rikoto asked. Roger gave him the letter and he read it, taking in every word carefully. “Well, I guess congratulations are in order for you, you big idiot.” “What’s the letter say?” Delilah asked when she saw Rikoto’s irritated face and Roger’s confused one. “Roger signed up for the United States Air Force, and this is the letter telling him that he was accepted,” Rikoto answered as he gave Delilah the letter so she could read it herself. “Well, that’s great isn’t it? He’d be serving our – oh, no. What about Ashley?” she said. “I haven’t told her yet,” Roger answered. Rikoto smacked him in the back of the head and looked at him stupidly. “I’ve been waiting a long time for the day I’d get to smack you. You should’ve told Ashley first; she’s your girlfriend, not me and Delilah,” he said. “I was just about to tell her after you two found out,” Roger replied, and Rikoto smacked him in the back of the head again. “Okay, okay, I’ll go talk to her.” After Roger got smacked again he walked out the door. After a few seconds of standing there Rikoto sighed and said, “I think we should go make sure Ashley doesn’t do something crazy”. “Do you really think Ashley will do something to Roger?” Delilah asked. “Don’t know, but I’ll bet something will happen, and I want to see Ashley’s face when Roger tells her,” he answered. Delilah agreed and they both followed Roger to Ashley’s house.

                As they’re walking behind Roger Delilah quietly asked Rikoto, “So, am I the only . . .?” “The only person that knows about what I do in the late hours of the night – yes,” Rikoto said while wrapping his arm around Delilah’s shoulders. She snuggled herself closer to him and almost instantly he began smelling roses again. Where was that smell coming from? The first time he smelled it was in the gym last winter just as Delilah was walking through the door to find him. The wind blew across the pair and then Rikoto figured it out – the scent was coming from Delilah. “Delilah, are you wearing perfume?” he asked her. “No, why do you ask?” she answered. “No reason, I was just wondering,” he replied. They finally made it to Ashley’s and just as Roger was about to knock on the door it opened and Ashley burst out in a rage. “I’m so mad at my dad right now that I could scream!” she yelled. “If I hear one more word about the stupid military, I swear I’ll –” “I got accepted into the United States Air Force,” Roger said. Looking at the expression on Ashley’s face Rikoto and Delilah both took a few steps back. “What did you just say?” Ashley asked, her face turning a bright reddish color. “Smooth move, Roger,” Rikoto said in a calm tone. Ashley walked up to Roger as her face turned redder with every step. “I got accepted into the United States Air Force,” Roger repeated with a squeaky voice. Without any warning or hesitation, Ashley punched Roger in the face as hard as she could. He fell to the ground on his back, and when he raised his head Ashley was rubbing her hand the same time he was rubbing his face. Rikoto and Delilah both tried their best to keep from laughing at the scene.

Ashley walked down the street, still mad at her father, and Roger, very quickly. Delilah followed her while Rikoto helped Roger get to his feet. “I must say, I never thought I would get to watch a guy make a dumber mistake than tell his girlfriend something that she was already mad about. To be honest, I saw this going differently,” he said. “How did you see it going?” Roger asked. “In my head, I saw Ashley beating the mess out of you worse than Sakrone’s goons,” Rikoto laughed. “I just don’t get her. I thought Ashley would be excited that I’m getting to serve our country,” Roger said while he continued to rub his face as he watched Ashley walk down the street. “Hmm, come on; let’s catch up to the girls,” Rikoto replied, and they ran down the street to find Delilah and Ashley. When they caught up to them, Roger made sure he remained a good three feet away from Ashley until he was sure she had calmed down. By the time they were across the street from the pizzeria a toaster came down in front of them and hit the ground between Roger and Ashley. They all looked up and heard shouting coming from the window the toaster came from. “Can you imagine what that idiot did to deserve a toaster being thrown at him?” Ashley asked. Delilah shrugged her shoulders, but Rikoto looked at Roger with a grin. Roger felt Rikoto’s eyes on him and just ignored his stare.

