SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – KINNEY HOUSEHOLD

Laura and Megan were together in their room. Laura was reading a book while Megan was watching their television. On the television, was a news report about the attack on George Washington High School earlier in the week.

“With all the school shootings this year,” started the reporter. “We can finally report that no one has been harmed, thankfully. But the question still remains who was this group of men and women who were said to all be wearing body armor and carrying military grade weapons. Authorities arrived on the scene after the group had been cleared out by an unknown party. Any security cameras in area mysteriously stopped working during the tragic event.”

“So are you gonna tell me where you would go after school?” asked Megan. “Does it have anything to do with those people that shot up our school?”

“It has nothing to do with them,” answered Laura. “If you must know. I went to an underground fight club to win money.”

“Seriously?” Megan was shocked. “What kind of fights were they? With bears? Your clothes were always ripped to shreds.”

Laura didn’t seem interested in answering but did so anyway. “It was people with powers. Mutants, superhumans, even ordinary humans with special talents.”

The cousins were on better terms than they were a week ago, but Laura still felt uneasy talking with Megan. It was gonna take time to get used to. Megan pulled out a tablet and turned it on. She typed in the name Alchemax to see what information she could find. The group that attacked the school had the logo of Alchemax on their gear.

A woman named Wanda Wilson stopped Laura and brought up the name of a division known as Alchemax Genetics. Megan was surprised she was able to get that much information out of her. Alchemax’s main office building was still open according to the internet, but there was no real information on this division.

“So nothing about this organization rings a bell?” Megan kept searching. “Nothing from your past? Do you even know who put that metal on your claws?”

“It wasn’t them.” Laura avoided the final question.

“This person Wanda Wilson claimed that Alchemax has something to do with you,” said Megan. “Then they shoot up our school. It’s important that we figure out their connection to you. Whether you like it or not, it has to be done.”

A little later, they were in the kitchen where Megan’s mother Deborah joined them. She lightly hugged Laura from behind as she was seated making her feel uncomfortable and then walked over to kiss Megan on the cheek.

“What’s up with you?” asked Megan.

“First it was the incident at the school,” Deborah started to explain. “And now there is news of children disappearing in the city. I don’t want you girls going out after dark. Before you say anything, I know you can take care of yourself, Laura. That doesn’t make me worry any less.”

“How many kids are missing?” asked Megan. “Is there any information on what’s happening?”

“Probably just some runaways,” Laura remarked.


THE HAUNTING OF SAN FRANCISCO
Part I: Leyenda Española
Written by:
JUSTIN SANTOS


THE MARINA DISTRICT

Night had fallen over the city. A teenage couple left a convenience store after purchasing food for a late night snack. The young man looked to the street where he saw a car that interested him.

“This car looks sweet,” he said. “It’s a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T. I wish my parents would get me a car like this for graduation.”

The young man went to put his hands on the hood of the car. Just as he was swiping it with his right hand, the engine revved up. This startled him since there was nobody in the driver seat.

“I’m telling you this city is haunted!” he yelled. “No car turns on like that with no one in the seat.”

The car inched forward. Both teenagers practically jumped out of their shoes. They ran off as the car once again came to a complete halt.

“That’s right hands off the goods,” called a voice from nowhere.

THE NEXT DAY – GEORGE WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL

After school, Megan brought Laura along with her to meet someone. She thought it would be good for her cousin to try and make some friends. On a bench outside, a male student sat waiting. He was a little on the husky side with short brown hair. Megan motioned for Laura to take a seat at the bench.

“This is my cousin I was talking about,” said Megan. “Laura, meet Fabio Medina, he just recently moved here from San Diego. Isn’t that right?”

“Yeah, we had to leave,” he replied as he scratched the back of his head. “I don’t miss it at all. It’s not something I like talking about.”

Laura just remained silent. Meeting new people really wasn’t her thing. Megan sighed at the sight of Laura being closed off. She sat down next to her cousin and nudged her in the shoulder. Laura just shrugged it off.

“Megan tells me that you’re the one that took care of those people who attacked our school last week,” Fabio followed. “Luckily, I was on the other side of the school when it went down, but from what I heard it was intense. You must have some serious skills if you were able to tackle that crew by yourself.”

“It was nothing, really,” Laura was being modest while glaring at Megan. “I actually hoped my cousin wouldn’t speak of it again.”

“Fabio, you gotta excuse my cousin,” Megan glared back. “She doesn’t know how to talk to people.”

