— by Ted R. Blasingame, with Steve Carter
Rojur removed an elaborate headset frame crowned with a multitude of sensors from his head and passed a hand across his hair in a vain attempt to smooth it down. The static psionic energy in his body made his hair look perpetually windblown in appearance, and despite the claims of the dye manufacturer that it would also tame wild hair, the chemicals were no match for his internal energy. His hair returned to its usual unruly state, some of it falling across his forehead into his eyes.
A short Japanese man dressed in black slacks, white shirt and a matching white smock took the headset and set it aside on top of a Styrofoam head originally designed for a wig to rest upon.
"Thank you," the little man told him with a nod. "That is all for now. I have successfully recorded several levels of psionic energy from what you've done for me today." He rubbed an eye beneath one of the large round lenses of his glasses. "What you can achieve is impressive, Mr. Delondin, but I get the feeling that telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation are not the only special talents you have."
Rojur stepped down from the small scanning platform where he'd performed like a circus entertainer in the small, nondescript room where Dr. Masanori spent much of his days in a wing of a Blackthorne facility. He peeled off a few sensor tabs stuck to his bare chest in various places, grimacing as they clung to the turquoise hairs that had given rise to the doctor's eyebrows when he'd first seen him shirtless. He had offered no explanation and gave out no background information on himself.
"We are doing this under my terms, doctor," he reminded, looking over at the scientist through the brown contact lenses he now wore. "Whether or not I can do more is not the issue. You should feel fortunate that I have agreed to show you what I have shown you."
"Yes, of course," the rotund little man replied, giving his guest an easy smile, "and for that I thank you. You are a most amazing man and have given me enough data to keep me busy for some time."
"I suppose a blood sample is out of the question?"
"Yes, it is."
Masanori stuck his hands into the pockets of his lab coat and rocked back and forth on his heels like a school boy. "In that case, that's all I have today. I believe Ms. Scott is out in the reception area with Master Brandon to give you a lift back to the Blackthorne estate."
Rojur nodded silently and retrieved his shirt from the back of a chair. He had been wearing local clothing lately, his material-shifting garments tucked away safely back in his room. They were much more efficient in keeping clean and had other capabilities than simple changes in style and design, but in his efforts to fit in, he knew his preferred garments should be stored away for now. He shrugged into the tee shirt, tucked it into his denim jeans, and then pulled on a dark green, long-sleeved shirt. Once he had it buttoned up and tucked in neatly, he bid the doctor farewell and then left the room.
Saundra looked up from the outdated magazine she'd been browsing through and gave him a smile as she stood up. Brandon stayed where he'd been planted on a couch, his eyes focused on the game application he was playing on his smart phone.
"Hello Saundra, Brandon," Rojur said politely. The boy ignored him for a moment until the woman tapped him on the shoulder. He put his phone on standby, shoved it onto a pocket, and then looked up at the esper.
"I liked your other eyes better," the boy said frankly.
Saundra shook her head. "He has nice brown eyes, Brandon. He shouldn't have to cover them up with white lenses."
Rojur merely smiled, pleased with the deception. "Thank you for waiting on me," he told his companions. "I was not aware Alex had arranged transportation for me."
"He didn't," Saundra explained as they left the small reception area and walked along a carpeted hallway. "Brandon still hasn't picked out a Halloween costume for tonight and asked me to go shopping with him. We were in the area and though we would pick you up for lunch."
"Lunch would be nice, although I am not familiar with a halo-ween costume."
Saundra looked at him strangely as they entered an elevator that had just become available at their approach. "You're joking, right?" she asked."I thought everyone knew what Halloween was."
Rojur looked over at her with a lopsided smile. "Not all countries celebrate the same events that you do. You know that I am not from around here, so is it so strange that I may not be familiar with all your celebrations?"
The woman laughed and shook her head. "Actually, I had already forgotten that about you," she admitted. "Please forgive me."
"Forgiven. So, what is this event you will be celebrating in costume tonight?"
"We dress up in scary costumes and go around to houses getting candy from the neighbors!" Brandon said brightly.
Rojur blinked. "Hmm, okay, but what does this signify?"
