By daviek

Authorities continue to scratch their heads as they work to bring the enigmatic Parásitos street gang under control. Despite dozens of arrests and multiple mass murders over the past several months, state, federal and local police are no closer to figuring out how and why the gang's membership has seemingly multiplied exponentially since it burst onto the scene just over a year ago.

Nathan was only listening halfheartedly to the local news broadcast as he feverishly copied his high school history notes from his notebook to his computer. But like everyone else in his suburban West Coast community, he was fascinated with the story of the Parásitos. No one seemed to have their finger on the pulse of what was going on, but citizens of all ages were captivated...and more than a little worried. It seemed like just yesterday anti-gang task forces were publicizing the dangerous new gang, infamous for being armed to the teeth and dressing in green from head to toe. He lived close enough to LA to know very well about the Bloods and the Crips, and their allegiances to the colors red and blue, respectively. But it's not every day a new gang rises up seemingly from nowhere and recruits thousands of members in such a short time.

Even more intriguing was the demographic of the gang. Historically, gangs were made up almost totally of members of one race or ethinicity; you'd be hard pressed to find a non-Salvadoran in MS-13, for example. But the Parásitos marked the first time a gang was composed almost equally of black and Hispanic members. That fact, in conjunction with its rapidly expanding ranks, had everyone from toddlers to the FBI absolutely confounded.

But Nathan couldn't worry too much about that right now. A freshman in high school, he was struggling to keep his head above water in U.S. history, and if he didn't ace his upcoming final, he faced the less than pleasant possibility of spending half his summer staring into a blackboard.

As he plowed through the section on the Great Depression, he saw a new orange IM box blinking at the bottom of his screen. "Huh," he said quietly. "Could have sworn I had my away message up." He clicked on the box, and looked at the dialog box.

verdecito59 has sent you an Instant Message. Accept/Deny/Block?

Nathan hit "accept" without giving it a second thought. It was so easy to obtain an AIM screen name these days, between Facebook, Myspace and good old fashioned word of mouth. He figured it was someone from school who was in the same predicament he was.

verdecito59: yo dude, need help with history?

So it was a classmate. Nathan looked at the green text and exhaled slightly.

natehotdog483: in my class? how did you get my SN? verdecito59: group study session, 54925 mcnally blvd., tonight at 9...ask for jose natehotdog483: um, ok...i'll see if i can make it....but do i know you? verdecito59 has signed off.

"Sketchy," Nathan mumbled with a pen clenched between his teeth. He could use some help, but something about this seemed...not right. He IMed a few of his buddies, and they had gotten similar IMs. They were all in the same boat, and summer school was not the way they wanted to spend their vacations. Five of his friends said they were going to go, so Nathan reluctantly agreed to come along.

He did as much as he could at home before bounding down the stairs when his boys called up from outside his window. "Going to study with some people, I'll be back later," he said nonchalantly to his parents. He closed the front door behind him before they got a chance to protest.

McNally Boulevard was only a few blocks from Nathan's house, and his friends all lived close by, so they walked together. "Any of you guys think this is suspicious?" he said, hands buried in the pockets of his JV lacrosse hoodie.

"It's a little random, and I can't seem to remember any Jose in our class, but I'm not trying to go to summer school, dude." Jamie was Nathan's best friend since preschool, through little league and now lacrosse. Heath, Blake, Jacob and Caleb rounded out the group. It was like a little traveling band of WASPs, complete with names that were straight out of an early 1990s tabloid article about the hottest baby names. They all enjoyed comfortable upper middle class upbringings, and none of them had ever so much as been skipped school to go to the beach, as was popular among their peers.

The group rolled up to the address they had been given, a few minutes before 9:00. It was a cool night, and the closer they got to the house, they could make out a distinct smell emanating from the small split-level house on the corner, but none of them had any idea what it was. Jamie was the most outgoing of the group, so he walked up to the door and hit the bell while the others hung back a few steps, periodically looking over their shoulders.

"Who is it?" a voice called out from inside the house. Even from the sidewalk, Nathan could tell it was a packed house. Hell of a study session, he thought.

"Uh, Jamie, Blake, Nathan, Caleb, Heath and Jacob. I'm looking for Jose, we're here for the history study session." A few seconds went by, and the boys could hear the commotion inside settle down to an eerie silence. Suddenly the door creaked open, but no one was there to greet them. In fact, the entire house was enrobed in deep darkness.

"Welcome, amigos," the voice called out. Jamie looked to his friends, non-verbally suggesting they run for the hills, but no one reacted. He took a hesistant step inside, the other five following closely behind with Nathan at the rear.

When they were all inside, the door closed behind them. It was still dark, and none of them could see so far as the person next to them.

"We hope you're ready to learn," the voice said. It was close by, that much Nathan could tell, but it didn't sound like anyone he knew, and he prided himself on not forgetting familiar faces and voices.

Out of nowhere, the entire first floor of the house was bathed in green light. Nathan's instincts told him to run, but he sensed that wasn't an option at this point. "Is this for history class?"

