By Chad Blackman

Prolog

“I’m here,” Chad announces. He swings his backpack off his shoulder and into the seat on the opposite side of the table where Vitani and Josh are sitting in the Libretta café, before taking a seat himself. “I’m really sorry I got here so late, you guys, but I’m still gonna have to leave in a few minutes anyway. I’ve got a ton of extra work to do since I missed those two weeks of classes. You know, when I went out of town with Rick.”

“The nerds never get a break,” Josh teases, earning an elbow in the side from Vitani.

“None of your teachers are going easy on you, huh?” Vitani sympathizes, as she slides a milkshake she made for him earlier over to his side of the table.

“Not even my new chem teacher, Miss Kelly, and according to the letters Rick forged, I was absent due to some family emergency out of town,” Chad sighs deeply, “It’s just funny because they will never even know the half of what really happened when I left.”

Vitani grins as she takes a sip of her smoothie. “So how do you think your family would really react to knowing their son now has superpowers and is destined to fight against the powerful forces of evil?”

Chad pauses for a brief moment before shrugging. “Well, um, I had actually lived with my aunt before I enrolled here and as far as she goes, I think I would just like to be able to tell her I actually made it through the school year first than tell her any of my other secrets, you know? I mean, do any of your parents know?”

Vitani and Josh exchange brief glances and Chad looks over at them curiously.

“Well, um,” Josh begins, “Let’s just say my mother isn’t around and my father is way too busy dealing with his own powers of attorney and his power to make more money than to be concerned about my power to make anything out of myself.”

Vitani scratches her head, “I don’t even know if my parents know about my powers since –”

Josh cuts in, “The point is that we all need to come into our own skin and trust ourselves with these special abilities before we trust anyone else with them, certainly not the other kids around here.”

Chad nods and sighs, “I’m just wondering to myself if after being betrayed by Rick like that if I could ever even be that close to anyone else ever again.”

Just then, Ray Torres and his football buddies come into the bookshop café, fussing over the Best New Player medal he had won for bringing the team to victory last week. Chad looks over at Ray from their table. Vitani and Josh exchange looks and chuckle.

“I can see you already have plans on getting close to a certain football player, Chad,” Vitani teases.

Chad smirks and replies, “I can see that the boys look like they are wondering if the bookshop café still has any waitresses working here.”

Vitani chuckles and says, “Well that must be my cue to get back to work then. See ya later boys.”

She re-ties her apron around her waist and pulls out her notepad before she heads over to take the order from the football players.

Josh, meanwhile, gives Chad a teasing look and gets up as he says, “I’m gonna go use the bathroom while you make up some sort of excuse for the truth in your head, okay squirt?”

Chad giggles and grabs his backpack before replying, “The truth is that I actually have to get going now to finish up some stuff, but I’ll be sure to stop by the condo to see you guys a bit later. Like you said, the nerds never get a break.”

After Josh chuckles and leaves the table, Chad packs up his things and walks over to the front doors to leave when a hand grabs his arm. He turns around to see it’s none other than star player Ray Torres himself.

Ray smiles and says, “I really hope you don’t have to leave just yet because I want you to come celebrate my BNP medal with me and the rest of the guys, you know, I kinda owe it to you just as I owe you my life from that time I got hazed during that storm.”

“You owe it to yourself to take your time to shine for being so amazing,” Chad replies, “You know, at football. But I can promise you just the same I am gonna be there when you really need it the most.”

Ray nods with a smirk, “I think I’ll hold you to that.”

He pats Chad on the shoulder before he turns and heads back to his table. Chad turns around and sighs as he heads through the door, wondering to himself if he’s even ready to have those kinds of feelings again, after what happened with Rick. He shrugs and leaves the café.

 

= = =

 

Meanwhile, Josh exits the bathroom just as Vitani is heading behind to the counter when the cheerleaders stroll into the bookshop café. A girl in a cheerleader’s uniform is following the Milano sisters, begging with them to give her another chance because she really needs this opportunity. Amber and Christy look at each other and laugh.

Amber rolls her eyes, “I think what you really need is to get a hint, Sadie.”

Christy folds her arms and remarks, “You’re just not cheerleader material, okay?”

Vitani comes over to the girl who attends her book club, “Are these two giving you a hard time, Sadie?”

Amber and Christy turn to her with their arms akimbo. Christy replies with a teasing grin, “She is just having a hard time understanding that being a member of the book club just won’t get you anywhere in this life.”

Amber giggles with a flip of her hair, “Clearly the most it gets you is a tacky apron and serving tray.”

Vitani looks on as Sadie turns away and leaves angrily through the back door. The Milano sisters laugh.

Vitani then turns back to face Amber and Christy with folded arms and replies, “Why, I think it’s a little more than that now, girls. I mean, I could show you two right now how I like to serve up one kick ass for the day.”