Saundra led them out of the elevator into the lobby of the downtown building and headed for the parking garage.
"It's been a while since I last had to explain this, so I may not get all the facts straight. As I remember it, Halloween was originally called All Hallows' Eve as a celebration honoring the Dead on the evening before All Saints Day, which is the first of November," she told him. "Many cultures actually fear the dead, so over the ages it became twisted into a celebration of the scary, rather than just of the dead. Some believed that the dead rise up and walk on the evening before and the spirits would play tricks on the living, so treats were offered up to the dead to appease their restlessness. As a result, children now go out on Halloween night typically dressed up in scary costumes, going from door to door to demand treats – various kinds of candy that are handed out by the home owners."
"Trick or treat!" Brandon added in a raised voice. Rojur smiled at the boy's enthusiasm as they approached Saundra's convertible.
"What happens if someone does not give out the required treats?" he asked, opening the door to the car for Brandon to crawl into the back seat. "Do the tricks resume?"
Saundra climbed in behind the wheel and then the three of them buckled their seat belts once they were all in. "These days, if you don't want to take part in it, you simply turn off all the lights in your house," the woman replied. "Only those who participate turn on all their lights to let the neighborhood kids know they are welcome to come to their door. Some people even decorate their yards or houses with props or sets mimicked from old scary stories, and in the spirit of the night, there are even those who hide in the dark and then jump out at the kids to frighten them simply for a laugh."
Rojur shook his head. He had never heard of such a thing, but he never claimed to know everything about the places he had visited. "Interesting. Are the dead still honored for the deeds they had done during their lives?"
Saundra backed out of their assigned parking spot, but she shook her head as she put the vehicle into motion. "Sadly, that aspect of the celebration has fallen by the wayside. Anymore, it's simply a night for the kids to dress up in costume to go out begging for candy. A lot of adults dress up in costume too, either attending parties of their own or to accompany the children as they go out into the night. That's what we'll be doing tonight – playing chaperon for Brandon as he goes out to get his haul."
Rojur looked alarmed. "Are we required to be in costume too?"
Saundra looked over at him with a grin after she pulled out into traffic. "Only if you want to," she said. "You could wear the costume you had on when we first met. It would fit in rather well. It made you look like someone from another planet or something." She looked over at him with a look of amusement. "It still seems odd that you were wearing that out in public without even knowing about Halloween!"
Rojur fell silent for a moment, but then he turned toward the back seat to look at Brandon. "What costume do you plan to wear tonight?" he asked.
The boy thought it over for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno," he said. "Maybe Captain Sinclair."
"He's the captain of a freighter from a popular series of books that Brandon reads," Saundra explained. "He's an anthropomorphic wolf and his crew is made up of other kinds of animals."
Rojur raised an eyebrow. "Is this wolf captain scary?" he asked.
"No, but I like him," Brandon replied.
"Getting the outfit he wears should be simple, but we'd have to find a good wolf's head or face mask, with furry gloves and boots."
"And a tail," Brandon added. "Don't forget his tail!"
"What will I be required to do when we go out?"
Saundra smiled. "Just be his guardian angel," she said. "Watch over him to make sure nothing of a real danger happens to him. After all, he's a young kid out roaming the streets after dark, which would never be safe any other night."
"Wait," Rojur muttered, turning to her in his seat. "Where will you be?" he asked. "I thought you intended to be there too, but now you sound as if it will just be he and I."
"I never said I was going out with the two of you tonight," she answered. "I only said I was taking him shopping for his costume. Alex and I will be attending an award ceremony for local artists such as myself. Alex planned for you to accompany Brandon since neither of us would be available tonight and Carl is still out of the country."
"I see," the esper muttered. Since he had arrived at the Blackthorne estate, he and Brandon had not exchanged more than a handful of words, though not for lack of trying; Rojur had made attempts to befriend the boy, but Brandon had always been wary around him; perhaps it was best to let the boy warm up to him on his own without any pressure, but now it seemed like the two of them would be forced to spend an evening together.
Rojur didn't foresee much conversation between the two of them that night.
