Next one. I'm glad you guys are liking the story so far. I'm trying to throw in some 'shout outs' from the game.

-Chapter 4: Runaway Paula-

If the two tickets weren't dated for that very night Ness might have been able to muster the nerve to ask Paula. He just didn't have the guts. "Why don't you ask her?" he suggested to Picky.

He shook his head, "I only chase one bird at a time."

"What does that mean?" Ness asked.

"I've got someone else I'm interested in. She's actually from this town, thought she hasn't been around today..." he said and checked his watch. It had been an hour since they heard from Paula. "Shouldn't we try to find her?"

Ness nodded, "The daycare is over a few blocks." He looked off in that direction and was able to see a sign on the front of the building. It was a large cat with the words 'Polestar Daycare' beneath, except backwards from where he was standing. Not wanting to burn too much gas, they made it there on foot. The sun was setting by now and the little daycare was shutting down. "What if her parents are pissed? They're not going to want to see us calling for her."

Picky stroked his bare chin, "I have an idea. We'll tell her we wanted to thank her for doing the deliveries with us and we're paying her with the tickets. Let me see one of those tickets."

"At least she'll have an alibi for being in Onett, if it comes up," Ness said as he reached to his back pocket. It was empty. "The tickets," he said and checked all other pockets in his pants, "They're gone."

"Let's trace our steps, maybe you dropped them," Picky suggested and they began their way back to Burglin Park.

As they did this, jealousy reared it's ugly head, rather it 'poked' it's ugly head. Pokey emerged from the tall bush at the front walkway and brushed the leaves and twigs from his clothing. Swiping the tickets hanging from Ness's back pocket was a breeze with his back turned. He composed himself and went right up to the front door and knocked heartily. An older blond woman answered the door. "Good evening mam', I was wondering if your daughter Paula was home," he said with intense amounts of bullshit.

The lady shook her head, "I'm sorry, but she's not allowed out right now."

"I won't take long," he said, "I really wanted to thank her for all the work she did." Hearing an unlikable voice from around the corner, Paula came to investigate. "There you are, it's me, Pokey," he said.

"Um, excuse me?" she looked like she had bitten into spoiled food.

"It seems doing those deliveries caused more grief than you planned. I told you, your parents need to know when you're out looking for work," he said flawlessly, and subversively, giving her a hook.

"You were working?" her mother stated.

Not missing an opportunity to get out of trouble, Paula jumped all over the ruse. "You got after me for spending my money on hair ribbons," she said and touched the two hot pink streaks of silk hanging from her piggy-tails. She changed into them when she first ran bawling to her room; it was a comfort thing. "I wanted to earn money to buy some without touching my savings." Though she did touch her savings, it was making her sound really good.

Her mother held her chest, "Dear, you didn't have to hide that," she said it that way because Paula told her the reason she left was a 'secret'. Not with those words, but essentially she couldn't tell them anything; nor did she want to ever again.

"You said I wasn't allowed to work after the thing with 'Venus Sparks'." Venus was a local singer who was trying to make it big, 'Sparks' was the name of her tour; it was also speculated to be her last name. One of the concerts went awry, and ever since then Paula was restricted from certain activities.

Her mother laid down a rule: No getting a job that wasn't at the daycare. "I know...but that was being a bit harsh. I shouldn't stop you from being independent, look what it's done. I didn't want you to run off doing a late night job for extra cash." She turned back to Paula's new friend, "If you wanted to speak to Paula you can, but I do want her to stay in for supper tonight. We'll talk about it more, later." That said, she left them alone.

Paula was bitterly grateful, "Thanks, but why would you be covering for me? I don't even know you," she said. Her eyes brightened when he flashed the two pilfered tickets. She plucked one from his hand saying, "Where did you get this?" and examined it closely. It was for the show in a short while.

"I saw you doing deliveries with my brother earlier today and the idea just came to me." Earlier today apparently meant 'a few seconds ago' to Pokey. "So, what do you say? Want to go to the show with me?" he said, really slathering on the charm.

Though the 'charm' was there, she wasn't biting. "Listen," she began in an apologetic way, "I don't date, I'm not allowed. I'll go with you, but we're going as-"

"Friends?" he finished her sentence.

"Friendly acquaintances," she corrected him, "we met thirty seconds ago, remember."

"I will. You, not so much," he said and looped a necklace around the back of her neck, it's magnetic clip shut hastily. It instantly zoned Paula out. The charm that hung from the chain on her chest gave off a slight hum. "The Franklin Badge. It controls electricity, so at the right setting," he waved a hand in front of her face, "It controls the electricity in your brain. Come, we have a show to attend," he said and took her hand gently. Pokey began to lead her out of the house and was sure to close the door silently behind them.

