It all started with me crashing into a wall. Not that I did it on purpose.
I was pushed.
My assailant was a boy named Derek, a five-foot tall, twelve-year-old African American who could pack a punch. Trust me, I was an expert on exactly how his knuckles looked up close. My tiny little four-eight self was no match for someone a year and four inches bigger than me. Peeling my face off the wall, I spit my ginger hair out of my mouth and glared at Derek. He was advancing towards me for another attack.
"You wanna say that again?" he growled at me. "If I tell you your name is Mayday, it's Mayday." He turned toward the spectating kids in the room, as if daring them to call me by my real name, May. After shooting the small crowd an extra dirty look for good measure, he turned back to me. Except I wasn't there.
From under the bed we had been standing next to, I squirmed on my back, trying to reach the next bunk without being detected. Derek's worn sneakers pounded the floor in frustration, rattling my teeth.
"Where are you?!" he roared. Then he paused, and I saw his feet shuffle to face my cover. As the floorboards creaked under his shifting weight, I froze, wondering briefly if it was too late to write a will.
"Derek, over here!" called a tiny voice from across the room. "She went this way!"
"Are you sure?" my attacker asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, I saw her shoes around the corner!"
Derek's shoes thumped away from me and out the door. I wriggled out from under the bed, after I was certain he was really gone. My savior was a small, six-year-old girl named Maria, one of my only true friends in the orphanage. Oh, right. I forgot to tell you that. There are exactly thirty of us children here at Miss Rebecca's Home for Boys and Girls, and Miss Rebecca likes to keep it that way.
Anyway, back in the dormitory, I crossed over to my bunk on the girls' side, reaching under it and past my dust bunny sentinels. I grinned as I pulled out my smooth, lovely, headache-inducing baseball bat, tapping it against my free hand.
"This is the last time Derek pushes me around," I said firmly. "When I find him, he's gonna meet Louie."
"May, no," Maria protested. She was a pacifist by nature, and didn't like seeing anyone hurt, even someone like Derek. The other kids murmured agreements, but only because they thought I had a death wish.
I patted Maria's dark pixie cut, pulling her into a hug. "Don't worry," I said reassuringly. "I'm only gonna chase him around a bit."
Maria smiled up at me as we pulled away from each other, a shy grin that made you want to defend her with your life. Waving goodbye to her, I headed downstairs and out the kitchen's back door on my bully hunt. Thankfully Miss Rebecca was engrossed in an episode of Downton Abbey, or she would have confiscated my bat and sent me to the dorm for the rest of the day. I searched the back lawn for Derek, finding only a squirrel that cursed at me from his tree after I accidentally startled him. Sliding across the side of the orphanage, I spotted Derek sulking under the oak tree in the front yard, trying to drill a hole in the ground with his gaze. I readied myself for the chase I was about to engage in, hoping that I would stay the chaser and not become the chasee. Right before I launched my attack, I briefly noticed a blonde man in a long tan coat looking up at the orphanage, then at a slip of paper in his hand, as if comparing an address. Then I ignored him and ran full speed at Derek, waving Louie above my head and screaming like a maniac.
"FOR CERDIIVAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!" I shrieked.
Derek took one look at me and ran for his life. We shot past the man, who had been approaching the building. He jumped back hastily to avoid being trampled, then watched us incredulously as we disappeared around the corner. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, releasing years of anger and frustration in the form of death threats and battle cries. But then, as it usually does at its peak, the fun stopped abruptly.
"MAY, YOU PUT THAT BAT DOWN THIS INSTANT!" came Miss Rebecca's shrill cry from the back door. Derek and I froze, stopping on a dime, and I dropped my arms.
"You're dead meat, you hear me?" Derek hissed as Miss Rebecca stormed towards us.
"Try me," I whispered back, shifting my lowered baseball bat from hand to hand.
Our banter was interrupted by small but firm hands on our shoulders. Miss Rebecca marched us to the door, through the kitchen, and towards the stairs in the entrance hall, rambling the whole way. " I can't believe you two would do such a thing, we are one block away from city hall and your racket could wake the living dead. Such barbaric manners, and in front of a guest -"
I tuned her out after that, glancing at the man from the front yard, who was looking at us - no, me - with curiosity. Now that I was closer to him I could see he was around his mid-twenties, and was wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans, and brown boots in addition to his trench coat. Miss Rebecca stopped in front of the man, apologizing profusely. "I'm so sorry sir, they're usually so well behaved! I don't know what's gotten into them!"
The man smiled at Miss Rebecca. It was warm and kind - like Maria's, but more confident. "That's okay, Miss Rebecca. Kids will be kids."
"Oh, thank you. You're much more understanding than the mayor, Mr…." she trailed off, realizing she didn't know his name.
