“Just Passing Through” by Stoney M. Setzer

GHOST ROBBER STRIKES AGAIN!

The so-called “Ghost Robber” seems to have struck again Wednesday night, robbing the Southside branch of Fidelity Banking Company.

As with the previous thefts, there were no signs of forced entry, Captain Greg Haynes of the Metro Police Department reported. The lack of any physical clues – save for the stolen money – has given rise to the perpetrator’s nickname and has even sparked rumors that the thief may indeed have supernatural qualities.

Colby Riley chuckled as he tossed the paper aside, having no desire to finish reading the article. Somehow, reading about his exploits seemed horribly conceited.

“Colby!” came the cry from the other room. The young man rolled his eyes; not even supernatural powers could solve the problem of an invalid mother. Grumbling a reply, he pushed himself up from the kitchen table and walked into her room – passing straight through the connecting wall, of course.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Mom scolded from her wheelchair. “No matter how many times I see it, it just looks wrong.”

“Would you like for me to walk back through the wall and come in through the door?” Colby asked sarcastically.

“Like that would really help! While you’re at it, why don’t you find a fire and try to put it out with gasoline!”

“You never complained when Danny used his talents,” Colby sniffed.

“He has normal talents. But you – it’s like the papers say, like you’re a ghost or something.”

Here we go. Just like actors on a sitcom being rerun for the umpteenth time, they were repeating the same lines yet again. “Yeah, but at least my talent puts food on our table. We don’t even hear from him unless it’s a holiday, if then.” Yet you still like him better.

“And what you do is so good?” came the predictable retort. “At least he makes an honest living! Do you really think that’s why you were given that…power of yours?”

“You got a problem with where our money comes from? Lay off the food and medication it pays for, then!” Why do we have to do this every time? Colby lamented, knowing only too well that neither of them would stop the cycle until it had played out. Why couldn’t she be proud of him for being as careful as he was? Over the past year, he had disciplined himself into following an arbitrary pattern: One robbery every other night for a week, and then lay low until they had exhausted the spoils, sometimes months at a time. If nothing else, it certainly kept the trail cold for the police, but did she appreciate his foresight?

I’d like to see what Danny would do with this, he thought scornfully. As impulsive as he was, his older brother would probably throw on some crazy costume like a comic book villain and flaunt his power in broad daylight. Colby could hear him now: If I can walk through walls, no cell can hold me, right? So why not let them see me? Of course, Colby knew that Mom wouldn’t have any problem with it, just so long as it was Danny…

“You want me dead, is that it?” Mom squalled, true to form. “As if I didn’t already have one foot in the grave!”

At least they were coming to the end of their familiar routine. “No, Mom, you know that’s not it,” he protested, angry at how she could always make him feel lower than mildew. “I’m just trying to do the best I can by you, is all.”

“I know, son, I know,” she blubbered. “I just wish…”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Colby replied, taking her hand. “I haven’t got caught yet, and I’m not gonna. You know I play it too careful for that.”

“So you robbed that bank Wednesday,” she whispered. She alone knew his secret, and she guarded it even more tightly than he did. “I guess that means you’re going to hit one more Friday night?”

“Yeah, but you know the deal. That’s it till we run low again.”

“Please be careful.”

“Always, Mom.”

***

Colby had first discovered his power while he still worked the graveyard shift as a stockman at the grocery store. He was by far the youngest man on the shift, as well as the least liked. “Guys are sick of taking up your slack,” warned the shift foreman, “and I can’t protect you ’round the clock.”

Then nineteen, Colby had pretended to listen attentively and then quickly blown off the warning as soon as Hopkins moved on. As long as he was doing enough to keep his job – and he was doing just enough – then what did it matter what the others thought? They shouldn’t have any say in how many breaks he took or how often he took them. After all, he certainly didn’t stick his nose into their business. Convinced of his own justification, he promptly retired to the break room for a candy bar and cola. Unfortunately, everyone else noticed.

Thirty minutes later, Colby went into the walk-in freezer to get a pallet of frozen food. As always, the air was frigid, but his blood truly ran cold when he heard the door slamming behind him, followed by the ominous sound of the door’s padlock. “Hey!” he yelped, rushing over to bang on the metal door. “Let me out of here!”