They slinked around the back roads to the theater. The pretentious club had an alternate entrance for V.I.P. tickets, which they had. Everdread wanted Paula to be able to meet the Runaway Five to get a few signatures, but his gesture was lost. Even though she was there, she couldn't do a thing. The necklace had robbed her of free will and she couldn't even ask to use the bathroom.

Pokey flawlessly led her into the theater. He claimed she was coming back from dental surgery, so no one tried to assist her 'dopey' demeanor. He rubbed his porky mitts together as he sat across from Paula in the bistro setting lounge area. "It's a shame Ness didn't make it, he paid for this and all," he said with a snicker. Paula didn't respond, she just stared. "Come on, you don't want to appear ungrateful, we're having fun. Smile," he said and balanced his round chin on his round fingers, propping his round head up. When he said what he did, her lips upturned in a half smile, warming the cockles of his manipulative heart. "Nice."

Though her actions were lifeless, Paula's mind was furiously at work. It was a dark swirling void that consumed her; her consciousness seemed lost in a vicious torrent that had no visible indications of setting her free. 'Dammit, break this spell,' she yelled at herself. 'Wait, this isn't magic, this is I'm only cut off from my body...I can still use my mind.' There was a pause, 'Shit! I can't contact that idiot! Why did I listen to him! Go talk to your parents he says! Dammit...I have to try...something.'

Paula's world went quiet. Though the space she was in was shifting constantly, it made no sound, apart from a simple hum that didn't seem to be coming from the void itself. Paula prayed. She had no definable god in mind, she just knew that channeling her energy in such a way was the only thing she could do. It was all done with her mind, so she sent out a signal. 'Hear me. Someone. Please. I'm in the theater. Help me.' She chanted on and on in her mind, various distress calls in hopes that one of them might be heard. If not by Ness then by someone around her, anyone who could come to her aid.

She said all this not truly knowing where she was. It was presumable that she would have been taken there, if only for the tickets Pokey showed her just seconds before hand. Paula was also sure to include his name in her cry for help, he was not getting away with this. If they could find him, they would find her.

Being none the wiser, Ness was quickly making his way to the theater. He thought that maybe if a person took the tickets, they may have used them to go in already. "I remember the lot number," he told the ticket taker.

She keyed in the digits as he spoke them and hit the 'enter' key heavily. She laid a long nail on her screen and drug it to the opposite side, "Yes, those two have been accounted for. I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do. Not without a receipt." The lady folded her hands, "Do you got a receipt?"

"No, thanks anyway," he said and turned back to Picky. "Someone did use them."

"We still have a few tickets left if you wanted to re-purchase the seats," the clerk added.

Picky piped up, knowing Ness had no money on him, "How much?"

Again, the clerk typed in a few numbers and eyed the screen, "Seventy-nine ninety-five."

"Holy hell..." he exhaled, "Sorry dude, I only have forty." They left the theater, defeated. "You could always sell your hat."

He straightened the ball cap, "No way," it was the last present his dad had sent him.

"Yeah, we'd have to buy a sign, then wait for a buyer...we could-" his phone went off, interrupting his plot. With a quick check to the phone, he tilted it toward Ness, "Orange Kid got something, and it's big." The text told of a mind blowing 'you need to see this now' moment. Not wanting to waste any time, the two of them headed back to the very orange house, abandoning the tickets. They quickly stopped by Paula's but discovered she had run off again; there was no sense in waiting, so they continued on to Orange Kid's house.

The orange guy was pulling his hair back, a look a utter bewilderment on his face as he did so. "It bigger. I pulled out the micro kit, found a panel on the belt, popped it open, a small zap...then this." He revealed the tiny discovery had grown into a palm sized mystery. It was mainly sandstone. In the center was a foreign symbol that was glowing a cool blue. "I can't see a way to get in, or open it, or detect any energy or electricity from it...I want one of these watches. How does it work?"

Ness took a step toward the object and looked on in wonder. "I'm not sure," he said, dazed from the sight of the rock. Taking it in hand, it felt warm, and it vibrated some. "I'll have to take it to the manufacturer...for a manual." He held on tight and heard a small voice. It was so faint, if everyone in the room wasn't holding their breath, he may not have heard it. "...the theater," he said quietly to himself. "We have to go back," he said. Quickly thanking the man responsible, he took leave out the front door.

"What's going on?" Picky asked trying to keep up.

"Not sure, but I have a feeling..." He remembered how rattled Paula was when she couldn't contact him, and he also recalled her saying it was because he didn't have this stone. Ness assumed if he 'charged it' like she said to, he would be able to hear her better. It was as if this stone was opening a door and letting her voice in. The closer they got to the 'Runaway Five's' performance, the louder the voice got. "She's in here..." he said, pointing to the building. Now that he was this close, the voice in his head was clearer, and he knew she was in some sort of trouble.

"How could Paula have the tickets?" he said skeptically.

