Cover image for The Auranades: Episode 4: Shutter

The Auranades: Episode 4: Shutter

 

Prolog

  Just after class, the students are walking about from here to there. Chad decides to stop by his locker in the hallway to put his books away. As he is doing so, Ray Torres spots him and walks over to him patting him on the shoulder.

“Hey C.K. Guess what?” Ray starts with a smirk and his hands behind his back.

“You’re staying well on top of your Bio classes without my help now?” Chad says with a grin.

“Well there’s that, as I did learn from the best,” Ray shrugs before moving his hands from behind his back to reveal a fancy blue football shirt, “But you were actually supposed to guess that the coach just gave me my very own special T-shirt to wear for the rest of the season. I think it’s to help me keep in mind that good things are up for me if I keep it up on the field.”

“How many times have I told you that?” Chad nods, “I also hate to tell you there’s a huge stain on it.”

“What? No way,” Ray exclaims and turns it back to face him, “I haven’t even gotten on the field in it yet and now the coach will think I used his special shirt as some kinda napkin. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream sandwich in Mr. Peter’s math class.”

“I’m not sure how you pulled off that one,” Chad chuckles, “but I do think I can pull off getting rid of that stain of yours. My chem teacher Ms. Kelly was telling us about this new stain removal formula she was working on in the lab. It’s supposed to get rid of stains as though it were never there. Follow me.”

Chad closes his locker and takes Ray down the hall, through other passing students, to the empty chemistry lab. He opens the door and goes inside with Ray following close behind, closing the door behind him, leaving them alone in the room. Ray stands awkwardly and looks around the laboratory in awe as Chad heads over to the cabinet for the flask of stain removal formula.

“Like, are we supposed to be in here unsupervised?” Ray asks.

“So you don’t trust that I know what I’m doing?” Chad says as he takes the flask out and shakes it for a bit.

“Oh we all know you’re the chem whiz at SyndAcad,” Ray replies, “but what if this stuff goes wrong?”

“And what if it goes right?” Chad muses as he dabs the solution onto a little cloth, “The shirt?”

Chad looks over at Ray, who simply nods and hands the shirt to him. He then steps closer to watch in intrigue as Chad gently rubs the cloth over the stain in tiny little circles. Ray looks down at it over his shoulder. Chad shudders a little when he feels Ray’s breath tickle his ear. He continues to rub the cloth in the spot slowly, until the stain begins to disappear.

“S-So what you do you think?” Chad asks quietly, keeping his eyes down at the shirt.

“It’s amazing,” Ray says, holding onto Chad’s hand with the cloth and looking up at him, “Just like you said.”

Chad looks down at Ray’s hand, firmly placed over his, and watches as Ray uses their hands to finish wiping out the rest of the stain. When he’s done, they look at each other and giggle a bit before an awkward silence. Chad glances up at him and Ray smiles back at him before he suggests they leave before they get into any trouble for sneaking into the labs.

After they go back out into the empty hallways, Chad closes the door to the lab while Ray watches.

Ray says, “Our little restaurant dinner you promised me is gonna be twice as amazing, right?”

Chad turns and says, “Of course, we’ve got twice as much to celebrate anyway. You’ve got a big game to win this week to take the football team through to the third round of the prelims. So if you just keep thinking of the positive outcome, as you did when you handed me that shirt back there, chances are that’s the biggest step you really need to pulling it off.”

Ray smiles, “You know C.K., I hear these kinds of things all the time from everyone else. But somehow, it’s whenever you say it that it feels like the only time I actually believe it. Maybe it’s because you’ve come through for me, from getting rid of the stain on my shirt to saving me from a lightning storm my own team put me in.”

“What are friends for?” Chad shrugs.

“No. Because if I think of everyone else as a friend,” Ray muses, “you’ve gotta be something more.”

“Well … what do you think of me as?” Chad asks quietly.

“I really can’t describe it,” Ray admits, “But I guess that’s because whatever it is, it just means so much more, you know? Anyway, I’ve got to get going to practice now and probably get some mud stains on this shirt instead. Catch up with you later?”

“Sure thing,” Chad nods.

After Ray waves him goodbye and walks off, Chad turns to head over to the Libretta on the other side of campus and meet up with Vitani and Josh. However, he spots Rita Allen leaning against a locker not too far from where he was standing, obviously spying on him. He walks past her with a roll of his eyes.

“I don’t appreciate you following me,” Chad states as he walks by.

“What were you two up to in those labs? You better tell me or else,” Rita Allen folds her arms.

“Or else we’ll keep having this same conversation apparently,” Chad turns and remarks, “And you know what? I don’t owe you any more explanations since you’ll never believe anything I say if it’s not what you want to hear.”

“I just want to hear the truth,” Rita Allen replies.

“Here’s the truth. I just helped Ray remove a stain from his football shirt,” Chad begins, “But I’m just sorry it wasn’t as easy as removing you from in my face every five seconds in your little desperate tries to make me out to be some kind of demon. Don’t you get that you demonize yourself by making your one goal in life to ruin mine?”

With that, Chad storms off down the hall before he turns around the corner.

Rita Allen, meanwhile, scoffs before she leans against the wall and grins to herself, “Well, Chad, it’s gonna take a lot more than that to get rid of me now because not only do I have no plans of going anywhere, but I plan to expose your connection to Rick Hayes as soon as possible.”

= = =

  Over at the Libretta, Chad comes in the doors to see a crowd of students huddled with the sound of photos being taken in the middle of the bookshop café. He soon spots Josh sitting at their usual, and he makes his way over, slips off his backpack and takes a seat.

