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Rushton Howard
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Fearless Force

The Fearless Force tells the exciting tale of a ten-year-old girl named Maria Fuente, who meets a strange boy whose notion of fun is to dress-up in a purple superhero suit and leap about the neighborhood, calling himself "The Night-Ghost."  Soon, she discovers that there are four other boys in her neighborhood who are pretending to be superheroes... or are they just pretending?


Much to her astonishment and delight, Maria finds herself mixed-up in an adventure with these boys, who call themselves (you guessed it!) The Fearless Force.  Their mission: to stop one of the teachers at their school from ruling the world with a mind-control scheme.


And now, here's your sample...



Chapter One:
No Respect for the Costume!


     Maria shut off the lawn sprinkler with a squeaky twist of the faucet handle.  After the sprinkler’s last gurgling sputter, the only noise was the faint drumming of soft moth-wings on the porch-light’s glass.

     Walking on squishing footsteps to the center of her front yard, she looked up into the darkening dusk of September.  There was still that last, stubborn glow of bright blue on the edge of the world with the darkness of evening trying to push it down below the trees and houses.  And with the dusk came a slight chill that said autumn was here.  Now, it wouldn’t technically be autumn for another three weeks.  But children don’t mark the seasons with proper scientific dates.  They see fall as beginning when school does — and tomorrow was the Tuesday after Labor Day; the first day of the school year.  This meant that, in a child’s mind, it might as well be autumn.

     Summer isn’t about numbers on a calendar.  It’s about joy and freedom — a joy and freedom that ends, not when the rains come and the leaves turn gold, but when the first school bell rings and some old lady tells you to sit down, be quiet and open your math book to page one.

     A sad little sigh escaped from Maria’s lips, for tomorrow would be her first day in the fifth grade.  What’s more, there was the added misery that she would be starting in a new school.  The Fuente family (for that was Maria’s last name) had only just moved into this neighborhood a month ago.  Shortly after moving in, she had begun ballet classes with a very strict teacher who settled for nothing less than hours of painstaking study and wholehearted dedication.  The result of all this was that Maria hadn’t been around her new neighborhood long enough to make a single friend.

     She just knew that tomorrow she’d be the lonesome outcast in a class where everyone still remembered each other from the previous year.  She’d wind up keeping to herself — maybe reading a book at recess, or some such pitiful thing — and pretending it didn’t bother her to be so pitiful.

     Things wouldn’t be made any easier by the fact that it was the fifth grade.  If she was going into kindergarten it would be a breeze.  You don’t have to work very hard to make friends when you’re five years old.  But in fifth-grade, everyone splits up into recognizable groups, gangs and armies.  They start judging each other, making sure that a new girl is “cool enough” before declaring her to be a friend.

     Now, you might think that Maria would be overwhelmingly popular when it’s taken into account what a remarkably pretty creature she was.  Most girls go through an awkward phase, where they think they’re too ugly, too fat, too skinny, or too something.  Then, they grow up and discover that they’ve become not so bad looking after all.  (Most boys go through this too, but they’ll never admit to it.)  Maria, on the other hand, didn’t seem like she would ever have those awkward years.  She had been a beautiful baby, a beautiful toddler, and right now she was beautiful in grade school.  She’d probably drive all the boys crazy in junior high and high school, then grow up to be a model or a movie-star.

     With long, raven-black hair and big, brown eyes she was a sight that could stop a schoolboy’s heart — not that any schoolboy would confess to such a sweet affliction.  The problem with those schoolboys is that they would be sure to see any girl as “the enemy,” for those later elementary school years are when the absurd “Boys versus Girls War” is at its worst.  Your chances of finding a friend are instantly chopped in half when the boys detest you just for being female.  But surely the girls would all like her, wouldn’t they?  Not necessarily.  Consider the virus of jealousy.  Many people fall for the notion that, just because someone is pretty, she must be stuck-up, shallow or just plain stupid — and jealous girls wouldn’t trouble themselves to find out that, though Maria was pretty, she was none of those other things.

     Her imagination was already playing-out the dreadful day that tomorrow would be.  Although she wasn’t at all the sort to fear the worst from an unknown situation, no reasonable person is going to assume that the first day in a new school is going to be fun!  She breathed-in the twilight, only to form it into another woeful sigh.  But she froze in mid-sigh as a flurry of shocking noises abruptly shattered the calm.