She starts to step forward when Josh grabs her by the shoulders and pulls her away from them.

Amber and Christy roll their eyes and yell, “She’s not even worth it, Josh!”

However, as they move to a table some distance away, Josh tells Vitani, “You know they are the ones who aren’t worth it.”

Vitani turns and says, “I know that, but it’s a pity that Sadie doesn’t. I think I gonna go see if she’s okay.”

She walks off and heads out the back door of the café to see the girl Sadie walking around in the back alley sulking to herself. Vitani takes a deep breath and goes over to her.

“Are you gonna be okay with this?” Vitani asks softly, “I see this cheerleading thing must’ve been really important to you and all. You know Amber and Christy are just -”

“I just need a few moments alone,” Sadie grumbles, “I’ll be fine.”

Vitani just nods silently and turns to head back inside when the girl suddenly screams.

She turns to see a mysterious man in disheveled clothes trying to carry the girl away around the corner of the back alley. Vitani yells after him when he throws a trash can lid at her before fleeing. Vitani puts her hand to her mouth and blows a freezing mist to stop the spinning trash can lid in midair before it can hit her. It falls to the ground and Vitani attempts to pursue the kidnapper. However, when she turns the corner to the dead end, no one is in sight.

A few moments later, Josh rushes out around the corner to see her.

“Is everything okay? I heard someone screaming,” Josh states, holding onto her arm.

“I’m afraid not. That person you heard screaming was Sadie. She was just kidnapped by this man and then they both disappeared here,” Vitani explains frantically, “But we’re in a dead end. There’s no way he could have gotten over these walls so fast!”

“No,” Josh muses, “But maybe he could have gotten under …”

“What do you mean?” Vitani frowns.

“Look there,” Josh points down to the sewer lid they were standing over, ‘That piece of cloth -”

“It’s from the cheerleader’s uniform,” Vitani gasps.

He kneels down to pull the fabric out, but apparently, the sewer cover sealed tightly. Josh turns his hands to steel and places his fingers into small slots in the cover before using super strength to unseal it.

He takes up the fabric and hands it to Vitani before looking down into the dark hole.

“Looks like we have ourselves a rat problem,” Josh quips, “That goes on for miles.”

Vermin

The next day, Chad is walking through the hallways on his way to drop off a chemistry assignment in the science labs when he steps in to see his new chemistry teacher Miss Kelly busy talking to the school reporter, Rita Allen. Chad figures whatever this is, it certainly couldn’t be good for him. He quickly turns to leave, but Miss Kelly sees him and calls him back in.

Chad warily steps back in and asks, “Is everything is alright?”

Miss Kelly explains, “Rita Allen here was asking me about what kind of influence Professor Hayes left with most of his students before his absence and I was just telling her about how you, Chad Blackman, are perhaps my best example.”

Chad gets a little nervous and shifts uncomfortably, “I-I am?”

Rita Allen leans forward and says, “I’m eager to hear how that is so. Aren’t you, Chad?”

Miss Kelly reaches behind her on her desk to grab some papers as Chad looks on unsurely. She shuffles them before explaining. “I had just finished marking Chad’s make-up assignments for his two week absence from school and he actually scored near 100% on each, so I can see why Professor Hayes took a particular interest in tutoring him.”

Chad looks over to see Rita Allen staring at him with an unnerving smirk.

Rita Allen shrugs and adds, “I’m willing to bet that Professor Hayes opened his eyes to a lot during the last few weeks, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I guess,” Chad replies awkwardly, before reaching into his backpack and taking out some papers. “Oh, um here is the last assignment you gave me, Miss Kelly. I know the due date was tomorrow, but I just thought I ought to keep on top of my work this time.”

“Indeed,” Miss Kelly nods as she collects the assignments, “I even have to commend his studiousness.”

“I can agree with that,” comes a voice from the door.

“Mr. Bailey, what are you doing here?” Chad asks, surprised to see his biology teacher, “I really hope you got the homework I left on your desk last week when you were out.”

“Yours was one of the few I received on time,” Mr. Bailey nods, “And it’s because of your good outlook that I wanted to ask you a huge favor – and I do hope you’ll agree.”

Chad shrugs, “As long as it isn’t another essay.”

The Bio teacher chuckles and says, “This won’t test your expression as much as it will test your character. I think I’ll leave it as a surprise for next class, but go as far as to say that if you get through with this you will go on to do lots more good in life.”

The two science teachers then excuse themselves from the room and leave the science labs. Just after they exit, Chad is about to follow their cue out of the door when Rita Allen claps her hands slowly. Chad stops and turns around.

Rita Allen raises an eyebrow, “I have to say Chad, I mean, I have to give you a little credit for being really smart, smart enough to fool everyone else here with this act to cover up the kind of person you really are.”

Chad shakes his head and replies, “Look, Rita Allen, I’m only gonna say this one more time. I am nothing like what you want to imply and I could never even dream of being involved with something so … evil.”

