The Ninja of Vista Del Mar

Author’s Note:

This is my first contribution to this forum, on which I have lurked for some years now. Having long been a fan of several stories and authors here (as well as their reputation for critique), I’ve decided it’s time to give back. This post will be the first of a couple parts, though I can promise no schedule. This first part is devoid of this community’s signature item, but they’ll be coming. Anyways, cheers! And I hope you enjoy.

The Ninja of Vista Del Mar

You’re going to think I’m crazy.

And don’t get me wrong. You should! This is one weird little story, and you’d be out of your mind not to question the narrator’s truthfulness. But fear not dear reader, as the account you are about to experience rings true to the word! This story does, in fact, center on the ‘Ninja of Vista Del Mar.’ If you’ve ever wondered just who the famous Ninja was, who his associates were, and what exactly transpired during their quest, then you’ve come to the right place. So go ahead, sit back, crack a cold one, and read on—if you dare!

Chapter 1

Jan Abels hated Vista Del Mar. No—perhaps he just hated California. Regardless, had the founders of this town decided to place it in New England or British Columbia, he would have gotten along royally with it, but their folly was 100 years complete and he was stuck doing business in this hot-as-hell trashpit. Was it the heat? Maybe. Anywyas, had this city been a bit farther North it would be called part of L.A. Were it farther South, it might’ve been close enough to call San Diego. But no, Vista Del Mar was just detached enough to be irrelevant, and just big enough to be horrible. Jan took a puff of his cigarette and looked out over the darkened beach. Maybe he could find a better gig soon, get out of this business, and do some less troubling work. But he had current obligations, one of which was pulling up to him in a taxi cab.

“Mister Abels.” said the obligation, over her clic-clacking heels. “I hope you don’t mind meeting me at such a time and place.”

“Not at all.” He exhaled smoke.

“Good.” The obligation stood next to him, leaning on the beach railing that overlooked the sea, her hair shining a sort of gold-tinted ash. “I’ve come here with a rather important request, and words can’t quite express how grateful I am you made it.” She began digging through a fur handbag that Jan had bought her at some point.

“What might that be, Janice?” She cocked an eyebrow.

“We don’t call each-other by first names here.”

“Oh. My apologies.” He bowed, waving his cigarette about. “But truly, I am a busy man, Miss Quintus. It’s no trouble for me to meet you, but why all the cloak and dagger for it? I would’ve preferred a nice Chinese buffet, or even a park. We are friends, and we have yet more powerful friends. There’s no need for us to be so secretive, especially now.”

“But there is, Mister Abels.” She pulled some papers out of the handbag and unfolded them. Jan took the papers–photographs–and examined them under the streetlight.

“What’s this, some kind of circus act?” scoffed Jan, handing them back. Janice didn’t take them.

“No. It’s a new player.”

“A what?”

“A threat, Mr. Abels. Three of my men were hunting in the Ghosts last night, and this ‘individual’ ambushed them. All three are in the hospital, and all three had their phones crushed.”

“Then how did they acquire these photos?”

“The attacker neglected to attend to their SD cards, Mr. Abels. My man took them before the attacker incapacitated him.” Jan took another puff.

“Look Miss Quintus, I’m sorry for your men and such, but I think you’re overreacting. Some thug comes along and beats up your hunters once. So what? The operation is slowed by a day or so, so what makes you think this clown is a threat?”

“This isn’t the first time.” Said Janice. Jan threw his cigarette butt off into the wind and stared quizzically. Those hazel eyes were dead serious. “My patrols have reported this figure multiple times, but only now has he chosen to hospitalize them. Two previous confrontations ended in our favor, with the assailant absconding into the night. Yesterday evening just proves that he’s got no intention of giving up.”

“Why didn’t you take this to the boss?” Janice pursed her red lips.

“You know why, Jan.”

“Abandoning the rules, are we?”

“Shut up. You know what I mean. If the boss decides there’s someone out to defcy us again, it’ll be just like last time.”

“It had to be dealt with, Janice.”

“But not like that, Jan.” They were silent for a moment. Jan dug out another cigarette and offered Janice one. She declined. “The last time we let slip a mistake like this, the boss made heads roll—too many for me. If I keep this ‘in-house,’ then we can end the problem, please the boss, and prevent any unnecessary deaths.”

“So what are you asking me for?” asked Jan through puffs.

