a 4-Part Story

written by Christopher F. Dalton

1.

His mother cracked the door. He sat with his back was to the hall, and stopped whispering when she stepped into the room. He was up already, playing with his Captain Mako action figure. It was a Thursday morning, the one hundred and thirty-third of sixth grade, and he was supposed to be getting ready.

“Let’s go,” she said.

He nodded and waited for her to shut the door. Captain Mako wouldn’t come back until she had. The door clicked after she sighed louder than usual, and he set the sixteen-inch action figure—not a doll—on his dresser.

In a flash, Captain Mako appeared. He wobbled a bit to get his balance, but his grey webbed hands found the dresser top quickly. Water squished out and splashed on the floor, adding to the puddle rapidly accumulating at the Captain’s feet. He stood six feet tall, skin covered in grey and silver scales and his pectoral fin emerging from the top of his head. Captain Mako was a mako sharkman, Captain of General Hammerhead’s forces. They were the guardians of the Carcharodon Kingdom, ruled by King Carcharias, a great white shark. The gills on the side of Captain Mako’s neck flecked open and closed rapidly.

Marcus rolled his eyes and glared up at the Captain.

“What?” Captain Mako asked, shrugging his shoulders.

“Mother hates puddles,” Marcus remarked.

“You called me here,” Captain Mako returned. “Besides, she can’t see me. You always panic when she opens the door. Like she can see my magnificent form.” He craned his neck upwards, saltwater drops running down the sides of his face, neck, and shoulders.

Marcus stared at the floor. The water sloshed around Mako’s grey booted feet.

“You stink today,” Marcus added, “did I tell you that?”

“Tuna for breakfast,” the Captain said with a wide grin. His teeth were razor-sharp and stained yellow. “Great source of protein. You should try it sometime.”

“Ick, gross, no way,” Marcus said.

Captain Mako crossed his arms. “Okay, Mr. BBQ sauce and mayo sandwiches.”

He leaned against the dresser, and it rocked back and forth under his weight.

“Unequal weight distribution, WTHeck? Furniture, geez,” Marcus scolded quietly.

“Marcus,” his mother’s muffled voice called from the living room. “Let’s go!”

He rose to his feet and pulled a new IZOD collared shirt from the bed. It was green with a white alligator on it. His mother had bought it from a large clothing store in the mall. He hated the mall, and especially that store. He hated getting lost in the immensity of the place, the chaotic order of things, and the shoe department.

“I thought you had an extreme dislike for that shirt,” Captain Mako remarked.

“Mother bought it, I wear it. End of story.”

Marcus reached out his free hand while holding his backpack with the other one.

“Before I get into that backpack, I must remind you, no contamination,” Captain Mako declared with his hands on his hips.

“Come on,” Marcus said, waving his hand around.

“Not until the solemn oath has been sworn,” the sharkman responded.

Marcus held up a hand and took a deep breath. “I, Marcus Martin, do solemnly swear to keep Captain Mako separate from other action figures of modern-day name brands that shall not be named.”

“No man who was bitten by a spider,” Captain Mako said, shaking his finger at the boy.

“I swear,” Marcus said and pointed to the shelf above his bed. His newest Spiderman action figure sat on the shelf, slinging his web toward the ceiling.

Captain Mako nodded his ascent and, in a blink, was a sixteen inch, vintage action figure, standing in a small puddle of water. Marcus took him up and put him in the backpack.

Three steps down the hallway found Marcus snatched into the bathroom. His mother doused his straight black hair — cut unevenly by some unskilled hairstylist at the local hair cutters — with water, and combed it into place for the time being. Then, with a smile, she stepped back and did a once over to make sure everything was nice and neat and tucked in and tied and so on. She nodded her approval, and they headed off to the kitchen to eat breakfast.

“Does Captain Mako want OJ this morning?” she asked with a smile.

Marcus’ breakfast consisted of the same thing each morning: toast, cheerios, and o.j. He felt it was a substantial breakfast.

“No, he had tuna,” Marcus said. He pulled himself up to the table and spooned Cheerios into his mouth.

