The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.

Author's Note: This story takes place within the God Save the Esteem universe created by Charles RocketBoy. It also borrows elements from my own fic Sleepwalker, but it isn't strictly necessary to read that one to understand what's going on. It wouldn't hurt either, I'm just saying.

"The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else."
-Umberto Eco

Terror on Dega Street - A GStE Mini
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

Stacy Rowe led a complicated life.

But she had a handle on it. Really. Not many people could deal with having so many alternate personalities - many of them unaware of the others - for so long without having gotten caught out and sent to the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital to be stared at through a little window for the rest of their natural lives. Stacy could.

She could.

At least that was what she continued to tell herself as she prepared herself for a good night's sleep before having to head back out and start another full day of living multiple lives. Her teeth were brushed, her makeup was removed, her pajamas were on, and her bag of clothes was set back up for any necessary quick-changes she might need to perform the next day.

With a light sigh of contentment, she flopped down on her bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and gradually drifted off into a dark, formless dream.

Time passed as she slept. The alarm clock sitting next to her bed kept track of that passage with its glowing green numbers, numbers that ever so slightly illuminated Stacy's slack face.

The clock silently clicked over to midnight, the 12:00 burning like a sickly pale sun, then it began to sputter. The light on Stacy's face flickered and died, dropping her into darkness for several seconds before coming back as strong as ever. And as steady, not even blinking once as it normally would have after a power interruption.

Stacy turned over to lay on her back. With a slow, eerie grace, she sat up in bed and swung her legs over the side. Her blankets laid rumpled and forgotten as she stood and walked over to open her closet door.

Pajamas hit the floor and were swiftly replaced by blue jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket, and a sturdy pair of new sneakers. Grabbing a stray tie from the closet doorknob, she pulled her hair back into a simple ponytail and let it swing freely. Then, as a final touch, she reached up and pulled on the paintball mask.

The hunt was on.


"Hey, you 'sssshhhh!'" Mark snapped back, then kicked the can he had stumbled over a second time just to be ornery. "This was your stupid idea, not mine! If we'd gone with my idea, we'd be back at my place eatin' nachos and watchin' MST3K!"

"Sssshhhh!" Greg hissed again, more insistently. "I'm trying to concentrate here!"

Mark shook his head and rolled his eyes as his so-called friend continued trying to pick the lock as if he really knew what he was doing. Deciding to ignore the proceedings altogether, he took a few steps away, sat down on the hood of their car, and looked up at the clear night sky. At least, he looked up at the small sliver of clear night sky he could see between the buildings looming overhead.

The suburb of Lawndale didn't put out as much light pollution as the city it was attached to, and except for the Zon most of Dega Street was dark, but even still it was sometimes hard to see the stars overhead. The alleyway Mark and Greg were standing in seemed to block out some of that, however, allowing Mark to see a little more of the soft twinkling lights, the red and blue blinking of a plane passing by, the dark shadow hanging over the edge of-

Mark blinked in surprise. The shadow was gone. He rattled his head around to clear it, then decided he was probably just seeing things. Nerves. That was all it was. The fear of getting caught.

"Could ya hurry it the hell up?" he asked, the normal harsh edge in his voice getting even harsher.

A click and the soft pneumatic whine of the back door to the Funky Doodle being opened caused him to turn around and gape. He hadn't actually expected it to happen, but there it was. They were in. Greg slipped his lockpicking tools into his pocket and grinned like the proverbial canary-eating cat.

"Oh, I think I can oblige," he said just before the front of his jacket exploded in a spray of green. "Ow! Shit!"

Mark stared in confusion as Greg put his hand under the green splatter and rubbed at the suddenly sore spot on his chest. Before he could get out a "What the hell was that?" he was hit in the back of the head by something small, hard, wet, and all kinds of stinging.

"Fuck!" he swore as he stumbled forward. Reaching back he gingerly touched the spot where he had been hit. His hand came back smeared with red, making his heart skip a beat. After a second's thought, however, he put the stuff up to his nose and sniffed. "Paint!" he yelled angrily, looking over at Greg. "It's paint!"

"Who the hell would be . . . "

Greg trailed off and looked upward, his jaw slack with shock. Mark felt a creeping sensation along his spine when he realized that his buddy was looking directly up where he thought he had seen the shadow just moments before. Slowly he turned his head to look up too, and he just managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of the shape before it disappeared again.

Before either one of them could formulate an appropriate response, the shape reappeared and leaped from the roof of the short building, plummeted down into the alley, and landed squarely on the roof of their car, denting it and cracking all of the windows with the force of impact.

It was a girl. A young girl by the looks of it, wearing a mostly denim outfit. She crouched on the car's roof, every muscle tensed in preparation, looking almost like a tiger ready to strike. A paintball gun hung from her shoulders by a heavy duty strap, and her face was completely concealed by a paintball mask.

"What in the-"

She sprang from the roof, landed on the hood, and then lifted the barrel of her gun to spray both would-be thieves with a hail of paintballs. They raised their arms to protect their faces, leaving the rest of them exposed to every stinging slap of the balls' unforgiving concussive power.

