The Witching Hour: Shapeshifters is complete and is a Kindle book. Next will be Nook and iPad versions...
Copyright © 2010-2011 Samantha Jane Austen
Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN): 2011927514
The Witching Hour: Shapeshifters
The Witching Hour — the time between midnight and three am when all things supernatural are at their most powerful.
I could hear them drawing near, the sound of their hurried footsteps ever closer as I ran, dodging tree branches and leaping over exposed roots. Leaves and debris on the forest floor helped to cushion my footfalls and deaden the sound of my passing. I made a sharp left turn and was surprised to hear them stop. But I wasn’t going to wait around to find out if they would figure out which way I went. Then I heard them again as they re-grouped and headed off, following my new direction. I zig-zagged a few more times and each time they had to slow their advance to get their bearings but they were good, I would give them that. If there had been any doubt that they would kill me if they caught me, it was gone now.
I couldn’t outrun them, but I could get away. I pulled up an image in my mind’s eye of a raptor, a hawk. The image filled my mind until it took over my every thought and my entire being. I was almost through the trees now and I knew what lay ahead. The adrenaline rush I always experienced before the change surged through my veins and my heart felt as though it was trying to beat its way out of my chest but still I ran. As I reached the tree line and beyond, I took a leap of faith and soared out across the vast nothingness where the ground fell away and a five hundred foot drop loomed. I could feel myself beginning to transform and, where a moment before I had been running, I was now flying, gaining altitude, my wings flapping until I found a pocket of air and a warm current I could use for gliding. I circled back long enough to see what had become of the four men who had pursued me so relentlessly through the trees.
They stood side-by-side on the cliff’s edge, watching me with looks of shock on their faces. I knew what they were thinking — I was too young for such a transformation. Not so. But it had worked to my advantage for them to believe that to be true. I dipped one wing, raising the other in a half-salute, turned and disappeared out of sight.
I don’t know how long I flew before I touched down. I wanted to be sure that the men were not able to follow me though I knew, in the end, it didn’t really matter. They found me once, they could find me again.
Deciding a tree would be the best place to hide out, I landed on a branch about halfway up a huge oak and let my mind go blank. Without an image to bind me, I felt my body begin to quiver ever so slightly, like a guitar string that had just been strummed. The quivering increased — faster and faster and faster still until suddenly it stopped and I was myself again. The transformation back to my own body always leaves me feeling disoriented. I don’t know if it’s the same with all shapeshifters, but I know that’s how it is with me.
I couldn’t stay in this tree forever. It was already beginning to get dark and I needed to get home. I had no idea in which direction, or how far away, home was. Add to that the fact that I was quite naked and you see my dilemma. Unfortunately, when we transform into animals our clothes do not transform with us.
The only person I could trust to come and get me was my older brother, Aiden. We have a bond, the two of us. I’ve never pretended to be an expert on the subject, in fact, I’ve only been able to transform since I was ten, a mere seven years ago, but I’ve never heard of any other shapeshifter sharing the same bond. When one of us needs the other, we can send out a signal that only the other person can seem to pick up. It reminds me of a vibration that ripples through the air. I don’t know how else to describe it. I sent out the vibration, knowing that Aiden would not only know who but where it was coming from and be able to find me with no problem.
About twenty minutes after I sent out the signal, I heard the distinct sound of a motorcycle’s engine. I glanced down through the tree’s branches and saw someone on a dark blue crotch rocket pull up next to the trunk. He turned the key in the ignition and the bike went silent. I knew it was Aiden, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry so I didn’t say anything as I watched the rider unfasten the strap at his chin, lift his helmet off his head, and run a hand through his shoulder length blue black hair.
“Up here,” I whispered, but when he would have looked up into the tree, I whispered again, “Don’t look up.”
I could hear his sigh from my vantage point. “You changed into an animal, didn’t you? Let me guess. A hawk?”
My eyes narrowed, though he couldn’t see me. “I didn’t have a whole lot of choice, Aiden.”
“Well, then, you’re in luck, little sister.” He twisted at the waist and reached for something tied to the seat behind him. “I brought you some clothes.”
Thank God for Aiden. The leaves and branches limited my view of the surrounding area. “Is there anyone around? Do you see anyone?” All I needed was for someone to see me naked and call the police. Or worse, our parents. I could well imagine the uproar that would cause.