“If your father found out you took Captain to school…” she muttered, and her voice faded out. The ping of her typing on the phone started up.

“He won’t know unless you tell him,” Marcus said. He received no response.

His mother leaned against the kitchen counter and stared at her phone. Every now and again, Marcus could hear the keys ping as she hit them. He heard her mutter under her breath a word he was not allowed to say.

“Mother,” he said.

“Sorry. Dad’s not coming home next week.”

Marcus felt the energy and life drain out his legs. Another six months. He knew it. He felt his backpack wiggle and knew that Captain Mako had heard the news as well.

“Shocker,” Marcus said, scorn on full tilt.

“That’s not fair,” she said. The cold slap of phone on granite countertop signaled her full attention was on Marcus now. “He has no choice.”

“This is America. He’s not a slave. He could leave the service,” Marcus muttered.

“It’s not that easy.”

“He’s a slave them.”

“The army is not a democracy, Marcus. He does what’s he’s told because he signed up for it.”

“Yeah, well, we didn’t.”

He ate his toast, and his mother remained silent. As he scooped up the crumbs off the plate with his finger, he heard the click and ding of her phone again.

“Ready?” she asked after he washed his plate in the sink.

He nodded, and she handed him his backpack. He lied. He wasn’t. He hadn’t been ready for sixth grade at the new prep school for a single day of the one hundred and thirty-two days he had attended. For ninety-three days he had been totally alone at school—lunch, recess, class breaks, library time. Alone. As in no one coming around him, no one asking him to sit with them, no one giving him their name. Then, his father was called to Iraq, bestowed on him Captain Mako, given Mako the charge to watch over Marcus, and some of the loneliness was gone.

The white Honda Civic bounced along the pot-holed street. He could feel her watching him.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I don’t feel good.” He didn’t. He never did. Not from the moment they got into the car until the moment he entered his bedroom at the end of school.

“You’ll feel better once the day gets going. Who knows, you might make a best friend today.” Her tone was weak and unconvincing.

“133 days and no friends, mother,” he said. “Not going to happen.”

2.

His parents decided to send him to this new private school over the summer. They gave him lots of reasons for pulling him out of the third school private school in three years—fourth school overall. Better teachers, better athletics (which he disliked), better library, and on and on. But Marcus knew the real reason. The one they never spoke about, which sat like a big pink elephant in the corner of every room of their house. The reason he had a cast on his arm for six months and four fake front teeth.

His arm itched as he thought about the cast, now gone since November. The principal of the school had inquired about the plaster on his forearm at the interview for admission. His parents made Marcus go into the hallway while they explained “the situation.” He had no idea how they explained things to the short Latino women sitting behind the enormous wood desk, and he couldn’t conceive of how they spun the fact he had been beaten badly by four boys who were angry over Marcus’ inability to run with the P.E. class, which yielded more laps for the boys. The four scoundrels had waited for him after P.E., set upon him like a pack of wild dogs, and the cast and missing teeth were the results.

Shortly after Captain Mako began showing up at recess, Marcus had told him what they had done. The Captain puffed his chest and shook his head, his eyes full of righteous fury.

“I would have pounded them for you, had I been there,” the Captain said, his gaze in the distance.

Marcus laughed and patted the warrior on the shoulder. “It’s ok. They don’t mean anything to me.”

The school came into view. It was housed on the grounds of an old church consisting of three domed buildings which held the office, the elementary classrooms and the gym. In front of the domes, a large half-moon driveway served as the unloading dock for the first through fifth grades. The lawn’s patches of grass wove in and out of palm trees, bent and twisted in all manner of shapes.

Marcus took in the ugliness of the area as they edged their way into line and waited for his time to get out. Children clambered out of their cars and walked toward the big domes. When they neared the teacher helper greeting the children, his mother reached behind his seat and patted his kneed. He placed his backpack on his lap, Captain Mako shifted inside, and Marcus patted the pack.

“I want you to have a special day. I love you.” She blew him a kiss. She glared at the backpack. “You didn’t bring him again, did you?”

