Author’s Note: A Christmas and New Year’s Surprise for you guys. Since I have all this free time, I’m going to be working on this story more frequently; I hope to get at least 3 more parts out before I head back on the 8th. (No promises, though…) This means more of the Junk Collecting trio, more of the Shadows, and a story that will, with every fiber my my being that I hope, not only enthrall and entertain you, but make you think and ponder. I hope you all had a blessedly merry Christmas, and have a terrific New Year. Here’s to 2017!

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Kodi stared up at this pretty young girl with long, silky black hair, slanted brown eyes, and reddish skin. “What d’ya mean?” He eyed her; she fidgeted slightly, gaze shifting towards the ground. “N-Nothing,” she said quickly. “It’s just…” she lowered her already soft voice, so much that Kodi had to lean in to hear her. “It’s too dangerous around here. You need to be careful, is all.”

Kodi’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment. “Wait a minute… Are you like me, then? Are you another one of…you know… another Junk Co–”

“What are you doing?” a saucy-sounding boy’s voice broke out. “You know better to be talking with the likes of ordinaries, don’t you?”

The girl swung about, silky black locks splashing elegantly against her small shoulders. “I-I was just greeting him,” she said rather halfheartedly. The boy, lean and lanky (not looking much older than Kodi himself– Kodi guessed him to be around 13), impatiently snorted, blowing his shaggy blonde bangs that dangled from the back of a baseball cap out of the way. “Whatever. Just don’t go gettin’ all nice and cozy.” It sounded like a warning. The girl nodded.

“C’mon, girlie– they’re waiting for us.” The boy eased his backpack more fully onto his shoulder, then shuffled over menacingly to Kodi. Kodi cautiously backed up. “As for you… don’t ever think about talking to her again.”

“Why? She your girlfriend? If that’s the case, and you’re just paranoid, sur–” The kid slammed Kodi into a locker behind them. “She’s… not… my… girlfriend…” he hissed through clenched teeth. Kodi smelled mint gum on his breath. “OK, OK, we’re cool, we’re cool,” said Kodi, pulling his arms up in surrender. The kid relaxed his grip, letting Kodi slide to the floor before walking off, though not before shooting Kodi a nasty glare.

The girl shot him one last saddened look before leaving with the jerk: “It was nice seeing you…”

“Yeah,” Kodi said softly, rubbing his pained wrists, “you too.” He watched as the odd twosome walked down the hall together, the boy muttering something inaudible to the girl, and the girl mutely nodding assent. He wondered who they were. Why DID the girl say, “It was nice seeing you,” rather than, “It was nice to meet you,”? Was she trying to imply something? He couldn’t recollect if he’d ever met her before, but something about her had seemed a tad… familiar. Were they Junk Collectors, as he was? The girl had, after all, tried to warn him. Would not an ally, a comrade, try to do such a thing?

The boy, on the other hand…. Kodi’s nose wrinkled in distaste. He hadn’t the foggiest why someone as nice as the girl would hang out with someone like that kid, unless she’d been bullied into it. Which was more than likely, he realized, recalling how timid she’d behaved. As if she was almost… frightened to be seen speaking with Kodi, even in a fairly empty hallway, away from prying eyes. What thoughts were lurking behind that startlingly pretty, yet fearful, young face? What was “an ordinary”? What secrets, what danger did she know that he did not? The idea made his skin prickle like a chicken’s uneven flesh.

“You OK, Romeo?” said Guy’s voice from behind him. Kodi nearly jumped three feet in the air. “Perfectly peachy, considering you’re the one who nearly gave me the heart attack.”

“What was that all about?”

“Wish I knew.”

“Who were they?”

“Just some kids from school, I’d guess. Kids from the middle school, specifically, I think. I don’t know a lot of the kids from that area personally.”

“Why’re you rubbing your wrist? They didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“Nah– and if they tried, I’d just whip out some “mad artist skills” on ’em.”

“Very funny. Speaking of which, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Wren too?”

A pause. “Wren’s… not feeling up to the task, lately,” Guy offered rather lamely. “You know how girls are. Complicated and stuff.”

” “Complicated”? Or just “stuff”? She just lost what she thought was her only way to finding her two best friends. Without that info, she must feel really lost. Like she doesn’t know where to turn next.”

“I know,” said Guy, “and not to be insensitive or anything, but we still have a job to do. The job the old guy gave us on his deathbed. It wouldn’t be right not to honor his death wish, would it?”