“Now you can really chill out!” someone taunted. A chorus of guffaws resounded and then faded as Colby’s co-workers abandoned him. For fifteen minutes, Colby pounded futilely on the unyielding door, his cries falling on deaf ears. Soon he began to panic. Got to get out, got to get out before I freeze to death, he thought as he frantically pushed against the wall…

…Only to be amazed as his arm went through the metal barrier.

He jumped back in a knee-jerk response, and then slowly tried it again. At first nothing happened, but as he concentrated on getting out of the icy prison, Colby found himself able to penetrate the wall once again. Here goes nothing, he thought, throwing his entire body into it.

There was a prickling sensation all over his skin, and suddenly Colby feared that he had made a horrible mistake. He had to hold his breath, just like swimming underwater. However, it lasted but a moment, and then he found himself outside the freezer, back in the stockroom. No one else was around.

It was time for revenge. Willing himself to pass through the back wall of the stockroom, he went out to the parking lot and then applied his newfound skill to each of his tormentors’ cars, reaching through the hoods to do maximum damage to each one’s engine. “You care so much about this job, why don’t y’all stay here for a while?” he mumbled in sadistic glee. Immediately thereafter, he strode away from the grocery store for the last time.

Although no one ever pinned the vandalism on him – after all, his gift left no clues save for the damage itself – he found himself unable to get another job. Jobs weren’t exactly abundant in his community in the first place, and the recommendations given by his former employers were far from glowing. As the weeks passed, he and his mother became desperate, and that was when the idea of using his power for theft dawned upon him.

***

In his brief career of larceny, Colby had yet to target the main offices of Security Bank downtown. Because it was the largest financial institution in the city, he had found its headquarters too intimidating a challenge before. Since he knew so little about the nature of his powers, he harbored a nagging fear that something would go awry if he tried to tackle such a formidable mark.

Tonight was different. His unique gift had yet to fail him, allowing his confidence to surge to an all-time high. As a result, Colby decided that it was time for him to advance to bigger game. Donning his standard black attire, he crept over to the bank’s headquarters shortly after midnight.

I’ll take a break after this, he reminded himself, let the trail get cold again. Then maybe I need to expand my horizons a little, hit some of the bigger cities and bigger banks. Colby smiled in spite of himself as his imagination ran wild. Had Fort Knox ever been robbed? That would definitely be worth a top spot on his bucket list.

Stealthily he crept over to the edge of the building, waiting for several seconds before he utilized his power. As always, Colby felt the familiar prickling sensation as he slid through the brick walls, but for some reason it seemed more intense than ever before. Then again, these are pretty thick walls, and I am a little nervous about this one.

Colby shifted into his normal procedure, tracing the wiring inside the walls so that he could disable the security systems. He had always been interested in electronics had even taken a few classes at the local technical college before his money ran out. Mom had been after him to go back to school, but with his power, he didn’t see much point. Why work when he could go get what they needed?

Locating the appropriate wires was never particularly difficult, and he was pleasantly surprised to find that Security Bank was no exception. The trick always came in allowing his fingertips to become tangible just long enough to yank wires without letting the rest of his hand and arm solidify as well. It had come naturally the night that he had sabotaged the cars back at the store, but ever since he had found the task required keen concentration, almost as if the rage made it easier.

As always, however, Colby was up to the challenge, and within minutes the bank’s elaborate alarm and surveillance systems had been neutralized. He then slid out of the walls and allowed himself to solidify again, thus giving himself a rest before penetrating the safe. Due to the level of concentration his power required, using it in short bursts was best. It wouldn’t do to rematerialize in the middle of a solid wall simply because he fatigued himself into a mental lapse. Besides, it gave him time to locate the safe and plot the best escape route.

Finding the safe was relatively easy, and Colby rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Why had he been so nervous? Now that he was on the inside, he saw that Security Bank was neither more nor less difficult than any of his past marks. Just another day at the office.

As he infiltrated the safe, the prickling sensation became even more severe than it had been upon his initial entry, and Colby found the passage far slower than usual. Something was wrong. In his mind, he tried desperately to explain away the irregularity, only to find that he could not. Better make this quick, Colby decided, but passing through the wall of the safe, ordinarily child’s play, had suddenly become a near impossibility.