“It was that or a pool of saltwater covering the floor of my room,” Marcus said, reaching for the door handle of the car.

“Right,” she said slowly, a half-smile wrinkling the corner of her mouth.

“Dad believes me,” Marcus said. “Captain Mako watches out for me. Like dad would if he were here. Dad asked him to guard me when he left.”

Her smile disappeared. Her face was pale.

The door opened, and the teacher helper said, “Hello, there, Marcus.”

Marcus stepped out, and the helper shut the door. He could barely hear, “I love you,” over the bang of metal.

He wove his way through the grounds to the classroom dome. He opened the door, and the musty air of the building blasted him in the face. The lights were dim; the walls were white and bare except for the occasional water stains snaking down from the ceiling. The carpet was old and worn and water-stained as well. It smelled like a wet shoe.

Reaching the center of the building, he stopped at room 105c. Muffled noises came from behind the looming door. He opened it slowly and stepped into Mrs. Evans room. Kids were everywhere – at their desks, at the pencil sharpener, at the trashcan, at the bookshelves. Noise, chatter, and banging filled the air. Mrs. Evans stood and approached him.

“Marcus, come in,” she said.

His eyes widened as she approached him. She was enormous. Wider than she was tall, she seemed to roll toward him as she spoke. For a moment he thought he wondered if she would crush him in her path.

“Why, Marcus, are you feeling well?”

He nodded another, yes. But, no, no he wasn’t.

She bent low; a waft of stale rose perfume filled the air around her. Her glasses slid off her face and rattled on the floor.

“You’re as white as a ghost. Come and sit down.”

She slowly turned and waddled toward an empty desk in the back of the room. Marcus picked up her glasses and followed her to her desk—right next to his own. She squeezed behind it and touched the top of her head. She looked around confused. She lifted papers on the desk.

“Where’d they go?” she asked herself.

Marcus cleared his throat and held out his hand. She squirted and reached for the glasses he held out to her. “Why, Marcus, thank you so much. I was wondering why everything was so blurry.”

She took the glass, perched them back on her nose.

A loud screeching peel of laughter froze Marcus in place. He couldn’t force his head to turn to look behind him. He knew the boy who was laughing behind him, and why the boy was laughing as well. A trance-like state took over his body. Marcus watched other kids talk to Mrs. Evans. He heard the bang of desks, the swooshing of papers being shuffled, and the clomping of shoes on the floor. But found himself unable to move or speak.

“Waz up, baby Marcus,” screeched the boy behind him.

“Reese, be quiet and sit down,” Mrs. Evans said and clapped her hands.

A stifled laugh followed, and then a thump announced Reese, the source of the laughter, the source of Marcus’ frozen state, had sat in his plastic chair.

“Marcus, have a seat and please put your supplies away,” Mrs. Evans said.

Her voice broke the power of the spell. Marcus pulled his chair out and sat down. Reese snorted so loud that Marcus jumped.

“Jeez, you really are a dingus,” Reese chortled. A swooshing sound was followed by a snot-filled spit wad landing on Marcus’ desk. Reese laughed again.

Mrs. Evans clapped from the front of the room to start class. “Reese, since you just can’t leave Marcus alone today, why don’t you come up here and tell us all about last nights history reading: President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.”

“Man,” Reese muttered, and his chair scraped the floor as he slid backward.

Marcus stared out the window to his left, ignoring the spit wad on his desk, and Reese to his right. He could feel his backpack shifting near his feet.

Marcus leaned over and patted the bag again. The movement inside stopped. He breathed in and out and remained focused on the window, the playground, and his daily escape from “reality.”

3.

Captain Mako was Marcus’ father’s treasured vintage action figure. His mother said the Captain was on loan, but Marcus knew his father had gifted him the muscular aquatic warrior. Captain Mako came from his father’s collection of rare, distinct, vintage action figures he had begun collecting in middle school. Only forty Captain Mako figures had been made because the Saturday morning cartoon had only run five episodes. A smattering of children across the U.S. had seen the show, been captivated by the mako sharkman, the chief guardian of the Carcharodon Kingdom. His bravery, witnessed in only one hundred and fifty minutes of rough animation, struck a chord—especially with Marcus’ father. He ran to the toy store and bought the only figure. It was the crown jewel in his collection.