Rita Allen quips, “Oh. You mean just like you weren’t involved with someone like Rick Hayes.”

Chad pauses. Rita Allen shakes her head knowingly and says, “Be sure that I’ll be there to stop you from getting too close to anyone else who stands to be hurt in the very end of whatever’s really going on here. That’s a promise, Chad.”

After she gets up and leaves, Chad turns and sighs deeply.

 

= = =

 

Over at the condo the next day, Josh brings a cup of something to the living room and shakes his head worriedly as he watches Vitani begin to sort a series of newspaper clippings out on the table. He also thought she seemed rather engrossed in each one she read.

“Here you go,” Josh offers, handing her the cup, “And I still think we should have told the police a bit more about what happened last night. Maybe they could actually find her and the others this time or something -”

“Look Josh,” Vitani cuts in, “I left a police report to alert them about the kidnapper’s return, but I do think Sadie’s brother should know all about this first before her kidnapping is splashed all over the papers. He should be here in a minute.”

Just then, the doorbell rings and Vitani nods. She gets up and heads over to the door, as Josh looks on with a troubled look on his face. She opens the door and greets the visitor before she invites him in to take a seat so they can talk

“So Josh,” Vitani begins, “This is, um, Bobby, Sadie’s older brother. He usually comes and picks her up from the library after my book club sessions. He lives with her off campus.”

Josh nods and adds, “He goes to WP University. He’s on their basketball team. I think we’ve actually played against them a couple times.”

Bobby shrugs, “Yeah. It’s nice to see both of you again. But what is this about my sister that you wanted to talk to me about. I mean she hasn’t even been home since she left to go to some stupid cheerleader tryouts yesterday.”

Vitani nods, “I’m so sorry about your sister, Bobby, but we’ve believe she’s been kidnapped.”

“What?” Bobby exclaims, “Are you guys sure about this?”

“It’s not something we would joke about. And we also think she may be somewhere down in the sewers beneath campus,” Vitani continues and shows him the old newspaper clippings about a kidnapper known as the Rat Man, who kidnapped a number of people out of town a few months ago. He swallows quietly and she explains, “We wanted you to know before the police and media get on the story again and make headlines about your sister.”

Bobby shakes his head, “I can’t believe that my sister is another victim of this Rat Man creep!”

Vitani rubs his shoulder, “Hey. You know Josh and I promise to do anything we can to help find her.”

Bobby looks at her and shakes his head, “Yeah. You don’t really mean that.”

“Of course I do!” Vitani frowns.

“Oh? Then prove it,” Bobby demands as he becomes more upset by the kidnapper’s clippings.

Josh folds his arms, “What do you mean by that?”

Bobby tosses the newspapers out of his hands, “You two can prove it by helping me get down there and find my sister before this creep does something to her!”

“Look, I think maybe we should let the police handle that,” Josh tries to suggest.

“The way they handled all the other missing persons cases? Those articles say that the police never located the kidnapper, or found where he held his victims in the sewer systems. It’s even believed that he might be moving them across the country – right beneath us!” Bobby exclaims.

“I understand that and we could easily get down there. But if the police in all those states couldn’t find the Rat Man or his hostages, how could we?” Josh asks, “And to put ourselves in whatever unknown situation lies down there would be crazy!”

Bobby sighs deeply and retorts, “Is it that crazy to want to do whatever it takes save my sister?”

And with that, Bobby turns and storms out of the condo. Josh sighs and Vitani ponders.

 

= = =

 

Sometime later, Chad drops by the science labs to find out what will supposedly test his character as his Bio teacher had told him yesterday. Mr. Bailey greets Chad and takes him inside to talk.

“Yes, I do believe you can be helpful to other people,” the Bio teacher remarks, “People like the new set of students we now have in the biology department. These students are some of the members of the football team who had to enroll due to flunking most of their subjects last year. This is their last option to pass or be kicked off the team.”

Chad says, “A school with so much football talent as SyndAcad needs a football team.”

The Bio teacher agrees, “Well it seems they need you and your talents too, judging by all of them scraping the passing grade on the entrance tests. So are you up to it? Would you be comfortable working with any of the students in this room?”

Chad ponders on it and looks among the students in the classroom when he sees Ray at one of the desks amongst the other boys writing something and then crumpling the paper into a ball and yelling that he can’t do this, before tossing it away. Chad smirks to himself and goes over to take up the paper.

“The Ray Torres I know wouldn’t give up so easily,” Chad grins.

Ray looks up and sees him, “Oh hey, C.K. I’m glad to see you, much more than I’m glad about you seeing me like this. I’m sorry, but it just seems I fail this stuff more easily than I manage to pass. Do you biology too?”

“Yes he does,” the Bio teacher says, “He’s actually one of my top students.”

Ray gets up and grabs Chad by his shoulders, “Are you ready to be a hero again and help me out?”