     A single, jolting squeal of a police siren...

     A shriek of tires skidding on the pavement...

     The growl of a wild animal...

     The dull thump of a car slamming into some large object...

     All this was mingled with the laughter and shouting of children that flared up, then faded away.

It was impossible to tell where any of this mayhem was taking place.  It was definitely close — but in which direction?

     Then the hedges behind her seemed to explode.  In a furious burst of scattered leaves and twigs, someone or something leapt out of the shrubbery, crashing into the unsuspecting girl, and bowling her over.

After a clumsy tumble, she found herself sprawled on the freshly-watered grass.  Her normally pretty tresses of raven-black curls were hanging sloppily across her face, and she had been blasted right out of her shoes.  (Having only stepped outside to shut off the sprinkler, she hadn’t bothered to tie her shoelaces.)

     The intruder who had caused this calamity crawled out of the bushes where he had landed, and kicked off the sprinkler, which had become lodged on his right foot in the disaster.

Throwing her hair back away from her eyes, she discovered that the stranger who had collided with her was a very strange stranger!

     He was a boy her age (somewhere around ten years old).  And the “very strange” thing about him?  He was a superhero!

     Well, he was dressed as a superhero, anyway.  That boy was decked-out in the sort of colorful costume one might see on a comic book crime-fighter.  (Now, Maria wasn’t a big reader of superhero comic books.  She thought they were rather silly on the rare occasions that she saw them.  Be that as it may, she could still recognize a superhero outfit.)

     This young “crusader for justice” was dressed all in shades of purple — a mask and tight-fitting suit of medium grape color; his up-to-the-knee boots and up-to-the-elbow gloves were of a darker purple.  He wore trunks of this same dark purple, covered with stars and clouds — a pattern to match his flowing cape, which was of that medium grape hue, decorated with white stars spread out above violet clouds, and topped-off with a hood, like that of a Catholic monk.  At the center of this cape and upon his chest was the stern, white face of the man-in-the-moon.

     At first, Maria was more startled than angry, being so taken aback by that bizarre getup.  But her anger rose quickly and overtook her shock when she realized that her ungraceful somersault over the wet grass had landed her on her backside right in a marshy puddle.

     A snarl of rage huffed from her lips as she climbed to her feet.  The superhero held out his hand to assist her, but she batted that hand aside.

     “Are you alright, citizen?” he asked, while untangling himself from the garden hose, which had looped itself around his left foot.

     “Except for being soaked to the skin!” she snapped.  And who can blame her for being so riled?  When you’re dry except for your hindquarters, well, that feeling has its own particular unpleasantness!  There’s that clammy sensation of your blue-jeans and underpants hanging on you like your own personal swamp.  Anyone would have been ticked-off at this point.

     That lunatic pretending to be a costumed crime-fighter seemed fairly unconcerned with any sloshing discomfort in Maria’s undergarments.  Instead, he was caught up in a frenzy of excitement over something else entirely.

     “You’d better get inside, Miss Fuente!” he said, trying to make his little boy’s voice go as low as possible, to give his dire warning the dire tone it needed.  Glancing around suspiciously in all directions, he added, “There’s evil lurking about!”

     He had an overly dramatic way of speaking that really irked Maria.  It was little more than an imitation of a television superhero — talking slowly for a few words, to create some sense of doom, then suddenly speeding up to sound urgent.  And that he called her “Miss Fuente” and “citizen” was just too silly to endure!  To further aggravate matters, even after crashing into someone, he couldn’t quit his make-believe crime-fighter game long enough to say he was sorry.

     She growled back at him, “There’s stupidity lurking about!  Where are my shoes?”

     “Your shoes?”

     “My shoes, you idiot!  I’m standing here in my socks!”  Needless to say, it’s no fabulous feeling to stand around on a wet lawn in your stocking feet.  This, along with her damp rear-end and the random soggy spots on her back, elbows and knees, added up to make one seriously annoyed Maria.

     The boy-hero quickly scanned the area, gathering-up two shoes from completely different parts of the yard.  “Are these them?”

     “No!” she answered sarcastically as she snatched them out of his hands.  “We always have shoes lying around in our yard!  We grow them here!  This is a shoe farm!”