“So what’s going on?” Chad asks with a grin, “Do we have a celebrity in the house or something?”

“Oh I think Vitani will disagree with that when she comes off her shift,” Josh smirks as he sips his soda.

Just then, Vitani exits the backroom from behind the counter, taking off her apron and hanging it up on the rack before she steps out. She frowns at the sight of the students huddled in the middle of the café and goes to see what’s going on. Vitani squeezes through a few students snapping photos on their cell phones before her eyes bulge to see none other than Amber and Christy standing in their bathing suits.

Vitani folds her arms and shakes her head, “What do you two runway misfits think you’re doing now?”

Amber begins, “Like, if you really must know, we’re just like letting everyone know that their proud cheer captains for a third year in a row are also gonna be the signature models for the all new ROSS Magazine this week!”

Christy chimes in with a flick of her blonde hair, “A job that escapes the average waitress. So sad.”

“But so true,” Amber adds, before she and sister turn back to the crowd of students, “So what do you all think, huh? We like totally came here to feel your undying love and support!”

“Oh I don’t know about the love part there, girls,” Vitani remarks, “I mean that tan alone proves you guys can’t have a good relationship with anyone, as it would seem your relationship with the sun is pretty awful.”

“As is your sense of style,” Amber snaps.

“Unlike ours that will get us on the cover of that magazine,” Christy states.

Vitani adds, “And speaking of covers, you two need to cover the arguments your skin and the sun are having before I kick both of you back out for round two.”

Amber says, “Like no way!”

Christy says, “Like the photographer is supposed to be meeting us here any minute now.”

Vitani rolls her eyes and sighs, “Whatever. You two are impossible.”

Just then the door opens and Amber and Christy whirl around to see who it is.

The sisters giggle to each other in glee, “Like, omigod. He’s here. Evan Ross is here!”

Everyone looks back to see a kid around their age with boyish good looks and a low-cut black hair, dressed casually with a camera in hand. Evan looks up and then pauses in disbelief. Amber and Christy gasp and strike a pose.

Amber says, “Look sis, he’s already left speechless by us already!”

Christy says, “I know we’re just too fabu-“

“Wait a minute. Evan Ross?” Vitani pushes past them. “Is that you?”

“Hey Vitani!” Evan exclaims, “I can’t believe it’s really you!”

Even more to Amber and Christy’s surprise, Vitani and Evan run up to hug each other happily. Back at the table, Josh raises his eyebrows curiously and Chad looks on. Vitani and Evan giggle and hug each other again before taking deep breaths and holding each other’s hands.

“One look at you and all I gotta say is wow,” Evan says.

“We’ve got so much to catch up,” Vitani adds with a smile.

“You’ve got to catch up on reality. What about us?” Amber and Christy interrupt, striking their pose.

“Who are you two and um where are your clothes?” Evan asks with a frown.

“Oh. Great way to start. My usual question is more, ‘Where are their brains?” Vitani teases.

Amber and Christy exchange looks before they scoff and push pass them. Vitani teasingly waves goodbye as they storm out of the café. Evan, meanwhile, clears his throat and steps forward.

“I’d like to apologize to anyone who came out in support of my magazine today, but I’ve now got a special meeting myself that I’m not about to miss,” Evan says before turning back to Vitani and quietly adding, “You mind if we go talk somewhere more private?”

“Not at all,” Vitani smiles, “I just got off my shift here. And I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but I know one or two more cafés in town that won’t have bratty bumbling blondes in bathing suits walking around.”

“Haha. I’d like to see ’em all with you,” Evan says.

With that, Vitani and Evan exit the café together.

As soon as they do, Josh gets up and goes over the door to watch them walking off together, elsewhere on campus. Chad frowns curiously and comes behind him at the door. Josh leans at the door and sighs.

“It looks like Vitani caught up with a really special friend,” Chad muses.

Josh turns and says, “Oh yeah? And what’s so special about him?”

Chad says, “I just meant that they seem really close. What, does that make you jealous or something?”

Josh shakes his head and says, “Don’t start with me squirt. I’m not jealous. I’m just worried about her.”

Chad asks, “Why? He seems like a pretty nice guy.”

“I can’t say the same about the kind of photos he takes,” Josh says, “Look at this.”

Josh goes to pick up a photo from the floor when it blows outside. Chad uses his powers by swishing his hands about to cause it blow back in their direction. Josh reaches out and catches it before handing it to him. Chad looks at it and frowns when he sees a black and white photo of a girl in a horrific panic, looking as though she were trapped in the photo.

Chad muses, “You know they say pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words, but the only word I see this girl saying is a scream for help.”

Josh says, “Exactly. So we’ve got to help Vitani before someone gets a snapshot of her last words.”

 

Shutter

  The next day at the condo, Vitani comes home from her Design and Technology class and sees Josh busy sitting on the couch watching TV. She frowns as she puts her books on the table before she goes and taps his shoulder.

Vitani asks, “Um didn’t have Business Management class this morning?”

Josh turns off the TV and replies, “What I have to do is talk to you. I would have last night, but you must have gotten in at like three in the morning and you were gone before I woke up. You usually read me the rights for that. What’s up with your staying out so late all of a sudden?”

Vitani shrugs with a smile, “Oh. I guess I just got caught up talking to Evan about some stuff.”

Josh shakes his head, “Stuff, huh? While I’ve got some stuff about Evan you’re not gonna like.”