Chad nods, “Hehe. I dunno if I’m really up for this stuff …”

Ray gives him a look and says, “Hey. Didn’t you make me a promise back in the Libretta?”

Chad chuckles to himself, “I did, didn’t I? And I’m a man of my word. So yea sure, I’ll be your tutor.”

Ray is ecstatic and hugs him tightly, telling him, “Thanks a million! I know now that with you as my new tutor, I’m more than sure I won’t get kicked off the football team!”

Chad shakes his head, “I couldn’t let that happen, could I? We need you here for the team.”

Ray smiles and says, “And I guess I just needed someone like you to come into my life, C.K.”

“I’m happy you two already know each other.” The Bio teacher puts a hand on both of their shoulders and says, “I’m eager to see what can come out of this arrangement, though I’m sure only good can come from putting you two together.”

Ray puts an arm around Chad’s shoulder, “I couldn’t agree more with that.”

Chad grins and ponders to himself.

A few days later in another restaurant downtown, Vitani is watching a TV report about the outcry of various parents, now that news of Sadie’s kidnapping had gotten out to the media.She seems stricken by a scene on the television of a mother from another city crying about her daughter, who was also a cheerleader, who was also kidnapped a few months ago by the Rat Man. It’s more the crying little girl beside her, presumably her other daughter, who is holding a doll, who strikes Vitani’s attention.

Vitani looks down at her hands, which are shaking, as she recalls a once-forgotten memory:

There is a little girl climbing out of an upstairs window in the rain with her doll … but she slips off the ledge into a dumpster … she wanders around in the alley … she sees the doll slide into a sewer hole … she follows and falls into darkness …

Bobby returns from the restroom and fumes, “The guy behind this must really be a low life rat!”

Snapping out of her thoughts, Vitani looks to him and simply nods, as she tries to put the images out of her mind. Bobby notices the detached look on her face as he sits down beside her.

“Hey are you okay?” Bobby asks concerned, “Are you having second thoughts about helping me -”

“No,” Vitani replies, “I’m fine. But look at what today’s newspaper has about this story. It’s talking about some guy named Duncan Harper, a retired security guard who claims he ran into the Rat Man when the kidnappings first started five months ago.”

Bobby frowns and wonders, “So why hasn’t there been a lead in the case?”

Vitani replies, “It says here that the man is actually blind, so the police didn’t take his descriptions as valid at the time. He also claimed that the kidnapper was the one who robbed him of his eyesight after he witnessed the kidnapping and tried to rescue another girl from the sewer systems. Then investigators speculated that he was crazy and used it all as a publicity stunt.”

Bobby sighs and says, “We have to at least see how willing he is to help all those girls now, including my sister – if he was telling the truth in the first place. Where is this Duncan Harper guy now?”

Vitani replies, “It says here that he’s currently a resident at a senior home across town.”

Bobby grabs his jacket and car keys as he says, “Well we are about to find out what we are really dealing with here with this Rat Man. Are you ready?”

Vitani gulps to herself as they grab the rest of their things and go.

 

= = =

 

Chad arrives at the campus library with a big sigh and drops a few biology textbooks onto the desk. He was surprised that Ray hadn’t shown up for their last three arranged sessions, but was hopeful that this time he would. He tells himself that maybe spending this kind of time together would let him know if the feelings he has for Ray are those kinds of feelings …

He pulls out a book to read from the shelves while he waits for Ray to arrive, when he sees Vitani and Bobby quickly go by his table and leave the library before he can call for her. Chad wonders what her hurry was when he turns to see his Bio teacher Mr. Bailey walking towards him.

“Hasn’t Ray arrived yet? I don’t think I’ve seen him here once since the tutor sessions started.”

“Oh, um,” Chad clears his throat and states, “You see, Ray just forgot one of his new textbooks and went to fetch it from his dorm and come back. He’ll be back here in a few minutes or so …”

“Good. I’ve already warned them all if they skip any of these sessions without a valid excuse and flunk any tests then this is it for them and football at SyndAcad,” Mr. Bailey states, “It’s sad because I’ve already had to disqualify two of the boys so far for skipping these sessions to party. I’d hate to see your friend lose out as well.”

As the Bio teacher leaves the table, Chad sigh and hopes that Ray has a good excuse for his absence that he’s been lying to Mr. Bailey to cover up for him. Just then, another kid from his science classes who was a tutor for the football team comes over to him and states that Ray had a medical emergency and couldn’t make it.

“What?” Chad exclaims, “Where? What happened?”

But the boy had quickly turned to walk away so Chad drops his things and follows him. He heads out of the library and across to the dorms. Chad is calling out for the boy to stop when he disappears around the corner. Chad enters a hallway, where he steps on a plastic cup. When he hears screaming coming from a dorm room, he walks over and opens the door.

