Dustin’s eyes snapped open the second his alarm clock started ringing. In his haste to turn it off, he accidentally smashed the clock.
“Darn super strength,” he mumbled, throwing off his sheets. He jumped out of bed, almost tripping over his best friend, Hayden, who had been sleeping on the floor. Hayden woke suddenly, fire shooting out of his hands. Dustin quickly sprayed water from his own palms, quenching the flames.
“You said you wouldn’t catch my blankets on fire again!” Dustin told Hayden.
“Hey, you know my powers are always testy in the morning, especially when I’m woken up by someone stepping on my face!” Hayden defended himself.
“I didn’t step on your face,” Dustin replied, throwing on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
“You almost did,” Hayden snorted, smoothing out his straight blonde hair. He glanced at Dustin’s nightstand, his eyes resting on the smashed alarm clock. “Heh, you've crushed three clocks this month,” he laughed.
“Don’t tell my mom,” Dustin said. “She said she’d stop letting you sleep over if it happened again.”
“My lips are sealed,” Hayden replied.
“You’d better hurry and get dressed,” Dustin said, combing his fingers through his dusty red hair. “My mom said she’d make us pancakes.”
He had barely finished speaking when Hayden changed his clothes and ran downstairs.
“Why couldn’t I have gotten super speed?” Dustin muttered. He tiptoed out of his room, careful not to wake his little sister, who was sleeping across the hall. Jocelynn was a beast any time before nine o’clock. Dustin had learned that the hard way and dared not relive it. Once he made it down the stairs to the living room, he dashed into the kitchen as Hayden finished shoveling a third pancake into his mouth.
“If you eat too fast, you’ll get cramps,” Dustin told his friend, sitting down at the table. Hayden shrugged, gulping down a whole glass of orange juice.
“You two are up early for a Saturday,” Dustin’s mom observed, teleporting another plate of pancakes to the table.
“Dad promised that he’d help us with our power control this morning,” Dustin told her, taking a couple bites of bacon. “Do you know where he is?”
“He’s in the workshop,” his mom answered. Dustin’s father, as a head officer of the Paladin Law Enforcement (PLE), spent most of his time in the workshop working on his cases.
“Race you!” Hayden exclaimed. “Thanks for the pancakes, Mrs. T!” he shouted, zipping toward the door.
“Hey!” Dustin called after him, standing quickly. “Bye, Mom!” he called, grabbing his tennis shoes that were by the front door.
“Dustin,” she tried, but her son was already out the door.
“Hayden, you cheater!” Dustin exclaimed, hopping on one foot in the middle of the street as he struggled to get his left shoe on.
“Ha, you’re just jealous that you’re slower than me,” Hayden laughed, circling Dustin once before running back toward the building. Dustin shook his head at his friend, cracking a small smile. He chased after Hayden, who was leaning against the front doors.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” he joked.
“It’s not my fault you have the patience of a two-year-old,” Dustin joked back. They laughed as they entered the building. They walked down the left hallway toward the offices. “Which one of your powers do you think you’ll work on today? Elemental or Physical?” he asked Hayden casually.
“Probably Elemental. I’ve already gotten my speed under control, but my fire, not so much.”
“Lucky you.” Dustin sighed.
“Hey, you’re getting better too. You only made it rain three times during class this week,” Hayden smiled.
“I guess.” Dustin shrugged when they reached his dad’s office. He knocked and opened the door.
Officer Robert Thomson was hunched over his desk that was littered with papers. He continually ran his fingers through his normally well-kept hair, causing it to stand up at odd angles while he pored over a yellow case file.
“Dude, is your dad all right?” Hayden whispered.
“He’s just super focused,” Dustin answered. “It’s his Physical power,” he added. “Dad?”
“Oh, Dustin. I didn’t see you come in,” Officer Thomson said, looking at his son with a tired smile. “Hello, Hayden.”