Finally he reached the other side of the wall and almost collapsed as he reverted to his normal state. “Unbelievable,” he muttered as he slumped to the floor and leaned back against a wall. No hurry now, though. Give yourself a rest before you try to get out of here…

Only then did he notice the dead guard sprawled across the middle of the floor.

Horrified, Colby sprang to his feet. The man was old enough to be his grandfather. He lay face up on the cold floor, a single bullet hole piercing the uniform shirt right over his now-silenced heart. Upon the guard’s face remained a grotesque expression of surprise and terror.

Involuntarily Colby retched, barely turning his head away in time. He slowly turned back, hoping that it was some sort of crazy dream or sick hallucination, but knowing that he would be disappointed. As he expected, the corpse had not gone anywhere.

“No way,” Colby murmured aloud, running his fingers through his hair. “This can’t be happening!” In all of his previous jobs, the Ghost Robber had made it a point not to harm so much as a single hair on anyone’s head. The papers and news broadcasts could say whatever they liked about him being a thief, but no one could accuse him of being a violent man. On more than one occasion, that had helped to appease his conscience when he would begin to feel guilty about his crimes: At least I’m not actually hurting anyone; I’m just trying to take care of my own.

At that moment Colby realized that he had to abort. If he stole anything now, everyone would assume that he was responsible for the heist – and the dead guard. Should he ever have the misfortune of getting caught, he would be charged with a murder he did not commit. His only hope of avoiding such an accusation would be to walk away empty-handed. Colby could have cared less about who had actually killed the guard; he only wished to keep himself out of it. Concentrating, he focused on leaving as he had entered. He walked over to the wall…

…And found it impenetrable.

Dumbfounded, Colby tried again and again, only to meet the same futile result. Oh no, not now. Please, not now!

After the eighth failed attempt, his legs turned to jelly and he sank to the floor as the realization hit him like an eighteen-wheeler. His power had left him as suddenly as it had come, and now was when he needed it most. Now he was no different than any ordinary man, except that he shared a locked bank vault with a murder victim – most ordinary men managed to avoid such circumstances.

“Surely you didn’t think you would get by with this forever?” a voice intoned from behind, nearly making him jump out of his skin.

“Who’s there?” Colby demanded as he spun around.

A dignified man dressed entirely in black stood over the cadaver. Graying temples suggested that the man had seen at least four decades pass, as did the wrinkles in his brow. A black hood, not unlike those executioners used to wear long ago, obscured all but his eyes. His body language seemed supremely self-assured, proclaiming that he held all of the cards. He also held a semiautomatic pistol in his hand, trained right at Colby.

“That’s the downfall of most criminals,” he said calmly, as if he were a college professor addressing a pack of freshmen. “You don’t think you’ll get caught, and that’s always the first step in your undoing.”

“Mind telling me just who you are?” Colby snapped.

The man threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, you are a piece of work! Making demands of me as if I were your prisoner rather than the other way around! You have your nerve, I’ll give you that much.”

Colby could only stare at him in silence for a moment. Until now, he had never realized what a one-trick pony he had been in his life of crime. Without the power, he didn’t have anything that could have made him a successful thief – or that could be of any use to him in this situation. Finally, he asked again, “Who are you?”

“You don’t deserve to know,” the man scoffed, “but I suppose I feel sorry enough for you to tell you. You are kind of pitiful, after all, especially without your power. You may call me Verdict. I am here because the day of your judgment has come.”

“Judgment for what?”

“Are you really that stupid? For your crimes, you twit!”

Colby’s ears were suddenly ablaze with embarrassment. He already knew that he wasn’t the smartest man around, but having Verdict rub his nose in it was like salt in a wound. Were it not for Verdict’s weapon, he might have even attacked. Knowing better, however, he merely stood trembling in suppressed rage, his knuckles white as his arms hung by his sides.

Worse, Verdict was now smirking at him, clearly relishing in his shame. “Aw, what’s the matter?” he taunted. “Does the truth hurt? Well, nobody ever promised you otherwise!”