He quickly glanced around. “No, you’re good to go.”
“Turn your back so I can climb down, then,” I whispered.
He did as I requested and I carefully made my way down to the ground. Keeping his back toward me, Aiden handed me the bundle of clothes he brought with him. I ducked behind the tree’s massive trunk and quickly pulled them on.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m dressed.”
“Are you ready to go then? It’s getting kinda late.”
I nodded and he unhooked the extra helmet from the side of the seat and tossed it to me.
“Who was it this time?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen them before.”
“Hmmm. How many?”
“Four.” I swung my leg over the bike and settled myself on the seat behind Aiden. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I rested the side of my face, or rather the side of the helmet actually, against his back between his shoulder blades.
He turned his head to look back at me. “Four?”
“They’ve never sent that many at one time before,” he mused, pulling his own helmet over his head and refastening the chin strap.
No, they hadn’t and I didn’t know why they had this time. Apparently, neither did Aiden. He started the bike and slowly drove across the grass and off the curb before pulling out onto the main street. I looked back and saw that I had landed in a tree in a large park of some sort. It didn’t look familiar and again I wondered just how far from home I had flown.
It was mid-May so the temperature was a little on the warm side but the ride back was still cold. The wind seemed to pierce the fabric of my jeans and it felt like a million tiny needles pricking my skin. Aiden had brought me a jacket along with the rest of the clothes but I was still freezing by the time we pulled into our driveway and Aiden parked his bike on the side of the garage. In fact, I was so cold that I couldn’t move. Aiden had to help me off his bike and into the house. I felt like I was a hundred years old instead of seventeen, all hunched over and slowly shuffling my feet but I couldn’t seem to stand straight. Hopefully that would change once I warmed up.
I hadn’t noticed Mom’s or Dad’s cars in the driveway. Before I could comment on that, Aiden spoke.
“Mom took Gavyn and Tanner to baseball practice and Dad met them there. They’ll probably be home anytime.”
Aiden had the uncanny knack of being able to read my mind. It wasn’t an exact science, though. It didn’t happen all the time and it never worked both ways, which was irritating. So, he could read my mind sometimes but I could never read his. Come to think of it, that probably wasn’t such a bad thing. God only knew what kinds of things ran through the mind of a nineteen year old guy. Unfortunately for me, there was no way to tell which of my thoughts he could read and which ones he couldn’t. It was pretty much a crap shoot.
Aiden brushed past me and opened the refrigerator door, grabbing the gallon of milk off the top shelf. I watched in disgust as he popped the cap off and took a huge swig straight from the bottle.
“That’s gross, Aiden,” I told him, though I doubt he cared what I thought. “No one wants your germs in their cereal.”
“Speak for yourself.” He put the cap on the bottle and set it back in the refrigerator. Mom would have his head if she’d seen him.
I didn’t need to read his mind to know he was thinking of his new girlfriend, Olivia Pembroke. She was nice enough, I suppose, in a clingy sort of way. Aiden didn’t seem to mind but I found it kind of annoying. I didn’t know how he could stand to have her hanging all over him all the time. I was tempted to tell her to knock it off just because it was so sickening to watch but it wasn’t any of my business and if he didn’t care, who was I to say anything different?
Aiden and I were only two years apart. Our mother had divorced our biological father when I was a year old so I had no memory of him. Aiden remembered bits and pieces but even those had grown fuzzy with age. We didn’t know much about him but there were two things we did know — first, he had not been in the picture since before the divorce, and second, Aiden and I had inherited our shapeshifting abilities from him. Our stepfather was the only father we knew, having married Mom when I was three and Aiden was five. And he was the father of our two younger brothers, Gavyn and Tanner, who were twelve and eight respectively. He had legally adopted Aiden and me shortly after his marriage to Mom and he had been there for us whenever we needed him, just as he had for our brothers, so he really was our father in every way that counted.
I heard the garage door open and I looked at Aiden. He shook his head.
“Don’t say anything yet. Not until we know what’s going on.”