They walked through the door just as a red-headed woman was walking out. “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” Rikoto said. “No, no it was my fault for not looking up at the time.” She continued her way out the door and Cyril, Firo, and Kashar joined them at the next table. “Hey Roger, we heard you screwed up with your girlfriend,” Firo said. “No, I . . . I didn’t screw up,” Roger said in his defense. “No, he screwed up. He told Ashley he was accepted by the air force and she gave him a piece of her mind – and her fist,” Rikoto said, and they all laughed except Roger. “Yeah yeah, laugh it up. But when I’m over there fighting to protect America, then you won’t be laughing at me,” he replied with confidence, until Ashley came around. He dropped back in his chair like a rock. “We’re just teasing you, Roger. And I think it’s brave of you to fight overseas, but I have to agree with Rikoto and Ashley,” Delilah said while still trying to stop laughing. “Well, I’m going to head over to my place to pack before I go to Colorado,” Roger said, and he got up and left after giving Ashley a kiss on the cheek on his way out. Ashley walked over to Rikoto and Delilah’s normal table and sat down. “What am I going to do? First, my dad joins the army, then Roger joins the air force,” she sighed. “I do not know, but I guess if you want to, you could always punch them both in the face,” Rikoto answered, making both of the girls laugh.

Rikoto didn’t get far before he noticed the girl he bumped into walking behind him and stopping at a newsstand. Just for pure curiosity, Rikoto went down a few streets to see if the girl would follow him, and she did. So, he decided to pull his disappearing trick on her by running into an alley and jumping up the wall. Hiding on a low window ledge, he watched as the girl turned to check the alley, and when she finally decided he wasn’t there, left. He made sure the girl was really gone and got down. But instead of going back into the streets Rikoto continued his way through the alley and found Roger sitting on his door step. “I thought you were going to pack before you left for Colorado. What happened?” he said. “No, I just got to thinking, about Ashley,” Roger said with is head sitting on his hands. Rikoto took a few steps and crossed his arms. “Roger, how long have we known each other?” Rikoto asked. “I don’t know, maybe six or seven years,” Roger answered, shrugging his shoulders but not looking up at Rikoto.

“We’ve known each other ever since I first got you out of your locker when Craig and his friends shoved you in it.”

When Roger didn’t say anything Rikoto walked over and sat down next to him on the step. “I’m just not sure I want to leave Ashley alone here with Craig and his jerks,” Roger said. Rikoto looked at him stupidly, and decided to ignore the comment. “Look, me and Delilah won’t let Craig get anywhere near her. Nobody here wants you to leave – especially Ashley – but if you really want to go into the air force and leave Power City, then I think you should do it,” he said. Roger looked at Rikoto and grinned as he realized how much of a friend Rikoto had always been, despite the times when they had their own arguments. “Thanks, Rikoto; I still don’t want to leave Ashley, but the air force could always use another pilot, or whatever they use me for,” He replied.

The front door opened and Roger walked out and looked at the place one more time. “Well, I’m about as ready to go as I’ll ever be,” he huffed. “You’re not ready at all, are you?” Delilah asked. “No I’m not,” Roger replied, and he walked down the steps and up the street to the bus stop, followed by Rikoto, Delilah, and Rachel. They met Ashley at the bus stop, hoping she wouldn’t have to see Roger leave. When she saw Roger coming up with his bags packed she said, “I see you’re leaving”. “Ashley, I’m sorry about doing this to you. You have no idea how afraid I am of leaving you, but the air force does want me,” Roger said. “Don’t worry about him, Ashley. I sent a letter to the air force, asking them to never let Roger in one of their jets,” Rikoto said. Ashley finally dropped her disappointed attitude and smiled at Rikoto. “You did what?” Roger asked, but Ashley just giggled a little. The bus rolled up to the stop and the door opened, waiting to be boarded by passengers. “Well, I guess this is it. I’ll be back soon, Ashley,” Roger said as he kissed Ashley on the cheek and got on the bus. Everyone waved at Roger as the door closed and the bus drove off slowly, but Ashley was the only one who was following the bus.

“I can’t wait to see Roger again. I’ll bet he’ll be walking taller and straighter when he returns than when he left,” Delilah said. She and Rikoto and Ashley were sitting in his living room drinking some tea and watching the news. “I’ll bet he still crumbles when Ashley punches him too,” he joked. But then something on the television caught their attention:

“Breaking news: the greyhound bus going to Colorado was hijacked and has gone missing. The only evidence the authorities have found of its last stop was the body of the driver and the tires tracks of the bus when it pulled off onto the side of the road.”

Rikoto didn’t know how to take this, but when he looked at Ashley he saw that she had turned into a crying statue on his couch. “Oh, Ashley,” Delilah whimpered, hugging her friend tightly.