Chad admits to himself that he isn’t surprised, that it’s just a typical dorm party, but now wonders how far into the crowd could the boy have gotten. Chad filters inside looking around when he stops in his tracks. To his surprise, he sees none other than Ray Torres laughing heartily with two girls giggling at his side, all with drinks in their hand. Chad gets a sinking feeling in his chest and is disappointed.

He turns to leave when he instead spots Josh chatting away with some blonde girl at the bar who suddenly throws her drink on another girl in a cheerleader uniform. The other kids watching laugh at her and the cheerleader turns embarrassed and goes off.

Josh meanwhile frowns at the blonde girl and says, “How could you do that Megan?”

He then turns and follows her out. Chad sighs to himself wondering how Ray could be like this to him.

Outside in the alley behind the dorms, Josh goes out to look for the cheerleader, when a metal bar suddenly hits him in the head. It drops beside him and the Rat Man attempts to make his escape with the cheerleader girl when Chad suddenly comes out into the alley and sees them.

The Rat Man turns around surprised and the cheerleader girl kicks him to escape his grip and tries to run but falls over. Chad quickly uses his powers to send a gust of wind to swipe the Rat Man off to the side into the alley walls. He then rushes to Josh, who begins to stir.

Chad asks, “Josh, are you okay? What’s going on out here?”

Josh rubs the back of his head and Chad helps him to his feet while he mutters, “The Rat Man … that cheerleader girl … he wanted to kidnap her too, just like he kidnapped the rest of the girls who’ve been trying out for cheerleading. We have to stop him. Where is he?”

Chad nods, “It’s okay. I took care of him. He’s right over … w-where did he go?”

“I’m right over here, auranades!” the Rat Man hisses and quickly tosses a garbage can lid at them.

Chad easily flicks his hands to cause a gust of wind to blow the garbage can lid back at him, when the Rat Man grabs the unconscious girl and jumps down into the manhole before the spinning lid can hit him. Chad and Josh run over to the sewer when the manhole cover suddenly seals itself back. Josh turns his hands to steel and uses his super strength to pull off the lid again, only to stare down into the stinking tunnel below.

Josh sighs, “It’s too late. She’s long gone, deep into the darkness …”

 

= = =

 

Meanwhile, over at the senior home, Vitani and Bobby have managed to arrange a meeting with the retired security guard Duncan Harper, to discuss what he knows about the Rat Man. They are well into their discussion when Vitani and Bobby sigh.

Vitani leans forward. “Is there no way you can show us what you saw? Can’t you draw it out and give us something to work with here? Anything to help us find those poor girls being held hostage by that vermin under our streets.”

The old man coughs before he mumbles something and asks her to reach into the top drawer in his cabinet. Vitani exchanges looks with Bobby before she goes over and finds a box. She opens it to take out an old piece of paper.

He explains, “I had made an estimate according to the sewer system plan of where I was located when I saw the girl and when the Rat Man attacked me and took my eyesight. I tried to show the police, but they believed I fabricated the blueprint as some sort of elaborate scheme to make myself out to become a kind of hero. I hope, however, that one of you here can be the real hero and stop this vermin once and for all.”

Vitani stares at the blueprint before she turns and nods, “I will see to it that each and every one of those girls can be reunited with their families.”

The old man puts his hands to his impaired eyes and warns them, “If you really intend to do anything, get police or some kind of help. You can’t do this alone. I paid the price with my eyesight. Trust me.”

Bobby stands and replies “Trust me, Mr. Harper. I think we’ve both got all the help we need.”

He walks over and takes one of Vitani’s hands in his. Vitani looks at their hands and gulps to herself.

= = =

The next day, Chad is putting up some of his books in his locker when Ray strolls by with the usual smile on his face. Chad closes his locker before turns and looks at him expectantly.

Ray drops the smile and sighs, “Okay C.K, look I’m really sorry about missing our sessions together this week, but this medical emergency came up and stuff. You understand, don’t you?”

“Oh I got the message,” Chad retorts, folding his arms, “I just guess partying the night away was more of an emergency to you than making sure you could actually stay on your precious football team, huh?”

Ray looks away guiltily before saying, “I’m really sorry for lying to you, but these were parties I was invited to by our captain Cameron Levine this week. All the guys had been looking forward to this since the first game of the season and I promised them all I’d come …”

Chad sees Ray look over at some girls some distance down the hall who wave at him coquettishly.

“So can we just pick up from where we left off?” he asks.

“Left off? We never even started,” Chad replies with a sarcastic chuckle, “And you have to ask yourself if you can afford to miss this chance at your dream of being the top football player in the country or whatever. It starts here and I think you can decide whether this is what you call a good start.”

Ray frowns and says, “Hey, don’t get all self-righteous on me. I’ll be there the next time, okay?”

Chad says, “Yeah? Well maybe this time I won’t be, since it seems it can be put it off ‘til whenever.”