“Dad, are you alright?” Dustin asked, looking around the office space. His father was usually meticulously organized, but the room looked like it had been slammed by a tornado. Papers were everywhere, the cork board was covered in pictures with red yarn strung between them, and sticky notes covered the floor like fall leaves.
“Yes, I’m all right, Son,” Officer Flash replied, stacking the papers he had been reading. “I’ll be there in a moment. Tell your mother to keep supper warm for me,” he instructed absently.
“Dad, it’s seven in the morning.”
Officer Flash suddenly checked his watch.
“Oh,” he sighed, rubbing his eyes as he leaned back in his office chair.
“You were working all night again, weren’t you?” Dustin said.
“I guess I was,” Officer Flash sighed again. “This case is tougher than any other I’ve had.”
“It is The Shadow again?” Dustin asked.
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’ve heard about him on the news. What happened this time?” Hayden asked.
“He attacked two men at midnight and left them outside of the old observatory. That makes almost twenty victims in the past month alone.”
“Did you get any new leads?” Dustin asked.
“No. This ‘Shadow’ doesn’t leave anything to follow. He’s a master at misdirection, I can tell you that.” Officer Thomson yawned.
“Dad, you need to get some rest,” Dustin told him. “You can’t focus without getting at least a few hours of sleep.”
“Now you sound like your mother,” Officer Thomson commented with a chuckle, then paused, realization dawning on his face. “We were supposed to practice with your powers this morning,” he said. Both boys slowly nodded.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not important,” Dustin said quickly, his heart slowly falling. His father gave him a knowing look.
“It is important,” Officer Thomson said, standing. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’m sorry, Son.”
“Your work is more important,” Dustin said, stepping away from his father. “I’ll leave you to it,” he added and walked out of the room. Hayden followed, closing the door behind him.
Dustin shoved his hands in his jeans pockets as the doors to the workshop slammed behind him. Hayden caught up with him, noting the disappointment on his friend’s face.
“We can always practice with him later,” Hayden offered.
“Yeah,” Dustin replied distantly. “He’s just been so busy; I’ve barely seen him.”
They walked down the street in silence for a few minutes till Hayden spoke up.
“I know what’ll make you feel better. Griffin said that he and some of the guys were going to play powerball this morning. Let’s go see if we can join them,” he suggested. “That way, we can still work on our powers.”
“All right,” he agreed. They continued walking down the road into a busier section of town. They soon found themselves in the middle of a large crowd outside the PLE Headquarters. Several people held protest signs with The Shadow’s name crossed out on them, and everyone was yelling for Officer Thomson.
“Why haven’t you captured The Shadow?” one man yelled.
“He’s got to be stopped!” another woman shouted.
“Our streets aren’t safe!”
“Where is Officer Thomson?”
“Does he have any new leads?”
The crowd continued to yell while several officers tried to calm them down. Dustin and Hayden shrank back to the edge of the crowd, hoping to remain unnoticed.
“Wait, is that the officer’s son?” one woman yelled out. All eyes turned to Dustin, who froze. He turned and bolted away as fast as he could, several people on his heels. They yelled at him to stop, but Dustin just kept running.
“Hide, Dustin!” Hayden said. “I’ll distract them,” he added, skidding to a stop and turning. He started to run circles around the crowd, forcing them to stop. Dustin kept running, his feet pounding on the pavement.
Gaining some distance, he ducked into an alley. Hoping that they didn’t see him, Dustin shrank back into the shadows. Several people who had gotten past Hayden flew past Dustin’s hiding spot. One man hovered by the alley, scanning the area before flying after everyone else. Dustin held his breath, waiting for the coast to be clear. When he felt it was finally safe, he stepped out of the shadows. Just as he was peeking out from the alley, he was grabbed from behind.
A dank cloth was forced over his nose as he fought to get away. He gasped for air, coughing on the pungent smell of chloroform.
“Hayden—” he tried yelling, choking on his words as he was grabbed again.
His mind raced as he continued to cough. He tried kicking his attacker, but the gloved hands remained fastened around his neck. Dustin collapsed onto the damp pavement as he slowly lost consciousness.