Chapter 10

It had been a month since Roger left, yet it seemed like no one had moved on from it. At Tony’s Pizzeria, Rikoto, Kashar, Cyril, and Firo met the girls. “Here you go guys,” Ashley said as she placed a pepperoni pizza in the center of their table, “I’m finally on my lunch break. So Cyril, what did you want to talk to me about?” Everyone immediately turned to him, making his face turn red a little bit. “I know it’s been a month since Roger disappeared, but I was w-wondering if you would like to go on a date w-with me?” he asked, making Firo choke on his toothpick. Shocked, Ashley walked to the back of the building and it wasn’t long before Delilah joined her. “Did I say something wrong?” Cyril asked. “Well, her last boyfriend did disappear a month ago,” Rikoto answered. “Um, Kashar,” Delilah asked, “I’ve noticed you’re wearing a wedding band, are you married?” Instead of saying anything, he just got up and left. After a few seconds of silence from the guys, Rikoto broke it. “Kashar lost his wife and kids to a fire in their home. That’s how his whole right arm got burnt like it is; he was trying to get a beam off of her, but it was just too late. The fire was spreading too fast and he just didn’t have enough strength to do anything.” “What was her name?” Ashley asked. “Her name was Maria,” he replied. All they could do after Rikoto explained it was feel sorry for their peace-loving friend. Eventually Rachel finally got up and tried to find him and

                After lunch, Cyril walked Ashley home while Rikoto and Delilah took a stroll through the park. “Hey look,” Delilah said, “There are Rachel and Kashar at the pond. Should we go join them?” “No,” Rikoto replied, “they look like they might want to be alone.” After a few minutes of walking and talking about what they were going to do in the near future they lost track of time and wound up at the pier. “Do you want to see something while we’re here?” Rikoto asked. “Sure why not,” Delilah answered, “What is it?” “Something that you’ll never forget,” he replied. On the edge of the dock, Rikoto pointed down at the water and showed some fish that looked like they were reflecting the sunset. “They only migrate here when they breed,” he said, “but you can only see them like this at sunset.” “Wow,” she replied, “they’re beautiful.”

It was a warm summer day in Power City. People were stirring for the Fourth of July celebration; squirrels were playing in the park, and dogs were chasing after the paper boy who was passing little American flags to everyone on his bike. A cool breeze had just started blowing, encouraging children to fly their kites wildly. It seemed to be a beautiful day for anyone. The mayor was working on his speech to give at the festival while Chief Williams directed the fireworks for later in the day. Delilah, Ashley, and Rachel all dressed up in American Flag-dresses while the guys wore their casual clothing to the festival. Just as they were arriving, Rikoto got distracted by something that disturbed him. “Rikoto,” Delilah asked, “what’s wrong?” He didn’t answer her because he was concentrated on the thing that was disturbing him. Something doesn’t feel right, he thought.

                Although everyone was having a great time at the festival, Rikoto continued to get that same bad feeling in his gut, telling him that something wasn’t right, that something bad was going to happen. He kept trying to figure out what it was, but every time he thought about it, someone had walked up to him, disturbing his concentration. Just as he was deepest in his concentration, Sergeant Trey walked up to him, resembling posters of Uncle Sam. “Hey kid, you feeling any better since ….” He said, pulling the fake beard down so he could scratch his chin. “Yeah, I guess so,” Rikoto answered. “You got stuck wearing the outfit again didn’t you?” “Yeah, stupid youngsters, they’re always doing something to get out of wearing this thing. One of these days, I’ll get them, you mark my words,” the Sergeant replied, looking over at the younger officers grouped together. “I imagine they’re about to play baseball. You got any idea how I could get revenge on them for the past few years of wearing this?” Finally giving up on the bad feeling in his gut, Rikoto thought of something and whispered it into the Sergeant’s ear, making them both grin. “Kid, if I didn’t know any better I’d deny who your parents were.” “I’ll go get the guys and we’ll put the plan into action,” Rikoto said as he ran toward his friends.