“Okay.” I didn’t agree with him but I would hold my silence. I always deferred to Aiden in shapeshifting matters because he was older than me and had more experience. But Mom and Dad would have to be told and soon. I knew that he knew that as well, he was just trying to figure out what was going on before we dropped a bombshell on our nice, quiet, suburban lives.
The door leading from the garage into the house opened and our little brothers exploded into the kitchen. They had more energy than should be allowed by law and they never kept it in check. I often wondered if I was like that at their ages but I didn’t think so. Somewhere between that four year time span that separated them, I had shifted for the first time and there was no going back after that. Aiden had been Tanner’s age when he shifted for the first time. All I remember about my first experience was that it was terrifying and I had thought I was dying. I was glad my little brothers would never have to go through what Aiden and I had.
“Jenna, guess what?”
Tanner’s enthusiasm always made me smile. “What?”
“I caught a fly ball.”
“You did?” I looked to Dad for confirmation.
“Yeah, he did. A pop fly to right field.” Dad looked suitably proud.
“Well?” I demanded. “Did you at least get a video of it?”
Apparently, Dad thought I would never ask. He fished his iPhone out of his pocket and pulled up a video of Tanner in right field, staring intently into the sky, his glove at the ready. It wasn’t so much that my brother caught the ball as it was that the ball landed in his glove but, hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?
“That’s awesome, Tanner.” I ruffled his hair and he beamed at me.
“Let’s see.” Aiden pushed his way between us and Dad showed him the video. He high-fived Tanner, who looked like he was about to pass out from the attention. Aiden was Tanner’s hero, if he thought what Tanner did was cool, then it was really cool.
I turned to my other brother. “What about you, Gavyn?”
“I pitched a no-hitter,” he boasted, his chest swelling with pride. It was just a practice game, of course, but a no-hitter was a no-hitter.
“Wow,” I said, “when you guys become professional baseball players, you better buy me a Ferrari.”
“Okay,” Mom broke in, “one of you go take a shower so the other one can and then you both need to get ready for bed. It’s a school night, you know.”
The boys grumbled but they trudged upstairs to do as they were told. I watched them go, wondering if our idyllic life here was coming to an end. I needed to tell Aiden everything that had happened to me today but not until after everyone else went to bed. We needed to figure out what was going on so we could do something about it — if possible.
I turned toward my mom. “Yeah?”
“I asked if you finished your homework.”
I made an impatient gesture with my hand. “Yeah, I finished it when I got home from school.”
She seemed to be trying to verify the truth in my words. I guess she believed me because she finally nodded and turned toward the stairs.
“Okay, I’m going to watch TV upstairs for awhile. Don’t stay up too late. You have school tomorrow, too, you know.”
“I know, Mom. I won’t,” I promised. I turned and nearly bumped into my dad. He had an odd look on his face and he was staring at me pretty intently.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I wondered if he could read anything in my face. I quickly averted my eyes. “I’m fine,” I said, hoping I sounded sincere.
He touched the crook of his finger to my chin and tilted my face up so he could look into my eyes. “Is there something you need to tell us?” he asked.
Yes, I wanted to say, but I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. At least not until after Aiden and I had our talk. Our parents knew of our abilities, of course, and they sought to protect us as much as possible but there were some things that we just had to handle on our own. No matter how much someone loves you, they cannot know what it’s like to be a supernatural being unless they are one themselves. That was the curse Aiden and I, and our parents because of us, were burdened with.
So, instead of telling my dad the truth, I smiled reassuringly and shook my head. “No, Dad. Everything’s fine.”
I could tell that he wasn’t sure whether or not to believe me but with no reason not to, he finally gave up.
“Okay, princess,” he said, using his childhood nickname for me. “You’ll let me know if there’s anything I can do, right?”
“Of course, Dad.” I held my breath until finally he leaned forward and kissed me gently on the forehead, then followed my mom up the stairs. I let out a sigh of relief. Then I glanced around and realized that Aiden wasn’t in the kitchen. When had he disappeared?
I turned the ringer down on my phone and texted him. “Where are you?”
“In my room,” he answered immediately.
“Mom and Dad went up to bed,” I told him.
“Ok, let’s talk.”
