Castle Roland

Second Place Winner

Posted: 6 Oct 16

A Fearsome Foursome

Copyright © 2016 By Parker Sheaffer

Damien Doolittle heard his mother calling his name from downstairs, but he chose to ignore her. Instead, he groaned, rolled over and pulled a pillow over his head.

"It's too soon," he whispered. "Not yet, just a few more minutes." He needed to get back to the dream, the beautiful dream of Cam, his boyfriend. In the dream they were kissing in front of everyone at school. In spite of the shocked faces of their classmates and the murmur of derision that was aimed at them, they remained defiant and displayed their love for all to see. It was a nice dream.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to go back to a dream when it's interrupted. It isn't like restarting a movie on television, so finally, harking to his mother's voice, Damien threw back the covers and ran to the bathroom.

Downstairs his mother set a plate with two pancakes in front of him and said, "I thought you were going to sleep all day, sleepyhead. Aren't you and Cam going to hang out? It's your last day before school starts tomorrow."

"Yeah, Mom. Last day of summer and the last day of freedom," Damien said, spreading butter over his pancakes. "We're getting together at ten so I've got time."

"What do you kids have planned for today? I hope it's something outdoors and not a day of sitting in front of a video game," she asked, smiling.

"Don't worry, Mom. We're meeting up with Bret and Beth and going on a picnic, maybe to the swimming hole."

"That will be nice. Be careful and don't drown. I'll make you some sandwiches."

"Okay Mom, thanks, and I promise I won't drown," Damien said with a grin as he wiped syrup from his face.

After breakfast he went back upstairs to shower and pick out what to wear. It was important to look sexy for Cam, sexy but not too slutty. As much as he wanted to take his relationship all the way with his boyfriend, they were both still too timid to proclaim their feelings for each other to the world. Instead they held hands and kissed when they were alone. At thirteen years old they had not yet gained the confidence that would make their lives easier when they were older. Everyone said that things would get better, and Damien certainly hoped so. Maybe someday it could be like it was in his dreams.

Settling on a pair of yellow shorts and a white shirt to show off his tan, Damien decided to wear his bathing suit under his shorts instead of carrying them. Choosing to be a bit daring he put on his black Speedo. Cam would love it. Examining himself in the mirror, Damien liked what he saw; a tall youth with dark brown hair, a slightly turned up nose that was decorated with a smattering of freckles, and a mouth that was not too wide or too small. All in all he was a nice looking boy; not as handsome as a model but good looking enough to be considered more than just cute.

He and his family lived in a neighborhood of small farms and country homes, too spread out to be considered a suburb. The roads were narrow and some were still only gravel. Cam's place was four houses away, but that was almost half a mile so bicycles were the favored transportation. It felt great to fly down the roads, not worrying about traffic. On a bicycle you were only limited by your own daring and the strength of your legs.

Cam wasn't ready yet when Damien knocked on their screen door. He could see Cam's mother hanging laundry in the side yard. She called for him to go on in.

"Cam's upstairs," she said. "I swear that boy's as slow as smoke in the mornings. I hope he's not like this when school starts..."

She was still talking when Damien went inside and raced up the stairs. Cam was standing with the closet door open, studying what to wear. He was dressed only in some tight boxer briefs, which hugged his smooth buttocks like a layer of paint.

Damien walked up behind him and whispered, "Good morning, Stud." He kissed Cam gently on the neck.

Cam turned with a big smile and said, "I heard you clomping up the stairs. I thought you would never get here." He planted a big kiss on Damien's lips. The two of them kissed for a minute before Damien broke away.

"I wish I could tell everyone how much I love you," Damien said. "I want to spend every day with you. It's just so hard."

"I know what you mean. Mine's hard too," Cam said mischievously.

Damien laughed and said, "No, Goofball. I mean it's hard being good."

"I hear it has to be hard to be good," Cam joked.

"Ooh, like I've never heard that one before. Come on, get ready. Wear those khaki shorts that I like so much. They make it look like you have an ass."

"You jerk, you know you love my ass," Cam said with a chuckle. Cam was, in many ways, the opposite of Damien. His blond hair was a pale yellow, almost white, and his lips were full and dreamy. His pleasant face became something beautiful when he smiled. Damien liked to make him smile.

Finally they were ready to go. Cam filled his backpack with some cold fried chicken and a few sodas. He put a large paper bag in the basket of his bike and said, "Let's go."

"What's in the bag?" asked Damien.

"A surprise," was the mysterious reply.

Down a country lane, past some fields and through some woods, they bicycled almost three miles until they arrived at their favorite hangout place. The river widened here and slowed. The water at the deepest was no more than eight feet and it was thirty feet across, perfect for swimming and relaxing. A beautiful area of grass and moss lay under the trees that ran down to the water, providing places to lie in the sun as well as shady spots.

Bret and Beth, the twins, were already waiting for them, their bicycles tossed to the ground. They sat leaning up against trees and watched their friends roll up. The four of them had been friends since third grade, when they found out that they all lived near enough to each other so that they could hang out easily. The twins were the only ones who knew that Damien and Cam were boyfriends.

"Hey Damien, hey Cam. What took you so long? What's in the bag, Cam?" Bret asked.

"Cam couldn't decide what to wear," said Damien.

"I thought since it's a picnic we should do things right," Cam said as he opened his sack. He took out a red and white checkered tablecloth and spread it on a flat, mossy spot. Then he brought out plastic plates and cutlery, napkins and plastic goblets. Finally he sat two small candles in the center of the tablecloth.

"Oooh, fancy," said Beth. "I like it. Thanks Cam, this makes it special."

"Yeah, cool," said Damien. "Let's leave our packs here and jump in the water. I'm already sweaty from the ride over here."

Bret said, "It is August, you know. Summer is a long way from being over." He began to pull his tee shirt over his head. His sister modestly stepped behind a tree to slip off her shirt and shorts under which she was wearing a red, two piece swimsuit. Damien wondered why she bothered with a two piece since the top was practically empty. Beth had not begun to develop a chest yet and she was embarrassed that her friends at school were much farther along in the boob department.

