The Ferrari exploded out of the slotted tunnel and whipped sideways, skidded across a road striped with wide arrows, inches away from hurtling through a guardrail and off a cliff. Beyond, the blinding sun blazed over the ocean. The water glinted, hundreds of yellow eyes melting in the incredible heat.
“Hurry up,” Jayson said. “We gotta get home.”
“Hold on,” Randy barked. He threw the wheel to his left and pitched in his seat. He stretched to reach the gas pedal. “One more lap and Randy Fresnel is the winner of the Quarterhill 500!”
There was a squeal and a loud crunch from the game. Jayson groaned and smirked. “You’ll have to sew Randy’s hand back on before he can hold that trophy.”
Randy yelled in frustration, startling a little girl playing Skee-ball behind him. “Vince!”
A broad hand appeared around the corner of the cabinet. “What?”
Randy stormed to the other side, where the opposing driver sat. Vince Faraday leaned casually against the backrest of his seat. His height and build made him look like a junior in high school, rather than the thirteen-year-old he was. “I can’t just let you take my high score.”
“You only have so many high scores ’cause you cheat!” Randy jabbed a finger in Vince’s face. “And you get to play free games!”
Vince brushed his hand away and jumped out of the chair. “You gotta earn that place, short stack. Besides, my name looks nicer up there than yours.” He tapped the screen, which was showing the high scores. “See it there? Doesn’t it look great?”
“It’d be better without the Packer tribute,” Randy growled.
Jayson laughed quietly. Vince was always looking for a reason to mention he was named after Vince Lombardi, for once, Randy had beat him to it. Vince, however, merely grinned.
Though this arcade was on Main Street, right in the middle of the tourist trap, and it was the high season, it was unusually crowded. Even more perplexing, Jayson noticed much of the crowd wore logos from Lakeside University, the community college in Vireo City. Most of them were gathered around an old shooting game with a For Sale sign taped to the corner. The crowd was so thick Jayson couldn’t tell who was playing. “What’s going on?” he asked Vince.
“New game?” Randy said eagerly.
“No, we’re trying to sell that one.” Vince looked as perplexed as Jayson felt. He walked to the prize counter. “Hey Dad, what’s going on?”
All the kids liked Alan Faraday. The burly, deep-voiced owner of the Alley Arcade was rarely in a bad mood, and gave ticket and food discounts to the locals. A smile curved under his dusty mustache, he looked uncertain, but happy that a few more coins might go into the machines. He had a heavy Wisconsin accent that Vince only echoed in part. “Eh, not sure. I asked around. They said that guy’s the lead singer of some band.”
“Who?” Vince pressed. “What’s his name?”
“Shawn something. He’s from Vireo City. I guess the band’s getting real popular. I heard they were on Channel 6 the other day.”
“Shawn Lanius?” Jayson and Vince exclaimed in unison.
Without waiting for a reply, the two rushed to the fringes of the crowd and tried to push their way through. “Wait, who?” Randy called. Despite not recognizing the name, he pushed as hard as either of them.
“Haven’t you ever heard of the Shaddow Puppets?” Vince said.
Randy’s expression soured. “Isn’t that one of those sissy boy bands?”
“Not even close,” Jayson said.
“They played at the big festival last year, remember?” Vince added. “Oh wait, sorry, your parents probably didn’t let you stay up late enough to see them.”
Randy shook a fist at him. Vince yawned. “Didn’t you get beat up by Misty Elesti at recess?”
There was little room around Shawn himself, but Jayson picked him out of the crowd easily. He was on par in age with the crowd, with slick black hair and tan skin. He was taller than Jayson thought, and built in a way that was more imposing than his razor-thin figure should have allowed. He wore neat black jeans and a black collared shirt with a silver image of barbed wire across the chest. Jayson didn’t know the game he was playing well enough to tell how he was doing, but Vince was nodding his head approvingly. Eventually the screen went red and the crowd groaned. “Continue?” popped up above a counter.
“You’re pretty good at that game,” Vince called. “It’s for sale, you wanna buy it?”
Shawn barely glanced at him, but gave a lopsided grin as he put the light gun back in its holster. “You must be the owner’s son.”
If Vince was shocked about being recognized, he didn’t show it. He merely gave a confident nod. Shawn answered the question before Jayson could ask. “They warned me about you. I see your name all over these machines. You taking over the arcade when your dad retires?”