"Glade," the man said. "Max Glade."
"Max Glade," Miss Rebecca parroted. "Is 'Max' short for something?"
Max's expression darkened momentarily. "No. Just Max," he said with a sort of finality, his smile returning.
Miss Rebecca smiled back at him, then turned to us, her grin tightening. "May, Derek, please go back upstairs and reflect on your actions. We'll discuss this little game of tag later," she said pleasantly, with just a hint of ice. Derek and I began to plod back upstairs, but Miss Rebecca stopped me, taking my bat without warning. I watched helplessly as she dangled my precious weapon from two fingers as if it were infected. "I'm keeping this until our little talk," she said, shooing me up the stairs.
Maybe it was the loss of my wooden wingman, or the defiant look in Max's eyes as he watched the exchange, but suddenly my smart-alec side was unleashed. (It doesn't take much, actually...) I looked Miss Rebecca straight in the eye and lifted my chin. "His name is Louie," I stated. "And he doesn't appreciate being handled that way." Turning on my heel, I sashayed up the stairs with my nose in the air, lifting the hem of my standard gray knee-length dress a few centimeters in a snooty fashion. As I left, I caught Miss Rebecca's look of shock and, more importantly, Max Glade attempting to hold back a smile. Maria met me at the top of the staircase, giggling softly. We high-fived, casting one last glance behind us.
"Tonight," I whispered to my tiny friend, "we execute Operation: Home Run. Louie needs our help!"
Maria nodded, zipping her lips in a time-honored vow of secrecy, and we headed back to the dormitory.oOo
Maria, a kid named Jimmy, and I were going over the details of O:HR when a tiny bell sounded. Time to practice instruments. Miss Rebecca made us all learn an instrument so that we seemed more sophisticated when the mayor of our town visited. Most kids hated it. I, however, loved every second of it. Probably because I was kinda good at it. Dropping to my knees, I pulled my alto saxophone case out from under my bed, brushing off some stray dust bunny bouncers. I opened the case, gently lifting and assembling the golden instrument while soaking a reed in my mouth.
A cacophony of sounds ricocheted around the dorm; flutes, trumpets, clarinets, a few snares, a quad, a bass drum, and a piano duo. Maria had paired with another clarinet to practice scales, so I decided not to bother her. Looking around the room, I made eye contact with Derek, who was clutching his trombone in one hand and his music binder in the other. Mentally sighing, I waved at him and signaled for him to come over to me.
"Do you want to practice together?!" I shouted over the racket.
He glanced around for any other person but me, then shrugged, and I took it as a solid "sure". We crossed the dorm and entered the closet at the back of the room. It was a walk-in, solely for the purpose of storing all the gray dresses, shirts, slacks, and pairs of black dress shoes. Derek shoved his trombone at me, left, then returned with a couple of music stands. There weren't many chairs upstairs, so we sat on wooden boxes filled with white socks.
I opened my binder, shuffling the music inside. "So what are we pra-"
"We're playing Tomorrow," Derek said curtly, cutting me off. "Let's get it over with."
Casting him a sideways glance of irritation, I pulled the piece out from behind several others. "Do you want to tu-"
"Alrighty then." Derek's interruptions were getting old fast.
"Careful Mayday, your sass is showing."
I glared at him, preparing the comeback to end all comebacks, but shut it instantly when I heard voices floating up from the wood floor. I had forgotten that Miss Rebecca's office was directly below this closet. Gingerly setting down my saxophone on the wooden crate, I pressed my ear to the floor, listening closely.
"The adoption process is very difficult, Mr. Glade," came Miss Rebecca's muffled voice.
"I'm sure it is," Max replied. "But I'm willing to go through it."
Miss Rebecca paused, then spoke hesitantly. "Well… if you insist…"
"What do you want to know about May?" Miss Rebecca asked resignedly.
Derek looked down at me, annoyed. "What the heck are you-"
"Shhhhh!" I interrupted, waving a hand at him. "It's that Max guy, talking to Miss Rebecca!"
Mildly curious, Derek joined me on the floor.
"... plays the saxophone." Miss Rebecca continued. "We have every child here learn an instrument to introduce them to the sophisticated world of music."
There was a sound of creaking wood, as if Max were leaning forward in his chair. "Saxophone, huh?" he mused. "Is she good?"
"Well, I believe so," Miss Rebecca answered. I believe so? I believe so? If Max wanted to know how good I was, I would show him myself. Picking up my golden instrument, I played a quick concert F scale, holding the highest note with plenty of vibrato. Then I immediately scrambled down to the floor, careful not to dent my precious sax. There was a short silence.
"I'm assuming that was her," Max said, his grin almost audible.