Hours later, Dustin slowly started to wake. His eyes fluttered open, but when he tried to move, he found his legs and arms had been fastened to a table. Panic rose in his chest as he thrashed, trying to somehow loosen the cold metal restraints.
“I would stop if I were you. It’s no use struggling,” a sinister voice said. Dustin froze, his eyes wide with fright.
“Who are you?” he managed to ask, his voice shaking. “What do you want?”
There was no response. Dustin’s eyes darted around the room. He was in some type of lab. An eerie green light lit the small area, and large equipment and computers lined the walls. Surgical trays lined with syringes and other tools were scattered on the table next to the one Dustin was strapped to.
“Who are you?” Dustin asked again. He suddenly saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked over just as a tall figure morphed from the shadows. A man dressed in a black suit stepped toward Dustin. He wore a dark mask that covered his entire face, but his eyes were plainly visible. Dustin stared in fear into those cold, dark eyes that held an evil fire within them.
The man remained silent as he walked slowly around the table. Dustin’s heart pounded in his ears while the man walked over to one of the computers.
“You’re The Shadow, aren’t you?” Dustin said, finding his voice. The man looked back at Dustin slowly, studied him for a second, then continued his work. “What do you want with me?”
“So many questions,” The Shadow said softly, walking back over to Dustin. “You have courage, boy,” he observed, picking up a syringe. “But that won’t be enough.”
Dustin squeezed his eyes shut as The Shadow slowly pushed the needle into the boy’s arm. After taking a small sample of blood, The Shadow took the syringe back to the computer. Dustin opened his eyes, shoving down his fear.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Don’t you ever be quiet?” The Shadow growled, annoyed.
“No,” Dustin replied, pulling on his restraints again. He tried to summon his super strength and bend the metal restraints back but found that he couldn’t.
“Your powers are neutralized as long as you’re on that table,” The Shadow told him. Dustin stopped straining and glared at him.
“What do you want from me?” Dustin asked, more angry than afraid.
“I’ve gotten all I needed,” The Shadow replied, coming closer. “A sample of your DNA.”
“What do you need that for?”
“Is that why you’ve taken so many people? To experiment on them?” Dustin asked, fury rising in his chest.
“Very good,” The Shadow said. “You’re not as dumb as you look.”
Dustin snorted, his eyes narrowing.
“You’re hurting innocent people!”
“The people in this cursed place are hardly innocent!” The Shadow snarled. “Soon, they too will know what it feels like to be cast out,” he added in a whisper.
Dustin paused, unsure of how to answer. A choking silence filled the room as the man returned to his work. Dustin stared up at the ceiling while letting out a deep breath. Seconds ticked by, turning into minutes, and the eerie silence remained. Dustin pulled on his restraints again, wondering how long he had been with The Shadow.
Hayden must be worried about me. I have to find a way out of this mess!
“Ahh,” the Shadow breathed, snapping Dustin from his thoughts. “I’ve done it!” he said victoriously.
“Done what?” Dustin asked, but the man ignored him.
“Finally,” The Shadow continued, gazing at the blue liquid in a syringe. “After years of work, I’ve finally perfected it!”
“What is that?” Dustin asked, but The Shadow continued to ignore him.
“All I need is a test subject,” The Shadow voiced, finally looking in Dustin’s direction. Dustin’s face paled as The Shadow slowly walked over to the table.
“No, don’t!” Dustin pleaded, pulling at his restraints. “Keep that away from me!”
“Silence, boy!” The Shadow ordered. “This won’t hurt—for long,” he chuckled, gripping Dustin’s forearm. Dustin shut his eyes, the needle piercing his skin. The Shadow injected Dustin with the serum and took a step back. Pain shot through the boy’s entire body like a raging fire. Dustin could feel his strength slip away as his body throbbed. Several excruciating minutes later, the pain finally started to subside. Dustin slowly looked over at The Shadow.