“Cousins?” asked Fabio. “More like sisters. I have a similar relationship with my sister.”

“Tsk,” Laura snarled before getting up from the bench and walking away.

“Man, I don’t know what to do,” said Megan. “I’ve been trying for a while now to get her to open up, even if just a little. We’ve been living together for some time. You’d think I would know a little bit more about her than I do. I don’t even know anything about her parents. About how my Aunt Sarah died.”

“Well, if she’s suffering from physical or emotional abuse it could take a long time before you can get her to open up as you want,” explained Fabio. “I don’t know her yet, but just by looking at her I can tell she’s uncomfortable around others. Just gotta give it more time.”

“Hmm, it is what it is.” She looked in the direction Laura left. “So you want to hang out for a little bit?”

ELSEWHERE…

Laura just walked around the city with a permanent scowl on her face. She wondered how she could trust anyone. She was born to be used as a weapon and forced against her will to kill her mother. When it comes to her father, she thought she could trust him. He turned on her, brutally assaulted her, and left her for dead.

“You’re looking rather gloomy today,” called a familiar voice.

It was the woman known as Wanda Wilson that approached Laura a week ago. Laura ignored the woman and continued on about her business. Wanda, who was leaning against a car, just watched as she kept walking. She gave it a moment before deciding to go after her. Wanda pushed off the car but before she could change directions she bumped into someone.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” exclaimed Wanda.

Wanda was prepared to give a piece of her mind, but she got a look of who she walked into. It was a young Hispanic male wearing a black leather jacket with a white symbol on the front. He looked normal but something about his presence made her feel uneasy.

“From my point of view, you walked into me,” he said.

Wanda was thrown off by his unusually colored eyes. His left eye was green and the right brown. This unique eye coloring of his irises was known as heterochromia. Wanda decided she wanted nothing to do with him and walked away.

LATER THAT NIGHT

Laura would eventually go home and eat dinner with her family. While she did that, elsewhere in the city a team of three masked women sneaked around an office building that appeared to be closed for the evening. They all wore similar costumes, all of which had the logo of Alchemax Genetics. Two of the women were of a similar height and build, while the third was much smaller in both categories.

“Should we be lurking around this city at this time of night?” asked the shorter of the three. “You know what they’re saying right? The city is haunted. Kids all over are going missing.”

“Haunted, really?” one of the taller women seemed underwhelmed.

“Gabby, what did I say about staying up late and watching horror movies?” asked the other.

The one called Gabby threw her arms out. “For your information, Zelda, I was watching the local news. And before you say anything I know, me watching the local news. It was a total snoozefest. Speaking of snoozefests, what are we doing here?”

“We have a mission to find out what happened here,” replied Zelda. “What they were working on here was supposed to be shipped to an Alchemax warehouse in New York. Now let’s cut the chatter and get this done. Bellona, scout ahead we’re gonna check the rooms down here.”

Clearly, the shorter of the three, Gabby, was the youngest of the group. She headed off on her own to investigate. The room she entered was dark but she could tell it was filled with cages. This caught her curiosity. She pulled off her mask to reveal the face of a pre-teen girl with scars on her face. Despite these scars, she was the spitting image of Laura.

“Oh, no you poor cute babies!” exclaimed Gabby after realizing what was in the cages. “I have to get you out of here.”

There was a variety of animals locked up in small cages. The first one she went to held a creature that she felt a strange connection to with just one look at it. She wasn’t quite sure what kind of animal it was but she couldn’t help but think of how adorable it was.

“I’m so taking you home with me,” she smiled while opening the cage. “I think I’ll call you Jonathan.”

This animal was, in fact, an actual wolverine. While she pulled it out of its cage and lifted it into the air, she was completely oblivious of what was behind her. The wolverine affectionately named Jonathan caught a glimpse of what was in the room with them. It went wild and jumped behind the girl who freed him. Gabby turned to see what Jonathan was freaking out over. In fear for her life, she popped a single claw on each hand from between her middle and ring fingers.

SNIKT!

She prepared to defend herself with her new companion in front of her.

THE NEXT DAY

The cousins walked together down a sidewalk. Megan wasn’t sure what else to do about Laura. They kept heading toward their destination until they crossed paths with the distressed wolverine from last night. Jonathan had managed to break out of the building after what had happened. He looked at the two teenagers and began sniffing the air around them. Laura’s scent felt familiar to him so he ran up to her. He pointed with his little paw and tried to get them to understand him.

“What is this?” asked Megan. “Is this rodent trying to talk to us?”