Vitani frowns as he hands her the picture of the horrified girl. She looks up, confused.

“I don’t understand. What the hell is this?”

“That,” Josh says, “is a photo your buddy Evan dropped back in the café yesterday.”

Vitani stares at the photo unnerved, asking, “But what’s wrong with this girl?”

Josh says, “I think she looks like she’s trapped and screaming for someone to hear her cries for help, but no one can hear her. And some sicko is getting a thrill by taking her pictures. So you know what? I’m going to help you before it’s too late.”

Vitani asks, “Huh? What do you mean?”

Josh retorts, “I mean I want you to stay away from Evan.”

Vitani shakes her head and says, “No. There has to be some other explanation for these. I mean maybe they belong to someone else who was at the café yesterday, someone who wanted to show Evan their pictures and dropped this one by accident.”

Josh folds his arms, “I don’t plan to take any chances with this Evan guy.”

Vitani says, “That’s because you don’t know ‘this Evan guy’ like I do. He’s not that kinda guy.”

Josh asks, “Who is he to you anyway? You never filled me, your supposed best friend, in on that.”

Vitani pauses before she says, “Look. He’s just a really special old friend of mine and one I know wouldn’t be behind pictures like this, okay?”

“No, it’s not okay,” Josh tells her, “You know there’s only one way to prove that he’s not behind this.”

“Fine,” Vitani says, “I’ll ask go him about this photo now.”

“Hey, I’m going with you,” Josh says, grabbing his jacket, “I don’t want you alone if anything happens.”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Vitani says, getting her keys, “But you’ll get the picture at the studio.”

= = =

  Meanwhile in the halls back at SyndAcad, Chad arrives to see more students gathering around and taking photos for ROSS magazine and at a signup booth. As he pushes through the crowd, Chad muses to himself that if the photo he and Josh found yesterday are any more sinister than they appear, it’s not only Vitani they’ve got to worry about, but now the whole school. Just then, a familiar voice calls out for ‘C.K.’ from the crowd of students. Chad turns and smiles to see Ray Torres coming over, but it drops when he is surprised to see him with none other than Rita Allen holding onto on his arm. He wonders to himself what she is up to now.

“Hey Ray, I was just heading off to our Bio class,” Chad mentions, “And you should be too. I hope you’re not letting anyone get you sucked into this whole modeling craze that’s been going on around this place for that magazine.”

Ray smirks and asks, “Hey now. What are you trying to say C.K.? You think I can’t be a model?”

Chad says, “Oh I know you’re gonna cover a few magazines later when you’re our top football player.”

Ray nods and states, “Hehe. That’s exactly what I was trying to tell Rita Allen here, but she threatened not to let go of my arm until I sign up. But like I said, and as my buddy Chad here knows, my only commitment now is football.”

Chad looks over knowingly at her. Rita Allen is a bit surprised when Ray gently takes her hands off his arm before he stands next to Chad and they discuss their next class. Rita Allen holds her ground and looks on. Chad then asks, “So you ready to get to class?”

“Um yea,” Ray says, “But I just wanna talk to two of the guys from the team over there about another meeting we’re supposed to have before the upcoming game. Do you mind waiting for me here? I won’t be long. I promise to walk you off to other classes later.”

“Sure. I’ll be right here,” Chad nods.

With that, Ray nods and excuses himself for a minute. Chad then looks back over to see the school reporter still staring at him with her arms folded. Chad tugs on his backpack straps and raises his eyebrows at her expectantly.

“Ugh,” Rita Allen says with a roll of her eyes, “You know you are such a suck up, Chad.”

Chad looks at her and shrugs, “Well I wasn’t the one draped all over his arms, was I?”

Rita Allen raises an eyebrow and coos, “What’s the matter? Do Ray and I make you jealous?”

Chad pauses and shakes his head before he replies, “There is no Ray and you. And the only thing this whole thing makes me feel is sad because the so-called school reporter can’t tell when her story is nothing but a lost cause.”

“Well,” Rita Allen retorts, “I think you’re gonna be the lost cause when I prove to everyone what your true connection to Rick Hayes really was. And once I find out the truth, be sure you can say goodbye to whatever it is you think you have with Ray Torres.”

Chad pauses before he adds, “You’re standing there threatening my friendship with Ray?”

Rita Allen twists her mouth into a smile, “Oh no. I am promising you about your future with Ray.”

Chad stares at her in disbelief at how far she was taking things. Rita Allen raises her eyebrows and gives him a taunting glare. He opens his mouth about to reply just as Ray comes back and puts a hand around his shoulder with a smile.

“So you ready to get going?” Ray asks, before he notices the weird air, “Is everything okay?”

“Oh things are just getting interesting,” Rita Allen quips.

“Yeah. I mean Rita Allen just realized that she needs a whole new topic to focus on if she’s going get her school newspaper really going,” Chad remarks with a shrug, “And I really hope she finds it.”

With a nod, Chad and Ray turn and walk away together, off to their Bio class. Rita Allen stares on.

= = =

  At the photo studio, Vitani and Josh arrive to see Evan is busy handling a photo shoot of some girls in a sand and sea beach set. They wait on the side. When he wraps it up, the models walk off set and Evan goes over to greet them.

“Hey Vitani, miss me already, huh?” Evan greets them before turning to Josh, “And who’s this?”

“Oh um this is Josh Trent,” Vitani replies with a smile, “He’s my best friend.”

“But I thought I was your best friend,” Evan muses with a smirk.

Josh quips, “Well, I’ve been in her life for the last six years and I don’t think I remember seeing you.”