"Er, y-yes, I suppose it was," Miss Rebecca stuttered, mildly shocked. "Though I've never heard her play like that before…"
Max's voice grew slightly dry. "Have you ever listened?"
"Well I - I conduct our little ensemble, when we play for the mayor and - anyway!" Miss Rebecca huffed. "Shall we continue?"
"One moment, Miss Rebecca. May! Can you hear me?" Max shouted through the floorboards.
"Yes!" I called back. I decided that I liked Max, especially after the way he had challenged Miss Rebecca.
"This is your audition!" he said. "Play whatever you like!"
Whatever I like. I had been waiting so long to hear that. "Yes sir!" I shouted back, mischief creeping into my voice. Standing back up, I licked my reed, drew a large breath, and launched into Hard Knock Life from Annie. Derek stared at me at first, then his jaw set as he lifted his trombone and started playing backup. When we finished we could hear Max laughing as Miss Rebecca sputtered in indignation. Derek and I grinned at each other, then remembered that we were arch-nemeses and glanced away awkwardly.
Miss Rebecca was flustered. "I never - that is not how - my children are always well cared for and-"
"I think," Max interrupted. "That I've heard quite enough about May." His smile was still evident in his voice. "Maybe you could tell me about the trombonist?"
"His name is Derek and he's a butt!" I shouted to Max.
"The same butt you were chasing with a baseball bat named Louie while screaming Star Battles references at the top of your lungs?" Max retaliated.
"In my defense he threw me into a wall!"
"Then punch him in the nose!"
I looked sideways at Derek, a boy nearly twice my weight. "Yeah, right!"
"Have you ever tried?"
I paused. "Fair point."
"You're smaller and faster, use your elbows," Max suggested, then redirected his attention back to Miss Rebecca. "Now about Derek..."
The butt and I stood, locking eyes. We came to the same conclusion, putting our instruments away like responsible little musicians, exiting the closet in a civil manner, setting our instruments down on our beds, then proceeding to try to kill each other in the hallway.
Derek swung first, but it was a wild haymaker and I was able to dodge it. You're smaller and faster, use your elbows. It was worth a shot, and a much better option than getting pummeled. Raising my fists, I waited until Derek took another swing at me, then ducked under his arm and smacked him square in the jaw with my sharp elbow. He jerked back, surprised, rubbing his jaw. I grinned, triumphant. Then he glared at me with the most intense hate I had ever seen. Derek charged me, full of rage, but I used his blind anger against him, slipping below his armpit. I turned quickly, jumping on his back and locking my legs around his torso. If I can use the outside of my elbow, I thought, then I can use the inside too. I wedged my arm under Derek's jaw, gripping my wrist with the opposite hand.
It was then that I realized that this was probably not the best idea. Derek staggered backward, then turned and slammed me into the wall, shaking the hallway. I made an oof sound, and Derek continued to crush the air out of me. Neither of us could really breathe until two strong hands pulled us apart. Gulping sweet oxygen, I looked up to see Max's stern face. Miss Rebecca was behind him, flushed with fury, stammering out apologies for the barbaric behavior of us children.
Max pulled me to my feet, then Derek, as Miss Rebecca bustled forward. "May and Derek," she huffed. "I have never been more asha-"
She was cut off by Max. "Maybe I can talk to May?" he suggested.
"Well, I suppose, but-"
"Maybe a new voice would help. This doesn't seem to be the first time they've fought, so someone else getting the point across might drive it home."
Miss Rebecca hesitated. "Oh… alright."
Max looked back at me. "Follow me," he said firmly, striding towards the stairs. I didn't know why, but somehow having Max mad at me was ten times worse than Miss Rebecca's lectures. I reached the stairs, where Max was sitting on the second step from the bottom. I joined him, my feet only reaching the first step.
The silence nearly killed me.
"Did you use your elbows?"
The question surprised me, and I looked up at Max. His eyebrow was raised, and I was very much reminded of Halt from the Ranger's Apprentice series. "Um… yes… yes I did," I said, confused.
"Good," Max nodded. "It was self-defense, yes?"
"Yes. He swung first."
Max nodded again, staring at the windows on either side of the front door. "As long as you didn't go picking the fight, I'm not angry with you."
Max looked back at me.
"We kinda both knew we were gonna fight. He just hit first."
"Are you hurt?"
"No…" I thought for a moment. "He never hit me." Under my breath I added, "That's a first."
With that comment, my mind flashed back to all the threats and taunts that Derek had subjected me to.
"Mayday, Mayday, going down, Mayday, Mayday, going down," Derek sang mockingly, guffawing at his clever play on words. Some of the older boys joined in, forming a ring around me and shoving me in all directions until I fell.