"You will learn history, that's for sure," the voice said. "But our history."

From the shadows, dozens of figures stepped forward. They were all very large, very well-built, and either African-American or Mexican. And they were all dressed in green.

The pieces came together. "Guys," Nathan whispered, "we should go. Now."

"No, papi, you aren't going anywhere." The voice in the darkness revealed himself. It belonged to a man no older than 20, about half a head taller than Nathan, clearly of Hispanic descent and ensconced in green clothing, from the do-rag covering his head to the bandana covering his mouth, even down to a green t-shirt and sweatpants.

Blake leaned in to Nathan's ear. "You don't think..."

Nathan finished the thought. "The Parásitos. But what do they have to do with us?"

The gangsters laughed. "Everything, chicos," said the voice, more than a little threateningly. "You must know of us. We are everywhere. Your police can't figure us out. Where we come from, how we continue to multiply even as they capture and kill our hermanos.

"You see, we do not recruit members like any other gang you've ever heard of. You don't come to us. We come to you. And when you have been selected, you will become Parásitos just as we all have. The bloodline must survive and grow stronger."

The gangsters moved in and subdued the six boys in short order. Next thing they knew, they were bound at the wrists and stood in a circle, backs to the center in the middle of the room, and they had been stripped to their boxers. "Now," the voice continued, as the other members of the gang retreated once again into the shadows, "you will be as one with the Parásitos."

It all became very clear to Nathan. Pará was Spanish for "parasites." It was his own fault for not paying attention in Spanish class. This gang really was like no other. It didn't expand its membership by preying on at-risk youth and filling their heads with dreams of sex, guns and stacks of hundred dollar bills. The Parásitos left you no choice in the matter. If they wanted you, they got you. And they were about to get Nathan and his friends.

The voice stepped into the green light. Now he was holding a knife, its handle engraved with intricate designs. Nathan couldn't make them out, but he thought he recognized some sort of multi-legged creature.

"Flesh of our flesh," the man said, "and blood of our blood." He approached Heath, closest to him of the six captives, and held the knife to his face. "Relax. It will be much less painful if you do not resist." Heath did as he was told and remained motionless. The gangster held the tip of the knife just under his temple and pierced his skin. A droplet of blood trickled out. The man cleaned off the knife with a green cloth, and stepped to his left, repeating the ritual on Caleb, then Jamie, Blake, Jacob, and finally Nathan. Nathan's instincts told him to fight it, but something about the hazy house suppressed those instincts and kept him relaxed. The gangster cut his skin, and he could feel the blood tumble out.

"Now," the man said, as he held the knife to his own face, "be as one with the Parásitos." He made the same cut as he had made on the captivated youths, but something was different. The blood...was green.

He allowed it to soak a separate green cloth. Then, without another word, he held the cloth to Heath's lacerated face and squeezed. His green blood dripped down onto Heath's ghostly-white skin and entered the wound.

"Watch," the man said, "and see what is coming for the rest of you."

Nathan watched in breathless shock as Heath began to change. Even in the green light, Nathan could see his friend's skin begin to change color, darkening to what Nathan could only assume was a deep, almost African brown. His nose flattened and thickened, along with his lips and cheekbones, and his buzzed blonde hair grew out quickly, curling and kinking as it did so. With every breath, Heath's body grew larger. Heath had already been big, a result of years of organized sports and the weight training that went with it, but he was well on his way to becoming significantly bigger, and it was all muscle. His pecs ballooned outwards, the dark caramel nipples eventually pointing straight downwards, a visual cue to the deep abdominals beginning to jut out of his midsection. Heath's legs exploded with new muscle, powerful thighs giving way to diamond-shaped calves. And even though he had underwear on, Nathan could tell his friend's dick was growing just as freakishly as the rest of his muscles.

When the changes appeared to be finished, the man stood eye to eye with the boy--no, the man--who just seconds earlier had been Heath. "Heath Mitchell," he said, "from this moment on you are DeAngelo Cromwell. You are one with the Parásitos. With this kiss, accept the gift of our knowledge, our experiences, our ideals and our mission. Welcome to the game."

Nathan could only observe as the man leaned into Heath--no, DeAngelo, he had to remind himself--and softly kissed the wound he had made on his upper cheek. Involuntarily, DeAngelo threw his head back and moaned as his mind was flooded with new information, reprogrammed until the body and spirit of Heath Mitchell was completely eradicated.

"Awake, papi," the voice said.

DeAngelo's head came level again. "Sup, niggas?"

Nathan was horrified. The voice that came out of DeAngelo's mouth was deep, gravelly, and sounded very much like the product of a life in the ghettos, not the gated community his friend Heath had called home all his life.

"To prove it," the man said, cleaning off the knife again, "your brother's veins now run deep with our blood." He went right back to that spot, just next to DeAngelo's right eye, and pierced the rough black skin.

Nathan swallowed hard, because he knew it was only a matter of time until he, too, bled green. •

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