A bit surprised by the remark, Evan frowns and pauses awkwardly. Josh stares at him blankly with his hands in his pockets. Evan turns to Vitani, who shakes her head and digs into her handbag for the mysterious photo.

Vitani says, “Anyway, I wanted to know if you have any idea where this photo came from.”

Evan looks at the photo in shock, “Omigod … you guys found one?”

Josh says, “I knew it! You sick twisted little –”

He lunges forward to chuck Evan back into the wall of the set, yelling for him to tell them what he did to that girl. Vitani runs up and tries to stop him. Evan pushes past him and tries to get away, but Josh grabs onto him again. Evan reaches down and throws some sand in Josh’s eyes. Josh is disoriented and falls back into the pool for the sea on set.

Evan fixes himself, still in shock that he was attacked, when Vitani only shakes her head. Josh climbs out of the pool soaking wet and isn’t any less angry. Evan balls his fists. Josh slides the sleeves of his jersey up when Vitani steps between them.

“Josh, stop and listen to me –”

“You’re still defending this guy?” Josh looks back at her in disbelief, “What are you doing?”

“You and this sordid love triangle are wrecking my set!” suddenly comes an angry voice.

Vitani and Josh and Evan turn to see a bespectacled man in a plaid suit storming towards them.

Josh folds his arms and asks, “And who are you supposed to be?”

“I’m Kris Sheridan!” he yells, “The manager of Sheridan Studios, owner of the set in which you stand!”

“He’s my boss,” Evan adds with a huff, “And it appears he’s also very angry. Great handy work, Josh!”

Vitani steps forward, “I’m so sorry about this Mr. Sheridan. And there’s no love triangle here or anything like that. My friends were just having a big misunderstanding, that’s all.”

“What?” Josh looks at her.

“Josh!” Vitani elbows him.

“Oh no, I understand perfectly. The gentleman with his clothes soaked to his body in unflattering places and my photographer here are both in love with you and are using my set as a sparring ring. I will not have this kind of destructive passion on my set,” Kris Sheridan states, “Unless …”

“Unless what, sir?” Evan asks.

“Unless you get your two lovebird friends to model for your little magazine, the one I’m sponsoring. The passion between those two is hot enough to set the shelves on fire! If you get this done I’ll forget they damaged my set and I won’t fire you.”

“What?” Vitani and Josh exclaim in unison.

“But Mr. Sheridan, they are not even a couple,” Evan says awkwardly, “I mean, are you guys?”

“No!” Vitani and Josh reply in unison.

“Are you working for me, Mr. Ross?” Kris Sheridan asks.

“Um yeah …” Evan muses.

“Then you will do what I say. Or, of course, you’re fired,” Kris Sheridan states flatly.

“Then Josh and I would be happy to model for you, sir,” Vitani cuts in.

“You’re a smart girl. I can see why this jock-type here is madly in love with you,” the manager says.

“I’m not in love with her!” Josh states, “And I’m still trying to understand wh-”

“I don’t care for the denial. I care for the photos of you two on this set tomorrow. Goodbye.”

With that, Kris Sheridan turns and exits the set room.

As soon as he leaves, Josh whirls around, “Omigod, Vitani. Are you totally crazy?”

“You were crazy for attacking Evan like that before he could explain,” Vitani argues.

Josh frowns and asks, “What is there to explain? Your friend Evan here saw the photo and said we found another one – which means he knows about others. It’s because he takes these sick little photos of the models at this place!”

Evan snaps, “It’s because I’ve seen photos like that one here before. Not because I take them!”

Josh folds his arms, “Oh and let me guess, you have no idea who they belong to either, right?”

Evan says, “I don’t! And that’s because I found one of these photos on the floor on the set. There’s also usually a little code in the corner that we can track to our cameras here, but the numbers on these aren’t in our registry. That means someone was using their own camera to do this. I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this myself, so I used the date on the photo for when it was taken and matched it up with who was booked on our set at that time.”

Vitani asks, “And what did you find?”

Evan sighs and replies, “The applicant was a female model, but she didn’t answer any of my calls.”

Just then, Evan’s cell phone goes off. Vitani and Josh watch curiously as he says it’s the model’s number and answers it. His facial expression changes to one of shock before he hangs up the cell phone and slips it back into his pocket.

Vitani frowns and taps him on the arm, “What is it? What happened?”

Evan turns to her, “According to that call, the model in the photo is at the hospital in a coma.”

Vitani gasps and looks back at Josh. He looks down at the photo in his hand in even more shock to see the image of the model now with her eyes closed. Josh gulps worriedly.

= = =

  Back at the Libretta, Chad comes by after class and spots Vitani and Josh sitting at their usual table. He quickly goes over and sits with them, curious to know if they learned anything more about the mysterious photo they found.

Josh sighs and hands him the model’s photo over the table, “Notice anything different?”

Chad looks at the photo and frowns before looking back up, “Her eyes are closed. But how is that-?”

Vitani shrugs and states, “It’s actually a picture of a model – who’s now in a coma at the hospital.”

Josh adds, “We don’t know how, but somebody is taking these photos and a few days later the person in the picture ends up in a coma. It’s like they’ve become trapped in the photos or something. We know something evil is definitely at work here.”

Chad gasps, “Omigod. What oscinade could be behind something like this?”

