I originally developed the characters Matt, Jordan, Ally, and their nemesis, Rusty Nail, for The List. This story is a second for the series.
The sun was just barely touching the highest point of the distant hills. Setting, finally, but the fireworks were still endlessly away. A pebble bounced off the parking sign with a dull wooden thud and fell to the gravel.
“A direct hit,” declared Matt lowering his slingshot with slow pride.
“Now are you ready for those brownies?” asked Jordan with more than a hint of impatience.
“Alright, let’s go,” agree Matt, pocketing his slingshot.
They set off for Jordan’s family’s encampment of chairs, but almost immediately Matt stuck out his arm and turned him around again. Matt ducked down and motioned for Jordan to do the same. “There he is! ” he whispered.
“Who?” replied Jordan in a mock conspiratorial tone.
They crawled behind a row of parked cars and watched as the new kid, Seth, and his family walked by several yards away.
“The thief!” said Matt.
“Oh, not that again,” said Jordan with a groan, “how do you even know it’s the same shovel?”
”It’s one of a kind, and he has the one. What more proof do you need?” said Matt.
“Still just a shovel…” said Jordan uneasily.
“That shovel has seen a thousand summers, and cut a million paths! We found it in the Polluted Pond and it has been in the sacred trust of the Order ever since!” said Matt.
Jordan paused for a moment, and before he spoke Matt cut in again. “And her!” he said.
From the opposite end of the parking lot they spotted Ally walking towards Seth’s family. They all stopped for a moment, then walked on together.
“I knew a girl couldn’t be trusted. She’s a traitor! Come on, we have to follow,” commanded Matt.
“Nothing good will come of this: just missed snacks! My cousins will be here any minute, and they’ll eat all my mom’s brownies! I know it!” whined Jordan.
“Suit yourself” replied Matt, and he crept on, determined. Jordan hesitated only a moment before turning away toward the brownies.
Matt didn’t know what hit him before he was on the ground with a mouth full of sand. Dazed, he raised his head up a bit, but not enough to see behind. He spat dust and collected himself. “Rusty Nail,” he said in a flat voice.
“That’s right,” replied the infamous, nail-wearing mutant.
“I thought we’d seen the last of you at Doomuch,” said Matt as he lifted himself to his feet and turned to his opponent. Rusty Nail was surrounded by two of his minions, Necktie, who carried a deadly whip made of a dozen ties, and Stinky Sock, who never changed his socks, no matter what.
“We don’t have to be enemies, Matt,” replied Rusty Nail in a tone of forced friendliness. “In fact, I think we’re more alike than you realize.”
Matt was taken aback, and just stared quizzically as Rusty Nail continued.
“You see, I’ve been watching you Matt. I know about your problem…” said Rusty Nail.
“The way my slingshot always shoots too far to the left?” asked Matt.
“What? No!” he snapped, and paused to regain his steady tone, “the… shovel…” the last word rolled slowly out of his mouth, and seemed to soak into Matt’s consciousness.
“My shovel!” said Matt.
“I know your pain,” said Rusty Nail, soothingly, “I know what it means to have things taken from me… that is why I’ve decided to help you.”
“Help me!” said Matt.
“That’s right! Together we will vanquish that dirty slug of a new kid and return what is rightfully yours!” said Rusty Nail. His minions grinned with pride and Necktie cracked his whip.
Matt was stunned and his first thought was to break and run for it. But his thirst for vengeance raged within, and it spilled out to his face in a look of dark determination.
“Let’s do it,” declared Matt.
Rusty Nail nearly cackled in response as they turned together to pursue Seth.
A bead of sweat slid down Jordan’s face as he rounded the top of the hill, but the goal was within reach. From here he could see his family’s encampment of lawn chairs and the small folding table. A tupperware container mostly emptied of brownies sat on top of its lid. His cousins were sparring with glow sticks in front of the chairs. Just building up more of an appetite. He walked a little faster.