Damien watched Cam's face as he watched Damien unfasten his shorts to reveal the very skimpy Speedo. Cam's grin grew wider as he admired his boyfriend's smooth body and Damien was satisfied with his reaction. The four of them raced to the river and splashed right into it, yelling loudly with delight.

Upstream, in an old industrial quarter of the town, a large chemical plant still operated. The Nosiop Chemical Company had seen better days and was beginning to look pretty run down after fifty years of production. Business had not been very lucrative in the last decade or so, but now they had a new contract. A large conglomerate had come to them with a secret request for a new fertilizer that was supposed to revolutionize agriculture. They said that they needed to begin production in a low profile location to protect the secret of their formula, but Stubby Whitman, president of Nosiop, believed that they actually wanted to avoid notice by government regulators. The stuff, which they called Eco-boost had not been approved by the FDA or the EPA and the makers wanted to create a large batch for testing before seeking approval. Stubby didn't care about environmental regulations. Hell, his father's company had been the source of several substances that were eventually banned by the government as too dangerous. When the bans went into place they were stuck with tons of toxic chemicals that they couldn't get rid of, at least without paying a fortune for its disposal, so they dumped it into large tanks buried under the plant in various locations. Out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, those tanks were beginning to corrode and the nasty substances were leaking into the soil and out into the ground water. From there they began to make their way to the nearby river, a river that had already seen its share of pollution from decades of illegal dumping and overflows from Nosiop as well as other unscrupulous companies.

As our quartet of innocents were enjoying their youthful dip, back at the Nosiop plant things began to get interesting. Stubby Whitman was just enjoying a cup of coffee at his desk while he scanned some pornographic sites on his computer. His hand slipped into one of his desk drawers, fishing around for another chocolate doughnut. Brown crumbs already speckled both of his chins and his wide tie.

Suddenly his door flew open and his plant foreman, Henry Crane, rushed in. Stubby was so startled that he spilled some coffee in his haste to close the computer page of naked girls.

"Mr. Whitman, Come quick," the excited man said.

"Dammit Crane, you made me spill my coffee. What the hell is your problem?" Stubby yelled.

"Oh, Mr. Whitman! It's bad news. There is a broken pipe on tank number 8 and Eco-boost is pouring all over the place. There is no shut off valve on that pipe. What should we do?" the man said frantically.

"Aw shit! How the hell did this happen, Crane?"

"Well Sir, someone hit it with a forklift. Tore it completely off. Sir, the stuff is making everyone sick. Men are gagging and vomiting everywhere."

"Shut down the pumps from the control room and just hose the stuff out with the fire hoses," Stubby said. "Do I have to tell you people everything? Can't anybody think for themselves?"

"But Sir, if we wash it out, won't it just get into the river?" the foreman asked, wringing his hands.

"Who gives a damn? We've always dumped stuff in the river. Everybody does. It doesn't hurt anything. I just hope this isn't going to cost us much, but if it does I'm taking it out of your salary," Stubby grumbled.

Soon after this heated exchange a green liquid began to make its way to the river's edge. The soil, already soaked with the contaminants from the leaking underground tanks, absorbed the new chemical and a weird reaction began to occur. A grey mist formed on top of the soil, the earth began to bubble slightly, and as the mixture reached the water the plants turned brown, the fish and frogs fled, the wading birds flew off in alarm and the water gained a smelly, iridescent sheen.

The kids had taken a break from the swimming hole and were lying back on the bank to dry and rest. They had worked up an appetite and had eaten a sandwich.

Damien said, "This is really great. I just wish we didn't have to head back to school tomorrow."

"Me too," said Bret. "But we will have the weekends for a few more weeks. We can still come here for a while longer."

"Yeah," said Beth. "I never get tired of the swimming hole."

"I'm about ready to jump back in," Cam said, jumping up and grabbing a rope that hung from a tree limb above them. They didn't know who put it there but it allowed them to swing out to the deepest part of the river and drop right in. Cam swung out over the water, unaware of the approaching danger from Nosiop, and dropped into the river with a big splash and a yell of joy. Damien quickly joined him while the others just swam out. Beth was the first to notice the change.

"What's that stink?" she asked, looking at Bret accusingly.

"Hey, don't look at me," her brother laughed.

"Guys, check out the water. Why is it shiny? What's this stuff floating on it?" Damien asked. He looked at his hands and saw that they were coated in something slick and stinky. "Yuck, look at this stuff."

The others found themselves coated with the foul material and tried to wash it off, but to no avail.

"Gross, I swallowed some of it," Cam cried, rubbing his face forcefully and spitting.

"Let's get out of the water, now," Damien said and splashed for the shore.

No one had brought a towel so they tried to wipe themselves with the table cloth, with leaves, even with their dry clothes, but the stuff clung to their skin like glue. The stink filled their noses and stung their eyes.

"I'm going home and getting in the shower," said Cam, as he hopped on his bike. The others agreed and, without stopping to change, they peddled off as fast as they could for home.

Damien scrubbed himself all over until the hot water ran out. He began to feel tired and a little feverish so he told his mother that he wasn't feeling well. He said nothing about the water in the river because he was afraid that she might forbid him to swim there in the future. She felt his head and told him to go lie down and rest. Later she checked on him and found him asleep. When she woke him for dinner he said that he wasn't hungry and wanted to sleep instead. That worried her and she said that if he wasn't better by morning she would take him to see a doctor.

Damien had a restless night and twice he ran to the bathroom with diarrhea. Fortunately he awoke just in time to make it to the toilet so he didn't soil his sheets. When he did sleep he was haunted with troubling dreams in which he felt lost and alone and scared. There were strange shadows all around and when he did dream of people they were all strangers. Finally he woke up, sweating and breathing hard. For once he was glad to be awake. Slowly getting out of bed he found that he did feel better and was relieved that his symptoms had cleared up. He took a shower and ate a big breakfast so his mother, relieved that he was improved, sent him off to school. Damien couldn't wait to talk to the others and see if the water had made them sick, like him.

Cam was already on the bus, saving him a seat. Damien flopped down beside him and gave him a big smile. Cam smiled back and said, "Good morning, Sunshine. How are you feeling today?"