After her cell phone beeps on the table, Vitani reaches over and takes a look at it. “It isn’t just girls as victims either. Evan just sent me a text saying he just realized the photo we found before must have dropped from the portfolios he was carrying to the printing studio that day, since Kris Sheridan doesn’t have his own assistant yet. So he went to search the other portfolios back at the studio and he found three more of a girl and two guys. He made a call to each of them and it seems they’re all in the hospital. The doctors haven’t made the connection yet and none of them know what’s going.”

Josh says, “This has got ‘oscinade’ written all over it and we’ve got to stop it as soon as possible.”

Vitani agrees and says, “Maybe we will find out more when we go for our photo shoot tomorrow.”

Chad looks up surprised and asks, “What photo shoot are you guys talking about?”

Josh rolls his eyes and sighs, “Vitani and I are gonna be modeling for Sheridan Studios tomorrow.”

Chad smirks and asks, “Is this you trying to one-up Amber and Christy?”

“Oh please, Chad,” Vitani smiles, “Anyone with more than a brain cell can one-up those two. But now that you mention it, I bet their jaws would totally drop if they knew Josh and I also have to pose for a couple for the photo shoot.”

Chad raises his eyebrows and asks, “And why is that exactly?”

Vitani says, “It’s to help Evan keep his job and his magazine, since a certain someone over here almost wrecked Kris Sheridan’s studio when he wrongly accused him of being behind taking all these mysterious photos.”

Josh puts up his hands and retorts, “In my defense, we’re still not sure it wasn’t her precious little Evan.”

Chad shrugs and says, “Well I guess then there’s only one way we’re gonna find answers to all of this and that’s when you two go down to the studio again tomorrow, right?”

“Hey,” Vitani muses as she grabs her cell phone again, “Maybe you can help us figure something out since you have an objective view on this whole situation with Evan and the photos. You could help us find that right angle on the real picture here. All you have to do is agree to this.”

Chad looks up curiously and looks at her cell phone as she hands it over to him. He sees she has just googled the application form for the job as Kris Sheridan’s assistant. Chad nods that he’ll do it and see how it goes. Vitani sits back and sighs with a hopeful look on her face.

Josh shakes his head, “I just can’t shake this feeling that tomorrow will be less than picture perfect.”

Just off from their table, Amber and Christy are sitting at their own table and whisper that they just heard something about a photo shoot and vow that they will not allow Vitani to get away with something they didn’t, they say she’s already got Josh. They then snicker to themselves.

= = =

  At the studio the next day, Chad knocks on the door to Kris Sheridan’s office, when he realizes it is actually open. He peaks around before he goes inside and closes the door. He looks around and sees a typical office, except for a digital camera pointing towards a mirror. Chad comes across a black and white picture of an old man on the desk. Just then, Kris Sheridan comes in to find Chad at his desk.

The studio manager slams the door, “And what do you think you’re doing in here?”

Chad turns around startled before he says, “Oh um I’m applying for the job as your assistant. I know you’re just getting this company off the ground and so you need to get stuff going. The lady at the desk said I could catch you here. Here’s my application.”

Kris Sheridan eyes him suspiciously before he takes a look at the application. Chad eyes him oddly.

Chad nods to himself, “You look a lot like that guy in the photo on your table. Is he your grandfather?”

Kris Sheridan replies, “Um yes. It was my grandfather who passed away last year. So pardon me if I don’t want to chit chat about it. Now what about your credits, Mr. Blackman?”

Chad gulps as he realizes he doesn’t have any to give. However, it’s about that time that Evan knocks on the outside of the door, saying that Vitani and Josh have arrived. Kris Sheridan says, “Excellent,” and heads to his desk for a brief moment. He hands Chad a small blueprint.

“I do need an assistant stat,” Kris Sheridan muses, “So just familiarize yourself with how to get around the studio while I go handle these clients. I’ll be back in about an hour or so. Since my office is off limits at all times you will have to wait outside, Mr. Blackman.”

Chad nods and exits. He watches quietly as Kris Sheridan locks his office and he and Evan go off down the hall to go meet with Vitani and Josh on set. Chad looks back at the blueprint and follows the hall until he sees what he is looking for.

“There’s the dark room,” Chad grins to himself, “Perfect place to get a picture of what’s going on here.”

= = =

  Meanwhile down in the dressing rooms, Vitani and Josh are busy changing. In a few minutes, they both hesitantly step out from behind their curtains to take a look at themselves. Vitani is dressed as a mermaid in a silvery white seashell top bra and a green skirt with frills around the bottom. Josh is dressed as a shirtless sailor boy with the typical blue striped white pants and matching sailor cap.

“You make a pretty good fish out of water.” Josh wiggles his eyebrows.

“Not too bad yourself sailor boy,” Vitani giggles, “Now we have to get this over so we can help Chad.”

With a nod from Josh, they go out of the dressing rooms, onto the beach set. Evan is standing by the camera and looks at them together curiously. Kris Sheridan is on set and asks him to wait as he quickly prompts Vitani and Josh to get closer together. Vitani and Josh put their hands on each other’s waist and giggle before staring up at each other.

“The chemistry is undeniable!” Kris Sheridan yells, “Now get them just like that, Mr. Ross.”

“Um, yes sir,” Evan nods and peers through the camera to take their photo.

Vitani and Josh hold the pose as they hear the snap. Evan sees that he has taken a blurry photo.

Kris Sheridan turns to him, “That won’t do in the least. Move aside. Allow me to do it myself!”

Evan steps back awkwardly and Kris Sheridan eagerly positions himself behind the camera. Just as he is about to take the perfect picture, Amber and Christy waltz in front of the camera and strike a pose just as the photo is snapped. Vitani rolls her eyes and Josh sighs deeply. Kris Sheridan glares at them with an expectant look. The Milano sister smile at each other.

