"Rise and shine, kids."
It wasn't Aunt Mandy's voice that woke them up though it helped, but rather the blinding light that hit their eyelids. Their attempts to escape the light by hiding underneath the covers or use a pillow as a shield failed when they were snatched away. Grumpily, they forced their eyes open as they sat up. They yawned as they rubbed the tiredness out of their eyes.
For a moment, they wondered why they were sleeping in the same bed. They also wondered why they didn't recognize the room they were in. Andy's room was a pigsty. His things were almost never put away except when his mother threatened to toss them out, and even then, she didn't always go through her threat. Byron wasn't sure why. Aunt Mandy wasn't the type to back down, but Andy simply shrugged his shoulders.
Byron's room wasn't as messy. He didn't want to cause him mom trouble so he did his best to clean up, however, he would still miss something. Also, his room wasn't as empty as the current room they were in. Cylde's bedroom probably looked the closest. He couldn't stand messes. It was ingrained into him by his mom and dad. Everything had to be put away nice and neat.
Then yesterday's events came flooding in. After they got the lease signed and they got their apartment, they had gone sightseeing for a little bit. It wasn't that interesting. Sure, they never left their home before, but they simply went from one city to another. There were a lot of the same places. In the end, they had gone to bed early.
They were sharing a room since there were only four bedrooms. The kids didn't have a problem sharing a room. Since none of them had siblings, they never had to share except when they had sleep overs. Well, only Andy and Byron had sleep over at each other's house. Cylde had never anyone over before. They intended to change that once they got back home.
"Now that you're up I expect to get dressed. We have a big day today."
After being nudged out of bed, they immediately set off to do their morning routine. Andy didn't bother changing out of his pajamas and headed to the kitchen to have breakfast. Byron and Cylde picked out their outfits for the day, but parted ways when Cylde went to brush his teeth while Byron went to join Andy in the kitchen. Breakfast was already set out, and they quickly took their seats.
When Mandy saw that Andy hadn't changed, she shouted, "Why are you still in your pajamas? Get dressed."
"I'll do that later," he said as he reached for a pancake.
She smacked his hand. "Not so fast, you lazy brat. As if I'll let you drop food on your pajamas." Pointing in the direction they had come from, she said, "Get dressed. Now."
"Why does it matter? You'll still wash them anyway."
"Then you can do your own laundry from now on. March."
Andy scowled but allowed himself to be herded out just as Cylde entered and sat next to Byron. He turned to him with the question of what was going on burning in his eyes. Byron quickly explained what happened as he poured a generous amount of syrup on his pancakes. Then a plate of strangely colored pancakes was set in front of Cylde, drawing Byron's attention.
The sight of very red pancakes made him blink. It seemed to be soaked in a large amount of red sauce. Only Cylde and his dad were eating the very different pancakes. He was about to ask about it when Aunt Mandy and Andy returned. Taking his seat, Andy grumbled about being forced to change when he didn't need to. Aunt Mandy shot a glare in his direction as he grabbed a pancake.
When he glanced in Cylde's direction, he wrinkled his nose as he said, "Does it have to be so bloody? It smells."
"It tastes better that way."
Bloody? Smells? What was Andy talking about? It looked like strawberry syrup to him though he had to admit he had never seen red pancakes before. Strawberry pancakes were the closest he had seen. Before he could ask what they were talking about, his mother walked up from behind him. Seeing that he wasn't eating his slowly drowning pancakes, she frowned.
"Byron," she said as he spun his head in her direction. "Eat your breakfast before it gets soggy. It won't taste good if it gets soggy."
Andy pitched in, "Yeah, it's not like you're a ghoul who loves his food all squishy."
"My food is not squishy."
"It's squishy if it wiggles."
"Don't touch my food."
At Ethel's warning tone, they immediately said, "Sorry."