"Better. I was worried yesterday because I felt hot and tired and last night I had the trots. Whatever it was went away overnight, though. How about you?"

"Gross. That water burned my eyes all night. I thought I would never get that stuff off me. I feel fine today. I wonder how the twins are," Cam said.

"We'll know in a bit when we get to school. I wish we all rode the same bus. They'll probably be waiting for us in the hallway when we get there."

When they saw Beth and Bret they waved and ran to greet them.

Beth said, "I still smell that stuff. It's like in my nose and I can't get it out. I took three showers and used a half a bottle of body wash and I still stink."

"I got it off all right, but I sure felt funny. I'm better now, too," Bret agreed.

Everyone was relieved and although they were sorry that summer vacation was over they were still happy to see their school friends and to be finally starting high school. Theirs was a high school and junior high combined, so there were students from the seventh and eighth grades mingling with the four high school grades. This was good because it meant the four friends were not facing a totally new school. They were on familiar turf, with faces they recognized. It was only the classes that were harder.

Professor Alistair Owenby taught chemistry at the same high school, but only for juniors and seniors. He was not a full time teacher, taking a few classes each week to supplement his income and fund his home lab. Professor Owenby was a little cracked. There were two things that he wanted from life, easy money and fame, and so to that end he was trying to develop a serum or potion that would make him rich and the envy of everyone.

If Hollywood ever made another movie of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and wanted someone to play Icabod Crane, they would probably come looking for Professor Owenby. Small, scrawny, with a protruding adam's apple that was exceeded in size only by his nose, the professor resembled the stereotype of a nerd.

But now his new tonic would turn any ninety pound weakling into a Charles Atlas overnight without all of the tiresome weight lifting. Men would flock to him for his magic draught, and pay a fortune for it. His name would be written in the history books along with Pasteur, Salk, Curie and Einstein. He would change the whole world.

Standing in his private lab, his doors locked against spying intruders, these visions played through his mind as he prepared for the final step of his experiment. The professor lifted a vial of liquid steroids to the light and admired the ruby hue. Carefully upending it into a flask of testosterone, an expensive ingredient, he slowly let it trickle in. Swirling the mixture until it turned rosy he then added it to a beaker of perspiration, laboriously collected from various bodybuilders.

"Now," he said to himself, "I just have to add some heat and I'll be done."

The Bunsen burner soon caused the liquid to bubble and steam. The vapors were collected in a coiled tubing and condensed. From the end of the tube a small drop of liquid formed and dangled enticingly, waiting to drop. When it fell at last it landed on a small round tablet of neutral material and was absorbed. The professor shouted, "YES!" and picked up the pill to admire it. He quickly placed a test tube under the coil to collect the rest of the magic juice.

"Now, I need a test subject," he said as he approached the small cage that housed his Rhesus monkey. Grinning in a friendly way he cooed, "Mika, my sweet pet. I have a treat for you. It's something yummy." He pushed the pill into a half peeled banana and passed it through the bars. Mika took the treat happily and immediately gobbled it down.

The professor watched eagerly for a reaction, but to his disappointment the monkey grew sleepy and curled up to nap. "Bah," he sighed in disgust and sat down to think. A few minutes later there came a loud noise from the cage and little Mika began to throw himself against the bars, desperately trying to break free. Finally he grabbed a bar in each tiny fist and pulled them apart as if they were made of rubber. The professor stared in awe at the creature's mighty strength. Mika leapt from the cage and began to destroy the lab. He smashed fragile glass instruments, dented metal equipment and made a break for the window before the man reacted and managed to jab him with a syringe containing a strong tranquilizer.

Both man and monkey were panting, one with excitement and one with exhaustion, as the professor put the small sedated animal into a stronger cage. He began to add the new development to his notes. The first thing he wrote was, "Eureka!!!" (One should always be wary around people who use three exclamation points).

As far as he could tell, the experiment had been a glowing success. If Mika was alive tomorrow he would try the formula himself.

All day at school Damien felt funny. It was hard to describe but his guts seemed to itch from the inside. It didn't really hurt, but it sure felt weird. When he mentioned it to Cam, his friend said, "That's bad. My eyes feel hot and tired. Do you think it's because of that river water? Did we get poisoned or something?"

"I hope it isn't that. Let's find the twins and ask them how they feel," Damien said.

When they met up with their friends at lunch time Beth said, "My sinuses are burning a little and I keep wanting to sneeze. My wrists hurt too."

"Yeah," said Bret, "I feel itchy and achy all over. It's been getting worse all day. It had to have been that water yesterday. Maybe we need to see a doctor."

"If we tell about the weird stuff in the water they might shut the swimming hole down and I still want to go there some more. Why don't we see the school nurse and see what she says. Just don't mention the swimming hole," Damien advised.

The four of them trooped off to see the nurse. They spoke to her collectively and told her about their symptoms.

"If it was just one or two of you I would accuse you of wanting to skip school, but since Beth is complaining too I'm going to send you home and request that your parents take you to a doctor. Wait here while I make some calls," the stern older woman told them.

No one's mom was happy about having to pick them up, but they all went straight to Doctor Reynolds for an exam. After each of them had been checked over thoroughly the doctor said that he could not find anything wrong with any of them.

"I recommend that you all go home and get in bed. If the symptoms persist tomorrow then we will go to the hospital for some tests. Other than that, I don't know what to tell you. It isn't the flu. Maybe it was something you ate. Anyway, call me in the morning if you need to," he advised them.

When Bret and Beth returned to their house they were surprised that Bret's dog, Howie, began to bark and growl at Bret. Howie snarled as if he didn't recognize his friend. They both thought it was really strange, but they were too tired to worry about it. Inside the house they passed by Lord Puffybottom, Beth's cat, and the cat began to hiss and spit at Bret. Bret rolled his eyes and said, "What now? I don't care, just get me to bed. My whole body hurts."

Their mother checked on them anxiously the next morning, expecting them to be sick, but she was delighted to find them feeling much better and ready for school. When they got there, Damien and Cam were waiting outside for them.