“Not only do we both look better than Vitani,” Amber states.

“But we would look even better next to Josh,” Christy adds.

The Milano sisters then turn stylishly and strut to go over to him, but they accidentally walk into the pool of water on the beach set. Vitani covers her mouth and giggles while Josh merely shakes his head. Amber and Christy climb out of the water soaking wet and exchanged shocked glances.

“S-So are we in?” the Milano sisters ask hesitantly.

“Ladies, get these girls to a dressing room immediately!” Kris Sheridan yells.

Two makeup artists come and usher the girls off to a dressing room. Amber and Christy are ecstatic and stick their tongues out at Vitani before they leave the room with the coordinators. Vitani shakes her head and turns back to their photographers.

“I still need that photo of you together,” Kris Sheridan says and goes back behind the camera.

Vitani and Josh take a deep breath before they get back into their intimate position.

“Oh they don’t have to do this,” Evan cuts in, “You guys don’t have to do this anymore because I quit.”

“You what?” Kris Sheridan scoffs and turns around, “What’s the matter? Why now?”

“I guess I just have other things I need to sort out. C’mon guys, let’s get out of here,” Evan states.

After he walks off the beach set, Vitani and Josh frown, but shrug and follow. Kris Sheridan urges them to wait and stands watching them leave in disbelief before grimacing. He turns and storms off through another exit off set. Just outside of the studio set, Evan takes them back into the dressing rooms and closes the door.

Vitani and Josh await an answer expectantly. Evan digs into his pocket and pulls out another photo.

“Look I just found another one of those photos like the ones from before and until I can figure out what’s going on, I want to get myself away from this company before things get any worse… or I end up like one of these models.”

Vitani asks, “But what about starting your magazine?”

Evan says, “It’s becoming clear that Kris Sheridan’s studio isn’t the best place to start.”

= = =

  At the condo the next day, there is a quick knock on the door, which Josh goes over to answer. He looks down to see Chad struggling to keep hold of some kind of box in his hand. Josh grins and leans against the doorway.

“Aw, for me? You really shouldn’t have.”

“You might thank me if what I found reveals the truth,” Chad muses.

“Come on in, squirt,” Josh steps aside.

Chad comes in with the box and puts it on the counter and takes a breath, “So where’s Vitani?”

Josh closes the door and replies, “She said she had to go help a friend find a new job. She didn’t say his name, and she didn’t have to, but I know it’s Evan Ross. I guess she was trying to avoid another argument about him.”

Chad spreads out a cloth over the countertop and asks, “So you still don’t trust him?”

Josh shrugs, “Look, I haven’t proven he’s up to something, but nobody has proven that he isn’t.”

Chad smiles and takes out a panel from the box, “Then maybe these are all the proof we need.”

Josh furrows his brow curiously, “And what are these exactly?”

Chad explains, “I pretended to be taking out some old equipment from the studio yesterday but I actually took some photos he was trying to develop in the dark room from some film I found in an envelope on Kris Sheridan’s desk. I figured since all the photographer’s portfolios have to be signed off by him before they’re published, I was hoping to find the photographer who takes any pictures like the ones of those models that have been slipping into a coma.”

Josh nods, “So once you take ’em out, we should see what’s on the pictures now, right?”

Chad nods, “Once they’ve developed properly overnight. There’s only one way to find out.”

With that, Chad gets some burger flippers from the kitchen to take them out one at a time and spreads them on the cloth on the counter in case they still had sensitive chemicals on them. Josh looks at the images showing up on the photos.

Josh muses, “The first one shows a guy who looks like Kris Sheridan’s grandfather or something.”

Chad nods, “Oh. There was a picture of that guy in his office. He said that he’d passed away last year.”

The next photo shows the same guy looking younger. Josh figures it must have been taken many years prior the first one. Chad then takes out the last photo and sets it out.

As the image shows up, Josh stands up in shock, “Omigod.”

The next photo shows Amber and Christy with their eyes closed like the other models in a coma.

Chad gulps and asks, “Do you think –?”

Josh rushes for his cell and makes a quick call. Chad watches. Josh nods and hangs up the phone.

“A friend of Amber and Christy’s just said the girls have collapsed and are being taken to the hospital.”

= = =

  Later that night, Vitani arrives at the condo to see Chad sitting quietly at the counter and Josh grumbling on the couch. She goes over to him, saying she got his message and came back as soon possible and is wondering if they heard any more news.

Josh shakes his head and replies, “I called the hospital and they said the Milano sisters are still in a coma, but fine otherwise. I know I can’t say the same for the situations going on right now. It’s just so sad that all the other girls on campus are bummed out at knowing that they lost their chance to cover ROSS magazine, not knowing they could lose a lot more once their picture is taken.”

Vitani sighs and replies, “Well Evan isn’t behind all this because he didn’t take the Milano sisters’ photo anyway, he was with us on the beach set.”

Chad looks back at the photo and says, “From what’s showing up now, they were on the beach set.”

Vitani and Josh get up and go over to look at the photo. Chad and Josh look over at Vitani.

“But the only person who took their photo there was Kris Sheridan,” Vitani muses.

“Wait a minute,” Chad says and then looks at the other two photo dates, “Look, the other photos are showing up better now too. The younger one of his grandfather actually has a more recent date than the old one and they are only two days apart. Not only that, but they were taken this year so this can’t be his grandfather!”