“You know this city, however much you may hate it, you know it well. I want you to do some research, track down this new player, and remove him from the playing field.”

“You want me to kill him?”

“Only if it’s necessary, Jan.”

“Then I’ll make sure it’s not necessary. Death isn’t my business.” He briefly looked over the photographs Janice had given him. “Don’t you have something else I can go off of?” Janice dug back into the bag and produced a tiny flash drive.

“The address of last night’s attack. A full report from two of my men. Everything I know is contained here, and there exist no other copies.” Jan stuffed it, along with the pictures, into his breast pocket.

“Anything else, Janice?”

“It’s Miss Quintus. And no, Mister Abels.” She laid a hand on his face for just a moment, and then broke away, setting off down the street—probably towards the bus station. Jan looked back over the sea and lit yet another cigarette. At least this would mean a break from the routine. He hadn’t gone full private-eye in some time, and after all, it was the least he could do for his ex-wife.


“Yo Tommy, you should take a picture—it’ll last longer’n that face!”

Tommy Hiura jolted my gaze away from Mrs. Shelton’s window and rerouted them to Cam Jackson’s unbearable smirk. He stared the other boy down for a solid twenty seconds before Cam blinked, saying “Okay dude, it’s just a joke.” He rolled his eyes and turned forward to his books.

“Whatever.” Tommy scoffed, pulling a green binder out of his bag. It was that time of morning: the time when early-birds like those two lazed bloodshot at their desks with the floodgates having just been opened, releasing a torrent of bus-riding, under-rested, and obnoxious children into Public School No. 12. Tommy could hear their approach the halls, so he began looking over his Algebra homework in preparation for class. Scrounging through that binder from before, he turned up a single piece of loose-leaf paper with his name scribbled on it and the beginning of two problems. A quick cross-reference from my notebook revealed twenty others that Tommy had neglected to complete.

‘Damn. Not again.’

Well, he wasn’t really surprised. Tommy knew perfectly well it wasn’t done, and Mrs. Shelton probably knew already too, considering his record those past four weeks. True, he could probably have done it. Then again, he didn’t want to, and he had more important things to do.

Yes, it would have also been a lie to say Tommy Hiura was any kind of exemplar student; no, if anyone that was Ali, his perfect little front row goody-two-shoes soccer-team-captain best-friend who was currently waving from the doorway. Tommy was a slacker, just some kid who pitied his way through classes, and he wouldn’t have told you otherwise had you asked.

Tommy stared at the uncompleted exercises on linear functions, and shortly thirty other kids aged 13-15 filed in and took their seats. The noise level scaled with them, and soon the whole place was a circus of chirpy laughter and frantic answer-copying. All of that stopped at 8:10 as the bell rang out. Little Mrs. Shelton burst in, brown leather jacket waving, and threw her stacks of graded papers on the bench. Soon they began the typical American routine: a pledge mumbled half-heartedly. A moment silenced. Some boring things announced over a grainy speaker. Then Mrs. Shelton rose and assumed control as only a little old math teacher can.

“Hiya, and Good morning everyone.” She said, sorting through some of last week’s assignments. “I hope everyone’s weekend was fantastic! Fortunately, I’ve got lots of cool stuff today that’ll bring us back into the school swing, starting with your Chapter One tests from Friday.” A few stifled groans escaped her charges, but she shrugged them off. “Now don’t be so pessimistic! Almost all of you passed, and I even found an A or four buried in there. Most of you have nothing to worry about.” Tommy swore she glanced at him as she said that. The papers came around, and most of the students looked relieved, a few even made silent gestures of triumph—Ali included. Tommy’s came around, and Mrs. Shelton’s aura of eternal joy dimmed for just a moment as she handed him the test. While he wasn’t surprised at the outcome, he sank a little bit inside, like his heart fell down a few pegs seeing the big red “D-” and “68.” Tommy quickly combed through the mess of corrections and error indicators, and then looked back on the front, on which Shelton had scribbled ‘Quickie chat after class?!?!’

Algebra passed—slowly. Tommy got a 0 for his lack of effort on homework, and the kids surrounding him were utterly enriched by the wonders of standard form. Eighty-odd minutes and a bell told everyone to leave, and the whole class began stuffing their bags.

“Will I see you on my team today, Tommy?” asked Ali as he stuffed his textbook away. That Ali would captain one of the soccer teams in Gym was a foregone conclusion, but the boy probably wanted to know Tommy would be with him.