Desperate for some sort of a comeback, Colby blurted, “If you’re a judge, don’t I at least have the right to hear the charges against me?” After he said it, he actually felt proud of himself. That was pretty good thinking, at least by his standards. He might never win a battle of wits, but at least he did score one point.

“Fair enough,” Verdict replied with a shrug. “I hereby charge you with the abuse of a gift.”

“Huh?” Colby had expected some mention of his robberies, so the charge as it had been phrased threw him for a loop.

“Quite a gift, that power of yours. How many people do you know who can walk through walls? A rare, wonderful gift is bestowed upon you, and you use it to rob banks?”

“Look,” Colby stammered, “you don’t understand. I never meant to become a criminal, but I couldn’t find work, and I have to look after my mother, and…”

“Silence!” Verdict roared in a booming authoritarian voice. “Young man, excuses are rather like feet. Everyone has them, they generally stink, and they are beneath the time and dignity of this court. Your judgment shall be to be found in this bank vault with this corpse.” He gestured theatrically toward the guard’s body.

“But they’ll think I killed him!” Colby exclaimed as he teetered on the brink of tears. “I told you why I did this! Please, have mercy on me!”

“If you expect mercy, cry out to God,” came the sarcastic reply. “I only specialize in judgment. Court is now adjourned!” The vault exploded into a blinding flash of light, forcing Colby to look away. Once his eyes had cleared, he saw that he was quite alone, save for the dead guard. Verdict had vanished as abruptly as he had appeared.

Newfound panic seized him as he frantically searched for some means of escape. Much to his dismay, the safe was perfectly built. Without his powers, there was no way in or out except for the huge, circular door…

…Which now swung open.

“Freeze!” someone shouted as a flashlight beam found Colby in the darkness. “Put your hands where I can see them!”

Slowly Colby complied as his limbs shook violently in terror. Two policemen entered the vault, probing the darkness with their flashlights. It took longer than he expected for them to find the body – a whole five seconds. “Oh, my God,” the older of the two groaned. “It’s Jenkins. He must have just barely had time to call before…”

Just great, Colby lamented, his mind reeling. They knew this guy! How much worse can this get?

“Don’t move a muscle!” ordered the younger cop, pointing his weapon at Colby. “You’re under arrest. You have the right to…”

Impulsively, Colby lunged for the nearest wall. This is crazy, it won’t work, and I’m just going to…

Much to his surprise, as well as his infinite relief, he felt himself passing through the wall. Behind him, he could hear the sound of gunfire, but he managed to slip in before any of the cop’s bullets could find their mark. Once he was safely inside, he paused and held his ear just near enough to the surface of the wall to listen. The policemen’s voices were muffled, as if they had suddenly been engulfed in cotton, but he could make out enough to get the gist of their words.

“…See that?” “…Ghost Robber!” “…Backup!”

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. He might have managed to avoid capture for the time being, but his freedom could not have come with a worse price tag. Not only would the guard’s murder be attributed to him, but also he had been seen now – using his powers, no less!

How did I get them back, anyway? And didn’t I go to high school with that one cop? Oh, God, if he recognized me…

Suddenly Colby gasped for air. He had always walked straight through walls before without pausing within them, and now he realized that it was like swimming underwater. You couldn’t stay there indefinitely; sooner or later you had to come out for air. Knowing what lay behind him, he pushed forward, emerging just as he felt sure that his lungs would rupture under the strain.

“Freeze! We have you surrounded! Put your hands above your head!”

He had stepped out onto the sidewalk parallel to Concord Avenue, which skirted the western wall of the bank. Flashing blue lights and a flashlight leveled directly at his face broke up the darkness of the night. Squinting, he tried without success to see how many cops confronted him now. Since when does backup come this fast around here? he wondered vaguely. A lot of things weren’t adding up, but he hardly had time to sort through them now.

“No funny stuff! Lie down on the ground!” bellowed the officer who had just told him to freeze. Colby started to comply, then stopped as a sudden flash of inspiration burst into his mind. Could it work? I’ve never tried it before, but desperate times…

“I said get down!”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Colby asked.

“Yes! Now do it!”