After what seemed like an eternity, the rain of paint finally came to an end, and they heard a clattering sound come from her direction. Carefully, slowly, they lowered their arms to see that she had discarded her gun onto the bowed roof of their car and was simply standing there, staring down at them.

"Get the bitch!" Greg yelled, and Mark readily complied. Rushing forward with a snarl to grab her legs, he suddenly found himself heading in a different direction entirely when her foot snapped up and cracked him in the side of the head. He staggered to the side, clutching his temple and in too much pain to even swear properly.

Not one to learn from his buddy's mistakes, Greg bellowed and threw his heftier weight into a similar charge toward the small girl. He reached her position and clamped down with his beefy arms, but all he caught was air. Something landed on top of his head and his neck compressed painfully.

It wasn't until the weight went away and she dropped lightly to the ground behind him that he realized she had just used him as an impromptu stepping stone. He went to stand up straight and turn to face her, but he flopped down onto the hood of the car after she planted a foot in the small of his back, sending a shiver of pain down his spine and into his pelvis.

Mark, meanwhile, had finally recovered from the shoe to the head and had maneuvered around to grab the girl from behind, locking her arms down in a bear hug.

"I got the bitch!" he yelled. "I got her!"

Greg picked himself up and rubbed his back as he turned and fixed her with a furious glare. "Alright, honey," he growled as he advanced on her. "I've had just about enough oooooOOOOF!"

All of the air was expelled from his lungs when she picked up both her legs and kicked him in the gut. As he stumbled back against the car again, she landed her left foot and stomped down with her right, catching Mark at the knee and then scraping all the way down to tromp on his instep.

He screamed but didn't let go, so she reached up, gripped one of his fingers, and pried it back the wrong way as further incentive. Blinded by pain as one of the joints began to give way, he loosened his grip and tried to get away. Unfortunately for him, she kept her hold on his finger and pulled it and him back her way, jumping up in the air as she did so.

The lensplate of the paintball mask smashed down into his face. He screamed again as the cartilage in his nose fractured and blood began to pour down the front of his face in a warm torrent. Mark flopped to the ground, squealing and holding his nose, no longer an immediate threat.

She turned to Greg, who was just beginning to recuperate from her kick but showed absolutely no sign of wanting to continue the fight after seeing what had happened to his partner in crime. He tried to back away but ended up simply bending himself backward over the front of the car, cringing and holding his arms up as a weak defense.

Loose rocks and asphalt crunched under her shoes as she approached. She stopped right in front of him, leaned over him menacingly, and then simply stood there, staring. He peered up at her fearfully and noticed that the mask's wide lens had the tiniest of cracks in it, right over a small smear of Mark's blood.

But as terrifying as that was, he could also just barely see through the lens itself in the dim light. He could see that her eyes were closed, but she was still staring down at him as if she could see not just him, but through him, into the car and the ground and everything beyond.

He nearly passed out when it dawned on him that the little girl who had just beaten the shit out of him and his friend had been asleep the entire time.

"I . . . I'm sorry!" he whined pleadingly. "We'll never do it again! I promise!"

She stood up straight, apparently satisfied. Walking around him, she picked up her paintball gun and stalked out of the alley to disappear into the night.

Greg waited several minutes just to be sure she was really gone. Then, as quickly as he could manage, he relocked the door to the Funky Doodle, slammed it shut, and helped Mark up and into the car before peeling rubber out of there.

An insistent buzzing filled the air, forcing Stacy out of her slumber, albeit grudgingly. She slapped the alarm off, sat up, and stretched out her aching muscles with a grunt of consternation.

Every morning for the past week had been exactly the same. Her mind would feel refreshed, alert, and ready for the day after a few moments, but her body felt like a single huge wad of pain. It had worried her at first. She had even considered going to her parents and asking to go to the doctor over it, but each morning she seemed to be less and less sore, much like what had happened when she had first started doing her daily exercises to keep under the regulation Fashion Club weight limit.

In fact, she thought as she stood up and tried to stretch out a few more of the kinks, it seems like I'm getting a little more tone lately, even though I haven't been exercising any more than usual . . .

Dismissing the thought, she walked over to her closet and opened it to gather up her outfit for the day. The first item she grabbed was her denim jacket, but she immediately held it back out at arm's length. Pulling it in slightly, she sniffed and then stared at it, confused.

For some odd reason, it smelled like paint.

Shaking her head, she threw the jacket in the direction of her hamper. It would probably be a warm enough day anyway, so she grabbed up her shorts and no-sleeve top, threw them on the bed, and then reached up to grab a towel for her morning shower when another oddity caught her eye.

Next to the towels on the shelf in her closet sat her paintball mask. Right above the nose guard in the very center of the wide lens, there was a tiny vertical crack where she was reasonably certain that there hadn't been one before. She grumbled in frustration, wondering idly as she resumed her towel-grabbing if she could buff it out, replace just the lens, or if she would need to get a whole new mask.

Yes, it was just a silly old mask, but that was no reason to let appearances slip. Appearances were all too important, especially considering just how many different appearances she was having to keep up with.

With a soft sigh, she walked off toward the bathroom, leaving the mask behind for the moment. Minor mysteries and inconveniences would have to wait. She had a busy day ahead.

But that was okay. She could handle it.


Roland 'Jim' Lowery

March 2, 2011