The man pressed a button, and the metal restraints retracted. Dustin tried to sit up but couldn’t find the strength to. He slipped off the table, sinking to the ground.
“What did you do to me?” he managed to gasp out, looking up at the man.
“I’ve stripped you of your powers,” The Shadow replied, not even trying to mask his delight.
“No,” Dustin whispered. He cupped his hands, straining to summon a raincloud, but it wouldn’t come. “That’s impossible.”
“I’ve waited years for this moment,” The Shadow breathed, towering over Dustin. “I finally have the chance to rule this pathetic city, and everyone will finally feel as I do!”
“No! People need their powers,” Dustin exclaimed, gaining strength. He stood, using the table for support. “I won’t let you take them away!”
“What can you do?” The Shadow scorned, kicking Dustin over. The boy scrambled across the floor to get away from The Shadow. The man walked toward him briskly, clutching the front of Dustin’s shirt with his fist. He yanked the boy to his feet. “You are nothing!” he snarled, throwing Dustin across the room. The boy hit the far wall and crashed to the floor. Pain flooded Dustin’s mind as he blacked out for a second time.
An hour passed before Dustin started to stir. He slowly opened his eyes, suppressing a groan. His body was on fire with pain, but he forced himself to get up anyway. He tried to move his left arm but found he couldn’t. He held his injured arm against his stomach as he looked around. The lab was empty apart from the occasional rat that would scurry by.
“The Shadow must have left to put his plan in motion,” Dustin thought aloud. “I’ve got to do something, but what?” he asked, his voice echoing in the empty space. “I can’t believe my powers are gone,” he whispered, gripping the edge of a table in an effort to bend the metal. His efforts were in vain. Dustin clenched a fist, kicking at the table. “Could The Shadow be right?” he asked himself, walking over to the computers. He looked at his reflection on the screen, perplexed. “Am I nothing without my powers?”
As Dustin continued to look at his reflection, he heard a loud thud behind him. He whipped around just as the door to the lab burst open.
“Dustin!” a voice thundered.
“Dustin!” Hayden exclaimed, rushing over to him. He grabbed his friend by the shoulders, pulling him into a bone-crushing hug. “Finally! I’ve been searching the alleys for hours!” Dustin winced as more pressure was put on his injured arm.
“This is The Shadow’s lab. How did you find it?” he asked.
“Oh, the door was open,” Hayden shrugged. “Did you say The Shadow?”
“How’d you end up here?”
“He grabbed me when you were distracting the mob. He did—an experiment on me,” he explained, and Hayden scowled, fire shooting out of his fingertips.
“Just wait till I find him,” Hayden breathed, fury edging his tone. “Attacking my best friend! Come on. We can use our powers to—”
“Hayden! He took away my powers,” Dustin interrupted. “I’m nothing without them,” he added in a softer voice. Hayden paused, looking at his friend’s discouraged expression.
“Dustin, your powers don’t define who you are.”
“Just because your powers have been taken away doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference. What did we just learn from Mrs. Johnston in class this week?”
“We can always do the right thing,” Dustin recalled. Suddenly, something clicked in Dustin, and he stood up straighter. A smile started to form on his face as he whipped away from his friend and back toward the computers. He powered them up as Hayden joined him. “If I can figure out what The Shadow’s plan is, I might be able to locate him in the city,” he explained, pulling up several files.
“I didn’t know you had a knack for computers,” Hayden commented, then shrugged. “Then again, you kept accidentally smashing them. Guess you won’t have to keep paying the technology bills for the school,” he joked. Dustin lightly glared at him. “Sorry. Too soon?”
After several minutes of clicking and scanning information, Dustin grinned triumphantly. “Aha!” he exclaimed.
“What’d you find?” Hayden asked, looking over his friend’s shoulder.
“The Shadow was researching powerful machines in the city. This one can create a storm big enough to cover the city. He’s going to use it to scatter his serum!”