"Guess she really was going down!" Derek sneered, and he and the boys laughed all the way back to the orphanage, leaving me on the street.
Seeing my defeated expression, Max stood, sighing, then helped me up again. "Tell you what," he said. "We go upstairs and tell Miss Rebecca I gave you a stern lecture on how you should never hit people, and I'll teach you how to fight without having to put people in chokeholds right off the bat."
I brightened. "Really?"
"Really," he smiled. "By the way, your tone is very good." He was talking about the saxophone now, speaking my language. "I'll give you some sheet music tomorrow."
"Thanks! What song?" I asked excitedly. Annie showtunes could only keep me occupied for so long.
"It's a secret," he said, then laughed as my face fell in frustration. "Let's go back up."
We climbed back to the hallway, Max putting on a stoic expression, and me displaying a well-rehearsed look of remorse. Derek was sulking against the wall, and Miss Rebecca was about to let loose her spiel on me, but Max raised a hand, stopping her.
"I think I've done quite enough," he said gently.
Miss Rebecca's jaw shut with a click, and she crossed her arms. Max nudged me towards Derek, and I sighed in resignation. "I'm sorry I tried to cut off your oxygen supply," I said, lowering my eyes and toeing the ground.
Derek exhaled, glancing to the side. "I'm sorry I tried to crush your lungs," he muttered.
Someone should have awarded us Oscars. Miss Rebecca smiled insincerely. "Well," she breathed, still a tad upset. "Isn't that nice?" She looked at her watch, and her pencilled eyebrows jumped. "Oh my, time for supper! Will you be joining us, Mr. Glade?"
I turned to Max hopefully, not really knowing why I wanted him to stay so badly.
However, my hope deflated as he shook his head, smiling apologetically. "I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid it's dinnertime at my house as well."
"Oh! Do you have children?" Miss Rebecca's eyebrows climbed higher.
Max gave a small laugh, as if there were some inside joke we were not included in. "Sometimes it's hard to count."
"I know what you mean," Miss Rebecca said a tad dryly.
Max laughed again. "I'll see you tomorrow then," he said, waving goodbye as he left. He turned to me before he went down the stairs. "May?"
I looked up. "Yes?"
"Ankónes," he grinned, tapping his elbow.oOo
"What did you think?"
"They're both good - exceptional even."
"So are they in?"
"I think so. We just have to work on the fighting…"
"I have an idea."
"What if we make them work together?"
Dinner was boring as usual. It was a cycle of meals we had every week, like a school cafeteria. Tonight was chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes. They all tasted the same, a testament to the creativity of the meal distribution center and Miss Rebecca's cooking skills. I picked sullenly at the small green spheres on my plate, missing my bat, Louie, and to my surprise, the presence of Max Glade.
"May, please eat your peas instead of shaping them like a baseball bat," Miss Rebecca chastised from the head of the long table. I sighed, eating the veggie imposter of my right-hand man (right-hand bat?), then pushing away from the table.
"I'm done now, can I leave?" I asked, lifting my empty plate.
"May I leave," Miss Rebecca corrected.
"I'm sure you can, Miss, but I'm the one who needs permission."
Soft snickers were heard around the table.
Miss Rebecca gave me a dry look. "Yes, you may leave," she deadpanned, putting extra stress on the word "may".
I jumped down from my chair, shooting a quick "thank you" in Miss Rebecca's general direction as I darted past. I dropped my plate, glass, and silverware off in the kitchen; it was someone else's dish duty day. I had planted one foot on the stairs when I heard a loud crash from the backyard. I sprinted back to the kitchen and hung off the frame of the back door. A large red metal pod had landed forcefully in front of the forest that bordered the lawn, and dark figures were now climbing over the dainty white picket fence surrounding the orphanage.
Other kids had come to the door to see what was happening, and I could see the windows on the back of the house crowded with faces. Then someone broke the silence by screaming.
"They have weapons!"
The orphanage broke into chaos. Panicking kids were running in every direction as Miss Rebecca's flustered instructions to get upstairs were drowned out by hysterics. Deciding that our caretaker didn't have the lungs for the situation, I climbed atop the table.
"EVERYBODY STOP!" I bellowed.
The room froze, and kids as far back as the stairway turned to look at me.
"Go upstairs, barricade the door with beds, and if I'm not up by midnight, call the police," I said firmly.
I received blank stares.
Kids jumped, then rushed upstairs, older children carrying upset young ones, and a protesting Miss Rebecca was swept up in the swarm. I jumped down from the table, then felt a large hand on my shoulder. I whipped around to see Derek, who was holding the largest frying pan he could find.
"Need help?" he asked, apparently aware of my plan.