Josh frowns, “So what? Is Kris Sheridan himself getting younger while the models slip away in a coma?”

Vitani says, “Then Kris Sheridan must be the oscinade and he’s taking their energy to stay younger!”

Chad adds, “And he’s doing it through this camera in his office. Look there’s the image of the camera behind him as well. That’s because it’s a reflection from the mirror I saw in his office. The camera snaps a photo of the mirror with him in between. So I’m guessing, however it works, that energy is reflected back and he stands at the point where it’s both projected and reflected.”

Vitani says, “That way he’d get as much energy as possible. He pictured the perfect scheme.”

Josh quips, “But it’s about to come to a photo finish.”

However, the lights in the condo snap off, to their surprise. They are all then shocked when the younger photo of Kris Sheridan in Chad’s hand begins to talk with an evil grin.

Welcome to your final photo shoot, auranades!”

Chad gasps, “Omigod!”

  “As the oscinade of bleariness, I picture this world growing dimmer and dimmer as I grow younger and stronger to the peak of my power! So shall it be done too, once I am rid of you auranades tonight, once and for all!”

Chad, Vitani and Josh exchange worried glances.

Vitani says, “And how do you picture yourself doing that?”

Kris Sheridan’s photo laughs.

I almost had two of you before those two blonde brats interrupted your photo shoot yesterday! But as I can manipulate this energy to and from images, I can certainly turn my picture of you three gone into a reality tonight!”

With that, his image fades away from the photo. However, the three hear noises outside. They glance behind them to see Kris Sheridan outside. From the silhouettes at the windows, it seems Kris Sheridan is somehow making identical copies of his own image around the entire condo. They all have cameras in hand, ready to take a photo.

In unison, all of his copies say, “Now say cheese for the last picture you will ever take!”

Chad, Vitani and Josh all duck behind the couch just as the camera lights flash around the house, knowing that if he got a clear photo, they would be pulled into a coma and then no one would be able to stop him and his evil plot. From behind the couch, Chad reaches out his hand and uses his wind power to pull the curtains closed as flashes continue to go off outside. They all stand up and sigh in relief and each go to fix the curtains to block the copies’ view properly.

Josh remarks, “The neighbors probably think we have Justin Bieber over for dinner or something.”

Vitani retorts, “Unfortunately, we’ve now got bigger problems on our hands than mainstream pop.”

Just then, there is a louder noise at the window. The Kris Sheridan copies are pounding all around the condo to get in. Josh goes for a remote from on top of the fridge to turn on the storm shutter system to secure the windows better. Some metal panels roll down over all the windows. However, no longer than the time they take for a sigh of relief, there is a loud noise at the door. The Kris Sheridan photographers break in, but are surprised not to see the three.

After the camera flashes stop, Chad pops out from around the corner and swipes them all back out with a gust of wind. He blows in the door before running to lock it and keep it closed, as they start pounding again. Vitani and Josh push some furniture to block the door.

Vitani muses, “It’s beginning to feel like night of the zombie paparazzi in here!”

Chad turns and adds, “There must be a reason Kris Sheridan attacked at night and with the lights out, so we need to get to the basement to fix the lights. I think his copies are destroyed from overexposure.”

It’s about that time that they hear noises coming from upstairs too. Chad, Vitani and Josh rush to the basement and close the door. Josh quickly nabs a flashlight. Chad and Vitani tell Josh to go on down to the circuit box while they will stay and defend the basement door. Soon enough, the copies are pounding on the door, ready to take a photo of the auranades. The force of the numerous copies on the door was becoming a bit much for Chad and Vitani to keep pressing in.

They look at each other and nod. They step back and the door flies open. However, Vitani blows her freezing mist to trap the copies at the front in solid ice. Chad then swishes a gust of wind upward to use the frozen copies at the front to push all of the other copies back. They then close the door again.

Vitani yells, “Josh hurry!”

Josh yells back, “I am!”

After he meddles with a few switches, while struggling to hold the flashlight at the same time, the power comes back on. Chad and Vitani hear the copies screaming outside of the door and the force against the door quickly disappears.

“Perfect!” comes a voice.

They all whirl around to see Kris Sheridan in the middle of the basement about to press his digital camera for a photo of Josh. A bright beam of light shoots out of the camera towards him, where Josh turns his arms to steel to defend himself. When Josh notices the reflectivity of his metallic arms deflect the beam, he pushes it right back towards the camera. It overloads and explodes.

“No!” Kris Sheridan yells, “This was not in the picture!”

He turns to run but Chad swipes him aside with a gust of wind. However, instead of crashing into the wall, he disappears. He reappears from the original photo in Chad’s back pocket and is about to run up the stairs to his escape. Vitani whirls around and freezes him with her icy breath.

Chad, Vitani and Josh go over to him to see him starting to get old within the ice. They exchange looks.

And with that, the three auranades repeat the banishment verse in unison.

“Evil spawned from darkness core,

Walk this land you shall no more,

Wickedness be rectified,

Let your face be now denied!”

  A bright light emerges from within the ice, where drafts of energy blast out that shatters the ice and creates a violent suction. Chad, Vitani and Josh watch as a portal opens up and begins to suck Kris Sheridan into it.

“Sometimes you just need to get with the real picture,” Vitani quips teasingly, as she looks on.

It is then that Kris Sheridan’s body expands and distorts as he is finally drawn inside of the swirling portal, simply leaving the echo of his voice in the basement before it seals shut and fades away with a blast of air. Chad, Vitani and Josh exchange looks of relief.