Shawn had a slight accent Jayson couldn’t recognize. He’d never noticed it when he’d heard Shaddow Puppets’ music, and he’d heard their songs often. Ru had bought their CD at the festival. Their mother had gotten it signed once she learned Shawn and Jeremy Shaddow, the band’s founder and lead guitar, were being interviewed at her station. It was one of the few bands he and Ru could agree on. Ru liked hard rock, which made up a good portion of Shaddow Puppets’ songs, while Jayson normally liked hip-hop and rap.
“If I don’t get into the NFL, I’ll think about it,” Vince said.
“Oh, so you’re a football player, too?”
Randy butted in before Vince could reply. “Yeah, but get this. He doesn’t even want to play for the right team. He’s from Green Bay.”
Some of the others in the crowd booed playfully. Jayson was not a football fan, but he recognized the logos. He picked out a few Chicago Bears decals amongst them. One of the girls near the back cheered. As usual, Vince was rather alone in this debate, and as usual, he showed no signs of intimidation. “Uh yeah, who was in the Super Bowl last year?” He cupped a hand to his ear. “How’d the Pack do this week? Oh yeah, Favre got those five measly touchdown passes. Just a team record. Guess that can’t compare to the Bears getting stomped by Minnesota.”
A pair of quarters glinted between Shawn’s fingers. He gestured towards NFL Blitz, over by the wall. “C’mon, kid, let’s see how good Green Bay is.”
“All right!” Vince’s eyes lit up. “It’s about time I got a real challenge around here.”
“Whatdya mean, a real challenge?” Randy shouted as Jayson dragged him outside.
The door squeaked shut. Randy pressed his face on the glass to get one more glare in at Vince. “Your mom’s going to throw a fit if she finds out you were here,” Jayson warned. “You’re grounded, remember?”
“Who’s gonna tell her, you?” Randy said.
“Mr. Faraday might -“
Jayson cut off as he nearly ran into someone standing at the mouth of the alley, fearful that it might be Mrs. Fresnel looking for her son. Mrs. Fresnel was wide, but not nearly as tall as the stranger in front of him, and Jayson was sure she didn’t own a bright red hooded raincoat. The sun was perched behind the stranger’s head, casting deep shadows into the void where their face would be.
The stranger suddenly spoke, what Jayson thought was one word.
“Did you say ‘stay here’?” Randy asked, backing away. “I don’t think so, dude.”
The stranger’s movements were completely soundless. Their coat didn’t rustle, the one step they took towards the boys never shuffled or tapped against the concrete. The hair on the back of Jayson’s neck bristled. This was what his mother always warned him about, those vague, dangerous strangers that he was supposed to take care around and never talk to. He wanted to go right back into the arcade, but he was frozen, his feet melded to the sidewalk. He sought the stranger’s eyes in the darkness.
He found them and lost all thought. There was no fear left, just an inexplicable sense of awe.
The stranger turned and left.
Jayson’s feet came unglued from the concrete. He immediately backed away from Main Street. “Who?” Randy started, stunned. “Who was that? My dad’s right, this town is full of weirdos.”
A glint caught Jayson’s eye. He saw loops of thin silver chains near the foot of the garbage can by the arcade door. He went back and scooped the chains up, drawing out two pendants attached. The pendants glimmered so brightly in the evening haze they looked to have a light of their own. A ruby wolf and an emerald dragonfly.
“What’s that?” Randy asked.
“Jewelry. They look like the stuff that comes out of Carmody’s store.” Jayson held the wolf up by the chain. There was something pleasant about the way the light struck it. “That guy might have been looking for them. We should go get him.”
“Forget it!” Randy shuddered. “First of all, I say finders keepers. Second, I’m pretty sure that guy was serial killer or something.”
“What, are you scared?” Jayson asked with a smirk.
Randy turned red. “No!” he barked, marching to the mouth of the alley. There was considerable relief in his voice when he said, “He’s gone, anyway.”
“It is kind of weird he had his hood up like that,” Jayson said. “Let’s ask Mr. Faraday if he knows who it is.”
Mr. Faraday did not know. He seemed concerned, and offered to call their parents for a ride home, which Randy refused immediately and loudly. Mr. Faraday took the pendants and said he’d ask Carmody if they were his – if they were, the owner might be registered. The two boys left the alley in a hurry, more alert than they had ever been. Even so, neither one caught sight of Shawn as they left. His depthless eyes, sharp and icy, remained on the boys until they were out of sight.