Jonathan stopped squeaking at them. He didn’t take to being called a rodent very well. He shrugged off Megan and gave his full attention to Laura. It took some convincing but he finally got Laura to follow him where he wanted.

“Really?” Megan couldn’t believe Laura was actually following a wild animal. “We’re just gonna follow him?”

“I don’t think you were invited,” said Laura.

Although she was annoyed by that comment, Megan followed her cousin who continued to trail after the furry critter which leads them to the building where it had a terrifying encounter. They stopped and hid behind the trees in the surrounding area when they saw the logo of Alchemax upon the building. The company logo caught them off guard.

The wolverine squeaked and pointed rapidly with his paws. Laura cautiously looked around as Megan wondered what this creature was leading them to. There were too many people around for them to just walk in. A scent passing in the wind caught Laura’s attention.

“What?” asked Megan.

“This smell,” said Laura. “This can’t be right.”

“I don’t smell anything.” Megan sniffed around. “You must be imagining it.”

“No,” followed Laura. “My senses are keener than yours. I can smell on a different level than you. Right now my nose is telling me that I’ve been here before. But I know I haven’t.”

“You’re smelling yourself?” Megan looked on a bit weirded out. “That’s really odd.”

“I have to get in that building,” said Laura. “But we both can’t go in. It could be too dangerous. And it might be strange having two teenagers walking around together.”

“Fine, I get it.” Megan nodded. “I guess I’ll just stay here…with the furball.”

They finally came to an agreement. However, it turned out to be unnecessary. Chaos appeared to break out as the workers all ran for their lives. Laura took this as an opportunity to run into the building. Megan and Jonathan decided to follow since the building was being evacuated.

Laura ran up a couple flight of stairs before finding what caused the evacuation. She walked on the floor which had its door to the stairwell open. In the hallway stood a man whose head was set ablaze. Megan caught up with her cousin who had run up ahead of her. Both weren’t sure what they were looking at. The man turned around to reveal his head to be a blazing skull.

“Oh, my God!” Megan’s jaw dropped. “If we get out of this alive, I’m gonna have nightmares for the rest of my life.”

SNIKT!

Without a second thought, Laura sprung into action. In her mind, with a demonic appearance like that, no good could from it. The scent she had been following had been overtaken by the smell of hellfire. With a flash of said hellfire, a chain appeared hanging from the bottom of two knives. The man with the flaming skull held the knives ready to retaliate. Her claws and his knives clashed. Laura was surprised. Not many weapons were strong enough to go toe-to-toe with her adamantium claws. As the two struggled, Megan took a good look at man’s face.

“Wait, I’ve seen him before,” claimed Megan. “He’s the Ghost Rider of Los Angeles!”

The so-called Ghost Rider pushed back Laura. While she was sliding back he slashed with one of his knives and sliced her along her right cheek. She turned away as she grabbed her cheek. Megan winced at the sight of her cousin’s cheek. The wound rapidly healed, leaving Megan still amazed by her ability. Laura gritted her teeth as she turned back around to make a move on the Ghost Rider.

“Raaahhh!” she roared as she lunged forward and stabbed the Rider in the chest.

Ghost Rider grabbed both of her wrists and pulled her claws out of his chest. Laura was stunned by his strength. He then pulled her into a chokehold which she struggled to fight her way out of. A cloud of white powder engulfed the Rider’s flaming skull. When it cleared he looked to his right annoyed at the sight of Megan holding a fire extinguisher.

“Heh.” Megan became nervous when it didn’t put out the supernatural fire that burned around his skinless head. “Is it too late to say sorry?”

Laura kicked her left leg up over her head while popping the claw between her toes. The claw pierced the side of his skull. This gave Laura the chance to break free which she followed by kicking him backward. She pulled Megan behind her and stood ready with her claws drawn to her side. The Rider just stood where he landed seemingly unfazed by being stabbed in the head.

“What’s he doing?” asked Megan.

Laura squinted her eyes to get a stronger focus on him. “No idea.”

Ghost Rider stood still. The cousins were uneasy about this eerie calm that came about him. Just then a familiar scent caught Laura’s attention. It was what she smelled outside, only this time there was something else. The scent she smelt wasn’t the Rider’s. He had the smell of fire. This other scent was something different. It smelled horrible. While Laura sniffed things out the Rider had an inner monologue with another soul who was bond to him.

“Eli, this is a waste of time,” said the living soul of the young man nicknamed Robbie. “They’re not who we’re after.”

