Kowalski stood looking at the horizon. A million thoughts were running through his head. Had he really just left Patterson, his best friend, behind? And Riley, he was the first to go; poor kid didn't even stand a chance. The swarm took one look at Riley when he entered the room and just swallowed him up.
Ski had seen many things in his day, creatures great and small, but nothing in all his time aboard Seaview had prepared him for this. Words could not describe it. The speed at which the swarm moved and with such unpredictability. They way it darted around the room and then set its sights on Riley was unlike anything Ski had witnessed before.
He had been warned before accepting this mission; they all had. There had been silent admiration from their friends when they had accepted the assignment. The chief had even saluted them and wished them well before they had left the Institute yesterday.
Kowalski couldn't bring himself to go back in and survey the carnage. He wanted to go back, he should go back. He owed it to his friends to go back. Then he heard it. The door slowly creaked open; the patter of tiny feet made their way across the floor. Ski swallowed the lump in his throat and took a deep breath. He said a silent prayer and knew his time had come. There was a tug at his shirt sleeve. He looked down.
The face staring back at him was a mess. Hair was sticking out in all directions, caked together into little spikes. An orange ring encircled its mouth and globs of a thick blue oozed were splattered all over its body. Tiny green and brown hands clung onto his.
"Mr. Kaylaskiing, sir," came the voice of the small boy as he wiped his snot covered nose on the back of his hand, "Mommy says it's time for you to have some cake."
The little boy turned to go back inside when he stopped and looked back at Ski. He eyed the crewman up and down, then finally asked, "Where's your hat? You can't be at a birthday party and not have a hat!"
Ski reached over to the deck railing and picked up his cone-shaped party hat. He placed it on his head and adjusted the strap under his chin.
"I've got it right here," offered Ski.
The pair walked back inside. Instantly, Ski's ears were assaulted by the high-pitched screams and giggles of the thirty kids dancing and singing along with Riley. The blond surfer sat at the center of the swarm wearing a straw hat, his acoustic guitar in hand, performing a stirring rendition of Old MacDonald.
The swarm of children was covered in a variety of substances that at one time had constituted chips, Cheetos, candy, cake, and ice cream. The massive amounts of sugar consumed in the last hour had them positively vibrating with energy. The house was in shambles and the floor was decorated with toys, wrapping paper, and discarded balloons.
Patterson took the Spiderman paper plate with blue frosted cake from his sister, Kelly, and handed it to Kowalski. Pat was looking pretty disheveled from helping manage his nephew's fourth birthday party. His clothes were stained blue from mixing the icing and his hair was full of confetti.
Riley finished his musical number and the mob instantly began roaming the house.
Kelly yelled, "Pin the tail on the donkey on the deck in two minutes!"
The swarm gathered and proceeded to stampede outside for party games. Pat and Ski jumped out of the way just in time to avoid being trampled.
"Riley entertained the kids, I decorated the cake," said Pat as he handed Ski a broom and dust pan, "that means you get clean-up duty!"
Pat grinned ear to ear as Kowalski begrudgingly took the broom.
"You know when you asked me to help you out this weekend, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Even when you said it was a kid's party, I had no idea it would be like this," said Kowalski as he started to sweep.
"Ah, Ski, you know I always have good intentions. Besides in thirty minutes the sugar high will wear off, the kids will start to crash, and their parents will pick them up," explained Pat.
"Great. So the parents get to deal with calm children while we had to deal with this chaos?"
"Little Molly's very single, very attractive aunt is going to be picking her up this afternoon. And she's going to be very grateful to be picking up a calm and happy kid."
Maybe enduring the chaos this weekend would have its benefits after all.
"Oh and Ski," added Pat.
"You missed a few Cheetos over there in the corner," said Patterson pointing Ski and his broom to the other side of the kitchen.