I nodded, then dashed off to Miss Rebecca's office. Once inside, I tugged a cabinet open, retrieving my precious baby, Louie the baseball bat. Derek eyed it warily as we made our way back to the kitchen.
"So what's the plan?" he said softly as we peered out of the window of the darkened dining room.
"Smash and bash," I said. "Don't let them reach the orphanage."
He nodded, then placed a hand on the back door's handle. "On three then."
"THREE!" we shouted together, flying out the door.
The attackers were halfway across the yard when they saw us, making inhuman screeches. I ran at them full speed, bat at the ready.
"FOR CERDIIVAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!" I screamed, smashing Louie into the side of one of their heads. It crumpled to the ground, motionless.
"FOR CERDIIVAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!" I heard Derek bellow from behind me as I whacked more monsters into dreamland. From the corner of my eye I saw three of the pitch-black humanoids flying through the air in time with a deep metallic CLANG! Together we were a force to be reckoned with, holding back most of the horde as the focused on us. However, we were heavily outnumbered, and at one point we were back-to-back and completely surrounded. The monsters were pushing in from all sides, waving black metal rods threateningly as their comrades came at us. We couldn't hold them much longer.
"Derek!" I shouted.
"What?!" he called back, smacking a monster with his dented pan.
"If we die, I wanted to tell you that I don't hate your guts anymore!"
"Same to you!"
At that moment we heard the hiss of metal on leather, like a sword being pulled out of a scabbard. Joining that noise were the sounds of monsters dying rapidly. Those sounds grew closer as what I assumed was a swordsman cut a path through the mob. Then the circle opened up to our left as Max Glade forced his way through, a broadsword in his right hand and a circular shield in his left. He had shed his long coat, revealing the scabbard he now wore at his waist.
"Max!" Derek and I shouted in unison, surprised.
"May, Derek," he replied. A monster charged him suddenly from his left, shrieking, only to run face first into Max's shield as he lofted it without looking away from us. The creature rebounded and fell backwards, unconscious. Max barely moved. The horde paused momentarily, looking from their fallen comrade to Max, then resumed their attack. In response, Max's sword swung in lighting-fast, deadly arcs, cutting down the coal black monsters like saplings. Derek and I exchanged a glance, then joined the action. Monsters flew left and right as our odd assortment of weapons slammed, whacked, and sliced, breaking up the circle.
At one point I was tackled by a creature from behind, taking me by surprise. I somehow managed to twist around, putting Louie between me and the monster's razor claws. We struggled against each other, trying to gain the advantage, but the monster was stronger and threw Louie to the side. It raised a hand, long fingers outstretched and ready to kill. Then a frying pan made a beautiful KAPONG sound as it sent the monster sailing to the left. Derek stood over me, arms trailing over his shoulder in a perfect golf swing. He helped me to me feet, then handed Louie back to me.
"Thanks," I panted, looking up at him.
He grunted in reply, and I took it as a "you're welcome". We glanced at the quickly diminishing mob, then back at each other. "For Cerdiivad?" Derek grinned.
I matched his toothy smile, and we charged back into battle. "FOR CERDIIVAAAAAD!"oOo
After the fight, the three of us sat on the back steps outside the kitchen in silence. It only lasted about five minutes before I broke it.
"What the heck just happened?" I asked no one in particular.
Max answered me. "You tell me," he said cryptically.
I gave him a sideways look. "We were attacked by a mob of things that looked like six-foot skeletons covered in tar and we fought them off with a bat, a sword, and a frying pan."
Derek held up the mentioned pan. It had a dent in it shaped like a monster face, and the handle was bent in two directions. "Don't think this one'll be seeing any more fights," he said.
"Or any more meals," I added.
We stared at the pan for a few moments before I piped up again.
"What were they?" I wondered, indicating a monster head near the steps.
"They were training drones," Max said, and Derek and I quickly stood to face him.
"You mean to tell me," Derek began slowly, "that those monsters intent on killing us are used for practice?"
"Yes. They're robots made to look like monsters," Max explained, looking more and more sheepish as he spoke. "I had a friend of mine send them."
Derek looked as if he were about to explode. He muttered something about needing to calm down, turned, and flung the pan in an overhand motion into the backyard. It thudded into a tree, where it stuck, quivering slightly. Max and I stared at it, wide-eyed. Then I turned back to the blonde swordsman on the steps.
"We almost died!" I said, frustrated, kicking at the head and sending it rolling towards Max.
Max had the grace to look apologetic. "That was my fault. I didn't expect so many…" He looked sincerely sorry for what had happened, calming my red headed temper a bit.
"Well," I grumbled grudgingly, "You did save our lives."
Max half-smiled at me. "I suppose I did."
Derek re-joined the conversation, arms crossed. "So this was all a test then?" he asked Max, raising an eyebrow.