     Still looking over his shoulders for some approaching danger, he confessed, “I know I must appear rather peculiar to you, but—”

     “Oh, grow up!  What are you doing in that stupid getup, anyway?”

     Muttering more to himself than to her, he wondered, “Why don’t girls ever understand crime-fighting?”

Before she could construct another cross reply, the yard was lit by the bright-white beam of the spotlight on a police patrol car.

     The purple superhero turned to run, but Maria caught him by the cape and tugged him to a stop.

     The police officer opened his door and shouted, “Freeze, you two!”

     Unable to break free of Maria fast enough, the cloaked hero drooped in defeat.

     Officer Rocco (for that was the policeman’s name) stepped from the car and stomped across the wet lawn with a tight scowl on his face.  In a scolding tone that told of a temper being held just below the boiling point, he asked, “Did you two pile all that grass in the street?”

     “Grass?”  Maria was understandably confused.  “What grass?”

     “The grass that I ran into!”  The officer directed her attention to his patrol car.  His proud vehicle of shining black and white, was an utter disgrace.  There was a thick coating of wet lawn-cuttings splattered from the headlights all the way over the windshield and most of the roof.  He had indeed run into a pile of grass — an enormous pile of grass — and the collision had apparently been a hard and fast one.

     That mess of damp green clumps and blobs steaming on the car’s warm hood was such an astonishing sight that a little laugh snuck from Maria.  She quickly buried that giggle and promised with full honesty, “I had nothing to do with that!”

     Taking a strong stance with his hands on his gun-belt, the policeman spoke with every ounce of his authority: “Piling grass in the street is not just littering, it’s creating an automotive hazard and a threat to public safety!”

     Again, Maria firmly denied any assistance in the prank: “I swear I had absolutely nothing to do with it!”

     But the officer was hearing none of it.  He pulled out his writing pad and pen.  “Give me your names, kids.”

     “I’m Maria Fuente, but I didn’t—”

     He jotted down her name as he asked the purple-cloaked boy, “And who are you?”

     “I am… Night-Ghost.”  He took a dramatic bow, like a great stage actor.  “Prowler of the twilight, child of the shadows, and escape-artist extraordinaire.”

     Officer Rocco looked up from his writing pad rather annoyed.  However, at that moment when the lid should have exploded right off his temper, a slight grin appeared on his face — a quick little amused smirk that came and went in a flash.  “I was wondering about your real name, but that’s your ‘secret identity,’ isn’t it?”

     “Exactly!”  Night-Ghost was quite relieved that the officer understood.

     With a disappointed sigh, Officer Rocco informed him, “As a champion of justice, you should know — and I’m guessing you’re a superhero and not a supervillain.”  (Night-Ghost nodded.)  “Well, as a champion  of justice, you should know that it’s against the law to create an obstruction on a public street.”

     The young hero replied, “I didn’t pile that grass in the street, officer.”

     “Then why did you run when you saw me coming?”

     Night-Ghost looked him straight in the eye and answered, “The grass was chasing me.  That was no ordinary pile of yard waste you ran into, Officer.  It was the Compost Beast of Zetriak.”

     The policeman raised an eyebrow in surprise.  “Pardon me?”

     Maria rolled her eyes and groaned in disgust, “Oh, brother!”

     “It was a being from an alternate universe,” Night-Ghost explained in a very scientific tone of voice.  “It was brought to life when Mr. Finley — the guy in the big, yellow house on Elm Street — left a bunch of grass on a magnetically unstable spot in his yard.  The monster went on a rampage, and—”

     The officer interrupted him, wondering, “How come I didn’t see any monster rampaging in this neighborhood?”

     Night-Ghost shrugged.  He hated to say it, but he did anyway: “The cops always miss the real action.  I don’t know why that is.”

      That comment didn’t sit well with the officer, but, to his credit, he held his temper in check.  “The ‘rampage’ around here was when two delinquents piled a bunch of grass in the street and made a run for it.”

     Maria simply had to respond to this!  Pointing to the so-called “Night-Ghost,” she declared, “I have nothing to do with this crazy person!  I don’t know him!  I’ve never met him before!  I only just moved into this neighborhood!”

     Officer Rocco looked her up and down.  “What’s with the grass-stains and wet blotches all over your clothes?  Looks to me like you could’ve been playin’ around with that mountain of lawn-clippings that’s now all over my car.”