“Well I think this moment deserve a photo,” Josh says, with arms around Chad and Vitani’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I think we got him a pretty good angle,” Vitani giggles.

“I just don’t think I’ll ever look at photos the same way again,” Chad muses with a grin.

Epilog

  A few days later, there is cheer and celebration after the second football game is also won by the SyndAcad team. As the students are leaving the bleachers, Evan and Vitani remain behind talking about everything.

Evan says, “It seems that just as all of the models are all recovered, Kris Sheridan has disappeared. I’m guessing if I stuck around that place and dragged you and Josh in too, we might have all ended up in trouble. At least now everyone got their break, huh?”

Vitani says, “I know my little break is over now that Amber and Christy are back to rule the hallways.”

Evan says, “You know, you’re still so much like the old Vitani I remember, but still so much more.”

Vitani shakes her head and says, “I’m your average bookworm, juggling school and waitressing, not something I’d brag about… unlike someone here who just got the job as the new editor-in-chief at the WP University newspaper and magazine.”

Evan replies, “Now hey, having your friendship was always, and will remain, one of my most prized credentials, okay? I just hope our reuniting like this is a sign of even better things to come.”

Vitani smiles and says, “Oh I know it is.”

They laugh and hug. Josh arrives at the bleachers looking for her and pauses when he sees them.

= = =

  At the restaurant that night, Ray Torres waits at the table fiddling with his watch and thinks Chad isn’t going to show. He hears someone walking up to his table and looks up excitedly – only to see that it is the school reporter, Rita Allen, who is wearing a sheik black dress.

“Hey Ray,” Rita Allen smiles, “Fancy seeing you here. I’m here to meet someone with what I hope turns out to be very valuable information. How about you? I mean shouldn’t you be out partying with the rest of your team for winning the game today?”

Ray shrugs and replies, “I’m supposed to be waiting for a special friend of mine.”

Rita Allen frowns before she takes a seat at his table, “More special to you than your football?”

“It’s because of this friend that I still play football,” Ray turns to her and replies, “I’m sure my time is only the least of what I can give them, you know? I mean they’ve given me that and so much more on so many occasions. And it’s not often in life you get a friend like that.”

Rita Allen nods and says, “It sounds like you really feel something for this friend of yours.”

Ray muses, “Sometimes I don’t know what exactly those feelings are, but I know they make me happy.”

Rita Allen shrugs, “But you don’t look that happy.”

Ray looks around again before he replies, “As you can see, I’m still here alone right now.”

Rita Allen touches his hand and smiles as she says, “You know … you don’t have to be …”

“I actually have to go now,” Ray looks at his watch and slowly pulls his hand away, “But hey, I hope you get the information you came for and that it was worth you dressing up so pretty. Well I’ll see ya around later.”

He grabs his jacket from behind the chair and leaves with a disappointed look on his face. She gets up and follows to go after him when someone taps her on the shoulder. She turns to see it’s some kind of delivery man.

“Are you Rita Allen?” he asks.

“Yes, that’s me,” she replies.

“You asked for anything that my company was hired to remove from the dorm rooms related to the name ‘Rick Hayes’ for your school report on some of your past students, right? Well, we only found one item belonging to someone by that name. Here you go.”

Rita Allen looks intrigued after he hands her a red flash drive that has ‘PHOTOS’ written on it.

“I hope it helps you,” the delivery man says and leaves.

“Oh I’m sure it will,” Rita Allen smiles to herself.

= = =

  Just outside of the restaurant, Ray Torres is still pacing around waiting for Chad. However after another five minutes and no sign of him, he gets annoyed and storms off. Ray turns the corner of the restaurant and bumps right into someone, both of them falling over. Ray apologizes and reaches to pick up the book he knocked out of their hand when he takes a look at it. It’s a picture of him in his football uniform titled ‘PLAYER OF THE YEAR’.

Ray frowns, until he looks up to see that it’s Chad he bumped into. A huge smile grows on his face.

Ray asks, “So what’s this, huh?”

Chad scratches his head bashfully and replies, “It’s the reason I’m so late, first of all. I asked a guy I know, who is now editor-in-chief at WP, to print it for me. I remembered how we were talking about you covering a magazine earlier, so now you can picture what that would be like. But this is actually a journal for you to write in from now until you’ve officially gotten to cover a magazine with that title.”

Ray looks at it in amazement, “Wow. This is so amazing. You know what? When I use this I’m gonna look at this as my goal, and then I’ll remember the person who made it for me as my inspiration. Thank you so much C.K. This really means a lot to me.”

He then steps forward and hugs him tightly. Chad smiles over his shoulder with a sigh.

Chad sighs and says, “What do we do now? I know we’ve probably lost that table reservation.”

Ray looks at his watch and nods, “Maybe. But we haven’t lost the night. I think we can still make it to the party my team is having. Our team captain, Cameron Levine, is hosting it. I wanna celebrate with them just as much as I wanna with you. You and I are a team too, you know.”

Chad squirms, “I wanna celebrate with you too, but you know I’m not much of a party person.”

Ray shakes his head and smirks, “I can so tell things are gonna be changing for the both of us.”

With that, Ray grabs Chad by the hand and pulls him along down the street to head back to SyndAcad for the party. Unbeknownst to them, Rita Allen passed by and saw them from inside, through a restaurant window. She shakes her head with a smile.

Rita Allen twirls Rick Hayes’ flash drive, “Oh things are gonna be changing for you both real soon.”

= = =

Copyright © 2013 Chad Blackman

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