"We feel good too," Damien said, "But Cam is still having eye trouble."

"Yeah, my vision feels all blurry sometimes. I have to blink and blink to get it back to normal," Cam said, blinking his eyes rapidly. "Oh my gosh," he suddenly yelled and clapped his hands over his face.

"What, what is it?" Beth demanded.

"For a minute there I could see through your clothes. It was like I had X-ray vision. I mean, you were totally naked," he said with wonder.

The others stared silently at him in surprise. Damien said, "Try it again."

"Okay," Cam said and blinked his eyes rapidly. "Whoa, oh Bret, you're naked," he laughed.

"Then stop looking at me," Bret yelled.

Cam began to look around at the other students as they milled about, slowly entering the school. "You guys won't believe this but it's like nobody has any clothes on. This is so great. I can see everything. Bobby Miller has a tattoo of a snake on his butt. Look at Neil's big ..., oh wow." He blinked his eyes again and his vision returned to normal.

"Hey, I can turn it on and off. Have you ever heard of this kind of thing before?"

"Never," said Damien. "What about people's bones or organs? Can you see through walls?"

"I can if I use a window," Cam joked. "Seriously though, I couldn't see anything else, just people's skin."

"This is totally weird," said Bret. "It has to be because of the river water. The only thing I noticed different is that our cat and dog both hate me all of a sudden."

"And my nose is still sensitive," said Beth.

Just then a big jock shoved Damien aside and said, "Out of my way, freshman," as he pushed his way past.

"Shit," Damien exclaimed as he fell back against the wall. He shot the guy an angry scowl.

His friends frowned at the older boy's rudeness and they saw an odd thing happen. The boy suddenly stopped and got a funny look on his face. Then he raced over to the boys' bathroom as if he had an emergency.

"What do you think got into him?" Cam asked.

Damien was struck with an idea. He saw Principal Miller standing outside his office watching the students arrive. He wore his usual baggy slacks, white shirt and wide tie that was too short. "Shit," Damien whispered. The effect was immediate. Principal Miller's facial expression changed from bored to frightened. He stood up straight and marched back into his office.

"What the hell is going on?" Beth asked.

"I don't know," Damien said, "But I think maybe that water gave us super powers."

"Yeah right," sneered Bret. "The only people with super powers are guys like Scorpion Man and Power Dude, the ones who are always on the news, you know?"

"But Scorpion Man got stung by a radioactive scorpion and Power Dude was blasted with cosmic rays. That's how they got their powers," Beth reminded her brother.

"And remember, The Whirlwind got caught in a particle accelerator accident and now she can make twisters," offered Cam.

"That's right, and don't forget The Snowman, and how he survived a fall into a tank of liquid nitrogen. Now he can create blizzards," Damien said. "I'll bet we were all changed by whatever chemicals we were exposed to. Wait and see, I'll bet we are all in for a surprise."

Later that day at lunch Beth was eating a salad with cucumbers and it made her burp. Instead of belching aloud she tried to hold it in by keeping her mouth closed. When she did she noticed something move inside of her, something in her chest that she had never felt before. It didn't hurt, but when she finally exhaled there was a strong odor that came out of her mouth.

"Jeeze, Beth. Use some mouthwash," Bret said with a laugh.

"That wasn't normal," said Beth. "That was weird. Let me try it again." She concentrated and found the area in her chest that she felt move before. Exhaling, she thought of pizza and a distinct odor of pepperoni flowed from her mouth.

"Wow," whispered Bret. "That was pizza. Do something else."

The kids around them were sniffing the air and looking puzzled.

"Okay, let's try onions," she said and breathed out a noxious huff of Bermuda onion stink.

"I think you found your super power, Sis. You probably better not test it out too much right now. You're pissing everybody off."

"It's not much of a super power. I think I got gypped."

Bret said, "I wonder what mine will be."

"Cam, pay attention," scolded Damien, as they walked to their next class. "You're staring at everybody like a weirdo."

"Not everybody, Damien. Just the hot guys. It's incredible, dude, I can see everything. It's like being in a nudist camp."

"Even the girls?"

"Who's looking at girls? Not me, pal."

For the rest of the day Cam tried out his X-ray vision, fascinated with his new toy. People began to notice his ogling and his apparent arousal. Finally, when his testicles began to ache, he turned it off so he could focus on his classes.

When Damien got home his mother told him that they had to go to visit his grandmother who lived across town. Damien didn't mind because he liked his grandmother. He just hated the drive over there because there were so many bad drivers on that road. They always arrived at Grandma's feeling stressed whenever they made the trip. This time was no different and they had only gone a few blocks when a big, expensive looking car pulled out right in front of them. His mother hit the brakes and honked at the man. The driver's reaction was to flip them off and slow down. He was purposely trying to annoy them.

Damien scowled and focused his will on the other driver. "Shit," he whispered. A moment later the car in front of them sped up and pulled into a burger place. Damien chuckled because he knew the guy was running to the restroom.

"I can give people diarrhea," he thought gleefully. "This is so great."

Not long after they got rid of the first bad driver they encountered a few more. Each of them found themselves on the receiving end of Damien's new power and, like the first car, each found an urgent reason to get off the road.

"I can't believe how easy this drive was," his mother said. "It's usually a lot more difficult, but today everyone just seems to have gotten out of our way. It was nice."

Damien thought, "You're welcome, Mom."

Beth and Bret were feeding the chickens after dinner. Bret wandered down to the barn to get some more feed when he heard a noise, a rustling from the bushes. He paused, wondering what it could be, and a large dog came bounding out. Bret hated big dogs, a fear that was left over from his childhood, so he froze. The dog growled at him and immediately the world changed. The dog that seemed large before now loomed over him. He looked up at it in wonder and tried to scream, but the sound that issued from his mouth was not a normal scream. It was a shrill sort of snarl. He hissed at the dog and felt his back arch and his tail stand erect. His tail?! Rather than run from the dog he attacked it, swiping at its nose with his claws and hissing loudly. The dog fled back into the woods and Bret tried to slow his racing heart. He looked down at his feet and saw paws. His legs were covered in orange and black fur. He fainted.