Ten minutes later, they were all playing a game of baseball, Rikoto’s team of course, were winning by a landside. The bet they made before the game started was that if Rikoto’s team won, each of the younger officers would take turns dressing up as Uncle Sam every year afterward. Everyone who wasn’t playing on one of the teams was watching the game, cheering whenever someone hit a home run. “Rikoto seems to be pretty good as a pitcher doesn’t he?” Chief Williams said, standing behind Delilah and Ashley. “I could do a heck of a lot better than he can,” said a voice two feet away from them. Delilah and Ashley turned to see the disturbing appearance of a gelled dark brown haired Craig. “What are you doing here Craig?” Delilah asked. “I’m up next to bat. Get ready to comfort your boyfriend after he loses his streak,” Craig answered, putting on his baseball helmet and grabbing a wooden bat. As he walked up to the plate everyone heard the hind catcher say to Rikoto and his team, “Batter up!” everyone cheered for him; Rikoto grinned at his next strike out. “Hey Rikoto, give him your ‘fireball’!” Cyril shouted from third base. Rikoto reared back to throw and released it; the ball reached the bat within seconds, but when Craig swung the bat to send it flying the bat broke in two on contact with the ball. When the sergeant caught the ball in his glove behind Craig, he fell over backwards; the crowd around the players all gasped in shock and although Craig hit the ball, the umpire shouted “out!” “Holy smokes!” exclaimed Rebecca, dropping her jaw at the busted bat lying on the ground. The crowd stood in amazement and shock. No one in years had done something like that. While the final scores were being counted for both teams, Rikoto noticed that Craig was yelling at the umpire for calling an out. When he turned to face his friends he was almost knocked over by Delilah hugging him. “Hey freak! What the heck do you think you were doing back there?” Craig asked in a furious tone of voice. “I believe he pitched you out Craig,” Delilah answered. “You nearly killed me, twice!” Craig exclaimed. “Relax Craig, if I wanted to knock your head off, I wouldn’t have aimed for the bat,” Rikoto said, walking away with Delilah grasping his arm tightly.

                Two hours after the celebration started, out of the bushes came a group of men following some fireworks they lit and aimed for everyone. Rikoto didn’t know who they were but when he told the rest of his team to stop them, they didn’t hesitate to fight. Just then, one man ran in front of Rikoto and held his gun up to him. “Hello Rikoto,” the man said. “What the – Kuroda?” Rikoto said in shock. The gun he was holding went off and the bullet landed in Rikoto’s shoulder; when he hit the ground he could see Cyril, Firo, and Kashar were down as well.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

                Finally, Rikoto had gotten old enough to live on his own. He had a job, his parents’ house; all he was missing was a car. Chief Williams told him if he wasn’t careful, he’d have girls all over him, but he didn’t care about that. Surprisingly, he made some friends since he met Ashley. Cyril, a blonde haired boy, had a cocky personality that usually got him in trouble, but Rikoto managed to keep him straight. Sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper he looked for a car he could afford. He’d been saving his money for one since the chief started giving him an allowance, but he couldn’t find one that seemed to fit him. He got up to answer the door when someone knocked on it. The door opened before he could reach it and there he saw what looked like a slightly older version of himself with silver hair. “Can I help you?” he asked. “Well, well; you must be my little brother,” the man said. “You probably don’t remember me, but I’m your brother, Kuroda.” Rikoto thought, and then remembered the letter his mother wrote to him. “What can I do for you?” he asked him. Kuroda walked in the house uninvited and looked around, admiring the place. “This place hasn’t changed much, has it? Well, I’m sure Mom and Dad took down all the pictures of me and replaced them with you. But other than that –”

“Mom and Dad were killed years ago. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Just then, Rikoto was slammed against the wall with Kuroda’s hand around his neck. “You must be stupid or something, kid, if you think you can talk to me like that,” he hissed. “Don’t forget who’s older and bigger, or I’ll put you down and no one will ask why without knowing first.” He let Rikoto go and walked back to the front door. “You’ll see me later,” he said, and shut the door behind him.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

Rikoto opened his eyes and saw nothing but crystal blues eyes looking down at him. “Hey, how do you feel?” she asked him. “I’m feeling better now; thanks,” he grunted, trying to sit up. “Where’s everyone else at? The last thing I remember is ....” The door opened and Chief Williams walked in, looking concerned. Sergeant Trey followed him in and shut the door. “Hey kid, how you feelin’?” he asked, still wearing the Uncle Sam outfit. Rikoto gave them both a thumbs up. “Well, now that we know how you feel, perhaps you can tell me what the freaking hell you were thinking. You could’ve gotten yourself killed, as well as your friends,” the chief told him. “Lay off, Chief; did you get the guys who did this?” Rikoto asked him. Chief Williams’ face turned red when Rikoto told him to lay off, but withheld the blowup for now. “No, we didn’t. All we got was a few injuries here and there, children who’ve been scarred for life most likely, and three heart attacks, one of which was severe. And that’s not counting you and your friends.” “With all due respect, Chief, I think what the kid did was pretty brave. It was stupid beyond stupidity, but brave,” Trey said in the background. “Be that as it may, you could’ve gotten yourself killed,” Chief Williams stated. “Rikoto, when I took you in, I made a promise at your parents’ funeral that I’d take care of you no matter what. What you did was completely reckless.” “Well, someone had to do something. I didn’t see you jump up and run toward the shooters.”