And Marcus was now the proud owner—no—friend of the Captain. Their friendship developed as the Captain again and again appeared to Marcus. A few days after his father had given Captain Mako over to Marcus’ care, the Captain appeared in full form in the backyard amongst the dump trucks and sand shovels. Then he appeared during bath time and once during a late night homework session. His arrivals were always surprises, but always timely.

Captain Mako showed up for the first time at school as Marcus hid behind the library, in a three-foot gap between the building and the wall surrounding the school grounds. He paced back and forth, trying not to cry over cruel things Reese had said to him after class. Suddenly, he felt the movement in his backpack. He took it off and set it down. The bag moved even more, and a muffled yelp came from inside. Unzipping the pack, Marcus was startled when the sharkman burst out, shooting straight up. Water poured down his sides, and he put his hands on his hips as he searched the area, finally landing on Marcus, who stood in front of him. A smile spread across Captain Mako’s face, and Marcus felt safe, at peace.

“Why the anguish, soldier?” Captain Mako asked.

Marcus sniffed, and a tear rolled down his cheek. “I got my friend’s watch taken away in class.”

That morning, while Marcus sat quietly at his desk, listening to the teacher, Reese poked him in the shoulder.

“Hey, Marcus,” Reese hissed.

Marcus ignored him. Kept his eyes on the board.

“Wussy Marcus, look at me.”

“No,” Marcus whispered.

“Serious, I want to show you something.”

“No.”

Before the words were out of Marcus’ mouth, Reese thrust his wrist in front of Marcus’ face, and there, in all its glory, was an Apple Watch. The band was bright orange. The face sparkled in the light of the room. Marcus’ head spun and his heart sped up. He wanted an Apple Watch so bad.

“Cool, huh?” Reese whispered.

Marcus gazed at the toy in sheer wonderment. “Wow,” Marcus exclaimed, not knowing how loud his voice was.

The classroom was quiet. The entire class was fixed on him and Reese. Mrs. Evans watched him.

“Dammit,” Reese said, red in the face.

“Mr. Marcus!” Mrs. Evans scolded, “Mr. Reese! I was in the middle of a lesson. Would either of you like to teach it?” She paused, then, “Would you?”

Neither Reese or Marcus spoke. “Mr. Marcus! Mr. Reese! Answer me.”

Marcus stammered, “Nnnnnooo.”

Reese clearly said, “No.”

“Then refrain from speaking out of turn!” She stepped toward Reece. “Mr. Reece, I will gladly take that watch on your wrist.”

Reece took it off, his eyes never leaving Marcus’ face. He held the watch out and she snatched it and took it to her desk.

“I will give it back to you at the end of the week. Hopefully, Mr. Reese, you will learn your lesson and not bring toys to school,” she said, slamming her drawer shut.

She returned to the front of the class and resumed teaching. Everyone turned back to listen, except for Reece. Marcus could feel the hate coming off Reese in waves. He hoped against hope that he would forget the seizure.

But Reece didn’t forget. He threatened to “end” Marcus while they walked in the hallway. He said he was going to do it at recess, someday, when Marcus least expected it. Marcus hid behind the library as a result.

Captain Mako considered the story, then stood squarely in front of the boy.

“Close that mouth, soldier,” the Captain declared. “Stand up straight. That’s it. Square those shoulders. Chest out. Chin high. Higher. There. Let me get a look at you. Hair’s a bit long, but it will do. Now, where were we?”

Marcus felt woozy. His knees shook. His arms hung limply, though he stood up straight, his chin in the air, his chest puffed out. Captain Mako circled him.

“Now, we can do nothing about what has happened in the past, we can only face the future,” the Captain said. “Am I right?”

“I guess.”

“Now, we are not hiding here, son. We are in a strategic withdrawal from enemy forces,” the Captain said, intense and firm. “AM I right?”

“Huh?” Marcus asked, whipping his nose on his wrist.