“Yeah. You will I guess.” Tommy said. No eye contact. Ali nodded and mumbled something about seeing me later, then trotted off—second-to-last to leave.

“Tommy?” Mrs. Shelton walked up, making that trademarked ‘concerned teacher face’ with her eyes and pursed lips.

“Yes Ma’am?”

“We need to have a lil’ talk about your performance in my class.”

“What about, Ma’am?” he asked. She handed him a printout of several grades, many of them marked in red. Gulp.

“I’m afraid so far you’ve been averaging a high D.” Tommy opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “And I know it’s only the first quarter, but if you keep this up you may end up doing very poorly on your final grades. Can you tell me what’s been going on?”

Tommy croaked, at a loss for something to say. He had no excuse—or, none that Mrs. Shelton would (or should) believe.

“Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that. This kind of performance isn’t acceptable here, and I’ll be letting your mom know. Do you understand?”

Tommy nodded.

“Look Tommy, I know you’re capable of doing better. All of last year’s teachers say so, but there’s something that’s holding you back in Algebra. I’ve heard it’s been a tough year for you, so is it something you want to share with me?”

“No Ma’am. I just need to work harder is all.” Tommy lied.

“Well, if you need someone to talk to, I or the counselor are always available.” Mrs. Shelton proceeded back to her desk. “I assume you’ve got a second block, Tommy?”

“Y- Y- Yes Ma’am. Thank you.” Tommy spun around and threw his bag over his shoulder. He straightened his shirt and glanced sideward, seeing Mrs. Shelton staring at him again, or maybe at one of those posters behind him. Anyways, he quickly spun and shuffled out the door towards B Hall.

Mrs. Shelton, however, followed him out with her eyes, alarmed at what she’d seen as Tommy’s shirt rode up his side. Perhaps it was an illusion—a trick, making her see what she feared most. The lining of his underwear? A bike accident? Whatever that spot was, it troubled her for the rest of the day.


Jan’s ex, Janice, excelled great at many things, but the greatest of her talents was certainly discretion. To say nothing of her gang’s ‘hunts’ and other illicit activities, the three recent incidents involving the Ninja (as Jan had begun to call him—was that the right term?) were known to nobody but those involved directly, Janice, and Jan himself. No matter what transpired in her part of Vista Del Mar, Janice reserved control over exactly who knew. Jan admired her excessively for this, and he smiled at the thought of her as his bus proceeded into the Palm Heights borough of town. He was beginning step one: Crime-Scene Investigation.

Jan disembarked at the corner of two post-industrial streets and headed East into the district of abandoned warehouses that some people called the ‘Ghosts’ Feeling an urge, he lit a cigarette and puffed while consulting his printouts (courtesy of Janice’s flash drive).

35th and Carson—Alley between the Blue Furniture House and Fish Cannery.

The ‘Ghosts’ were aptly-named. Observing the surrounding buildings, Jan encountered not a single other soul for almost a city block, and he was certain that some horror movie he’d seen was filmed there. Then he spotted the alleyway, glanced at the rusted adjacent buildings.

[i]Marwood & Sons Fine Furnishing and Coffins.

Chang’s Tuna Co.[/i]

“Ah.” Jan slipped between them and began searching for signs of the alleged confrontation. He didn’t have to look long. About halfway down the alley the ground was soaked with dried blood—someone could’ve mistaken it for splattered paint though. There were bits of glass from a broken smartphone scattered nearby. He pulled out the documents again and read from “gangbanger #2’s” account, as “Gangbanger #1” hadn’t been able to give one:

So we were takin’ the night’s prey into this alley in the Ghosts. We’d gotten the prey all quieted down, but then this guy…he just ‘whoosh!’ jumped down from the furniture place’s roof onto [#1 name]‘s shoulders and started beatin’ on him. Our guy was down before either of knew what was goin’ on.

Jan cocked an eyebrow. ‘This one certainly has a way with words.’ Jan looked up, shielding his eyes from the Sun. The roof was a good twenty feet above. Anyone jumping from that height would certainly be injured by the fall. Jan continued through the account:

He was kinda short, maybe a dwarf or sumfin.’ I dunno what he was takin’, but those punches he threw were f***in’ wicked. Like, [name of gangbanger #1] got downed by a single one, and then the dude jumped on him again and just beat into his face like ‘pow-pow-pow!’ The guy was screaming like an animal the whole time. And once [#1] was out cold, he freed [prey redacted] and told [redacted] to run. Then he came for me, and next thing I know I’m in an ambulance. It was superhuman, dude. Like, whatever he does, I want some.