There was a government agency, known simply as The Agency, and they were in charge of all supernatural beings — shapeshifters, vampires, and werewolves were the three main groups but there were others. It was all very hush-hush and unless you belonged to one of the groups they monitored, you would never even know that The Agency existed. Their purpose was to make sure we lived within the constraints of society. Beings with the powers that we all possessed had the ability to wreak havoc and cause all kinds of trouble. For the most part, we were upstanding pillars of the communities in which we lived, but there were the occasional upstarts who thought they were above the reaches of The Agency. These upstarts were quickly sought out and dealt with. I shudder to think of their punishment but the government was serious about this kind of thing. We were allowed to live among the general populace as long as we abided by the rules. It seemed a fair trade-off.
About twenty years ago, the head of The Agency, John Overton, decided that we were too dangerous to be allowed to live. He took it upon himself to pass a death sentence on us all and he and his band of vigilantes hunted us down and slaughtered us almost to the point of extinction, all in the name of The Agency. His actions were sanctioned and a bounty was placed on his head, a price high enough to just about guarantee his capture. But no one ever turned him in and the reward still stands. Over the years, he has recruited others to his way of thinking. I don’t know how it works with vampires and werewolves, but with shifters, we can be traced as soon as we begin the transformation. Of course, it does them no good if they can’t get to us before we complete the change and once the change is complete, we are under the radar again. Changing back to our normal selves doesn’t matter, only the transformation to someone or something else will lead them to us. This gave Overton a bit of an advantage as he was hunting shifters. So how were they able to find me? I didn’t change until I reached the cliff’s edge. I really needed to talk to Aiden.
I made sure the house was locked up and the lights were off before I made a stop by the refrigerator to grab a Coke for Aiden and a diet Coke for myself, then I headed up the stairs to his room. I heard his whispered “come in” at my light tap on his door.
He was laying on his back on his bed, his arms folded behind his head and his bare feet crossed at the ankle. I tossed the Coke on the bed near his hip. He picked it up and set it on the nightstand.
I nodded as I turned around and sat down on the floor, my back against the edge of his bed. He rolled onto his side toward me. Our heads were close enough for us to talk in soft whispers and still be able to hear each other.
“Okay,” he began. “Tell me what happened.”
I thought back several hours. I got out of school at three like I always did. I was home by three fifteen like I always was. I didn’t have much homework so I finished it within a half hour. And then I decided to take a walk to my best friend, Christy’s, house. Christy lived two streets over and it was literally a two minute walk from our front door to hers. She talked her mom into taking us to the mall.
“Someone was following us through the mall, Aiden.”
“Are you sure?” He sounded skeptical.
“Yes,” I said, glancing back at him.
“The four men who chased you?”
I shook my head. No, it hadn’t been one of them. I didn’t know who he was because I never saw him, but I knew he was there just as I knew I was sitting on the floor in Aiden’s room. I was that sure. I had felt his vibration.
“And you didn’t change at any time?”
“The only time I changed today was when I jumped off the cliff.” Of course, they would have been able to track me then, but since I was right in front of them at the time, I didn’t see what good it would have done them.
“This doesn’t make sense.”
I agreed. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t like we had never been chased before because we had, but none of the people who had tried to get us before knew what they were doing. There had only been one or two at a time and it had been easy to stay out of their clutches. Besides, no one knew where we lived because we never transformed at home so we couldn’t be tracked here. The only people who knew about me and Aiden, other than The Agency, of course, because they kept track of all supernatural beings, were our parents and Christy. I wasn’t even sure our real father knew. I mean he was a shapeshifter himself but I don’t know if he knew that he had passed it on to us. After all, he had disappeared long before we made our first transformations. Christy and I had known each other since pre-school. She would have died before telling anyone our secret. Besides, she had a big-time crush on Aiden and she would never do anything that might hurt him in any way.
“Even if this was Overton...,” he began, leaving the rest of his thought unsaid.
“Why would he go to all this trouble though, just to get us? We’re nobodies.”
It was true. In the grand scheme of things, we were the lesser of all the evils out there. There were people high up in the government who were shifters, as well as vampires and werewolves so what was the point of coming after us?
“You’re sure there were four of them?”
I sighed. “Positive. I saw them when they came out of the woods before I flew off.”
“Could you identify them?”