“Not every battle one finds himself in is fair. There are times when one must make a withdrawal from the field of battle and reassess his position,” the Captain said. “Strategize. That is what we are doing, right here, right now.”

“I’m hiding,” Marcus said.

“Strategizing,” Captain Mako corrected.

Marcus sat on the ground and held his head in his hands. “There is no way I can take Reese. He’s, like, a hundred times stronger.”

“Hmph,” snorted Captain Mako. “I was once in a battle against the great Jelly Squadron of the 93rd Parallel. These were not the usual jelly fish. These were man-o-war jellies. Thousands and thousands of them. We were sent in by King Carcharias to distract them. At the same time, the King and his family escaped their winter home, which was surrounded by the Jelly Squadron.”

“Jellyfish and great white sharks?” Marcus asked.

“Bitter enemies. Wicked battles. Now then, it was three hundred of my men versus, oh, ten thousand of the man-o-wars.”

As Captain Mako regaled him with the story of their narrow escape, the gills on the Captain’s neck flapped open and closed rapidly.

“After multiple attempts to take out the fringes of their forces, we had to withdraw. We pulled into a cove of a reef and took stock of the situation. To make this long story short, we realized that the only way to win the day was to take advantage of the jelly’s weakness: light. I rallied my sharks, we gathered phosphorus coral, swam under them, and when I gave the signal, we rushed them, our coral torches burning. The light drove them towards the surface and the sunlight, well, it weakened them considerably. And we demolished them in moments!” Captain Mako raised his right arm in victory.

Marcus squinted in the sunlight peeking over the top of the building in front of them. “Demolished?”

“Yes, well, that’s not the point. The point is to withdraw to then attack with the advantage. You are withdrawing to attack and win.”

“I am?” Marcus asked.

Captain Mako extended his hand, and Marcus took it. He rose to his feet.

“You will win in the end. Your father told me to watch out for you. That’s what I am here to do. And I, sir, am a winner. So, you will win as well, naturally. Now, let’s think. What will help you defeat this foe?”

Captain Mako walked off to the side, leaving Marcus’ view of the field wide open.

“Invisibility,” Marcus whispered.

Entering his field of vision was a young girl in a red dress. She paused and looked his way.

“No,” the shark man said. “Wait, maybe. Just maybe. Yes, Blend in. Wait him out. Then attack. Yes, that’s it.”

Captain Mako waited. No response. Marcus was fixed on the girl, who stared intently at him. Her brown hair, in braids, glowed with the sunlight. She cocked her head and took a step towards him.

Captain Mako’s hand settled on his shoulder. “Ah, a female. Love has captured your tongue, my young man.”

“She’s amazing,” Marcus muttered. “She’s in my class. I’ve not talked to her. She’s…”

“Befriend her,” Captain Mako declared.

“What, never.”

“Yes. In addition to loving her—”

“I never said that!”

“You don’t have to,” Captain Mako said, covering Marcus’ mouth with his rough, cold, saltwater crusted hand. “In addition to your obvious affection for her, you need numbers. Strength is found in numbers. The more friends, the more you blend in and don’t stand out.”

Captain Mako stepped out and motioned towards Anne. Her eyes squinted, and she leaned forward for a moment. Then, she jerked back.

“What in the world!?” she shouted.

Marcus yanked on Captain Mako’s hand, pulling him backward. “Get back here!”

“Come, my young friend,” Captain Mako called out, motioning to the girl. “Help us with Project Blend In.”

She walked towards them, looking around.

“You are the only one that can see me,” Captain Mako said.

Marcus cleared his throat. “You and my friend Marcus,” Captain Mako conceded.

He shoved Marcus out in front of him, and the girl in the red dress smiled wide.

“Hey, Marcus,” she said and jogged over to them. “You can see that guy?”

“Ummm…yes.”

“I’m his friend and ally in the war against Reese,” Captain Mako said, offering his hand to the young girl. “Captain Mako.”

“I’m not at war,” Marcus snapped.

“I’m Anne,” she said, taking the hand and shaking it. She peered over her shoulder. “No one else can see you, really?”