* * *
Of all the odd and varied things that Rojur had done in his life, this had to be among the strangest of them all. Although the events of Halloween had been described to him, it was a wonder to see them firsthand. The various costumes ranged from sloppily made home outfits to Hollywood-perfect replicas from classic horror and fantasy films. In all his travels that spanned several star systems, Rojur was amused that there were more alien-looking creatures out on the local streets here than he'd ever seen on actual alien worlds.
For his own part in the night's festivities, he had used a cleanser to wash the dye from his hair and he'd put on the original extraterrestrial clothing of his own. It was currently configured to appear as a jumpsuit made of a solid piece of material in a somewhat futuristic design. Wearing them, he felt more comfortable than he had in several weeks.
Brandon was dressed up as the character that Saundra had described earlier. They had been fortunate to find the right items at a cosplay store across town that specialized in such things. They were priced higher than the average trick-or-treater's family could typically afford, but that was no issue for the heir of the Blackthorne estate.
The boy wore a small version of what was commonly known as a full-body fur suit, rather than just a mask with gloves, boots and tail. Although it was well-made, Brandon still had a little trouble seeing out the eyes and had been bumping into things and kids all evening. It would take a little practice on his part, but he'd only been wearing it a couple hours.
Rojur had accompanied Brandon up and down streets local to the area of the estate, but the boy was taking them closer to the main streets where there was more traffic. In a rare moment of conversation, boy had told him that some of the businesses in the strip shopping centers often had someone at the stores to hand out candy for the kids so they could have a place to go that was relatively safe.
Rojur had tried to talk to him further, but Brandon simply seemed to ignore him without responding. Frustrated, the esper became a silent partner to do nothing more than shadow him from door to door.
Beforehand, Alex had explained that Brandon was also a telepath, but due to the intimacy of such a talent, he wouldn't communicate to anyone but his dad in such a manner. He'd warned Rojur not to attempt it with Brandon unless the boy initiated the contact first. Alex had kept his part of the agreement, and aside of the Japanese scientist, he had told no one of Rojur's abilities, so Brandon was not even aware that the groundskeeper was anything special beyond just another of his father's friends who worked for them.
He looked up from his musing when a sports car zoomed by on the street just a little faster than it should have on a street lined on both sides by children in costume. Brandon was close to the curb the vehicle had sped by, silently looking down into his candy sack, and Rojur felt a rush of adrenaline when he realized just how closely the boy had been to the road.
"Brandon," he called, "let's head up the street where that crowd is. I'm sure there's something going on up there you'd like to see."
The boy grunted wordlessly, but stepped back out onto the sidewalk and headed where his guardian had indicated.
On the way toward the gathered group near a storefront, they passed into an area of darkness where the streetlamp had burned out at some point. Rojur glanced up at the light without really thinking about it, but a moment later two dark shapes jumped out at them from a narrow alley between shops.
Brandon stumbled back a few steps, startled. The figures wore hooded black outfits from head to toe that was decorated with the likeness of skeletons in green glow-in-the-dark ink. Both cackled in voices meant to sound evil and Rojur realized instantly that these two were teenage boys playing one of the "tricks" he had heard about.
He chuckled at the effectiveness of the skull death's-head mask hoods they wore with painted jaw bones that seemed to move in time with their own jaws. One of them held out a black sack of his own toward Brandon.
"Put all your candy in here, wolf-man!"
Brandon clutched his sack to his chest and then the other teen quickly brandished a folding knife from inside his sleeve. He flipped it open and then stepped forward.
"You heard him, give up your candy, kid!" and then toward the adult, the knife raised a little higher. "You too, spaceman! Drop your wallet, cell phone and watch into the bag too!"
Rojur's amusement vanished and he narrowed his white eyes at the intruders.
|Brandon, get behind me and stay back,| he sent telepathically to the boy without hesitation. Not waiting to see if he followed his command, the esper boldly walked toward the nearest skeleton and grabbed his knife wrist so quickly that the teen squawked in surprise. The second teen was momentarily shocked, but snapped out of it quickly with a snarl. He rushed at Rojur just as the esper wrenched the knife from the wrist he held in a vise-like grip, but when the rushing adolescent tried to stab him with his own blade, Rojur suddenly vanished from the spot and immediately appeared behind him.