"That's right," Max replied, his grin widening. "And you've passed with flying colors."
His smile faded as we heard police sirens in the distance. Max jumped from his seat on the back steps, and the three of us made our way through the house, peeking through the front window. About four police cruisers were shooting down the street, wailing like banshees. Realization hit me like a frying pan as I remembered the rest of the orphanage huddled upstairs in the dorm.
"Crap, what time is it?!" I half-yelled, running to check the kitchen clock. It was only nine. "She called the police too early!"
I dashed back to the front, where the cars had stopped and armed officers were exiting them. A man in a nice gray suit emerged from one of the cars, his silver hair and Roman features made harsh and intimidating in the flashing lights.
Something about him looked familiar. "Hey," I started. "He kinda looks like-"
Max cut me off, turning abruptly from the window. "Time to go," he said, his voice serious. He half-ran back to the kitchen, and I caught up with him at the back door. He pulled a circular device out of his pocket, twisting the outer ring, and the monster bodies littering the backyard disappeared in a static haze. Max started down the steps, but I caught his arm, stopping him.
"Where are you going?" I asked, not realizing how small I sounded until I spoke.
Max took a knee, putting his hands on my shoulders. "I'll come back for you tomorrow morning," he promised. "And Derek too. But I can't stay here right now. I'm in terrible danger."
Danger? I thought as Max gently pried my fingers from his arm. How could someone so artful with a broadsword be in danger?
Max smiled sadly at me, one last time, then stood, turned reluctantly, and ran into the darkness.oOo
Up in the dorm, we each sat on our beds as the police questioned us systematically. I had filled Derek in on Max's parting message in the dining room, then dashed up the stairs to the dormitory, ignoring the heavy knocking on the front door. Miss Rebecca answered the door after we coaxed her out of the large bedroom, and the police had sent everyone back up while they cleared the backyard.
From my bed, I studied the gray-haired man. His features were imposing and forbidding, even without strobing lights. In the white light of the dorm, I noticed once again the faint familiarity of his face. His Roman nose and blue eyes matched Max's, as if this man were an older version of the blonde swordsman. However, where Max was warm and welcoming, the gray-haired man was cold and condescending.
He caught me staring, and I glanced away hastily. I was saved by a shadow falling over me as a tall, burly policeman stepped in front of the light. He knelt to my level, smiling kindly from under his bushy black moustache.
"Hello," the policeman said. "My name's Al. What's yours?"
"I'm May," I said proudly, taking on the attitude of a loud little boy.
"May," Al repeated, his moustache lifting as his grin widened. "Nice to meet you."
I smiled toothily, as if I were showing off a gap in my teeth. "Nice to meet you too, Mister Al," I said happily.
Al continued. "Now May, I'd like to ask you a few questions about what happened tonight. Is that okay?"
"Okay." Al readied a notepad and pen. "About what time did you see the… people in your backyard?"
"A little after dinner. Maybe 7:30 ish."
Al scribbled down the time on his notepad. "O-kay. And what did they look like?"
"Tall skinny things, pitch black, and twice my height." I shuddered for effect. "They were huge…"
"Tall… black… And you said they were twice your height?"
"Looked like it."
"Uh-huh. And these people-"
"Monsters, mister. Real scary-looking. Like skeletons!"
"Right, monsters. Did they have weapons?"
"Yeah, big metal rods."
"Metal rods," Al said as he wrote the information down. "Now, uh, where did the monsters go? Did they just leave?"
"Derek 'n I scared 'em off," I said, adding a note of pride to my voice.
"Scared them off? How?"
"Derek got a big old pan and I got my bat and we..."
"We, uh, banged 'em together! Yeah, that's right!"
"You banged a baseball bat and a frying pan together and scared away a bunch of monsters?" Al looked at me skeptically.
"I know it sounds crazy Mister Al, but it's true! You gotta believe me!" I insisted, sounding for all the world like a child with an overactive imagination. All according to plan.
"I believe you," Al reassured me, sounding like he didn't believe a word I said. "We'll make sure these monsters don't ever bother you again."
"Thanks Mister Al," I beamed. He smiled back at me, then moved to the next bed. I dropped my smile, looking across the dorm to Derek's bed, where he was playing the part of a stubbornly silent child well. Nodding to myself, I looked down at my shoes, thinking. Why was Max afraid of being caught by the police? Or rather, why was he afraid of being caught by the gray-haired man?
I was snapped out of my thoughts as the same man suddenly appeared by my bed. I jumped slightly, startled, then snapped my head up. My eyes were met with a steady ice blue gaze, cold and forbidding.
Speak of the devil, I thought warily.