"Bret, wake up. Come on, wake up," Beth was saying to him as she shook him vigorously. "Why did you take your clothes off?"

Bret came awake and realized that he was indeed naked. He looked around and saw his clothing lying nearby. For a moment he couldn't speak as he tried to collect his thoughts. "You won't believe me, Beth. I think I turned into a tiger. There was a big dog and it scared me and I changed into something and chased it away. Beth, I was a tiger."

"O-M-G, Bret. You got your power? Wow, why couldn't I get something awesome like that? Try to do it again. See if you can control it."

"Okay, let me concentrate," he said as he closed his eyes and tried to focus on his body. He formed the mental image of a tiger and tried to make his body flow into it. The change was instant.

"You are soooo cute," his sister cried. "Bret, you did it. Look at you. Is that as big as you get?"

Bret looked up at his sister and she seemed to be twenty feet tall. He flipped himself back into his boy form and said, "What do you mean? I was a tiger, wasn't I?"

"Yeah, sort of. You were a little bitty tiger. I mean, you weigh what? About a hundred pounds?"

"One-ten!" he said, peevishly.

"It must be related to body mass because you're only about the size of a Bobcat. It's still awesome. You're going to have to do something about losing your clothes, though. Too bad they don't change with you."

"I can't wait to show Damien and Cam."

"Better not do it at school, unless it's in the locker room. Of course, Cam can see you naked anyway, so it probably won't matter."

"We need to work on your power now and see what you can do with it," her brother said.

The next morning the four friends met before classes began. Bret and Beth told their news and the other two were dutifully impressed.

Cam said, "Now, Damien, we just have to figure out your power."

"I think I have it covered," he said. "See those three jocks over there? They've been tripping and bumping some of the smaller kids who are trying to get by them. Watch this."

Damien nodded his head in their direction and whispered something softly. One of the boys looked surprised and embarrassed. He ran for the boys' bathroom while his friends looked amused. Damien again nodded and whispered. A second boy turned ashen and ran for the bathroom door. The third boy followed closely behind him.

"What was that about?" Bret asked.

"Diarrhea. I can give people the shits. All I have to do is focus on them and their bowels give way. It's a blast, no pun intended."

"Wait a minute," Beth said, sounding very annoyed. "You mean we get some sort of super powers and instead of super strength, flight, speed or mind control we wind up being Skunk Girl, Laxative Lad, Peeping Tom and..., and Pussy Boy? What kind of deal is that? Give me a break!"

"Pussy Boy?" Bret yelled. "Why can't I be El Tigre?"

Damien and Cam were laughing. "I'm fine with Laxative Lad," said Damien. "It's sort of cool."

"Yeah, and Peeping Tom is better than X-ray Dude, or something like that," Cam agreed. "Come on Skunk Girl and Pussy Boy. We have to get to class."

Professor Owenby was happy to see that his test subject was alive and alert the next morning when he went to the lab. Mika watched him warily through the bars of his cage as the man prepared another sedative.

"Now Mika, I hope you are going to be a good little monkey this morning. Don't make me use this needle on you again. Be calm my little friend and let me examine you," the scientist said in a soothing voice.

Mika allowed himself to be carried to the scales and weighed. Then he was measured in various parts of his furry little body. Finally he was photographed and returned to his cage. As he performed his examinations the professor spoke to a voice recorder. His voice revealed the level of his joy and excitement.

"The subject has gained two whole pounds in weight. His chest has grown almost an inch and his height has increased by more than two inches. He shows remarkable muscle growth in his legs and arms. The initial aggression seems to have subsided and the subject is now calm and in obvious good health. All in all, I call this experiment a success. It is time to proceed to the human test."

Adding his new formula, drop by drop, to a glass of water he looked at it closely, then took a deep breath and downed it all. If he had been more observant he would have seen the strange red glow in Mika's eyes.

The four friends met that Saturday at their usual place by the river. The water no longer exhibited its oily sheen, but a peculiar odor still lingered in the air. Plants that bordered the river seemed to be wilted, or even dead, so the foursome decided against swimming.

"So, what's been happening?" asked Damien. "Have you guys been practicing your powers? Have you found anything new?"

"I have," bragged Beth. "I can throw odors at targets. They come out of my hands instead of my mouth. Watch this." She waved her hand in Cam's direction and he immediately blanched.

"Damn, gurl! W-T-F. That was nasty," Cam yelled. "Smells like rotten cabbage."

Damien and Bret laughed. "Good one, Sis," said Bret. "She got Aunt Debbie after dinner last night. Everyone thought Aunt Debbie had farted. She kept denying it, but she was really embarrassed."

Cam said, "Hey, I've been trying to tweak my vision. I can see people's underwear now instead of just their skin, and I can see what's in their pockets. I think I can start seeing through other stuff too."

"That's great, Cam. That can be a really useful talent," Damien said, punching his boyfriend playfully on the shoulder. "I've been getting back at a lot of the guys at school who used to piss me off. I heard the nurse say that she thinks there is a bug going around the school because so many kids are complaining of bowel problems. I've been practicing my range and I can hit someone from about fifty feet away."

Bret said, "Well, I've gotten to where I can change into El Tigre pretty much whenever I want. It's getting easier every time. Trouble is, I always wind up naked when I change back."

"What's wrong with that?" asked Cam, giving him a wink and a grin.

Beth said, "Show them what you can do. They still haven't seen it yet."

Cam and Damien watched expectantly as their friend closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Instantly he vanished, more quickly than they could see, and his clothing fell loosely around a striped, furry cat. It was certainly a tiger, but only a young one.

"Isn't he adorable," gushed Beth. "He's so cuddly." She bent over to scratch her brother behind his ears and he snarled at her. Actually it sounded more like a loud purr.

"That's amazing," shouted Damien. "Bret, that's so great, dude. Can you understand us when we're talking to you?"

Tiger Bret nodded his head and yowled. He squinched his eyes shut and suddenly returned to his former shape, a teenage boy. A naked teenage boy. Clamping his hands over his crotch he told his friends to turn around until he could get his pants on. They giggled and turned away.