“I know, but it was so interesting playing with the clawed one,” followed the deceased evil spirit of Eli. “I never expected a pretty face like that could put up such a fight. The blond isn’t too bad looking either.”

“Really…?” Robbie felt disturbed by the evil spirit. “Look I think I should take this from here.”

The flaming appearance of the Ghost Rider turned off, reverting him back to what he really looked like. The teenager, Roberto ‘Robbie’ Reyes, put his hands up to show he wanted a truce. He was from Los Angeles, as Megan said. This is where one fateful night he got into a tragic accident during a street race. He was dead for a moment after it happened. But an evil spirit that was connected to his car bond itself to him, reviving him in the form of an all-new Ghost Rider. He would learn this evil spirit was that of his uncle Elias Morrow, known for being a satanic follower.

“Whoever you are, my business isn’t with you,” said Robbie. “I don’t want to hurt anyone who has nothing to do with this.”

“Hurt me?” smirked Laura. “Hmph.”

“What do you mean by ‘this’?” asked Megan. “What is this about and who are you?”

“You can call me Robbie,” he simply answered. “I’m searching for a creature, a monster. He took my kid brother, Gabe.”

“A monster?” questioned Laura.

“You’re one to talk,” said Megan. “You fit the bill when comes to talking about monsters.”

“I mean you’re not wrong.” Robbie shrugged his shoulders. “This monster I was tracking, it kidnaps children. Like my brother. There’s a myth in my culture that a creature, known as El Coco, kidnaps and eats misbehaving children. You could consider it a bogeyman. Parents in Spanish-speaking countries would tell their troubled children bedtime stories of El Coco to get them to behave. The only thing is, there’s no one more well-behaved than my little brother.”

“So what you’re saying is, the bogeyman is kidnapping children in California?” asked a skeptical Megan.

“Sounds crazy.” Laura was a little bit more understanding of what he was saying having experienced some crazy things in her past. “Why would it come here?”

“I think it kidnapped another child,” replied Robbie. “The kid would have been here alone when they were taken. I don’t know why here of all places.”

Jonathan then reacted by pointing to the room he was once in with Laura’s double Gabby. He ran on all fours into the room. Laura followed the critter. There she got a better whiff of who was once here. The smell of herself. As well as a foul scent she suspected belonged to this monster Robbie spoke of. This was where the trail ended. She had no idea where they went or how they got out of this room.

PARTS UNKNOWN

Gabby laid on a stone floor. She was asleep. Further, into the room, more children are scattered, all of whom were asleep as well. One such child was Robbie’s brother Gabe. Back over by Gabby, she began to stir. She woke up quickly as if she were startled by something. She got up into a kneeling position and shook off the foggy feeling she was experiencing. When her vision cleared she saw that she appeared to be in a cave. The cave was filled with children of various sizes, ages, even races.

“Umm, okay.” She stood up and walked around. “This is new. What is this place?”

She walked around a bit trying to wake up some of the other kids. She yelled at them. She even slapped them lightly. She walked over to Gabe and poked him a number of times. He didn’t budge either. Her next idea was to find a way out of here. She figured maybe she could find someone to help the other kids. After some time searching, she came to the conclusion that there was no exit.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” she exclaimed. “Hmm, Zelda’s gonna be mad for sure. But it’s not my fault I was jumped by Bigfoot. No Sasquatch. That’s a funnier word to say.”

All of a sudden, she heard a noise coming from another part of the cave. She kept hidden as she believed her kidnapper had returned. Peeking from cover, she saw a monstrous being who appeared to be eight-feet-tall. It was muscular and covered head-to-toe in long red fur. On its head there were red horns, making it look devil-like. On its hands were long razor-sharp talons.

“@#$%,” muttered Gabby.

ALCHEMAX TOWER – MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

The two other masked women from the night Gabby was taken, Zelda and Bellona, stood before the director of the former Alchemax Genetics division. The women both pulled off their masks to show they too were the spitting image of Laura. They also, like Gabby, had scarred faces.

“What do you mean you lost her?” asked the director, Robert Chandler.

“She just disappeared,” explained Bellona.

Zelda saddened by the loss of Gabby followed, “She would never leave us. Something had to have taken her. But there’s was no trace of her.”

“Hmm, well, for now, there’s nothing we can do,” said Chandler. “There’s too much we’re working on right now. Our secret partners need that shipment from the west office found. They’re my ticket out of this place. So, get back to finding it. If your younger sister reappears will go after her then.”

To be continued…