“There were dark clouds forming over the city right before I found the entrance to this place,” Hayden mentioned. “I ran into Officer Ross, and he said something about an anonymous tip about Paladin’s Point. The Shadow will need to be high enough to gain the altitude necessary for a storm that big,” Hayden reasoned. “And Paladin Point is the highest structure in the city.”
“He’s not going to be at Paladin Point,” Dustin said aloud, scanning more files.
“Remember what my dad said? The Shadow is a master of misdirection,” Dustin said, clicking on the last file. “Ah ha! Blueprints for the observatory! It’s the second tallest building in the city and not too far from here,” he said, bringing up a map The Shadow had saved in another file.
“Hey, weren’t The Shadow’s latest victims found in front of the observatory?”
“Yup,” Dustin said, rubbing his throbbing arm.
“But I still don’t get it. If The Shadow had to inject you with the serum to take away your powers, then how is spreading it across the city through a storm going to help?” Hayden asked.
“If the serum is spread across the city, it’s going to get into all of our water sources and sewage system. Within a week, the entire city is going to ingest the serum, and their powers will be taken away. The economy will collapse, and no one will be able to stand up to The Shadow. If he’s not stopped now, then he will spread his serum across the planet. Paladin will never be the same again,” Dustin explained.
“Man, this guy needs a hobby. Or a job. Maybe both.”
“Come on!” Dustin exclaimed.
The boys hurried to the door and sprinted up the black metal stairs. They reached a hatch, and Hayden threw it open. It led them to an alley, and they sprinted for the street. Dark clouds had already covered the sky. Officers were ushering people indoors, and Dustin skidded to a halt outside the observatory. He spotted Officer Ross, one of his dad’s best friends.
“Officer Ross!” Dustin yelled. The large man stood at about seven feet tall and had the biggest muscles Dustin had ever seen. He could snap an iron rod in half like a twig, but he was a reasonable man. At least, that’s what Dustin had heard. "Officer Ross!”
The man turned to the boys.
“You both should be inside,” he thundered. “There’s a serious storm moving in.”
“You all are going the wrong way. The Shadow is going to be at the old observatory, not Paladin Point!” Dustin exclaimed.
“That’s ridiculous,” the man replied. “Get inside!” he ordered and turned to help a young mother with her three children.
Dustin sighed in frustration, clenching a fist. He looked at the observatory that was across the street. Hayden put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Hayden, you need to tell my dad what The Shadow’s plan is,” Dustin told him.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going after The Shadow.”
“You can’t! Dustin, he’ll smash you in twenty seconds flat.”
“And you’re injured,” Hayden interrupted. “Yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice you favoring your arm.”
“Hayden, I can’t just sit by and do nothing! You’re the fastest one who can get the truth to my dad and the other officers, and I can distract The Shadow long enough for you all to get back,” Dustin said. “It’s our only option!”
Hayden stared at him and finally caved.
“Fine, but if you die, I’m going to kill you,” he said and sprinted away.
“Noted!” Dustin blinked, and his friend was already out of sight. He turned back to the observatory. He gulped down his nerves and ran to the building. He threw open the rickety doors and hurried to the elevator. It was out of order.
“Great,” he muttered, locating the staircase. He ran over and started to climb the stairs, jumping two at a time. He climbed floor after floor, his arm continuing to throb. “Come on,” he gasped, forcing himself to keep going.
Eighty floors later, Dustin made it to the top, completely out of breath. He coughed, trying to get his breath back. As he was doubled over, he was smacked from behind and crashed to the floor. He managed to catch himself and jumped to his feet, glaring at The Shadow.
“Tough climb?” The Shadow jeered. “Is the rest of the police force slow on stairs, or are they running across town?”
“Stop it!” Dustin shouted, his voice echoing in the open space. A large machine hummed in the center of the room, projecting a beam of light through the open ceiling and into the sky.
“What are you going to do, boy? You have no powers and no backup,” The Shadow taunted, circling Dustin. He slowly inched back toward the machine, and Dustin clenched a fist.