"I don't know why you're so shy," said Cam. "I've seen it anyway."

"By the way, Dude. Your sister is right. You are an adorable little tiger," Damien said jokingly. "Hey, I was thinking. Should we tell people about our powers?"

"No way," said Cam. "Let's keep it all secret. It's more fun that way. Besides, if people know that you can give them diarrhea they will think it's your fault every time, even when it's not. And I don't want anybody to know that I can see them naked."

"Right," said Beth. "I mean, it's not like we have really great powers. When you think about it, it's really sort of lame. Let's keep it to ourselves and keep practicing. Maybe we can turn them into something better."

Bret said, "If we try, maybe we can become super heroes. I'd like a costume, but I would keep losing it I guess."

Professor Owenby woke up with a terrible case of dry mouth. His head ached and his body was really sore. A wave of dizziness swept over him as he looked around at his wrecked laboratory. Vague memories came to mind and he knew that he had gone berserk and wrecked the place himself. He remembered a glorious feeling of power and excitement coupled with an uncontrollable urge to smash and destroy things. He saw the twisted and bent cage that had held his monkey and wondered where Mika had gone. There was no sign of him but the broken window gave him hope that the creature had escaped his wrath.

He pulled himself together and began to clean up the place, trying to salvage what he could of his equipment. Fortunately he had put the serum in his safe before dosing himself, so it was protected. As he cleaned, he thought, "I need a name for this stuff. I can't call it Formula 409, that's been taken. What about Formula A, for Atlas. No, too scientific sounding. It needs to be more commercial, a catchy name. Maybe OMG Tonic. OMG for Owenby's Muscle Grower, or maybe it will stand for Owenby's Money Grower, hee hee. I'm going to be rich."

The professor raised the work table to sweep under it and suddenly he realized that he was holding it off the floor with one hand. That was when he stood and looked in a mirror. What he saw made him caper with glee. He was taller and no longer stooped with bad posture. His shirt was stretched tightly across his chest and arms, bursting from new found muscles, and when he stretched the fabric ripped. Quickly removing the rags that were once his shirt and trousers, he examined his body more closely. His new OMG tonic was amazing stuff. He looked as if he had spent decades working out. Now, for some reason he wanted another dose. If one dose could do this much, what could another one do?

Damien and Cam were feeling a bit bold. As they sat in the library working on a report for history class Cam reached over and took Damien's hand in his. Damien smiled as they discretely touched under the table. Unfortunately they were spotted by Charles Suttles and his cousin Lester.

"Psst. Hey, fags. Why don't you two go to the bathroom if you're going to be queer with each other. It's disgusting. I ought to kick your asses," Charles whispered.

Their first reaction was to be afraid and to let go of each other's hand, but then Damien felt angry and without thinking he shot a mental flash at both boys. Charles looked very surprised and stood up quickly. He clamped his hands to his butt and opened his mouth to say something, but the words didn't come out. Instead, everyone heard a squishing, liquid sound issuing from his rear end. Brown water poured down his legs and out of his jeans. His cousin had already fled for the door by the time Charles decided to follow him. He gave one terrified and humiliated look around the room and took off as other students broke out in laughter and squeals of disgust.

Cam gave Damien a high-five and they moved to another table while the librarian sent for someone to clean up the foul mess.

Meanwhile, Beth was having a little trouble of her own. She had been flirting with Liam Hartford and he smiled and seemed to welcome her attention. His girlfriend, however, did not care for it at all. Becky Norris was one of the mean girls at school. Her father was on the school board and she thought she ruled the other girls. She and her clique were hated by most of the students. Beth and Liam were standing at the water fountain, laughing at one of Liam's jokes when Becky purposely bumped into Beth, knocking her against the wall.

"Oops, oh dear, I should really watch where I'm going," she said in a very insincere tone. "You're Bessie, aren't you?"

"Beth. My name is Beth, as you well know, Becky. And yes, you really should watch your step," Beth answered.

"Beth, Bessie, Brenda... whatever. Liam, are you going to walk me to class?"

Liam looked embarrassed and mumbled, "Okay."

As they walked away Beth said, "Bye Liam, bye Bitchy." Then, purely out of spite, she focused on Becky's head and sent her the scent of sweaty body odor. It smelled as if she hadn't bathed in a month. Beth was pleased to see Liam separate himself from her and other students step away to form a clear area around Becky.

At the end of the day, as everyone waited for the busses to arrive, Damien and Cam sat in their homeroom. A young girl, Samantha, said, "My ring is gone. Mr. Maples, my ring is gone."

"What ring, Samantha?"

"The ring my grandmother gave me. I took it off to put some lotion on my hands and I laid it right here on my desk. It's very valuable and it's gone. Somebody must have stolen it."

"That's a serious charge, Samantha. Listen everybody. If you found a ring on the floor or somewhere else please return it to Samantha. Come on now, it didn't just walk away." They searched all around her desk and in her pockets and purse but it wasn't to be found.

That was when Cam decided to try out his new power. He began wandering around the room, pretending to look on the floor, but he was actually seeing into everyone's pockets. It wasn't easy because he had to try not to look at some of the guy's bodies instead. Shortly he saw the ring in Richard's pocket and he casually eased up behind him and whispered, "I saw you take it, but I won't tell if you just return it now. Put it on the floor by the trash can and pretend you found it there. Do it."

Richard's face turned red and he did as he was told. Everyone was relieved that the ring was found and Richard practically ran from the room when the final bell rang.

Cam was excited when he told Damien about it. "I finally used my power for something cool. It felt good to help someone. I think I'll try and find other ways to, you know, fight crime."

"That's great, Cam. All I've managed to do is stop a few jocks from harassing freshmen. Once they start shoving them around I send them running to the restroom in a hurry. It's fun, but there has to be something more I can do."

"Yeah, but it's still pretty great. Beth said that she has only used her power to get revenge on some of the mean girls, and Bret hasn't found anything really useful for his. Not that shape shifting isn't pretty amazing," Cam said.