It’s about then that the other girls come over to Ray’s side, probably wondering what was taking him so long here. Ray then turns and says, “You know what? I don’t need to listen to this just because you think you’re a know-it-all.”

Chad says, “Fine. Maybe you’ll listen to your coach tell you you’re off the team.”

Ray asks, “Is that’s supposed to be a threat?”

Chad says, “It’s something for you to think about … if you even stop to do that anymore.”

The girls look at Ray expectantly as Chad folds his arms and stares at him disappointedly.

Ray turns back and folds, “I don’t think I need you to tutor me anymore either, if you’re gonna be on me like this for actually having a normal life like everybody else.”

The girls snicker.

Chad quietly nods and says, “You’re right. I mean I can’t even begin to imagine where you would be if I hadn’t come along, right?”

He grabs his things and walks away. The girls giggle before they put their hands around to pull him along in the other direction. Ray looks on and sighs to himself before walking away.

 

= = =

 

Over at the condo, Chad drops in and tosses his backpack to the side in frustration before sitting at the counter, telling himself that he had more important things to think about right now anyway. Josh, who is still wearing his basketball uniform, comes in from the hallway with a piece of paper in his hand.

Chad states, “So we’re gonna be skipping the Friday night movie to deal with that oscinade, right?”

Josh nods, “Yep. So we might definitely be in for some action tonight. Check this out.”

Chad frowns and leans over the counter to look at the paper in Josh’s hand. He sees it’s some sort of a blueprint of a sewer system. Chad’s eyes bulge and he looks up at Josh with a worried look.

“You’re not thinking about actually –” Chad begins.

“I’m afraid so. Though I actually found this just outside of the door to Vitani’s room,” Josh explains, as he grips the paper worriedly, “So it looks like Vitani’s planning to go down into the sewer system after the Rat Man herself. And she doesn’t even know he’s an oscinade.”

Chad gulps and adds, “Vitani and a friend too, maybe. I’m gonna take a wild guess that the other cup on the table isn’t yours since you just came in. I think I saw Vitani with some guy in the library in some kind of hurry yesterday.”

Josh nods and says, “It must be Bobby, one the girls who was kidnapped was his sister.”

Chad says, “Then they are both in great danger, since Vitani can’t banish an oscinade by herself.”

Just then, there is a bubbling coming from the toilet in the bathroom. Chad and Josh exchange strange looks and go in the bathroom in surprise to see a group of cockroaches on the walls in a pattern that forms the words: I HAVE YOUR FRIEND!!

Chad and Josh stand in awe and exchange worried looks.

 

= = =

 

Meanwhile, Vitani and Bobby are down in the sewers with flashlights, walking along the edges that weren’t flooded with water. They find a ladder leading up into another tunnel. Bobby volunteers to go up first, in case it’s something dangerous, but Vitani tells him it doesn’t matter as long as they find his sister and all the other girls.

“I couldn’t live with myself if it was my fault I lost both you and my sister down here,” Bobby explains as he grips onto the rusty ladder, “So just let me do this, okay? If anybody makes it back out of here today, it has to be you.”

He leans forward and plants a kiss on her cheek before he begins to climb up the ladder. Vitani takes a deep breath as she takes a grip on the ladder beneath him to begin climbing. However, when she starts her way up, something grabs Bobby and pulls him up. The cover to the manhole seals shut. Vitani climbs up and pounds on it, but it won’t budge.

Vitani gasps and climbs back down into the sewer tunnel, frantically looking around as she begins to hear noises from one end of the tunnel or the other. Just then, something touches her shoulder and she screams in fear and whirls around, only to see it’s a small rat as it scampers away.

She takes a small sigh of relief when something else grabs her shoulder from behind. It’s none other than the Rat Man, who tries to grab onto her, but she swiftly kicks out at him and knocks him back. He quickly reacts, however, and grabs onto her and shoves her into the wall. When Vitani manages to get up, she realizes there are now gates at the end of each tunnel. The Rat Man slowly approaches her with an eerie grin on his face.

“Finally,” the Rat Man rants, “I can get my revenge after all these years! It’s been long overdue.”

Vitani blows some freezing mist at the water at his feet, but he leaps to the ceiling, clinging to some piping to avoid freezing his legs in the water. He hangs upside down and laughs hysterically as the water level then begins to rise.

Vitani backs into one gate and yells, “W-What the hell is it you really want with me?”

The Rat Man leans his head to one side oddly and replies, “Isn’t it obvious? I’m the oscinade of vermin who was sent kidnap you as a little girl. You remember that day you fell into the sewers after you tried to run away from … that place.”

Vitani frowns in disbelief, “Y-You knew I was an auranade before I even realized I had powers?”

The Rat Man leaps back down into the rising water and says, “The Negation aren’t able to, but a little old rat like me could, yes, for I could even smell your aura to compensate for my poor eyesight. But just the same, they didn’t believe me because of my blindness … so I had to prove myself by capturing an ordained auranade.”