Jan scrunched his face and massaged his temples. ‘Maybe Janice is wrong and her men caused all this. They sound…high.’ Jan considered calling Janice and telling her that her men had shot up and then beaten the living daylights out of each-other and then found an attacker on Google Images, but he knew she wouldn’t accept that. The woman was meticulous, so he’d have to find some flaw in the story to convince her. Jan resumed his search. He took a few photos of the scene with his phone, making sure to capture the bloodstains and mentally marking the positions of each character in the account. It was all vexing.

‘None of this is right!’ thought Jan. ‘The accounts are all straight out of a Netflix miniseries—there’s just no way this actually happened!’ He paced back-and-forth along the alley, vainly attempting to imagine a possible scenario. Then he paused, cocked an eyebrow, and saw it: nestled between stacks of scrap wood in a heap that smelled like piss: a shard of blue in the black. Jan quickly consulted the account of Gangbanger #3:

So after [#2] went down I started to understand what was happening, so I rushed at the guy and landed a kick in his side. I knocked him back into some crap against the wall and he slumped over. I thought I’d broken his back or something like that, but then he just jumped up, tearing that cape thing he was wearin’, and roundhouse kicked me in the gut—just like Chuck Norris would!

Then Jan looked at the photographs that #3 had taken before passing out. One was too blurry to make anything out, but the second one was damming: the figure, clothed in black with navy blue trimming, covered by a ridiculous mask, and flaunting a midnight azure cape. The whole getup looked like some cultural Halloween costume, spawning Jan’s ‘Ninja’ nickname. Anyways, this realization made Jan’s eyes bug out as he approached the heap. He wrapped his hand in his handkerchief and drew the nylon out. It was torn rough, and the color of the Pacific at dawn. The heap of wood was crumpled too, just like someone had fallen on it. ‘My God.’

Jan quickly wrapped up his search and proceeded back to the Bus Stop. He especially hated the poor district of this town anyways. On the ride home he made a mental note to meet again with Janice. She was right: there was a mouse. But to catch the mouse Jan would need more than clues. He’d need cheese, and by that he meant one of her ‘hunting parties.’


Somewhere across town, lunch was fresh in the stomachs of 433 eighth-graders, and about 35 of them were disrobing in preparation for P.E. A few were washing, some were peeing. One was seeing something interesting:

“Whoa, Tommy!”

Tommy winced while pulling his shirt off and glanced at Chad Gillian.

“What?” Chad, who was midway into his gym shorts and frozen there, pointed at Tommy’s right flank, which was marred by a giant black and blue bruise stretching from his hip to breast.

“Where the hell’d you get that, dude?” The other boy’s mouth hung open, like Tommy’s wound was an issue of Playboy.

“I…” Tommy was bad with excuses—chronically. Just ask his mother! And today he was especially bad, so he concocted an especially horrible (but not false) one. “I fell yesterday.” He looked away and grabbed his green gym shirt.

“And did all that? You must’a had some fall.” The boy’s face contorted into a disbelieving smile.

“It was an accident, Chad. You done?” Tommy settled into his uniform and slammed the locker door shut. He actually liked Chad. From Preschool until fifth grade they were friends of some degree, but they grew apart like friends do. A shame. If only the Ibuprofen hadn’t worn off, then maybe he’d have been in a better mood.

“Yeah. Sorry.” Chad switched his attention to someone else as Tommy escaped from the locker room and headed towards the field as quickly as his size 7.5’s would take him. Tommy recalled Ali’s question from earlier, about the Soccer team. That must be what Coach Wiles had planned for the day, and it cheered gloomy Tommy up. He’d played Soccer for a few years; his own dad had taught him, and used to come to his pee-wee games. Tommy smiled.

“Hiura. I spy Tommy Hiura!” Falling out of his trance, Tommy noticed Captain Ali Kamal at the other end of the field, Team A gathered around, and smiling broadly. “Thought I’d forget about you? Well fear-not, Tommy, you’re always welcome on my team!” Some of the other kids chuckled, and Tommy blushed, making his way over to the group.

“You two should get a room.” Joked Katie-from-down-the-street.