The nurse walked in and stood at the door. “I’m going to have to ask you to let Mr. Sakuro rest,” she said. “I’d like for Delilah to stay with me if it’s alright,” Rikoto told he nurse. She reluctantly nodded but insisted for Chief Williams and Sergeant Trey to leave. “We’ll discuss this later, Rikoto,” the chief told him firmly. “Take care of yourself, kid,” Sergeant Trey said as he followed Chief Williams out the door. The nurse left as well, with Rikoto and Delilah alone in the room. “So, how do you really feel, Rikoto? I saw you hesitate when that man shot you,” Delilah said. Rikoto shifted to one side of his bed and patted the other side toward her. “That man was someone I know ... someone my parents never really told me about,” he explained while she got comfortable next to him. “Who was he?” she asked him. “He ... he’s my older brother.” Delilah looked at like he had something wrong with him. “I didn’t find out about him until I moved back into the house back in high school. I found a letter from Mom in a shoe box with some family photos. I met him when he came to the house a few weeks after that.” “What happened to him?” Rikoto sighed as he tried to remember what his mother’s letter said. “Mom said he ran away after he fell in with the wrong crowd. Apparently, Dad tried to forget about him, but she always seemed like there was something missing in her life, now that I think about it.”

“Hey, look who it is,” Kashar said when Rikoto and Delilah walked in the living room. From the looks of it, Kashar had his arm in a sling and that was all that was wrong with him. That didn’t seem to stop Rachel though, as she waited on him head and foot. “Rachel, you do know that Kashar can take care of himself; he’s not completely crippled,” Rikoto told her. “The doctor told him to take it easy, and he’s going to take it easy,” she said. “Reminds you of something Firo told us two years ago, doesn’t it?” Kashar chuckled. Rikoto nodded his head. “God made creation and rested, then He made man and rested; God made women and no one has rested since.” Delilah hit Rikoto’s arm but she still laughed a little. “That’s mean, Rikoto,” she said. “Firo said it; I just quoted him.” “Speaking of Firo, there he is right now,” Rachel told them as she glanced out the window. The door opened a minute later and Firo walked in with Cyril and Ashley behind him. “What the hell is that smell? You didn’t let Kashar cook again did you?” Firo asked, sniffing the air. “Oh crap, that’s my lasagna!” Rachel ran through the living room and into the kitchen. “¡Hala! and I thought he couldn’t cook,” Firo added. “So, your brother was with those guys, huh?” Cyril said.

                *****          *****          *****          *****          *****          *****

Eighteen years old now, Rikoto was the only one who didn’t have any problem getting a girl’s phone number. In fact, he was probably the only one who had trouble getting away from the girls in high school. “Rikoto, there is a party going down at Jim’s place tonight. Do you want to be my date?” a brunette girl asked him. He just ignored them now, learning quickly that any answer from him would open their mouths even more. He walked to his house alone, until Roger showed up and wanted to talk to him. “Hey Rikoto, I heard Jim is having a party,” he said. “I already cleared it with him, and we are both invited to it. There’s going to be so many girls there, I don’t think I can –” “I’m not going to his party,” Rikoto told him flat out. “What? Rikoto, I need a wingman. Besides, you need to interact with some girls, man.” Rikoto just kept walking, with Roger right behind him. “You need to lighten up, man; this whole ‘dead man in the party’ act is getting old.” That’s when Rikoto turned on the spot and grabbed Roger by the shirt, shoving him against the neighbor’s minivan. “I’m not going to any damn party, Roger! And the reason I’m this way is because everyone around me has grown up with one, if not both their parents!”

