In his mind’s eye, the black shadow around him grew still larger.
It was raining again when Chad left school at the end of the day, but this time he wasn’t moving very fast in an effort to get home. He knew that the closer he got to home, the nearer he was to the certain doom that surely awaited him at the old parking garage. He took small steps all the way down—and as the black rectangular building rose into view over the horizon, Chad kicked himself mentally. Didn’t he know a better way to go? Why was he always forgetting at the most important moments? He would practically need a billboard at the corner of Hillsmith and 12th to tell him not to keep going straight, at this rate! As slow as his steps had been before, Chad moved even slower now, at each pace bracing himself and preparing himself for the beating of his lifetime.
The rain slacked off somewhat, but the clouds remained when at last Chad reached the shadows of the parking structure. He tentatively stepped onto the dry area of the pavement under the overhanging concrete. He peeked around the column at what used to be the entrance of the garage, toward the place where Dune Fraiser usually stood, juggling her hackey sack.
She wasn’t there today. What did it mean? Were they all lying in wait around some invisible corner, just waiting for him to drop his guard before they struck? Chad moved further into the garage. Everything was so still and silent, Chad almost felt like his ears would burst from listening so hard for the slightest noise. After wandering for several minutes, he almost caught himself wishing for the scuff of a shoe, if even for the assurance that there was someone else watching, to explain or justify the pervading feeling he could not shake.
Somebody was watching him. He knew it the moment he set foot in the building. Someone was waiting just out of sight—for him. Who would it be? If it were Justice, surely the burly, hot-headed bully would have struck by now. No, the sensation running up and down Chad’s spine bespoke something much more sinister and professional, like a hunter who is willing to wait several hours without moving a muscle for the chance to catch his prey.
Chad was used to being the target, not the quarry. It scared him like nothing else.
Finally, in an effort to break the tension, Chad finally managed to squeak out the word, “Hello?”
Only the wind whistled in answer.
“Guys?” Don’t say it! His mind screamed, Don’t say it! You’re only asking for trouble! Just keep walking! Just go on home! “Justice? Is anybody there?”
“Hello, young Master.”
Chad froze and his head whipped around as he tried to find the source of the voice that boomed all around him.
“Who’s there?” He shouted frantically.
A soft chuckle reverberated around the concrete slabs. “One who has waited a long time for this moment.”
There was something about the voice that was triggering in Chad’s memory, but he couldn’t figure out how or why; he was sure he didn’t know anyone with a voice of such pure malice, so why could he not discard the feeling that he knew the speaker?
“Who are you?” He shouted, moving a little faster through the confusing mess of twists and turns. “What do you mean you’ve been waiting for me?”
“Ever since that first day, I have watched over you,” the voice was stronger now. “I have very much wanted to meet you, to see your face, to become your friend…” the speaker paused as if choking on his own words. “But every time I tried, you deserted me!” He seethed. “You turned your back on me! You—betrayed—ME!”
The verbal attack was so vicious it struck Chad full in the chest and seemed to seep into his very brain. He stopped and clenched his hands to his head. “No!” he wailed piteously. “How was I supposed to know? I never betrayed anyone—“
“Oh, Master, but you did!” the voice snarled at him.
At last, Chad realized what was so strange about the speaker, yet at the same time what felt so familiar: only the clay figurines had ever called him things like “Master” and “Maker,” as this mysterious menace did. The figurines called him Chad now at his request—but didn’t they mention a seventh figurine?
Chad recalled that first day when he had formed the figurines: six of them had become heroes, all ready and noble and willing to battle the forces of evil. But then Justice had ruined the chance for any more…. So in an effort to prove that he was better, to prove that not even the bully could ruin things for him, Chad had built one more figurine, bigger and stronger and darker and full of rocks and pebbles and grit and thoughts only of hatred and revenge—
“Ferristral?” he gasped quietly.
He heard the crunch of a footfall behind him.
Chad turned to behold a man—one made entirely of clay studded with silt, one that glared evilly out of his glowing red eyes down at the little boy who had formed him and left him behind—
“Hello, Maker,” growled Ferristral, and he covered Chad’s face with his massive clay hand till the little boy blacked out.