“As you wish.” Colby started slowly, then dove for the pavement, concentrating on it with all of his might. His molecules slid through those of the ground as he plummeted straight through it. Immediately he willed himself solid again, afraid of letting himself fall too far. He could just picture himself descending through the crust of the earth, down into the mantle, perhaps even the core itself. What if it worked like in the cartoons, and he emerged in China somewhere? Or even worse, what if he found Hades?

As it was, he solidified just in time to do a belly flop in the rancid waters running through the sewer system. Nauseating, to say the least, but it was far preferable to the fate he had just eluded. Pushing himself up, he spat the vile sewage out of his mouth. What did people in this town eat, anyway?

From the sewer grate overhead, Colby could hear the confused shouts of the cops above. “What in the…?” “That was the Ghost Robber!” “He killed Jenkins!” “Where did he go?” “Quick, somebody check the sewers!”

Swearing under his breath, Colby shoved himself to his feet. He then picked a direction and ran, careful to keep himself intangible. Even though he didn’t plan on passing through any walls, the last thing he needed was for his pursuers to hear his feet splashing in the sewage. Thanks to his newly restored power, he didn’t make so much as a ripple, perfectly hiding his retreat. He had run a good hundred yards away and made two turns in the labyrinthine tunnels before the policemen could find and open the nearest manhole cover.

After a few minutes, he let himself rematerialize and waited silently. He couldn’t hear the police, but that didn’t mean much. They probably weren’t going to make a lot of noise to announce themselves…

A sharp pain at the base of his skull interrupted his thoughts, and Colby involuntarily sank to his knees. Colby managed to stay conscious, but just barely. “If you make one false move, I’ll kill you,” Verdict’s voice whispered from behind. “I’ve already killed once tonight, as you recall.”

“How did you find me down here?”

“You didn’t think you would escape me that easily, did you? Haven’t you ever watched a cat toying with a mouse?”

Desperately Colby looked for the nearest wall until Verdict threw his head back and laughed. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how I neutralized your little power last time! I must have whacked you harder than I thought!”

“Some judge you make,” Colby spat. “Since when can murderers pass judgment on thieves?”

“Who says that I didn’t pass judgment on him as well?” Verdict snapped. “Since when can the accused point fingers at their judges?”

That hit a nerve, Colby realized. Good to know.

Verdict quickly returned to a calmer tone, but he still wasn’t quite as cool as before. “If you must know, he was on the take, had been for years. So I judged him while setting the stage for you. See, I have something of an inside line with the police. That’s how I was able to pull the strings to get Jenkins there and have backup arrive as quickly as it did. Now they’ve seen you, and your description is being broadcast as we speak. Of course, if an ‘anonymous’ tip told them your name as well…”

“You don’t even know my name,” Colby interrupted.

“Oh, I don’t? You mean you’re not Colby Riley of 505 Sycamore Lane?”

Colby felt nauseous. “What do you want? Name your price, and we’ll figure something out.”

“So now we add bribery to your record! You truly have no limits, do you? All I want is to see you suffer for your crimes! I want you to face judgment!”

“Look, if I could find a job, I wouldn’t be doing this. All I’m trying to do is support me and my mother…”

“Your mother, huh?” Though Colby still had his back turned to him, he could picture Verdict grinning from ear to ear. “Yes, that’s a card that I can play. 505 Sycamore, here I come!” Colby could see the far wall of the sewer illuminated by a flash of light, and he knew that Verdict was gone again.

Colby’s heart sank. This guy was obviously smart enough – and crazy enough – to be capable of anything. Mom’s only hope was for him to get home right away…

Are you crazy? Don’t you think that’s where the police will go first, if they figure out who you are? Don’t you think that’s what Verdict wants? Do you think she’d even appreciate it if she was in danger and you tried to save her?

It didn’t matter. No matter what happened, Colby couldn’t let anything happen to Mom without a fight. He tested to see if his powers were working again and was relieved to find that they were. Whatever Verdict did to his powers only seemed to work when he was around. If nothing else, having the powers back would help him get out of here and reach the house without being arrested.

After that, who knew?

***

He had just risen through the manhole cover when a police car turned down the street. He could read the words “Right there!” on one of the officers’ lips before the sirens came on.