Could I? One or two maybe, but all four? I didn’t think so. First I was too busy running for my life, then I was too busy trying to fly away. Changing into something else has its own set of problems. I always try to change into something that isn’t going to be attacked by something else, such as a hawk instead of a sparrow or something small like that. I don’t do mice — for one thing, I’m scared to death of them and for another, I would be at the mercy of every cat and, heaven forbid, snake out there. Just the thought gave me the heebie jeebies.
“Jenna?” Aiden tugged on a lock of my hair. “Could you identify them?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. Why? What good would it do, anyway? It’s not like we have bounty hunter wanted posters or anything.”
“Is that what you’re thinking they are? Bounty hunters?”
“I don’t know, Aiden,” I said with a shrug. “Maybe Overton’s offering a reward for every supernatural being brought back dead or alive. All I know is we’re not safe. Maybe we should tell Mom and Dad.”
“No, not yet. We don’t know what we’re up against.”
I was beginning to get scared. “How are we going to find out?”
“I don’t know.” He wrapped his arm around my upper chest and I rested my chin on his forearm. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, Jenna.”
“I know.” And I did know, too. But I didn’t want anything to happen to him while he was making sure nothing happened to me. We had to look out for each other.
“Does anyone besides Christy know about us?”
“I don’t know why you told her. You know she can’t keep a secret.”
“I didn’t tell her,” I protested. “She just happened to be there when I changed for the first time. What did you want me to say when I was there one minute and a hawk was standing there in my place the next?”
“You sure like to use the hawk a lot,” he observed.
I shrugged. Since it was the first thing I had ever changed into, it was the easiest for me to do. For Aiden, it was a wolf. All shifters had something they are best at transforming into. Personally, I found other people hard to do but Aiden did it without any problems. He was really good at changing into Dad, although I suspected Dad would have been furious with him if he knew. I guess even in our sameness, shifters are all unique.
“Anyway,” I continued. “Don’t go thinking this has anything to do with Christy because it doesn’t.”
“Okay, it was just a thought.”
“Besides...” I wasn’t sure if I should tell him but I wanted him to see that our secret was safe with Christy.
“Besides, what?” he prompted.
“Don’t you ever tell anyone I told you this.”
I knew he was rolling his eyes just by the sound of his voice. “Go ahead. Tell me what you want to tell me. I won’t say anything to anyone.”
“Christy has a really big crush on you. She has for years.”
“Ah, jeez.” He sounded so disgusted I almost laughed. “She’s only seventeen.”
And he was only nineteen. So, what was his point? It wasn’t like he was in his thirties or something.
“Get real, Aiden. She’s two years younger than you, not twenty.”
“And I’m an adult and she’s not. End of story. Besides, I have a girlfriend.”
Now I was rolling my eyes. Christy knew about Olivia. She just didn’t consider her any real competition.
It was getting late and it had been a really long day. I yawned, stretching my arms over my head. My butt was numb from sitting on the hard floor. We obviously weren’t going to find an answer tonight. But I was afraid of what tomorrow would bring.
“Do you think they’ll try again?” I turned around until I was facing him. I wanted to see the look on his face when he gave me his answer.
He looked straight into my eyes, his dark blue to mine. Everyone thought Aiden and I had the same color of eyes but when he was mad or upset about something his became beautiful, a deeper more intense shade of cobalt blue. Mine didn’t change the way his did. And when he turned into a wolf, with his dark blue eyes and a black and gray coat, it was an awesome sight to behold. His eyes were intense now so I knew whatever was going on was very serious.
“I don’t know, Jen. I don’t even know what they could possibly want with us. Like you said, we’re nobodies. And we’re young. What kind of threat can we be to them, whoever they are?”
I could feel tears stinging the back of my nose but I tried to fight them back. Crying wasn’t going to help, but I was scared for us both. We had to go to school tomorrow — what if something happened? I didn’t have to leave the house until eight, but Aiden was in college and he had a seven o’clock class. He would be leaving before it was even light out.
“Don’t go to school tomorrow,” I suddenly blurted out, throwing my arms around his neck. Obviously emotional restraint is not one of my virtues.
He gently pried my arms away and pushed me back down until I was sitting on the floor again. He was frustrated with me, I could tell, but when he spoke, his tone was gentle.