Vitani gulps, “That’s when you attacked me …”

The Rat Man yells, “You attacked me!”

Vitani looks down at the rising waters and has another flashback:

The little girl picks up her doll … she is cornered by the Rat Man at the end of a tunnel … she screams, but he tells her no one can hear her … he is about to grab her … there is a dripping pipe … the dripping water freezes into a spear and drops to impale him …

“Back then,” Vitani muses, “I just thought I was lucky to have escaped somehow.”

“You were lucky to have escaped then,” the Rat Man explains, “But you certainly won’t get away from me this time! Especially after you incapacitated me for all these years. I could no longer steal human eyesight from those poor girls to allow myself to see and so went completely blind until the Negation finally realized I was right all along about you being a chosen one and helped me recover … to kill you!”

Vitani panics.

Meanwhile, Chad and Josh are exploring the sewers elsewhere, equipped with the sewer system plans and flashlights in hand. They are at the moment following a path with a dripping pipeline along the ceiling, in hopes that it will lead them to Vitani or the other girls before it’s too late.

“Don’t worry Josh,” Chad says, briefly looking around at hearing his voice echo eerily off the sewer tunnel walls, “We’re gonna find her. Maybe we can even find all the girls.”

“Maybe we can also find the vermin behind this and be rid of him once and for all,” Josh sneers.

“Isn’t it weird that we haven’t seen a single rat down here so far?” Chad muses, “You know like in the movies, you spot the flashlight in time to see one scampering off into the darkness. Before the whole rat population comes back …”

Just then, a rat scampers by. Chad bulges his eyes and looks over at Josh. Suddenly, a horde of rats suddenly attacks. Chad attempts to blow them all back, but realizes his powers are somehow too weak down in the tunnels. Josh grunts and turns his hands to steel. He then pounds down into the water to splash a wave to wash the rats away. They then run to evade the rest of the rats.

 

= = =

 

Meanwhile, the Rat Man is watching intently as the rising water beings to flood to just above Vitani’s waist, whereby Vitani remains against the gates.

“To think that the oscinade of vermin, of rats and cockroaches, will be the one to destroy the auranades!” the Rat Man professes, “Darkness will once again reign upon the earth because of me! I can take my underground kingdom up to rule the lands above and the Negation will give me the promotion and power I deserve!”

However, Vitani freezes the lock to the gate that is now underwater. She turns and furiously kicks at it while the Rat Man sinks underwater to stop her. He grabs on her leg and pulls her under. Vitani spins in the water and kicks him back, but he greedily latches onto her in a desperate attempt to drown her. She gets angry and huffs out some bubbles that freeze her hands with ice. She then decides to use her icy fists to punch the Rat Man back. His keys float out.

Vitani resurfaces for air. She unlocks the gates and escapes the tunnel. She locks it back just as Chad and Josh show up beside her in the flooding waters. They see the Rat Man is locked inside the tunnel, and is furiously trying to escape his impending demise. Vitani exchanges a knowing look with them.

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 beneath the water, where drafts of energy blow out that make the water swirl violently. Chad, Vitani and Josh watch as a portal opens up and begins to suck the Rat Man in.

“Finally, your darkness has been exterminated,” Vitani states solemnly, as her hair flickers about.

The Rat Man’s body stretches and distorts as he is finally drawn inside of the portal, simply leaving the echo of his screaming in the tunnels before it seals shut and fades away with a blast of air. Chad, Vitani and Josh look around as the water begins to recede.

Just then, Josh simply pulls Vitani into a tight hug. Vitani seems a bit startled at first, but smiles and settles into it over his shoulder. Chad watches them with a small grin. Vitani sighs contently.

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Josh says.

After they break the hug, Vitani nods and looks around the sewer tunnels and nods affirmatively as she has one last flashback:

The little girl with her doll still lost in the dark sewers … a sewer cover opens … a pair of hands reach down from the light above and rescue her …

“I’m sure that everyone else will be okay as well,” she says, “Especially an important part of me.”

 

Epilog

 

The next day at the Libretta, Vitani and Josh are sitting at table chatting with Bobby about how everything turned out in the end, after watching a TV segment that announced that the Rat Man disappeared and everyone was rescued from the sewers.

“I have my sister. All those other families have their daughters back too,” Bobby says, “And not to mention we all have our sight back. It turns out that Rat Man was somehow able to impair all of our vision when he held us in cells down there. But somehow, when our sight suddenly came back, we could all sense he was gone forever. I was able to then use the blueprint to lead my sister and the rest of us out of the sewers.”

Josh nods as he sips on a soda, “I’m just glad this whole thing could have a good ending for everybody.”

Vitani agrees, “Now that the Rat Man is gone, everyone can let go of this fear that they might be pulled down in the darkness again. I mean … those girls can now finally really move on with their lives, you know?”