The gray-haired man remained standing, looking down his nose at me, not bothering to kneel like Al had done. "May, was it?" he inquired. His voice was deep and resonant, smooth like honey but with a chill at its edge. I was reminded of another character from the Ranger's Apprentice series, but I couldn't quite remember who it was…
"Well?" came a slightly impatient voice from above. I realized that I hadn't answered the gray-haired man's question.
"Yes sir," I replied, not quite as boisterously as I had before.
"I would like to ask you a few questions, May," he began. "First, you said that you saw monsters, correct?"
"That's right," I nodded. "Huge and pitch black and-"
The man held up a hand, cutting me off. "I heard your repetitive description when you talked to Alan. Now, was anyone new at the orphanage with you? Anyone you hadn't seen before yesterday?"
He seemed a bit too eager for an answer to this question, and there was something about his cold demeanor that rubbed me the wrong way. "No sir," I lied, wide-eyed. "It was just me and Derek and Miss Rebecca and the other kids. Derek 'n I were the only ones scaring off the monsters."
The gray-haired man's ice blue gaze locked onto mine, as if piercing my thoughts and unearthing all the secrets there. I kept a straight face, relying on my poker-for-chocolate skills. Still, the tall, imposing man reminded me of someone… It was… It was…
"Morgarath!" I blurted, startling the gray-haired man.
"I beg your pardon?" he said, attempting to recover smoothly.
"No, not you," I answered quickly, seeing that I had rattled him slightly. "See, there was this character in this book I read who's really intimidating and evil - not that you're evil of course, but he was a bad dude and he tried to take over this kingdom, Araluen, by forcing the king to-"
"Enough!" the gray-haired man barked, losing his patience. He took a deep breath and forced a thin smile. "That's enough, thank you."
Mentally, I smirked. So I could get to him. Feigning shock, I had jumped and leaned away from him, putting on a scared expression.
He sighed in exasperation, as if thoroughly sick of gleaning information from frightened children. "Are you sure there wasn't anyone else?" he asked, meeting my stare once more.
"No sir," I muttered, still shrinking away.
He humphed softly, as if he didn't believe me. Turning away, he strode over to Miss Rebecca. As he left, I wondered why he wanted to know if someone else had helped Derek and me fight the training bots, when I remembered how Max had reacted to seeing the gray-haired man. The last words he'd said to me before he left popped into my head: I can't stay here right now. I'm in terrible danger.
Thoughts clicked together in my head like a jigsaw puzzle. Max. The gray-haired man was after Max. Wildly, I whipped around to watch the exchange between Miss Rebecca and the gray-haired man. Something inside me twisted as I saw Max's name form on my caretaker's lips, and the gray-haired man's nod and satisfied grin. There was malice in that tight smile, in those cold, hard eyes. I had to do something - distract the gray-haired man, or warn Max somehow.
"Thank you very much Miss Rebecca," the gray-haired man said, his words drifting over to my bed.
"Oh, you're quite welcome, Mr. Gladaneus," she responded, smiling. "I do hope you and your business partner Mr. Glade resolve that company issue."
Don't tell him Max was here, I thought desperately at Miss Rebecca. Don't tell him don't tell him don't tell him don't-
"You know, Mr. Glade was just here this afternoon," Miss Rebecca began.
No! Don't tell him about me please please pl-
"He was rather interested in adopting May and Derek, though I can't imagine why," she finished, adding the last phrase under her breath, and I felt the color drain from my face as the gray-haired man, Mr. Gladaneus, turned his gaze to pierce my soul. It took every drop of stubbornness I had not to look back at him.
"Is that so?" Mr. Gladaneus said slowly, the words practically oozing from his mouth.
"Oh, yes, he was eager to adopt them, even though those two are always fighting, what with Derek always bullying May and May responding with her baseball bat whom she apparently named Louie, and…"
I tuned out Miss Rebecca's rant about what horribly misbehaved children Derek and I were and focused on the floor. Max would be back tomorrow; Miss Rebecca probably already told him that. Then a thought struck me - would Max come back? Knowing that this forbidding man, whoever he was, was chasing him, would Max even be in town by tomorrow? An awful sensation came over me as I felt hope being slowly torn from me; my one escape from this dull place gone before sunrise.
No, I thought forcefully, mentally shaking my head. He promised he'd come back, and he will. I wasn't going to give up because of some Lucius Malfoy wannabe skulking around and putting his hooked nose where it didn't belong.
If Gladaneus wanted Max, he'd have to go through me and Louie first.oOo
The next morning, I was ready.
I sat on my bed, unmoving, as others got up and took their clothes to changing rooms across the hall. Suddenly, the doorbell rang, and I was gone before the sound faded.
I waited at the top of the stairs with bated breath as Miss Rebecca opened the front door.