Professor Owenby was in trouble. He had not foreseen that his new formula would have some strange side effects. Not only was it affecting him mentally, but it was also very addictive. His original increase in musculature and stamina had ebbed after a few days and he found himself wanting more. Mika was still AWOL and the professor assumed that he was calming down, wherever he was, so he thought it would do no harm to take more of the formula himself.

Meanwhile, he had been looking into the steps for getting his formula approved for production and the answers were not good. Getting the process to the production stage could take years and cost a fortune. The government required many stages of testing, performed by reputable labs. Patents had to be applied for and lots of legal loopholes jumped through. It all seemed impossible and as he began to see his impatient plans being thwarted, the professor grew angry.

His ire was increased by the side effects of the OMG Tonic, a severe form of roid-rage. He was quickly on the way to becoming not only a mad professor, but a mad professor as well. After taking a second and third dose of OMG he smashed things for a while but then calmed down and began to think. It seemed as if the world was out to get him, to destroy all of his plans and desires by littering his path with impossible obstacles. He would never be rich or respected. The more he dwelled on these disappointments the more his rage increased and he began to become paranoid, believing that unknown people were purposely trying to hold him back. It could only be the government that passed all of these ridiculous laws and regulations. Or perhaps the Intelligentsia, that secret cabal of international power leaders who were rumored to actually control the world. It could be more personal though. What if his unhappiness was being caused by his neighbors who were obviously gossiping about him, reporting his actions to the authorities. Whoever it was, they had better be careful because he would have his revenge. If the world hated him then it would also fear him.

"What's that wonderful aroma?" Beth's mother asked. "It's like roses and cinnamon and new mown grass."

Beth looked innocent and said, "I don't know, Mom. Maybe Dad is spraying something outside."

Later her brother said, "Nice one, Sis. You're really improving. I'm glad you can make good smells now."

"Yeah, I just wish I could find a good use for them. It still seems like worthless power," Beth lamented. "I found this drawstring bag for you, though. We can put some shorts in it and maybe you can hang it around your neck. That way when you change back from tiger to boy, maybe it will still be there and you will have something to put on."

"That's awesome, Beth. You're a genius."

Damien and Cam were playing a game at school. They strolled past the long line of lockers between classrooms and Cam checked to see what each person had hidden away. If they found something naughty or funny they would write down the number so that they could check later to see who owned that locker.

"Seventy-eight has a muscle magazine. I wonder if that means he's gay." Cam said. "Too bad it's not porn."

"Yeah. I can't believe how clean everyone is. I thought for sure that we'd see some drugs or porn or booze or something fun. That muscle mag is about the most interesting thing, so far."

"All we've seen are dirty gym clothes, books, food and papers. And I can't even read the papers because they're folded up. Book covers are all that I can make out," Cam sighed.

"Don't complain. You've got an awesome power and you're getting better all the time. Remember when you could only see through peoples clothes?"

"Yeah, that's still fun though."

Professor Owenby had not been to class in several days. He had called and told them that he was sick and would have to take some time off. After all, he couldn't let them see his improved physique because they would want to know how he had achieved it, and he wasn't ready to tell about his new formula yet.

Unfortunately, the school quickly grew tired of his absences and they sent him a letter terminating his position. The teacher who served as his substitute would take over his responsibilities permanently. Coming on the heels of his other disappointments, the dismissal letter made the professor fly into a rage.

"They can't fire me! Don't they know who they're dealing with? Those fools, those imbeciles. Alistair Owenby doesn't get fired! I'm a professor! Not some bumbling teacher of chowder headed children. Not a mere instructor of the intellectually deficient dullards. I'll show them who's fired. I'll make some fire of my own," he ranted, his own words further fueling his anger. He popped a couple more pills and sat down to stew and think. He needed a plan.

The professor went to his chemical closet for inspiration. Looking at the many jars and boxes of possibility he read the labels and said, "Hmmmm, if I mix a little of this with a pound of this and then pour some of this into it I can make an explosion. But I need a bigger bang than that. How about if I combine this with this and maybe some of this. Yes, that would shake the fools up and show them who they're dealing with. Oh, I have two pounds of this. It burns with a blue flame...."

Carefully combining one thing after another, the mad man created a rather powerful explosive device. One that was small enough to fit into a briefcase, but strong enough to level the entire school. He just had to get it into the place and then he could set it to go off in the middle of the school day. That would teach them all a lesson, a lesson they would never forget.

The next day at school, the four young friends were having a private chat in the library. They sat by the large windows that looked out onto the school parking lot.

Damien said, "I still want to keep my power a secret. In a way, it's kind of embarrassing. It comes in handy when I want to get someone out of my way, but that's about it. I wish I could do more."

Beth said, smiling, "Maybe you could work at the hospital, helping people with severe constipation. You know, give them some relief."

"Ha ha," Damien said.

"Hey, look at that guy," Cam said, pointing out the window. An old station wagon had pulled in and parked, and a weird looking man got out. He seemed to be misshapen, with one shoulder sticking up higher than the other. As they watched, he came closer and they could see that his face was bumpy and swollen. It looked like one of his jaws was thicker than the other, and his forehead bulged out over his nose. He walked in a jerky manner, as if one of his legs was moving faster than the other, sort of a sideways walk. He wore a lab coat that was much too small for him and the muscles in his arms had actually split the fabric of the sleeves. One of his feet was tearing through his leather shoe. In his meaty hand he gripped a battered and stained briefcase.

"Who in the world is that?" Bret asked. "It looks kinda like that old dude that teaches chemistry."

"Yeah, but what happened to him? He was a scrawny geek two weeks ago. Now he looks deformed," Damien said. "How does he look under his clothes, Cam?"

"Wow, that's crazy. It's like some of his muscles are huge and others are just big. I've never seen anybody like that before. What do you think happened to him? It's like he got stung by a giant bee, but not all over," Cam reported.

"Something doesn't feel right about this," Beth said. "I'm going to tell the librarian."

A minute later she returned with Miss Autrey, the elderly woman who ruled the library. One glance from her steely eyes could stifle the most unruly student.