“Not unless I want it,” Captain Mako said.

“That’s amazing,” she said, and scanned his outfit. “Love the costume.”
“Uniform, my love, uniform. Now. My dear friend, Marcus, needs your help,” Captain Mako declared. “Will you help him, Anne?”

“What, with Reese? Sure, I can’t stand him,” she said, her face flushing red. “He cheats off my tests all the time. He cheats when we play soccer. Yeah, I’m in.”

“You are?” Marcus stammered.

“Sure, why not?” Anne said, lightly touching his arm. “I saw what he did in class. He’s mean, and I don’t like mean people.”

“Classic symptom of a person who doesn’t know who they are,” said Captain Mako.

The two children gave blank expressions in response.

“When a young man like Reese? That’s his name? Yes? Ok. When a young man like Reese is cruel or cheats or mean it is most likely because he does not know his worth. He does not know that something good resides in him. So he picks on you to feel better.”

“Oh,” they said, looking at each other.

“I know this is hard to grasp, but someday,” Captain Mako said, nodding his head, “you will know the truth of what I say.”

A loud whistle blew, and a woman yelled, “5 minutes!”

“Recess is almost over,” Anne said. “Come on, let’s play ‘fore we have to go in.”

“Me?” Marcus asked wide-eyed.

“No, Captain Mako. I thought it would be great to swing with a gigantic shark dressed as a warrior,” Anne said, a small laugh following. “Yes, you. Let’s go.”

“But what about Project…what was it called?” he asked, turning to Captain Mako.

The Captain was gone, shrunk down to the Captain Mako action figure. Anne bent down and picked it up. Water dripped off the head onto the dirt.

“Wow, that was something,” she said, handing the action figure back to Marcus. “He said something about Project Blend In.”

“Right, well,” Marcus gently placed Captain Mako in his backpack.

“Well?” she asked.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” Marcus said with a shrug. “He didn’t finish.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said. She pointed to the swings, “You coming?” she asked.

“Me?”

“Stop it. Let’s go. Ready?” Anne asked, running out into the play yard.

Marcus hesitantly jogged after her.

4.

The Apple Watch seizure seemed to fade into a distant memory. Reese had received the watch back from Mrs. Evans, and Marcus stopped thinking about retribution—mostly due to Captain Mako and Wonder Ann. Project Blend In was a success. He and Ann were thick as thieves during recess, and Captain Mako was their constant protector. He was too engrossed in their playtimes.

At lunch recess, Marcus and Ann filled the twenty minutes with swinging, sliding, running in the field. Their imaginations spinning out strings of flying into space, tobogganing down the Alps of Italy, or racing through the underwater world of Captain Mako.

Some recesses found them fighting alongside Captain Mako and his army of sharks as they battled giant squids. Some days were filled with beach wars, directed by Captain Mako from the safety of the water, with Wonder Ann leading the troops into the jungles to battle murderous spider monkeys. And sometimes they had open warfare on the ocean surface, fighting off fishermen that were harpooning endangered whales or other fish.

The further they got from the Reese incident, the more immersed they grew in their stories, the easier it was for Marcus to get up each morning. The moods shifted. His mother noticed a smile on his face while he dressed. He talked to himself more than he should, but she excused—he always had the Mako figure on the dresser and seemed to be discussing big news with the character each day.

For Marcus, having Ann and Captain Mako felt as though a large, bright spotlight had been turned on in his heart. He saw the world and himself in a different light. Getting up wasn’t a chore anymore. Riding to school was no longer stomach-churning. Lunch and PE were fun for once.
Yes, he had Captain Mako and Wonder Ann, saving his days.

Marcus was feeling so good about life. He even agreed, one day, to sacrifice the usual explorations with Mako and Ann, and play a friendly game of soccer. Marcus took up the only spot he could possibly handle: goalie. He couldn’t dribble the ball to save his life, but he could move side to side and block kicks at the goal. With Ann as their forward, he didn’t have to do much. Captain Mako made an appearance, standing against the pole of the goal, his arms folded, a yawn or two registering ever few minutes. Reese’s team was being roundly beaten by Ann’s club.