"Oh, Mr. Glade! Welcome back," Miss Rebecca said, letting Max in.
As soon as he stepped across the threshold, I flew down the stairs and tackle-hugged him.
He looked down at me, surprised, then knelt and hugged me back.
"He's coming for you," I whispered, my mouth near his ear. "The gray-haired man. Today."
I felt Max stiffen, his grip tightening. Then he relaxed, letting go, and smiled at me.
"Good to see you too," he said to me, acting normal. He looked up at Miss Rebecca, flashing a charming smile. "May we talk for a moment?" he asked politely.
Miss Rebecca turned a bit pink, not expecting the grin. "Of course," she responded, gesturing towards the kitchen. Max stood, thanking her, then led me to the dining room, looking around for any kids who might be listening. On the way we found Derek in the living room, and Max gestured for him to follow. We sat at the far end of the table, closest to the back door. After glancing around one last time, Max turned to me.
"What exactly did the gray-haired man say?" he asked me anxiously.
"He wanted to know how Derek and I got rid of the monsters," I began. "And if there was anyone helping us who wasn't here before."
"And?" Max leaned forward.
"I told him we were alone, that we scared them off with the pan and my bat. Miss Rebecca…" I bit my lip. "Miss Rebecca said you were here yesterday afternoon, that you wanted to adopt us." I pointed between Derek and myself.
Max sat back.
"The gray-haired man - Mr. Gladaneus, he said - told Miss Rebecca you were his business partner, and that you had to clear something up," I finished.
Derek nodded his agreement - Gladaneus must have asked him the same questions.
Running a hand through his hair, Max exhaled. "We have to leave. Now."oOo
We walked down the hall, back to the front door, trying to appear normal as we approached Miss Rebecca. "Everything ok?" she asked, smiling.
"Just fine," Max replied, returning the expression. Derek and I followed suit, masking the dread we felt inside.
"Wonderful," Miss Rebecca said to Max, then turned to us kids. "May, Derek, why don't you pack and say goodbye to your friends?"
We complied, climbing the steps to the dorm. Derek stopped and clasped hands with a few older boys coming out of the changing rooms on the right of the dorm hallway, and I entered the long bedroom. I quickly found Maria, who was sitting on her bed, head down. I gently sat next to her, then hugged her as I wiped away her inevitable tears.
"It'll be okay," I reassured her, my eyes watering. "I'll come visit you."
Maria buried her face in the front of my dress, shuddering.
I could feel my heart ripping itself in half and jumping into a paper shredder.
"Hey," I whispered. "Hey, look at me." I lifted her head, and she sniffed, wiping her nose. "I'll come back for you."
"Y-you will?" she slurred, her throat full of snot and tears.
"Yeah, of course! I could never just leave you!"
Maria sniffed again. "Promise?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die, throw a baseball at my eye," I promised, miming the actions as I recited them.
The small girl giggled, wiping stray tears. I hugged her one last time, tightly, then stood. I grabbed a small backpack filled with spare dresses, socks, and other clothes I might need, slinging it over my shoulder, then hefted my saxophone case. Maria held Louie out to me with both hands, as if she were a queen presenting a knight with a sword. I took him from her, bowing with an exaggerated flourish. Her soft smile widened, and we walked downstairs together.
Max waited at the bottom, working out any last details with Miss Rebecca. I was surprised at how fast he got through the adoption process, with two kids, but then I remembered how charming he could be when he wanted. I laughed to myself. Miss Rebecca would be sighing dreamily for days.
"Hey Maria," I whispered.
"What?" she turned.
"Tell me if Miss Rebecca will miss Max as much as the mayor's son."
I winked at her and she snickered quietly, catching on. "You got it."
We reached the landing, and I looked over to see Derek exchanging fist bumps and bro hugs with a few of the older boys. As I watched, I had the brief thought that I might actually miss them a bit…
Naaaahhhh. They were jerks.
Max addressed his next question to me, redirecting my attention back to him. "Ready to go?" he asked.
Maria squeezed my hand, and I hugged her one last time. We looked at each other as we separated, and she gave me a hint of a smile and an almost imperceptible nod.
"Yes," I said finally, locking eyes with Max. "Let's go."
And with that, a swordsman, a saxophone, and a trombone exited an orphanage.
Oboe here. Thanks for checking out this brand new story; Symphony in G! I've been working on this for a while, mostly in my Digital and Interactive Media class because we never really do much... But anyway, I'm very excited to finally present a story that's not an awful crossover between Danny Phantom and Invader Zim! Please tell me what you think and how I should fix any errors you notice. Theoneandonlysirmonkeyknight can only spot so many mistakes... Thank you again and I will see you in the next chapter!