Now Ness didn't want to upset Paula by blabbing a whole bunch of confidential material, so telling his friend about what he was hearing wasn't possible. He decided to equivocate, "I heard her say she would break in if she couldn't get tickets. That's why she wasn't at home," he said.

Picky was reluctant at first, but was eventually coaxed into helping Ness. "There's a ped-way to the theater's upstairs in the restaurant next door." He had made deliveries to the restaurant before and was familiar with the layout. "There's a window out back, I could hoist you into it."

He snapped a finger, "Good idea." Or so he thought. The window Picky was talking about was only a few inches high and few more wide. "Am I supposed to liquify before I go in?" He stepped up on a box and had Picky help him the rest of the way up.

'I can hear 'Water Running'. I don't know where I'm at exactly...please come help me.' Paula's voice rang in his head again.

"Water Running?" Ness began to rethink his position, 'Maybe she's not here.'

Picky said and pushed him until he heard a 'thunk' on the other side. "You're bleeding aren't you?"

Ness picked himself up off the floor and brushed down his clothes. "No, I'm fine. I take a left from here?"

"You got it. Go down the hall and up the stairs on your left. You'll see the ped-way and you'll be able to hear the lounge by the end of it." He knew there was no one watching those doors, they were closed to the public. Picky had gotten him in behind the only locked door, and the rest was easy-peasy.

The instructions led him to the other side of the foot bridge, as planned. He pushed the door open to find a, previously unaccounted for, room full of people. They looked like they were getting ready to leave, they were packing there bags. Ness's eyes widened at the sight; not only was it the 'Sharks' from back in Onett, but they were packing burlap bags full of money. There was a differently dressed man among them, he was referred to as 'Frank' from what Ness could make out. They left in the opposite direction and he breathed a sigh of relief. One run in with the Sharks was enough for him. A terrifying thought crossed his mind: What if one of them remembered him from Onett? He laid the chill to rest and waited until the footsteps faded before he ventured into the theater building.

Making his way down the stairs he could hear the music playing as plain as day. When the door swung open, the band was going full swing. Their song ended and was credited as 'Water Running'. 'Oh, it was the name of the song. That's what she meant.' His mouth upturned in a smile, "she is in here," he said and began the hunt.

Dipping and bobbing through people was hard enough, but the heavy smoke in the air made it unbearable. Brushing the smoke away from his face was pointless, it would only make him look like he wasn't supposed to be there. Braving the fog was the only rout. 'In places like these, you should show up expecting this sort of thing, right,' he thought as a passing waitress offered him a glass of sparkling white wine, she was even kind enough to place it right in his hand. He raised an eyebrow at his glass, 'I have alcohol...but I can't use it here.' It wasn't like he enjoyed the taste, in fact, no more than a sip ever passed his lips; but if he didn't give off the air these people were used to, he'd stick out. Cautiously, he sipped the glass as he navigated the hopping floor.

"Wat' you up here for, you a spying foo?" said a familiar stereotypical voice; it was the punk from back in Onett.

Ness steadied himself, ready to call for help at a moment's notice. "I'm looking for my friend is all," he said, pretending not to hear the frustration in his voice.

"Think so? Well, we be seein' bout it." And with that, he took Ness by the arm and led him to another room. It was all he could do to hold his glass upright. "We have a home boy from the sticks, Frank. Is he cool?"

Frank was the man in charge of the Sharks, "Who, this wiener? He's nobody," the older man said and brushed him off. "But," he said and delicately turned on his heel, "There is one thing. That kid, Pokey," when he said this, a brief glimpse of the boy came into view. Everyone cowered away from the door.

"Pokey? What's he doing here?" Ness said as he leaned to look out.

"Get down!" Frank grabbed his scruff and pulled him down to crouch with the rest of them. "You know him? Then you know he's a blabber mouth. If he sees us, the whole town's going to know we do business through Everdread," his head snapped to Ness, "Forget I said that last part! Anyway, if you can distract him or get him thrown out of here, we won't kick your ass." A few of his flunkies backed him up with a 'yeah'.

"How do I do that?" Ness asked.

"You could start a fight with him," one of the backup said.

"That'll work," Frank complimented him on a good suggestion, "Go pick a fight with pudge-ball over there and we're square. Capiche?"

"Got ya...what does capiche mean?" he said, looking at a bemused Frank.

"Don't get smart with me kid," he said while shifting his toothpick to the other side of his mouth. "Do you want a beating?"

"No, and I don't want a beating from him either," Ness said, pointing in Pokey's direction. "He's a lot bigger than me, one hit and I'll go down."

They all ducked out of the way again as Pokey's I image flashed for a second in the doorway, frightening them all further into their cubbies. It was gone when the swinging door stopped moving. "You need courage?" Frank was holding Ness in front of him with the hops he would serve as a shield, "here," he said and slipped a flask around Ness's shoulder.

Ness sighed, for his options were few. "This is going to end badly."

Who knows, maybe it won't be so bad. ^-^'