Jordan almost tumbled over himself to stop as Ally darted out from his flank, breathless.
“Not now, Ally, I’m busy!” he said, annoyed.
“Help … Matt… Rusty…” she struggled to speak.
After a pause she continued more coherently, “I was with the new kid Seth trying to track down the Ice Cream Man when I saw Rusty Nail tackle Matt. He was playing some kind of hunting game with his slingshot, I think, and Rusty Nail must have taken him by surprise. Rusty’s minions were all around him too, Necktie, Stinky Sock, maybe more!”
“I didn’t know what else to do! I ran to find you! Come on, we have to do something!”
Jordan gave a last, longing look towards the brownies, then they turned together and set off to rescue Matt.
“We’ve been walking forever,” said Matt, “why would he have gone this far?”
“He couldn’t have vanished,” squeaked Stinky Sock.
“And he didn’t get by us,” added Necktie.
“Minions! Split off and scout. Be quiet! report back if you spot him,” commanded Rusty Nail.
“Yes sir,” they said, and departed in opposite directions.
“We’ll make quick work of him now,” said Rusty Nail, and Matt grinned in response.
“Look, there’s no trace of the sun left!” said Jordan, exasperated, “where can they be?”
“Does Rusty Nail have a hideout around here?” asked Ally, worried.
“None we know of,” replied Jordan uncertainly.
“I can’t believe we haven’t seen any sign of Seth, either. I guess he found the Ice Cream…” said Ally, disappointment mixing with her concern.
“We’re out of daylight! Where are they?” said Matt.
“It’s hard to find decent Minions these days,” replied Rusty Nail.
They drudged on along a worn path of beaten grass slowly making its way to sand. Suddenly Rusty Nail perked up and pointed ahead. “There he is!”
The path made its way to a short wooden fence, broken where generations of kids had climbed. On the last solid post sat Seth, alone, eating a Super Blizzard Pop.
Matt and Rusty Nail dashed, rust rising behind. Seth looked up, startled, but was too shocked to move. Rusty Nail slammed into his chest and knocked him back off the fence, the Super Blizzard plopped into the sand.
Rusty Nail’s face was demonic in the dimness of the night, his silhouette lit only by the distant glow of lights far behind them.
“Now is your time Matt…” he said, slowly lifting the chain from his neck and extending the nail.
Matt clenched it in his fist, his furry building.
“Time for revenge. Time to join me. Use the nail and unite our forces forever!” Rusty Nail’s voice was almost a growl.
Matt moved towards Seth’s slumped body behind the fence. He gripped the nail with both hands and raised them above his head.
The sky lit up with sparks of red and yellow as the first fireworks exploded overhead.
Matt jumped back and stared into the flames for an endless moment. Another rocket slithered its way up and popped overhead.
“Don’t wimp out now, you worm,” breathed Rusty Nail.
“No,” said Matt quietly. He lifted the nail over his head again and yelled “Run Seth!” as he whipped around and thrust the point at Rusty Nail.
“Treason!” roared Rusty Nail as he caught Matt’s arm and slammed him to the ground. Seth scrambled to his feet and started to escape.
“You’re a dead man, Matt,” said Rusty Nail shaking with rage.
“There he is!” cried Jordan as he and Ally ran to the scene. Seth turned when he saw them, and together they charged toward Rusty Nail. Rusty Nail let out a shriek as he fled the assault, and ran off into the darkness, lit only intermittently by the burst of fireworks above.
After exchanging only glances, the four sat together, wordless, watching the show. The defining moment of the summer had come. When the last embers of the finale had burned out, Ally and Jordan rose first.
“We should head back…” said Jordan quietly.
“Go ahead,” said Matt, “I need a moment with Seth.”
“About the shovel… after this?” asked Jordan in a defeated tone.
“No…” replied Matt, forcing a small smile, “I don’t know anything about a shovel.”