“Only if Tommy truly loves me!” rebuked Ali, placing a hand over his heart and bowing to Tommy. The whole team broke out in giggles, but Tommy just rolled his eyes. Ali directed the team’s attention to himself and gazed like a vulture at the other team about ten meters away. “But really, we’re gonna roll this game today. Under my leadership this team will dominate the peasants of Team B! Who’s with me?” The eleven members of Team Ali shouted their approval, and the captain of Team B—an athletic girl who was probably named Maria—grew red in the face.

“Oh please, Ali. You guys couldn’t beat an egg, much less my team.”

Ali raised a finger and made to reply. But then a whistle sounded across the field, dissolving any sense of fight among the kids. Instantly, everyone turned to the sound of the noise and stood at attention.

Enter Matthew Wiles: 250 pounds of toned muscle covered in a mild layer of sweaty fabric. This narrator swears that man came from the loins of Shaka Zulu himself, and was mothered by the Goddess of Gym Teachers. Nobody stood up to him,four hell, nobody could! He was, in fact, six feet and six inches tall. Anyways, Wiles let his whistle fall to his neck and examined the teams.

“Are you girls done cat-fighting?” Nobody said a thing. “I said, are you done?” He raised his voice very slightly.

“Yes sir!” rang out the whole class. Wiles’ mouth curved slightly into a smile.

“Very good.” The day seemed to grow brighter with that tone-change. “In that case, we’ll begin today’s Soccer game. Since you’ve already split up into teams, I see no reason to shuffle you around again. And just so we’re clear, this is a clean game. I want no roughhousing, no kicking other people—none of that at all! Any questions?”

Not a single one of them dared ask a question, for to do so would mean certain death! Okay, so that was a bit melodramatic, but anyways, they played a Soccer game. Captain Ali took advantage of his friend Tommy’s experience and placed him as the Attacking Midfielder, while Ali himself played Goalkeeper. Maria and her comrades on Team B fought valiantly, but the A’s led by Tommy ran circles around them for some 20 minutes. Tommy and his Wingers shuffled the ball among themselves, holding it out of B’s hands, and scored three goals (four if Jesse Marko hadn’t deflected the ball that one time). At the halfway point of the class, Coach Wiles called a break, noticing the fatigue of the players.

“Everyone take five! Drink some water!” The teams broke back into their groups and some took turns at the water fountain. Ali found Tommy on the bleachers, looking a tired. He took a seat next to the smaller boy.

“Nice job out there. Keep this up and we’ll rout them for sure.”

“That’s great, Ali.” Tommy looked off into the distance as if Ali wasn’t there. Ali felt a bit hurt, and also noticed that Tommy was clutching his side.

“I saw that this morning Tommy, when we were getting ready to leave Math. Is it giving you trouble?”

“No. I’m fine.” Lied Tommy. In truth, he could really have gone for another painkiller, and he was beginning to ache from all the exertion. Ali sighed and took a sip from his own water bottle.

“Want some?”

“No. Thanks.” Ali put the bottle down and stared at Tommy until the other boy noticed and made eye contact. Ali smiled. He’d always found Tommy pleasing to look at—not in a romantic way—but Tommy was simply good-looking. The almond-shape and color of his eyes were real head-turners, but Ali wasn’t ogling this time—Tommy saw concern there. “What?”

“You’ve just been a little weird recently, Tommy.”

“Whad’ya mean?” Tommy sneered, pursing his lips.

"Like, you’ve been surly and secretive, moreso than usual. You’ve been moping around like some high-schoolie asshat, and it’s been a solid three months since we had Halo Night. It just worries me, because like ever since your–"Ali stopped, realizing he was treading dangerous emotional waters—and Tommy’s eyes were pleading him not to sail further. “Anyways, Sorry Tommy.”

“For what?”

“For that.” Ali looked up and noticed the teams reassembling. “We gotta get back to the field soon, but just know you should talk to me. If something’s bothering you, I’m your man, and it pisses me off sometimes that you don’t realize it.” Ali softly punched Tommy in the shoulder and sauntered back to the goal. Tommy followed him.

What followed sounds strange, a little like one of those stories people tell at family gatherings several decades after the fact, but it never took on that tone for Tommy. When it was brought up twenty years later, Tommy reiterated it was an accident and apologized for it again; however, Maria (yes, that’s her name) didn’t hold it against him for nearly that long. In short, Team B rallied. Captain Ali’s plans for a perfect game were foiled as Maria and her two flankers spun around a now-tired Tommy and landed three goals—all in a long and humiliating ten minutes.