“I don’t need powers to defeat you,” Dustin replied. He ran toward the man, who got in a fighting stance. But Dustin slid under him at the last second. He jumped back up, hitting the man from behind. The Shadow fell forward, and Dustin hurried to the machine. A large glass canister held the bubbling serum, electricity shooting out from every angle. Dustin shielded his eyes from the blinding light, searching for an off-switch. Dustin grabbed at the canister holding the serum. Just as his fingers closed around it, Dustin was grabbed from behind and flung away from the machine. He slid across the floor, slamming into the far wall. He groaned.
“That’s getting old,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head. The pain in his arm increased, but he pushed past the pain and slowly got to his feet. The Shadow advanced slowly, delight shining in his dark eyes.
“Give up, boy,” The Shadow chuckled darkly. “You’re no match for me and my serum.”
“You mean this serum?” Dustin asked, holding up the glass canister that was still secure in his hand. The Shadow’s eyes grew wide with shock, and he ran at Dustin, who raised the canister above his head.
“No!” The Shadow shouted as Dustin smashed the canister against the floor. The glass shattered, and the blue serum splashed everywhere. Dustin looked up at The Shadow with a smirk. The man towered over Dustin, rage coursing through him. “You’ll pay!” The Shadow snarled, throwing himself onto Dustin. He grabbed at the boy’s throat, but Dustin kicked him in the ribs. They rolled across the floor, each trying to gain the upper hand. The Shadow ended up on top and squeezed Dustin’s throat, blocking his airway. Dustin strained to breathe as his vision blurred. He kicked up again, but The Shadow kept his hold on Dustin. The man grabbed Dustin’s injured arm, wrenching it back. Dustin shouted in pain, tears instantly springing to his eyes. He blinked them away, gritting his teeth.
“Give up, Shadow,” he managed to gasp out. “You’ve lost!”
“No!” the man snarled, wrenching Dustin’s arm further. Pain clouded Dustin’s mind, and the boy’s ears rang as several voices shouted. The Shadow was ripped off of him, and Dustin gasped. He coughed several times, cradling his arm as he continued to blink back tears. Someone knelt next to him, and Dustin managed to look up. It was Hayden and his father.
“Dustin,” Officer Thomson said with concern. “Are you alright?”
“Dad,” Dustin wheezed. “You came.”
“Hayden told me, and I came as fast as I could,” Officer Flash explained.
“Did you really ever doubt me?” Hayden asked, and Dustin smiled faintly as he shook his head.
The three of them looked over to see several officers struggle to cuff The Shadow. The man fought the officers, yelling at Dustin.
“You will regret this, boy!” he shouted as Officer Ross got a better hold and cuffed him. “Mark my words! I will have my revenge!”
Dustin watched him go, shuddering slightly. Officer Thomson clapped his son on the back as Hayden looked out of one of the large windows.
“Well, the clouds are gone. You saved the city, Dustin.” Hayden smiled proudly.
“You did well, Son,” Officer Thomson said and looked at Dustin’s injured arm. “Come on. The nurses back at the station can take care of that injury you’ve got.”
“Race you there!” Hayden exclaimed, running for the stairs. Dustin and Officer Thomson followed more slowly.
“Dad, do you think I’ll ever get my powers back?” Dustin asked his father. Officer Thomson glanced at him with a sigh.
“I’m not sure, Son, but look at what you were able to do without them,” he said. “You don’t need your powers to make a difference.”
“Huh, I guess I don’t,” Dustin smiled a little.
“Now all we have to do is tell your mother,” his father added, and Dustin’s face fell.
“I’d rather fight The Shadow again,” he said. He looked at Officer Thomson, who cracked a smile. Dustin smiled again and laughed a little before looking at his dad with slight concern. “Seriously, though. Mom scares me more than The Shadow,” he said. His father chuckled, patting his son on the back.
“Just between you and me,” he said, pulling his son closer. “Your mother scares me too,” he said, but paused. “Don’t tell her I said that.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” Dustin smiled.