Rojur shoved hard between the teen's shoulder blades, driving him stumbling into the other. He hadn't actually hurt the youth, just overbalanced him, but both skeletons tumbled to the sidewalk and Rojur used their confusion to move in quickly. He grabbed the material of their masks and yanked them around sideways so that the openings faced toward the backs of their heads, effectively blinding them for a moment.
It was only then that he turned to look back at Brandon, who stared back at him with wide eyes. The two would-be robbers were cursing at one another, trying to get back to their feet and pull their masks back around, so Rojur grabbed Brandon's wrist and guided him quickly toward the busier and more public part of the street where they had been headed. They joined the crowd gathering around a donut shop where the owner was giving out free samples and the two of them blended in with the throng before the two skeletons could see where they'd gone.
For a few moments of safety, Rojur and Brandon stayed with the group of kids and adults on the street until they were sure to be away from their would-be attackers. Despite their intentions, Rojur was pleased that he hadn't actually injured the teenagers. He could have been much rougher with them, but hadn't seen the need. He kept an eye out for their return, but at the moment didn't think they had remained in the vicinity after their failure.
Still surrounded by costumed children and adults that didn't even seem to realize they had joined them, Rojur and Brandon followed them from door to door quietly. Brandon offered up his sack for more candy with the rest of them, though he had become exceptionally silent, even for him.
After several more doors, Rojur was gifted with a surprise.
|Are you like me?| Brandon asked Rojur telepathically. The esper was momentarily puzzled before he remembered what he'd done earlier.
|In some ways,| he replied in like manner without looking at him. He put his hands into the pockets of his outfit, acting casual. |I am sorry if I startled you. I only wanted you out of danger.|
|How did you move so fast and get behind that guy? It looked like you disappeared!|
|I do not think they knew what happened, but I could not allow myself to get stabbed.|
Brandon tugged at Rojur's sleeve. |Can you do it again? I want to see!|
The esper stopped and gazed down at him, and then Brandon pulled the costume head piece up so that he could look up at the adult without having to peer through eye holes.
|Why have you never spoken to me in this manner before?| Rojur asked. |Is it because you did not want me to know you could?|
Brandon nodded. |Yeah, Dad said I shouldn't tell anybody – that it was a family secret.|
|It is the same with me. I do not reveal my talents to just anybody, but we were in danger back there or I would have never shown you either. I do not want others to know what I can do just as you and your father do not, so it is best if I do not do it again – especially out in public.|
Brandon looked disappointed, but he nodded after a moment and pulled his wolf's head back down into place. |Yeah, I understand.|
Clearing his throat, Rojur gestured around them at the other shops and asked aloud, "So, where do you wish to go next?"
The boy was quiet a moment. "I think I'm ready to go back home," he said, "but I don't know if I want to walk all that way back if there are more skeletons waiting to jump out at us."
Rojur smiled. "I know just what you mean. However, I think I can get us home quicker than that."
"You gonna call my Dad to come pick us up?"
"No, something else that I think you will like. Come with me."
Confused, Brandon fell into step beside the groundskeeper and followed him to the entry step of a business that was closed for the night. They were in an alcove that was in shadow from the street lights.
"Here, take my hand," Rojur told him. Brandon frowned inside his mask, feeling strange holding hands with anyone but Saundra or his dad, but he did as he was told.
With his vision partially obscured by the mask, Brandon didn't see the esper's eyes glow with a psionic light from within, but he suddenly felt a little tingly for a moment. When the sensation immediately disappeared and Rojur released his hand, he looked out the eye holes of the costume.
Brandon felt disoriented for only a moment before he pulled off the furry head, knocking the captain's hat onto the ground. His eyes grew wide as he recognized the back patio of his house!
He looked up at Rojur, who was smiling back at him with a pleased expression.
"Wow!" he exclaimed with a sudden grin. "Did you do that?"
|Yes, but you must not tell anyone that I did – except perhaps your Dad in private.|
|Very good. Now, let us walk around to the front of the house and go in through the front door as if we had just walked home.|
Brandon gripped the wolf's head with an excited laugh and then raced around the side of the house. Rojur picked up the forgotten hat and then followed him quietly. Perhaps the night hadn't turned out bad after all.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.