Sensing his imminent defeat, Ali made a series of urgent gestures and shouted several words at his team, specifically Tommy. The specifics of his message are irrelevant, but it suffices to say they picked up the pace. Tommy and his flankers, Josh and Ayana, fell back and stole the ball back from Maria as she closed in, tearing up the grass as they juggled it among their team. Maria took the ball back, lost it again, and chased the poor thing around until the fatal event.

A relatively-unskilled member of Team A had kicked the ball towards B Goal, but with insufficient force. Both Tommy and Maria, seeing the ball about halfway between them, closed with the speed only a tie can create. Tommy saw victory if he could hit the ball here, as B Goal lay directly beyond. Both he and Maria wound up for kicks as they approached, building up a force that gambled upon victory. Maria landed first. The ball was gone, but Tommy had put too much weight into it. For Tommy, that was a dangerous amount, and he floated for a brief and terrifying moment—until his outstretched foot connected with Maria’s shin.

There was a crack like some cruel creature splitting a Kit-Kat, then two sweaty middle schoolers smashed into each-other and then the ground. One fell fast on his hands and knees, skinning his palms. The other flailed headfirst into the field, face frozen in shock. There passed a silent moment of utter confusion, and then Maria screamed.

Maria’s wails were first unintelligible, and then gradually formed into obscenities and insults against Tommy Hiura that were too colorful for even this story. She unsuccessfully tried to get up as all-consuming pain burned out from her leg. The other kids, too shocked to intervene, either gawked or looked at Coach Wiles, who vaulted over to Maria and tried to calm her down.

“Miss Chavez! Maria! Are you okay?”

“No goddammit!” she choked through tears. “It hurts!” Nearby, Tommy crawled into a sitting position and held his hands against his chest, trying to soothe them. In about two seconds he realized just swhat he’d done and scrambled to his feet, hobbling over to her.

“Maria are you–”

“Fuck yourself, Tommy!” Tommy recoiled, noticing the glares now focused around him. He held back his own tears, worried they’d make him look worse: not just a villain, but a girly one too!

“Mister Kamal, I want you to run to the nurse and bring her out for Miss Chavez. Hurry up!” Ali took off at lightning speed, turning back for an angry glance at Tommy that cried ‘Why, dude?’ “Mister Hiura, you’re to stay right here.” Wiles didn’t look up, but focused on keeping squirming Maria still.

“Sir, I—”

“Shut it!” Tommy shut up. He felt wetness. Examining his shirt he realized that his palms had been bleeding into his gym shirt, and much of it was now stained red. But there was something else—another wetness closer to the ground. Tommy looked down with horror at the dark region on his pants. Tommy thought his heart would stop. That hadn’t happened in so long, but it had now. It was no use now—he cried. Tommy Hiura: villain, pansy, and now pants-wetter. Maria was not doing well though, so nobody had any sympathy left to give him.

After Maria left on a gurney and the other kids changed into normal clothes, Coach Wiles finally sent Tommy off to the nurse while he called the boy’s mother. Tommy waited in the front office, hands bundled in gauze, wearing loaner sweatpants and anticipating the woman’s approach.

Now enter Lauren MacArthur (formerly Lauren Hiura). She had once been a very happy, blonde, Southern Belle who laughed at the most un-funny jokes and displayed genuine excitement about everyone and everything. She was also the kind of mother who insisted on her boy having an outfit and eating vegetables of every color on the rainbow. She occasionally still had those days, but today was certainly not one of them. A darkness descended onto the front office, and it followed her to the Principal’s office, turning up papers and moods as it went. The silent squall dragged Tommy in too, but didn’t allow him to speak as she apologized again and again to Coach Wiles and Principal Cuomo, both of whom ignored Tommy off in the corner. The storm lost momentum after that, and Lauren sufficed to take Tommy home rather than let him ride the bus. She might as well have dragged him out by the ear.

A few minutes later the two were stuck in the after-school traffic that bogged down 4th and Zaragoza every weekday at about 3:45. Lauren was completely silent, and Tommy squirmed in the passenger seat from the itch of his wet undies. He didn’t dare say anything. His first syllable would certainty ignite the tirade that was sure to come—only sooner. He sat there and worried what might become of him in the coming days. Putting aside the fact that his mother (or Maria Chavez) might kill him, his days of unobtrusive loner-ness were over. People who used to ignore him would now sneer at him—whisper things as he walked by. He shuddered. Tommy firmly believed that there is such a thing as bad press, and it was all going to be about him.