Instinctively Colby ran for an abandoned brick building nearby, knowing that his time was limited. He dove through the wall, barely noticing the sensation as his molecules passed through before solidifying again on the other side. He heard the cruiser screech to a halt outside. A succession of similar sounds followed. Great, back-up. Just what I need. Now what?

“Come out with your hands up!” bellowed a voice through a bullhorn. “We have you surrounded!” Never mind the fact that they knew he could pass right through them.

Still, this wasn’t good. Even if they couldn’t arrest him, they were hindering him from reaching Mom. He didn’t have time to get away on foot…

Inspiration dawned on him in a flash. It was a crazy gamble, but he had no better alternative.

Concentrating, he strode back through the wall. The now-familiar sight of stern policemen confronted him, but this time he felt no alarm. If this plan worked, then his chances of reaching Mom improved dramatically; if it failed, then he had no chance at all. No pressure.

“Freeze! You are under arrest!” Colby didn’t freeze. Intently concentrating, he strode forward as if he had heard nothing. “I said freeze!” the cop bellowed, but still Colby did not respond.

“Open fire!” The cops squeezed their triggers…and watched in shock as the bullets passed right through him. Colby paid no attention; he couldn’t afford it. Even the most fleeting distraction right now could be fatal.

“Hold your fire!” a veteran cop commanded. “We’re liable to hit each other!”

Without breaking stride, Colby marched straight for the nearest cruiser, merely passing through anyone who happened to be in his way. He penetrated the front bumper and then the engine compartment, drawing nearer to his destination with each passing moment. If he could just hold his concentration a bit longer, he could breathe again…

At last he was through the windshield and into the passenger compartment. He materialized, hungrily taking in a deep breath. Fortunately for him, the cop driving this one had left the keys in the ignition.

“What in the…?” the commander cried. “Quick, block him in!”

The nearest officers scrambled to comply, but Colby had already reactivated his penetration powers by that point, making the car he touched permeable with them. It was the same trick he used to carry money out of banks, but this was the first time he had ever tried it on something so big. Fortunately, it worked like a charm as his commandeered vehicle passed through the would-be blockade as if it were thin air.

***

Even driving at breakneck speed, it seemed to take forever to get home. Colby had thought about pushing his powers to their limit, forgoing the streets themselves and taking an as-the-crow-flies route, driving through whatever stood in his path. However, he wasn’t confident that he could keep himself and the car permeable for a prolonged period. It wouldn’t do Mom any good at all if his powers gave out and he materialized in the midst of passing through another car or someone’s house. He would get stuck at best; at worst, it might even prove fatal, and there was too much at stake to risk it. As it was, he only allowed himself to pass through any slower traffic that found its way in front of him, rematerializing as quickly as possibly afterward.

Naturally, the police were chasing him as best they could without the benefit of his power. Even when he made himself intangible, Colby was still quite visible. Besides that, this cruiser probably had one of those anti-theft devices that allowed the cops to track its every move. At most, he might only have a few minutes at the house before the police came on the scene, but maybe that was just as well. If they met up with Verdict and could see him for what he was, then it would be worth it.

He knew the second that he turned down his street that he was too late. Verdict stood on the front porch, his left arm wrapped around Mom’s neck as his right hand pressed the pistol against her temple. Her eyes were bulging in terror as she struggled to break free. Colby parked the car and tried to pass through it, but the power had left him again, forcing him to use the car door. “Let her go!” he shouted. “She has nothing to do with this!”

“Yes, she does,” Verdict retorted. “If she’s the reason that you commit your crimes, then she’s part of the problem and must be judged.”

Desperation and terror like none Colby had ever dreamed possible assailed him. Taking care of Mom was the reason he had launched his career in crime. Although they had their conflicts, seeing her in such dire peril on his account seemed more punishing to him than anything else that Verdict might have thrown at him. Worse, the very presence of the Verdict had neutralized his powers once more. He only had one option, a Hail Mary if there had ever been one.

“I thought you had come to pass judgment on me!” he shouted, trying to keep the trembling in his limbs out of his voice. “Well, here I am! Do what you will to me, but leave her alone!”

The look of horror on Mom’s face a moment ago paled in comparison to what was there now. “Colby, no! What are you doing? No!”