Kodi shrugged. “I guess. But Wren–”

“Look, if the original Junk Collector knew something, which we know he did, maybe he knew we’d figure it out ourselves or something by just being Junk Collectors and doing whatever it is Junk Collectors do.” Kodi’s shoulders slumped. Guy  wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked. “She’ll come around, I’m sure.”

They rounded the hall together. “Do you wanna go over what I’ve found now, or…”

Kodi cocked an eyebrow at him.”Why are you asking me?”

“Um, because the Junk Collector nominated you our team’s Adviser?”

“Very funny,” said Kodi, play-socking him in the arm. “Yeah, can’t really forget that. So what’d you learn?”

Guy pushed open the middle school’s front door. “I learned that Junk Collectors need to be resourceful.”

Kodi rolled his eyes. “Ya don’t say.”

“No, it’s more than just that.” Guy clopped down the stairs, feet thunking loudly against the cold gray steps. “The original JC wanted us to be able to fix things, right?” When Kodi nodded, Guy went on, “Well, what if it’s our job to also BUILD things? I mean, not just fix stuff, but build and renovate NEW stuff from the old scraps?”

“Oh? Like what?” Kodi kicked at the water as his feet waded through a puddle. It had been raining a good bit lately.

“Well, like the stuff we got from the original JC, your unique art supplies, the hair clips, and Wren’s…” he bit off the words quickly, suddenly unable to look up. Kodi, on the other hand, did. Straight at Guy. “Didn’t he say we were supposed to fix up and help people, too?” he asked softly. He saw Guy swallow. Hard. “Look, it’s NOT that I don’t want to help her– but it’s kind of hard when we also have a job to do.” He took a breath, then exhaled. “I managed to find a way to contact Mikey. Maybe he can give us more insight on what our next move should be. As far as I know, we’re just supposed to fix stuff, build stuff– but we haven’t been told what we’re going to be using it for.

Kodi’s mouth quirked in the suggestion of a subtle smirk. “Maybe they want us to be superheros or something. You know, instead of powers, we get cool gadgets that do amazing things, go off and fight bad guys, and slip back home before dinnertime, all unnoticed. Kinda like the idea of going undercover and having a secret I.D. .”

This time, Guy seemed to be the mature one. “Knock it off, will you? It’s not a game. We’re just kids, and I’m sure there’s no supervillains involved. Maybe it’s like a community work thing or something.”

Kodi snorted, perched on their farmhouse’s porch. “Yeah, sure, the original JC did community service just by lounging around home all day. I totally buy that.” He did a little spin to face Guy, dreads swishing around his face, smacking his soft cocoa cheeks. “And what about the Shadow Six?” He gestured dramatically. “You have to admit, they sound pretty… ominous. At the least. That is, if we assume they’re NOT supervillains.”

“He was an old man– and practically an invalid!” Guy sputtered. “You saw him! He couldn’t leave! And–”

“He certainly seemed well enough to set those traps up.”

“Mikey probably did that, and they made it clear to us that it wasn’t US they laid the traps for!”

“Then who DID they lay those traps for?”

There was a long, uneasy silence between them. “I don’t know,” Guy finally answered. “I don’t know if that was for the Shadow… whatever they’re called… or if it was just as a precaution.”

“You’re talking their offense pretty lightly, considering that gas or whatever nearly suffocated you.”

“Maybe it was just a precaution defensive thing, like I said– I don’t hold it against them if they didn’t really know we were there just for information.We can always ask Mikey.” They entered the house, taking the stairs two at a time to Guy’s bedroom.

“What makes you think the Shadow Six aren’t after the same thing? And like Mikey’s gonna really tell us anything. Speaking of which, have you noticed that whenever we want answers to something, people are either reluctant to give ’em, or just give us some cryptic message we need to decode?” Kodi’s mind drifted back to the girl and bully boy earlier in the school hallway. “They’re not telling everything they know, and it’s gutting me.” Guy nudged him in the ribs playfully. “That is, if our Shadowy friends don’t get you first. Better sleep with the light on tonight, eh?” Kodi scowled. “It isn’t funny. They’re real, whoever or whatever they are, and the JC and Mikey both seem to think they’re a very real threat.”

“A threat to what?”

Both boys froze on the apex on the stairs. Dad was standing below, removing his jacket and leaving on the back of a kitchen chair. “I hope you two aren’t going to be doing anything that threatens anything or anyone,” he said, “especially something like your homework.”