Reese was livid. Marcus laughed off Reese’s threats as he hurled them at Ann, but Captain Mako grew more and more concerned. With each goal Ann scored, Reese grew more and more enraged. His threats more and more violent. At one point, Marcus held Captain Mako back, telling him this was just a game. Captain Mako didn’t see it that way.

The recess teacher whistled the five-minute warning, so Reese hurried and set the ball down. He kicked off, but Ann quickly stole it. A few passes later, and Ann was racing back towards Marcus, her arms raised high, celebrating the butt-whooping.

That’s when Marcus saw Reese. His face was blood red, and he was running full speed at Ann.

“Ann!” Marcus yelled.

She waved at him just as Reese hit her full bore in the back with the palms of his hands.

“Ooof!” Ann said, and she flopped on the ground.

Project Blend In was over. He didn’t care what happened to him: his best friend ever had been assaulted. Marcus ran as fast as his legs could carry him and slammed into Reese, tackling him. The two hit the grassy field and rolled. Reese was up in a flash, and on top of Marcus, his fists driving down into Marcus’ gut.

In pain, out of breath, all Ann could do was watch Reese hit Marcus over and over again.

“Here you go, fatty!” Reese yelled, driving his fists into Marcus’ gut. “This is for my watch! You horrible pig! I hate you!”

Ann wanted to yell, wanted to get the teacher’s attention, but she couldn’t make any noise. The teacher had her back to them, helping a boy who jumped off the swings and landed on his back. Ann looked back and saw Captain Mako pacing in front of the goal. She waved frantically for him, but he didn’t see her.

Reese paused from beating Marcus long enough for Marcus to find his voice and scream out, “Captain Mako!”

“Shut up, piggy!” Reese yelled. He raised his right fist to hit Marcus in the face when someone grabbed his wrist.

“Let go ‘fore I beat the crap out of you!” Reese roared and turned around.

Captain Mako tightened his grip and smiled at Reese. The boy’s complexion drained of all color, his arm turned into a noodle and went limp. He slumped off to the side and gazed up at the sharkman warrior, holding his arm, water running down his sides, a jagged spear in his free hand.

“Kindly stop hitting our friend,” Captain Mako said.

Reese nodded his compliance.

“If I let go, you will apologize to Marcus and stop the assault?” Captain Mako asked.

Reese nodded his agreement again.

Captain Mako dropped the boy’s arm, and Reese crawled away a few feet. Captain Mako held on to the spear for the moment being, hoping it would drive the fear deep into Reese’s mind.

Ann finally got up and ran to Marcus, who was rolling on the ground, holding his stomach, moaning. With Ann’s help, Marcus wobbled to his feet, his shirt covered in dirt and grass. Dried bits of grass were in his hair as well. After dusting him off, Anne, Marcus, and Captain Mako stood over the frozen Reese. Captain Mako’s shadow covered the boy.

“He’s real,” Reese whispered. “He’s not some dumb action figure.”

“I am,” Captain Mako said. “And you owe some apologies.”

Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Reese found his legs and stood.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry.”

“Right,” Ann said. She nodded to the others, and they and started to walk away.

“Wait, I’m serious. I’m sorry,” Reese pleaded. “He’s real,” he said again, dumbstruck by the appearance of the giant shark.

“His name is Captain Mako,” Marcus said.

“Captain Mako,” Reese whispered to himself.

Marcus looked up at Captain Mako. “Project Blend In is over.”

“It was well fought,” Captain Mako said.

They were all silent for a moment. “Time for a new mission?” Ann asked.

Marcus nodded. The change in Reese was noticeable. The bravado was gone. He was in awe of the new figure in front of him. And the new mission came fully formed to Marcus at that moment.

“Time for Mission Bridge,” Marcus said.

He strode confidently up to Reese and held out his hand.

“Captain Mako and Wonder Ann have saved me more than I can count,” Marcus said. “Join us?”

Rees took his hand, they shook, and the four of them headed towards the line forming to go back into the classroom.