“We can’t let this stop us from living our lives, Jenna, especially since we don’t even know what ‘this’ is. I have to go to school tomorrow. I have a test in World History and it’s a quarter of my grade.”
“Okay.” I bowed my head so he wouldn’t see the tears. I tried to be strong like him, but it wasn’t always easy.
I looked up at him. He opened the drawer to his nightstand and felt around inside until he found a handful of Kleenex. He shoved them into my hand.
“Here, dry your eyes, and no more crying. We’ll be all right. I’ll be careful and you be careful, too, you hear me? Keep your eyes open for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. If anything happens, anything at all, send out the signal and I’ll be there in a heartbeat. Okay?”
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of his bed. “Now get out of my room so I can go to sleep. You better go to bed, too, before Mom and Dad hear you moving around and wonder what’s going on.”
I stood up and walked to the door. I put my hand on the doorknob but before I opened the door, I looked back at my big brother. We don’t always get along, after all we are siblings so fighting is in our job description or something, but I wouldn’t trade Aiden for anyone, not for any reason. And I liked to think he felt the same way about me.
“Good night, Aiden. I love you.”
He smiled. “Good night, brat. I love you, too.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. He knew I hated when he called me that. The jerk. And I knew he did it on purpose to make me mad so I wouldn’t cry again.
I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Mom was just coming out of her room. She looked at me first with a frown, then her eyes widened and she looked worried.
“I thought you were asleep,” she said.
I had to think of something quick. I wasn’t the best liar in the world anyway and I definitely wasn’t the quickest. Usually, it took me days to come up with a suitable lie and even then it was iffy on whether or not it was believable. “There were a couple of problems from my math homework that I wanted to make sure I did right. You know Aiden. He’s disgustingly good at math.”
Mom looked relieved. “Well, it’s getting late. You should go to bed.”
“I’m going right now.” I gave my mom what I hoped was an innocent smile and disappeared into my room. The minute I closed the door behind me I leaned back against it and took a deep breath. The events of the day were beginning to catch up with me and I felt drained. I pushed away from the door and quickly changed into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and climbed into bed. I debated whether or not to turn the light off. I usually wasn’t afraid of the dark, but being chased through the forest had just about stretched my nerves to the breaking point and I was afraid I was going to start jumping at every little sound. I finally decided to quit being such a baby and turn out the light. I really hoped that Aiden and I could figure out what was going on. Our lives weren’t perfect, but they were pretty close. I didn’t want to have to leave everything, or everyone, behind and start over somewhere else. The last thought I remember having before drifting off to sleep was how much I hate change. Kind of an ironic thought for a shapeshifter.
He waited in the shadows across the street for what seemed like hours until her bedroom light went out. Her brother’s light had gone out a good half hour ago, but he wanted to be sure they were both asleep before he settled in for the night.
He didn’t want to follow the brother and sister around but he had no choice. What they were, who they were, made them dangerous. Since he couldn’t be in two places at once, he decided it would be best to trail the sister. She was the most vulnerable and would be easiest to abduct. Once he had taken care of her, he would be back for the brother.
He closed his eyes but he wouldn’t sleep. His senses were on full alert now — carefully attuned to any subtle, or sudden, shifts in the wind. He wasn’t too worried that someone would stumble upon him and wonder what he was doing. If there was one thing he knew, it was how to disappear when the need arose.
He kept vigil throughout the long night and when he felt the vibration in the wind he knew the brother was awake and he opened his eyes. It was still early, too early. He knew where the brother was going, he could feel that, too. There was time to follow the brother and still be back before the sister left the house.
The front door opened and the brother stepped out into the cool morning air dressed in full motorcycle leathers, a helmet dangling from his fingers and a bulky backpack slung over his shoulder. He watched in silence as the brother took a big bite of the apple he held in his hand and rounded the side of the garage, then reappeared a few minutes later astride a motorcycle he backed down the driveway and out into the street. Its engine roared to life, the sound almost deafening in the quiet of the morning. The brother slowly began to move down the road to the end of the street.
He waited until the brother turned right and he could hear the engine’s wail grow faint before he pulled up an image of a raptor, a hawk, in his mind’s eye. A moment later, he was soaring through the air, a hundred feet above a rider on a dark blue crotch rocket.