That's right. Cylde and his dad were ghouls. He heard that ghouls were meat eaters. Did that mean they could only eat meat? He leaned towards Cylde to take a closer look at his "pancakes". He gave him a weird look but didn't move or say anything as Byron stared at his "pancakes". They were shaped like pancakes except they didn't smell like pancakes. Even without Andy's sense of smell, he could tell that much. He wasn't going to taste it.
Still unsure of what it was, he asked, "What are those?"
"Special pancakes for my two boys," said Ethel.
"They're basically breakfast steaks. Nothing special about it."
"Andy," warned Aunt Mandy. "Eat your breakfast."
Scoffing, Andy stuffed a whole pancake down his throat. Used to the sight, Byron didn't blink as Andy swallowed it down with the chocolate syrup. Like a regular snake, he could unhinge jaw and swallow his food whole. He usually didn't do that since Aunt Mandy said it was not proper manners and scared others. She mentioned something about man eaters. He probably misheard her, but he still didn't get what was so scary about meat eaters.
While he wasn't crazy about meat-nothing could beat macaroni-he liked it. His mom liked it. Aunt Mandy liked it. Ethel probably liked it. Cylde and his dad did too, but they didn't count since they were ghouls. Practically everyone liked it. Well, not everyone he admitted. Giraffes and birds didn't like meat. Wait, did worms and fish count as meat? He scratched his head (not literally).
"You're going to choke if you keep stuffing yourself," said Cylde.
Andy mumbled incoherently as he forced another pancake down his throat. Everyone wrinkled their nose in disgust. Aunt Mandy slapped his back as she shouted, "Don't speak with your mouth full, brat!"
He fell out of his seat in an attempt to avoid the projectile heading in his direction. The sound of other chairs screeching told him that he wasn't the only one who tried to avoid the mush that was once a pancake. They stared at the wall where it struck. Bits and pieces of pancake were scattered all over. Byron couldn't decide if he was grossed out that Andy had coughed up his food or impressed with the end result.
As Aunt Mandy screeched at him for making a mess and Andy screamed right back at her that it was her fault, he settled with finishing his breakfast. To his annoyance, his pancakes were mushy just like the one on the wall. He had used too much syrup and left them alone for too long. While he wanted to push it aside and get new ones, he knew his mom would get mad about wasting food.
With a grimace, he practically swallowed it down. They were so soft that he didn't need to bother chewing. Well, he did chew a little bit. Even if the pancake was soggy, it was too big for him to eat in one bite. He wasn't Andy after all. He managed a few bites before he felt something nudge him. Pausing in the middle of taking another bite, he turned to look at what nudged him. It was Cylde.
"Does Andy do that a lot?"
"Eat his food whole."
It was true. If he ate his food whole, for some reason, he had to wait a lot longer before he could play. He would complain being sleepy or feeling uncomfortable moving. The few times he did try to play despite how he was feeling, he ended up slinking off with a queasy look on his face. Thankfully, he never actually threw up. Byron couldn't see anything positive about being able to eat his food whole.
Suddenly, a plate of pancakes were slammed down onto the table. Everyone stared at Reba who smiled stiffly at them. "Eat. Your. Breakfast."
There were no more mishaps after that. Soon everything was cleaned up including what Andy had coughed up earlier, and they were out the door in a blink. The kids were excited to know what kind of training they would be doing despite their misgivings the previous day. There had to be a reason their moms wanted to go to a different city for their training.
Carrying their bats, they wondered if they were going to actually use them on people. Their moms had rarely allowed them to use their bats after what happened at the police station. Frankly, Byron had been sure it would have been the opposite. He would have thought they would insist they use their bats all the time. Then again they were never left alone even for a second anymore. The only exception was when they were school.
If their moms had it their way, they would never let them out of their sights, but that wasn't the case. All of them had jobs. They couldn't skip work whenever they felt like it. Reba was an athletic trainer, Mandy was a nurse, and Ethel was a welder. None of them were very cool jobs. In fact, when the kids had gone to their moms' workplaces, they ended up waiting on the sidelines to finish.