“Let me handle this, Mom!” Please, God, don’t let this turn out to be stupid. Just let this work long enough… “Verdict! You make all this talk about coming to judge the guilty, and here I am! She may have been sick, but she never told me to do what I did! All of that was my decision!”

Verdict didn’t release Mom altogether, but he did relax his grip somewhat. “Keep talking! I’m listening!”

“She’s innocent, though. If you do anything do her, then you will be just as guilty as I am.” He paused and then continued, “Of course, you already are anyway, aren’t you?”

Verdict bristled. “What do you mean?”

“You killed that guy back at the bank, didn’t you? Yeah, what he did was wrong – assuming you’re even telling the truth about that, but what gives you the right to kill someone over that?”

“Somebody has to be the judge over these people!” Verdict retorted, the pitch of his voice getting higher. For the first time, his once-unflappably self-righteous demeanor appeared to be shaken. As Verdict became more upset, Colby began to feel different. He felt stronger, like he did when his foe wasn’t around – like he did when his powers were working.

“OK, then, but who’s going to be the judge over you?” Colby countered, now eager to press the issue.

Before Verdict could answer, sirens and squealing tires pierced the air as the police finally caught up to them. As they jumped out of their cars, weapons at the ready, Colby quickly raised one hand in surrender and pointed toward Verdict with the other. “That’s the one who killed the bank guard!” he shouted. “Now he’s got my mom!”

The officer in charge took a quick look, his jaw dropping in surprise. “Ferrell, keep this man covered. The rest of you, cover the house! You, on the front porch, drop your weapon!”

“I won’t do it!” Verdict screamed, his voice shrill and less controlled than ever. Concurrently, Colby felt more like himself than he had since arriving here. “I have to pass judgment on these people, just like I did with Jenkins!”

“You knew him?” the officer asked. “Are you confessing?”

“He needed to be judged, and since you are standing in the way of justice, so do you!” With that, Verdict did the last thing Colby would have expected. He pushed Mom out of the way and began firing wildly toward the cops.
Colby didn’t understand why Verdict did that, but he wasn’t about to squander the opportunity. Concentrating, he sprinted forward, relieved to find the bullets passing straight through him. Once he reached the porch, he solidified just long enough to grab Mom’s hand. “Come on!” he shouted, making himself permeable once more, spreading the effect to her. They slid through the house wall. He hauled her into the bathroom before finally solidifying.

“So that’s what it feels like?” she gasped. “I think I’d rather be chained to the bottom of a swimming pool!”

“I never said it felt good. You stay here.”

“What are you going to do?” Mom demanded, her voice quaking with panic.

Outside, the din of gunfire abruptly stopped. Colby wasn’t surprised; the police had Verdict heavily outnumbered, and the porch didn’t offer anything he could have used to shield himself. “I think they took him out,” he whispered, “and now I’m going to have to go on the run.”

“And leave me here? Who’s going to take care of me?”

“I’ll figure out some way to take care of you, Mom. But if they catch me, then you’ll be…”

“Freeze! Police!” The cops kicked open the bathroom door and stormed in, weapons ready. “You’re under arrest!”

Ordinarily Colby would have used his powers to flee, but with Mom right there, he didn’t want to give them any reason to start shooting. Instead, he raised his hands. “What about Verdict?”

“He’s dead. You may be off the hook for Jenkins, but we’re still taking you in for all those robberies.”

As Mom began to weep, an idea came to Colby. “All right, I give up. Mom, you’re going to need to call Danny. Maybe if he sees he doesn’t have a choice, he’ll get off his butt and do something.”

Colby was reluctant to let the cops lead him away, but he wasn’t too worried about it; he knew he could escape soon. Then he would be free to help Mom again.

After all, I’m the Ghost Robber. If I can walk through walls, no cell can hold me, right?


.

About the Author

Stoney M. Setzer lives south of Atlanta, GA, with his beautiful wife and three wonderful children. As a fiction writer, he strives to create suspenseful stories with spiritual themes. His works have been featured in such publications as Residential Aliens; Dragons, Knights & Angels; and Christian Sci-Fi Journal, as well as a number of anthologies. Recently, he has also published an anthology of his own work entitled Zero Hour, which is available on www.amazon.com. He is employed as a middle school special education teacher.