“Do you want to tell me why you kicked that poor girl, Thomas?”

Tommy avoided looking at his mom, but he could tell she was tearing up. He mumbled something approximate to an “mmmphmm.” Lauren sighed.

“Tommy don’t do that. This wasn’t just a simple, accidental kick. If it were, Maria’s wouldn’t be in the hospital because of you. I’ll find out if you’re suspended later, and there’s a chance her parents might press–” she stopped and pondered for a moment. “I can only be sure what to do with you if you tell me why.”

“It was an accident, Mom.”

“So you tell me.” It was the tone—that mild twinge in her voice—that told Tommy his mother didn’t believe him. She probably thought he was angry, spiteful, and acting out; but she was, as usual, too afraid or hopeless to take him to task. Lauren’s presumptions weren’t unreasonable though. Tommy was angry. Often he was downright furious for no reason, and any neighbor not living in one of Vista Del Mar’s famous Cold War Bunkers could attest to his ‘acting out.’ With the exception of Mr. Kamal’s son and a few others, nobody really wanted to be around him.

“I want you to take a shower when we get home.” Said Lauren. “Re-wrap your hands, wash them out. Make sure it doesn’t get infected.” She fell silent for a little. “We’ll discuss this more later. Also, consider yourself grounded.”

“Okay.” Tommy mumbled, eyes still trained elsewhere.


Somewhere in the more well-to-do side of Vista Del Mar, there happened a strange conversation in an office where everything seemed to be made of glass. One listening in might have heard:

“You want what?”

“Only one of your parties, Miss Quintus. The one, and I shall catch you a Ninja.” Declared Jan, finger pointed high as if he was pointing out the sky. His ex-consort Janice gazed on with something between astonishment and offense. “What? Is there a problem?”

“There most certainly is, Mister Abels.” Said Janice, who formed her hands into fists on the postmodernly-transparent desk. “You know very well that your endeavors are to remain separate from mine, and that collaborative work requires the Boss’s approval.” Jan sighed and threw up his hands.

He whispered “We’re already in violation of protocol by handling this problem without the Boss, Miss Quintus.”

“No need to whisper, Jan. This room is clean. Also, a Ninja?”

“Oh.” Jan returned to speaking volume. “Well, I’ve determined that this Ninja in your photos is real, and I even found a fragment of his costume at the scene.” Jan produced the Nylon strip and laid it on the desk. “However, your men’s accounts suggest this man is a skilled martial artist, and I speculate his amazing tolerance for violence may even be caused by the same drugs your men peddle in the poor boroughs.”

“So you want my party for…?” Janice trailed off, now twirling a two-thousand-dollar pen in her hand.

“I wish to use them to lay a trap. It seems that this Ninja has wizened up to your end of our operation. There is nothing else that connects the assaults, and he’s certainly been emboldened by his victory last time. Therefore, I wish to use your men as bait.”


“Essentially,” Jan produced a small metal case from his leather briefcase, “Your men will hunt—seeking out typical targets as per usual—and they will apprehend one. They are to be bold, to have no reservations, and they should not be afraid to let the prey struggle, essentially in whatever way will attract the Ninja. The police won’t respond anyways.” Jan opened the case as he spoke, revealing a tiny, pistol-like contraption with a thin barrel and optical scope. “Then when the Ninja attacks, I shoot him as your men fight him.”

“What is that?” asked Janice.

“Tranquilizer.” Jan beamed as he presented the weapon. “A new Czech model whose cartridges are extremely potent. One of these should knock out the Ninja, and I’ll have your men bring him to you. This way it’s clean, no medical paper trail or police report.” Jan saw Janice still wasn’t smiling, but she’d replaced the pen on the desk.

“I’m not sure, Jan.”

“It’s the best I can do with what we have, Miss Quintus.” Jan said. “Unless you prefer to wait for him to disrupt more of your hunts.”

“Alright, but remember that if this fouls up, Jan, you won’t emerge unscathed either.”

“I know, Janice. That’s why it won’t.”