Josh looks at her silently as she stares out of the window for a brief moment before turning back and putting a little smile on her face. Bobby smiles and reaches across the table for her hand and holds it in his.

“Hey,” Bobby says, “Thanks to you, my sister and all those other girls have that kind of chance.”

“I just hope Sadie really understands now that sometimes we are lucky to get a second chance at things in life,” Vitani explains, “So while she may have thought she had lost out on any chance of getting that cheerleading scholarship because of Amber and Christy, that she still has a world full of opportunity out there.”

“She did. She’s looking to transfer to WP and tryout for our cheerleading program,” Bobby says.

“That’s great. I guess we’re gonna miss her at book club,” Vitani smiles, “But I’m really proud of her.”

“Hey, you know you ought to be proud of yourself, too. I think you really showed how brave and selfless you are to dare go down there in the sewers with me to help me save my sister,” Bobby tells her, as he grabs his jacket to leave, “I think you’re amazing for that.”

Bobby then leans forward to plant a thankful kiss on her cheek. Vitani blushes and giggles a bit.

“Thanks,” Vitani says as she stands up from the table, “I don’t regret going down there for a second.”

“I just hope you won’t go anywhere; this city needs people like you,” Bobby tells her, “Besides, I’m sure Josh plans to keep you around close for a long time too.”

And with that, Bobby turns and exits the bookshop café. Vitani and Josh exchange bashful looks before she turns to head back behind the counter.However, Josh grabs her hand to turn her around and look at her.

“I hope you faced whatever it is you really needed to down there,” Josh says quietly.

“I did. And I buried it down there in the past, where it ought to stay,” Vitani admits with a nod.

The two smile and hug.

 

= = =

 

Over in the science labs, Ray sighs deeply as he stares at the Bio papers in his hand in front of the teacher’s desk. The Bio teacher shakes his head disappointedly and Ray feels dejected.

“But Mr. Bailey I –“

“I want an explanation for these poor grades, Mr. Torres,” the Bio teacher says.

“Can I get another tutor or something because Chad’s been really busy and stuff,” Ray claims.

The Bio teacher says, “Don’t blame this on Chad. He told me that, although you’ve been attending all your classes, you still have some of your priorities to sort out first and he hopes, in time, you will come around. He also said to me this morning that whether you pass this test or not that he believes you still have the potential and that I shouldn’t fail you.”

Ray looks up in surprise and gulps guiltily, “H-He said that?”

“Lucky for you, I trust in Chad’s ethic. So if he honestly believes that you can pass this subject and that you just need more time, then I will too,” the Bio teacher explains, “Maybe you just need a little more time for you to see how important this is. So I’ll give you a second chance … but no more.”

Ray smiles brightly, “Thank you Mr. Bailey! I promise you, this time will be different!”

He turns and runs out of the labs to find Chad taking some of his stuff from in his locker in the halls around the corner. He calls out for Chad, who merely turns to walk away when Ray stops him by grabbing his hand.

“Hey, I have to thank you so much for covering for me all this time,” Ray starts.

Chad shakes his head, “It’s not something I’m too happy about.”

Ray nods and says, “But you’ll be happy to know that I will definitely make the effort this time.”

Chad shrugs and replies, “I would’ve been happier if you did the first time, Ray. But then again you were much happier with your ‘normal’ life. So what do I matter?”

Ray looks over his shoulder to see the girls coming over to them. Chad turns to leave but Ray stops him again as the girls ask him to come with them to some other dorm party coming up later tonight as they caress him and giggle in his ear. However, Ray tells them he’d much rather stay here instead. The girls instantly scoff and leave him.

Chad quips, “I’m sorry I jeopardized your cool points with the normal people.”

Ray turns and says, “I’m sorry about all that. I guess I was just floating on a cloud of popularity at the time, being the BNP for the team and stuff, you know? It’s the same cloud that clouded my sight of what’s important and that is the bigger cloud of success I could get in the end if I put in the effort now. I see all that now.”

Chad tells him, “You shouldn’t take these kinds of things for granted.”

Ray replies, “What I know is that I will never take you for granted again, C.K. You know, I thought I could pull off getting through these make-up courses myself, or that I could find another tutor, but you know what I found? I found that all I needed was you. What I have here with you is more important to me than any of them.”

Chad smiles bashfully and says, “But you might have to be seen spending more of your time with a nerd.”

Ray laughs and puts an arm around Chad saying, “Don’t worry. You’re more than worth it, C.K.”

The two chuckle before Ray offers to make things up to him with a latte from over at the Libretta and they walk off down the hallway together. After they turn the corner, Rita Allen steps out into the hallway after seeing them and looks on with a curious look on her face.

 

Copyright © 2013 Chad Blackman

chad.blackman@ymail.com

Published January 2, 2016

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