     In a breathless frenzy she rapidly explained, “I was turning off the sprinkler, and this maniac came leaping out of the hedges like a... like a... maniac, knocking me over, and — well, look at me!  He knocked me right out of my shoes!”

     The officer threw a stern glance at Night-Ghost.  “What sort of superhero goes around shoving innocent girls onto the ground?”

     The would-be hero insisted, “A Compost Beast was out to kill me!”

     Maria threw her hands up in exasperation.  “Boys are mentally deranged!”

     “We do grow up eventually,” said the policeman, feeling the need to apologize on behalf of every male human on Earth.

     “Maybe some of you do!”  Turning an unkind stare at Night-Ghost, Maria snarled, “The rest of you are hopelessly trapped in a never-ending Halloween!”

     Night-Ghost shook his head sadly.  “Girls!  Always the ‘Halloween comment!’  They have no respect for the costume!  I would have to save her from falling into a pit of bubbling acid before she’d admit that I’m not insane!”

     “Even if you did save my life, that wouldn’t mean you’re not insane!  You’d just be a crazy person with a whole lot of dumb luck!”  And with that pointed remark, she stomped back towards her house (as much as a person can stomp in wet socks).  She would have loved to have marched into her house and given the front door a good slam.  That would have properly displayed her seething rage.  But she couldn’t go slogging indoors with those soaking socks.  So she sat on the porch to peel them off and wring them out.

     Still, Night-Ghost pleaded his case: “I’m telling you, the thing had glowing red eyes!  It was eight feet tall!  And you didn’t see it?  Not even when you crashed your car into it?”

     Officer Rocco led the would-be hero over to the grass-spattered squad-car, opened the back door, and said, “Get in, Ghost-Knight.”

     “It’s Night-Ghost,” replied the boy-hero as he surrendered to his fate and climbed into the backseat.

     “Yeah, whatever,” the officer muttered, half to himself.  Then, getting in the driver’s seat, he mumbled some police-code into his radio, scribbled something on his clipboard, and took the last swig of coffee from his thermos.  Without turning around to look at the superhero in his backseat, he said, “Listen, Ghost-Knight...”  (The policeman was getting the name wrong just to needle him.)  “...girls don’t go for all that comic-book stuff.”

     The strangely-dressed boy replied as if it were absolute fact, “I’ve teamed-up with a few girl superheroes on my adventures, but they’re very hard to find.”

     “Let me clue you in on a few things.”  The officer was still looking down at his clipboard, scrawling out a report while he offered his advice.  “I’m guessing you’re about ten.  Before you know it, you’ll be looking to team up with a girl for something other than doing battle with red-eyed monsters.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know everything there is to know about women.  But I do know that you are not going to be catching that Maria girl on the edge of a bubbling acid pit anytime soon.  And if you want her to like you—”

     “I don’t want her to like me!”  All the drama was gone from his voice, and he was squeaking his protests like any embarrassed ten-year-old.  “Romance just interferes with crime-fighting!”

     “Listen,” the officer continued, “if you want her to like you, then dressing up like that and pushing her into a mud puddle is the last thing you want to do!  So, lose the purple togs, and start... acting... like... a... normal...  Huh?”

     His lecture had sunk into a wandering mumble because he had spun around to find that the backseat was empty and the door was hanging open.  Night-Ghost was nowhere to be seen.

     At first, the officer thought it was downright disrespectful of that youngster to sneak out in the middle of a serious lecture.  But then it hit him: That kid had been in a police squad-car.  There are no door-handles in the back!  There is no way to get out from the inside!

     Looking at that unoccupied seat and open door, the policeman whispered, “Did he say... ‘escape-artist’?”  Then, regaining his senses, he assured himself, “I must’ve left the door unlatched.  Yeah, that’s it.  I just didn’t shut it all the way.”

     He got out of the car, and called over to Maria who was sitting on her front porch, “Did you see which way that crazy purple kid went?”

     Maria was rather amazed that a ten-year-old boy — particularly a nut of a ten-year-old boy — could make such an easy getaway from an officer of the law.  She paused for a confused second before answering: “Um... no.”

     Officer Rocco shrugged and whistled casually as if nothing had happened.  Shutting the back door, he said the word “Coffee” to himself several times, then got back in the front seat and drove off in search of some.
     …And perhaps a donut.

Copyright 2005, Lee Rushton Howard





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