What they didn't realize was the strangeness about their work. Athletic trainers worked longer than 40 hours per week especially if they were also teachers, and their schedules were heavily dependent on other things like weather. Nurses and welders did have regular eight hour shifts, but they could easily become longer with welders possibly working up to 70 hours per week while nurses could work 12 hour shifts that were more like 14 hours.
Considering what their jobs were, something didn't quite add up. All three of them worked regular eight hour shifts all the time. Not only that, but they oddly had day offs on the exact same days. There was also the fact they didn't have the telltale signs of their job such as rough skin or stress from intensive work. A stranger would assume they worked an office job.
Maybe if they were older or were interested in their moms' work, they would have asked questions. Unfortunately, they were still in elementary school, and the two dads had what they considered cooler jobs than their moms. One was a hero, and another was a stuntman. Those jobs were definitely much better than being an athletic trainer, nurse, or welder.
Mandy made it clear none of them could grow up to be stuntman much to their disappointment. Andy's dad could get away with it because he never got hurt when performing stunts ever. Given that he had absolute invulnerability, it wasn't surprising. It was a little vexing for Andy since he inherited more from his mom than his dad so no absolute invulnerability for him.
Stopping in what appeared to be an abandoned park, they turned to Mandy who said, "Now that we're here it's time for some training."
The boys cheered. Immediately, they clamored to know what they would be learning. They already learned the appropriate way to hold a bat and what were the best places to hit. Technically, they could just swing it like if they were playing baseball or whatever way they wanted, but their moms wanted them to be careful not to hit things or people they were supposed to. Their moms also wanted them to avoid hurting themselves or losing their weapons in a fight.
Would they finally learn how to use the other weapons they've been given? Inside the bats, they already had knives and poisons. Andy was eager to use the later while Byron hoped to learn the former. Cylde wanted to know both. Their moms assured them that they would get to learn both, but they wanted to introduce them to some people who volunteered to help.
At the sight of Phrynosoma, the kids instantly ran up to them, ignoring their parents. "Mr. P, you're going to teach us how to fight?" Byron asked.
"I will teach you how to defend yourself, yes," he said.
"What will you be teaching us?" This time it was Cylde.
"You haven't learned how to fight against real opponents yet. I will demonstrate what a fight will be like."
This gave them mixed feelings. Yes, they wanted to learn how to fight, and the fight of fighting someone like an alien was exciting. At the same time, Andy and Byron already had experience fighting, and it wasn't all the impressive compared to what their moms could do. They didn't really know what to expect when they fought Phrynosoma.
Well, they quickly learned that whatever they thought about fights were nothing compared to what with Phrynosoma. They had been completely and utterly destroyed. None of them had even managed to lay a hand on him. This annoyed Andy the most who kept throwing himself at the alien even though he already knew it wasn't going to work.
"For very young children with no experience with fighting, I can say that your current skill level is unsurprising," he commented when they took a break an hour later.
"That's because you're so strong, mister," said Cylde "It's not fair. There's no way we could win."
"Your opponents won't play fair. They would use dirty tricks to win. If I had been fighting seriously, you would all be dead within minutes."
Andy hissed as he pointed at him, "I don't believe that for a second. There's no way we can be that weak. We've already beaten up someone before."
"I've heard about it from your mothers. Beating up an already injured opponent is not commendable even if they are scum. It isn't a reliable way to gauge your strength."
"He's right, brat," said Mandy. "He's really strong. He's the one who's been getting rid of criminals here without getting caught by the police."
"While it is not exactly a secret, I must admit that I didn't expect you to try to use this knowledge to coerce me to teach your children."
The kids turned to look at each other. What did coerce mean, and what did it have to do with him teaching them? Then their eyes swiveled as they heard voice approaching. They weren't the only ones as the parents tensed. The voices continued to get louder until a group burst into the park. Both sides froze as they recognized each other. This was awkwardly familiar.