Eventually the traffic let up, allowing Lauren and Tommy to escape the worst of 'Del Mar and drive to their suburban house that felt too big. When they entered Tommy retreated to his bedroom as he often did after school. Tommy threw his backpack into the corner and took a seat on his bed. He had the urge to cry, thinking about what had transpired today, but it just didn’t come. Sure, he and Maria weren’t friends, but it still hurt him. ‘No. No crying.’ He thought to himself.

Tommy Hiura was as selfish as any thirteen-year-old could be expected to be. He sat there dwelling on his own consequences for a little while, but eventually his heart sank further as it sank in that Maria had been hurt also. She would need her bone set. She would need a cast. Wasn’t she on the soccer team? If so, she wasn’t anymore. She would hate him. Her friends would hate him. Maria would glare at him. Her face blank, with her eyes like fire, almost like on that one night with Tommy’s Da-

‘Stop!’ Tommy snapped out of it and felt his bladder being full again. ‘I guess I’ll take that shower too.’ Tommy stripped out of the loaner clothes and started a shower in his bathroom (connected to the room, of course), and he peed into the commode before climbing in. He didn’t soap himself, apply conditioner, or any of that finery, but instead Tommy hung his head and let the water wash his various residues off: blood, pee, dirt, rage, the like. The water cleaned him inside and out, and the boy who stepped out, shrouding himself with a towel, shortly thereafter was not the one who stepped in.

This boy was different. How was he different? In short, this boy was tough. His face wasn’t plain, it was stoic and calm. His Asiatic eyes didn’t passively stare ahead—they glared and penetrated like needle-points. He was stronger this way, and Tommy liked it when this boy came out. The boy dried the water off and redid his bandages haphazardly, also taking stock of the bruise on his flank. It would be fine; the pain was already letting up. This boy wasn’t normal. He was tough.

The boy reflected further on Maria. He knew that she—or maybe the doctors or the school—might figure something was amiss. Tommy was, after all, quite small and classically unable to break a girl’s bone with a simple kick. But maybe they wouldn’t—stranger things did happen. The boy decided that there was nothing he could do to prevent that; however, the boy had bigger problems at the moment. The day had waned greatly, and as The Boy looked out his ajar window he could see dusk settling over Vista Del Mar. That dusk would soon fall into night, of which Tommy Hiura was afraid, and in which lay his chief objective.

But this boy was tough. He did not fear the dark but thrived in it. This boy had, after all, been born in it. So he decided to go back into the darkness, grounded or no, as Tommy Hiura’s mother would hardly miss him.

The Boy discarded his towel and put on some boxers, then reaching under his bed he removed a bunch of carefully-constructed clutter: A few dozen socks. A notebook or two. A pack of Goodnites from some months ago. He threw them all aside, revealing his suit in all its torn glory.

The damage rendered to The Boy’s suit really was a shame, as it had sentimental value to Tommy. Then again, the suit was secondary to the objective, and so The Boy donned it like on nights before and tied the tattered cape around his neck. The mask was soft plastic and simply covered the face, resembling a kabuto worn by medieval Japanese Samurai. Tommy had always thought it looked cool, and the other Boy thought it was practical.

Now, clad in the somewhat-ridiculous costume, The Boy peered out his window, finding the neighborhood empty as it usually was in the gloaming. Lauren was still home, but she would be occupied at the Television or in her room for the evening, not even calling her son down for dinner. The Boy was ready, and with a catlike leap he vaulted from his window to the house’s clay roof, and then again to a neighboring rooftop. He danced lightly over the tiles and jumped from house to house, retreading a well-worn path to the Ghosts District some twelve blocks away.


As their quarry approached from afar, a group of five men prowled the streets of the Ghosts. Four of them were unarmed, but one carried a tiny tranquilizer pistol in his jacket pocket and trailed behind the others. Jan, ever prone to introspection, considered Janice Quintus’ business. The whole idea had never suited Jan personally, but a job was a job and the boss had reached out to him through Janice. Perhaps he never expected it to last this long, or for there to have been so many slowdowns. Regardless, all was coming to fruition soon enough. The boss had said he needed ten, maybe fifteen more prey; and once he was done there would be profits beyond the wildest dreams of all involved. Jan could’ve salivated at the thought of what he could do, where he could go.

But first there was business to attend to. This Ninja had to be stopped, and once he was apprehended there would be a cover-up to orchestrate. However, to apprehend the Ninja, Jan and his men would need bait. So they hunted for it among the sweepings of the Ghosts (as those other four men did quite often) long into the night.