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          The sound of a ratchet filled the garage as Rikoto worked tirelessly on his car. Now he was only a week from driving it; he just needed to get it painted and the tank filled up to see how it drove, but first he had to finish installing the water pump that finally came in the mail. Delilah walked up beside him and looked over his shoulder. “I thought the doctor told you to take it easy?” she asked. “Yep,” he said. “Then why are you in here working on your car?” she pressed. “The water pump finally came in. Now, I just need to install it and paint it. Then I can test drive it.” Delilah walked around it and examined the interior: black leather bucket seats, modern-style radio and speedometer, ‘mustang’ steering wheel, and what she assumed to be nitrous oxide tanks. “Wow, Rikoto, this is beautiful. But where do you plan to drive it?” she asked him. He was tightening the last bolt when she asked him that question, and a grin appeared on his face. She looked at him curiously, not knowing whether his grin was a good thing, or a bad thing. The door opened and Cyril limped his way inside. “I'm shocked; figured it would’ve taken you longer than six years to get this thing fixed up,” he said, crossing his arms. “Give me a hand, Cyril.” He walked over and pulled the belt around the other gears so Rikoto could get it onto the water pump. “You feeling okay?” Cyril asked Rikoto. He looked at him, then raised an eyebrow at the question. “I know that was your brother the other day, man. The resemblance gave it away, and I'm sure the others noticed too.” Rikoto wiped his hands off with his handkerchief and peered into his friend’s eyes. “What does that mean? So what if he’s my brother?” he asked.

“Rikoto, we both know something is up with him. He’s faster and stronger than any of us and it doesn’t make any sense.” Delilah wasn’t paying them any attention, being caught up with how nice the car looked and thinking of other colors it might look good in. Rikoto looked Cyril directly in the eyes with a serious look on his face. “Kuroda being faster or stronger than us isn’t going to change anything, okay? I don’t care how strong he is, because like everyone and everything else in this world, he was a weakness. Besides, I'm not even thinking about him right now anyway.” Cyril nodded his head. “Yeah I heard what happened at the beach,” he said. Rikoto turned back to the car and looked everything over before he closed the hood. “Drake, what happened out there?” Cyril asked, stepping closer to him with a more serious tone in his voice. Rikoto sighed and, thinking of no other way to avoid telling him, said “Something grabbed Delilah by the leg and dragged her under. I followed and managed to get her away from it. We just kept sinking as we fought, and by the time I got a glimpse of its face it vanished in the darkness”. “And let me guess the rest: you Shaded Delilah and yourself close enough to the surface that if she opened her eyes she wouldn’t know any better.” Rikoto nodded and Cyril crossed his arms, turned around and paced up and down the garage. “You do realize that by Shading that close, you made quite a wave on the surface, right?” he asked.

“I had no other choice, Cyril. She ran out of breath and so had I. not to mention the fact that we were too far down for even me to make it back up myself.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, ok? I know how much she means to you, but I'm just trying to point out the questions everyone probably had after they saw that.” Rikoto sat down on the table ledge and dropped his head a little. “What did the thing look like anyway” Cyril sighed. There was a pause, then Rikoto looked up at him and said with a straight face, “It looked like … a skull”.

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          Standing on the top of the clock tower, Sakrone looked over Power City with a small grin on his face, as if he was watching the best part in a movie. The sound of a cloak whooshing behind him made him turn his head to the side a little, expecting the sound. “Well? Did you do what I asked?” he asked. A dark figure walked out of the shadows and toward him until they were beside each other. “No. I almost had her, but that Sakuro kid you told me about attacked me, and I lost my grip on her,” it said. Sakrone looked back over the city, his grin gone now. “Doesn’t matter now,” he said, sounding disappointed. “He saw your face, which means he’ll be on you quickly the next time I send you on a mission.” “And that mission is?” the figure asked, though his tone sounded as if he already knew the answer. “Retrieve the Stones, and kill the boy if necessary.” The figure stood there, but glanced slightly at Sakrone. “The Stones? I thought they were just a myth?” Sakrone chuckled and raised his head high, as if he was standing in the presence of someone great. “What you have heard about them is a myth, but the truth in them is what you’ll see when I have them all together.” “The boy has friends with him now, so how would you like me to handle them?” the figure asked. Just then, a cloak whooshing in the wind behind them made them turn to see. A small woman with a green cape walked toward them, a mask covering part of her face. “Does that answer your question, Reaper?” Sakrone asked him. “What do they call you?” the woman stepped out of the shadows a bit and, from her hands, produced a green flame. “They call me Emerald Fire,” she said.

The End

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