"Why that does look like Professor Owenby, but I guess he's had some sort of accident. He isn't supposed to be here because he was dismissed a few days ago. I had better get Principal Miller. There might be trouble," she said, before hobbling away.

"What's in his briefcase, Cam?" asked Beth.

"He's got some bars of clay, or something, and some big firecrackers. Wait, it might be dynamite. I can't tell what any of that other stuff is."

"Hey, you don't think it's some kind of bomb, do you?" Damien said with alarm.

"I've never seen a bomb, but if I had to guess I would say that they look like that."

They watched as the professor entered the school and ran to the door to see him enter the chemistry lab. He closed the door behind him.

"What's he doing? Can you see him, Cam?" Beth asked.

"Yeah, he's putting the briefcase in the chemical closet. There's no one else in the room. What should we do?" Cam answered anxiously.

About that time Principal Miller and the librarian came down the hall. Damien said loudly, "He's in the lab, Sir. We think he's got a bomb."

"A bomb? Oh my," cried the Principal. "He was ranting about getting revenge when he called this morning, but I didn't take him seriously. The man must be insane. We need to clear the school. Miss Autrey, please go and call the police." Displaying a previously unsuspected streak of courage, the principal took hold of the doorknob and prepared to enter and confront the villain, but it was locked from the inside.

Damien said, "Beth, do you think you can clear the school? I'll bet a good stink would do it."

Beth laughed and said, "You bet I can. I've been saving up something for just a situation like this. I'll stroll down the hall and try to keep it moving in that direction." She strolled almost casually along, pausing at each classroom door to deposit a substantial reek. The three boys caught a whiff of sewer gas mixed with rotting fish and maybe a touch of tear gas. As she passed each room the door flew open and children and teachers made a mad dash for the front doors. Many of them vomited along the way.

"We need to get in that room and stop him from setting off that bomb," Damien said. "The door is locked, though. Man, I wish I had super strength about now. How can we get inside?"

"I can do it," said Bret. "I can transform and get through the air duct if someone will lift me up to it."

"But what will you do when you get inside?" asked Cam.

"Hey, this cat's got claws. I'll rip him a new rectum. Just don't lose my pants when I change. I'll need them."

Racing to the adjoining classroom Cam kept watch on the professor's movements while Damien stood on a chair to remove the cover and then held their small, adorable little feline friend up to the vent.

Bret pushed the vent cover from the other side and leapt into the room, landing easily on his feet. His landing was silent and fortunately the metal vent cover did not fall all the way off the wall, but dangled precariously by one corner. Bret quickly changed back into a boy so that he could catch it. He sat the cover quietly on the floor and padded toward the closet on his bare feet. Just at that time the professor walked out of the closet with the briefcase and a jar of acid. He saw the naked boy standing in the middle of the room and started.

"What the hell are you doing in here, Boy?" he said in surprise. "And why are you naked?"

Bret gasped and cupped his hands over his crotch. "I'm here to stop you from doing whatever it is you are up to. That's a bomb, isn't it?"

The professor grinned and said, "Indeed it is, lad. A fine one, too. I will blow this school and everyone in it to smithereens. All I have to do is add this last ingredient. I'll fill this condom with acid and simply place it in with the other chemicals and soon it will eat through the latex, triggering the explosion. I'm afraid that there is nothing you can do to stop me, so you should probably run away."

"Oh, El Tigre will stop you. Just watch this," Bret said, as he transformed into his tiger form.

The professor seemed shocked at first, but then quickly overcame his surprise. He sneered, "Oh dear, aren't you just adorable. But did no one ever tell you that a little pussy never hurt anyone?"

El Tigre proved him wrong. Like a small, orange tornado the boy cat attacked with teeth and claws. The professor's strength was mighty but his speed was not so improved. As he tried to swat at the cat he kept missing. Meanwhile his trousers were being shredded and his legs were leaking blood from the many scratches. Shrieking with frustrated rage and pain the deranged man jumped through a window, sending sharp fragments of broken glass everywhere. In his panic he forgot to leave the bomb behind as he fled into the nearby woods.

From his window, Damien saw him trying to make a hasty exit so he mustered his will and with all his force he shouted, "SHIT!" The man suddenly stopped with a horrified look on his face. Brown water poured out of his raggedy trousers as he stood transfixed, swaying with disbelief. He dropped the briefcase as he sagged at the knees, sinking to the grass. His head drooped as all of his strength left him. Too weak to throw the bomb away he could only look back at the boys with a helpless expression before a flash of light and a cloud of dirt and grass hid him from view. A loud boom shook the windows of the school and feces rained down from the sky, leaving brown streaks down the glass.

Damien could hear Bret calling for his clothes so he passed them through the door and stood guard while Bret got dressed. Beth and Cam joined them and they slipped away from the ensuing clamor without anyone noticing.

Gathering away from the crowd that milled about excitedly outside the school, the four friends grinned at each other and hugged.

"We did it, you guys," said Damien. "We're heroes."

"Super heroes," exclaimed Beth.

"We saved the day. I can't believe it," cheered Cam.

"El Tigre kicked some ass in there," bragged Bret, "but you were all awesome. It's amazing how our powers fit together like that. Damien, that was some punch you threw that old man. He didn't stand a chance."

"Thanks, and Beth, what a smell. My gosh, I thought I would puke, and I only got a little whiff," said Damien.

Beth looked at Cam and said, "I can't believe you can see through metal and everything now. That's so amazing. Great job."

They basked in the glow of their success until the busses came. School turned out early after the police and fire department investigated the break in and subsequent explosion. The friends stayed apart from everyone else and avoided being questioned, with the result that no one ever knew of their roles in the affair.

Meeting at the swimming hole that weekend they still felt elated over the way things had worked out and they happily looked forward to more adventures.

At the city zoo, a worker at the monkey section stopped a co-worker. "Ralph, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't there used to be ten monkeys in that enclosure?"

"Yeah, so?" Ralph asked.

"Well, now there's eleven. That big one in the corner seems like a newcomer. He's strong too. I saw him lift that log a moment ago. And talk about horny, I watched him mate with four of the females. And what's that a strange red glow about his eyes?"

The End, for now.