Kodi forced himself to relax and speak before Guy beat him to it, “Of course not, old man,” he replied. “We were just on our way to do that now, actually.” He started nudging Guy subtly, silently urging him to keep moving up to the bedrooms. “As for threatening others, why would we do something like that?”

“So you’ve been settling in better, Kodi?” Dad sounded almost relieved. “Good. That’s good. I’ve been worried that I would get a call from your principal saying you were playing hooky, or worse, a call from a parent.” He circled around the table, and for a moment Kodi feared he would try and follow them. He relaxed again when the old man simply leaned again the stair railing, arms folded, and gazing up at them. “So how’s school been?”

“Fine.” More silent nudging. Just a little more, and… “If you don’t mind, old man, Guy and I have a LOT of homework, and we can’t afford any more chatter. Call us for dinner, will ya? Thanks.” He started to go, but Dad must have sensed he was in a hurry, because he said, “Hold up, I want to talk to your brother for a minute. Guy, could you come down here, please?”

Kodi felt a sinking feeling in his gut as Guy descended slowly, one step at a time. “Go on, Kodi,” said the old man, “I’m sure you have plenty of work to catch up on, like you said.”

Kodi reluctantly turned and left, but not before giving Guy a confused, concerned look. Had the old man figured something out, or was Guy simply in trouble for something else?

He closed the door to his room, and decided it was best to paint while he waited. If nothing else, he could practice his art of making things come to life.

*********

“Sit down, Guy,” said Dad, pulling up a chair.

“OK, sounds serious,” said Guy. “What’d I do now?”

Dad frowned. “I wasn’t lying when I said Kodi hadn’t gotten in trouble at school, but you…” he shook his head. “I received three phone calls in only one day. Two of them were complaints from some well-off, evidently prominent figures in the community, saying you and some girl were bullying their kids, says there were witnesses. And that’s not all,” he added firmly when Guy opened his mouth to protest, object, anything. “The third call I received was from your vice principal, a Mr. Creedy. He tells me this girl has been acting up even worse when you came to the school, and that you’ve egged her on, helped her to bully. He strongly advised me to separate the two of you.” Dad sighed, running a calloused, worn hand through graying black-brown hair. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

“Dad, it wasn’t me,” pleaded Guy, “Those kids are the bullies, total jerks. They set us up to get in trouble. They must’ve–”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man. It’s one thing if the parents defend their children because of their biases, but it’s another to get a call from the vice principal.” Dad bore him down with a stern, hard stare. Guy, who normally withered under such a glare, suddenly felt an unexpected boost of courage from his righteous anger. I did not do it. 

“I’m telling the truth, Dad. If this Mr. Seedy or whoever the heck he is can’t provide any kind of proof to back up what he’s telling you, then… then…” His newfound courage flickered, wavering for an instant, like a candle flame. Dad, unfortunately, saw that opening, and lunged at it. “His name, Guy Jonathan Rithers, is Mr. Creedy, and you had better respect us both, as well as any decision we make, as long as you’re under my roof.”

I did not do it. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad.” Suddenly, he knew how Kodi felt. Always pushed around, his own voice being drowned in the sea of all those who seemingly had authority over him. But if he could somehow manage to rise above the waves… “You know me. Have I ever been the type to cause trouble? Really?”

“No,” Dad admitted. “That’s what worries me, and that’s what I told this Creedy fellow. But he’s convinced that this girl… that she befriended you, and that you fell in with her crowd, a bad influence, and now you…”

“For heaven’s sake, DAD!” Guy almost shouted, standing up so quickly the chair clattered to the linoleum. His temper had bubbled dangerously close to the surface.”She doesn’t HAVE a crowd, everyone just avoi–”

“Guy, that is ENOUGH.” The piercing glare was back– now accompanied by a finger pointing up the stairs. “Your room. Now. You’re grounded for a week for talking back to me, young man. And Mr. Creedy and all your teachers will ensure that you and this girl do not interact any more. I’m sure you can always make friends with other people, better people. I will not have my son loitering around with bad influences. Look what it’s done to you already.” He shook his head.”This discussion is over.” Dad got up, walking over to the sink to empty his coffee cup.

“You. Can’t. Make. Me.” Guy was breathing hard as he uttered the words, a cold sweat clamping down upon his brow. “I’m my own person; you may be my dad, but you can’t make all my decisions for me.”

Dad angrily spun to face his only biological child, but by the time he had, Guy had already sprinted up the stairs as fast as he could go. “Two weeks.” He resumed washing the cup.

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Image Credit: http://depositphotos.com/2371636/stock-photo-high-school-entrance.html

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