Max Parasite loved to climb the great oak trees of her home village. She had loved it since she was a girl, when her father first hoisted her up into the tall green wonderland up on the sturdy brown limbs. She loved to inhale the fresh, clean scent of the sun-dried leaves after they had been doused in the autumn rains of her childhood. Today, Max was climbing her favorite tree, the one that grew all by its lonesome on the side of Burgundy Beach. She blended in almost perfectly, with her khaki shorts, matching shoes, and a white shirt with a pink vest. Max pulled at the white socks that came up to her knees, and leaned back against the second-highest branch (the only one sturdy enough to hold her, for the tree was aging).

Max was a pretty, energetic girl of fifteen. She had attractive, shoulder-length brown hair that fluffed out with a few spiked ends. Her eyes were a matching brown, almost tan-colored. Her arms and legs were shapely and held a shade of almond, the same skin tone as her lovely face. Although Max was a teenager, she still had some looks that resembled those of a child. She was proud of it, and everyone in Burgundy Village loved her for it. Max and her two best friends were clearly the favorites in the village, and they each held their reputations close with a keen eye.

She peered down from the tree as she saw her two friends arrive. One of them was another girl, who was slightly taller and, according to the high school boys, a tiny bit prettier than Max. Her name was LaCienega Kanemori. She had long, black hair with dark green highlights. Her clothes matched with her hair, consisting of a short black skirt, green shirt, and black heels. LaCienega was a very beautiful sixteen-year-old, and was the eldest of the three friends.

She treated the children of the village like they were her own siblings, and was deeply respected by the parents of the children. Some would say that LaCienega took better care of their children than the parents did. Max knew LaCienega better than anyone, for they used to be great rivals when they were young. Years had passed, and now LaCienega and Max couldn't be closer friends.

Max's other friend was a guy, about an inch taller than she. He was Kenji Miyamoto, a handsome boy with great features and a large brain, which he used wisely. Kenji had blonde hair with cornflower-blue eyes. He was the same age as Max, and the only boy in the trio. Kenji's clothes were simpler; with faded blue jeans, a comfortable-looking blue sweater, and white tennis shoes.

Max appreciated Kenji very much for his intelligence, and caring for his two friends. She remembered when Kenji first joined LaCienega and herself. The two girls had developed a small liking for him over time, and would compete for his attention. Kenji would watch with a mysterious, yet amused look in his eye, trying to break them up. Of course, Max and LaCienega always got over it, but eventually they would find something else to compete over. Still, Max had not forgotten about Kenji and his position in their trio.

"What are you doing up there, Max?" LaCienega had asked, stepping over a rock to avoid scuffing her heels. "Are you hiding from us on purpose? School ended about three hours ago, we were trying to meet up with you at the library, and here you are stuck in a tree." Max ran a hand through her hair, trying to hide the fact that she had forgotten about meeting her friends at the high school library. "Sorry, guys. I'll make it up to you...how about a game of hide and seek?"

Ordinarily, most teenagers would find that game childish, and normally most did not hesitate to throw insults at the trio. But Max, Kenji, and LaCienega never thought of such a thing. Although most high school students considered it very uncool and below their level, Max and her two friends were practically the most talked-to and recognized people in the school.

The three had been best friends since they were five and six years old, and hide-and-seek had been their favorite game. They would always play it by the same tree, the one by the beach just before you hit the fine, powdery sand. Max and the others would always play it when they were feeling down or upset.

"And for the second half of my apology, I guess I'll count," Max suggested, stuffing her hands in her pockets. Kenji and LaCienega exchanged glances, then smiled and playfully shoved Max toward the tree.

"Move it, Max," LaCienega and Kenji said in fake cruel tones. "We hate you, Max. We're leaving you here and we'll never come back for you." LaCienega placed a slender hand on Max's back, keeping her moving toward the counting spot.

"You stay in there and do your time. We'll be back later." LaCienega shoved Max gently into the tree, still pretending to be unbearable. Kenji smiled, drumming his fingers against the tree trunk.

"We'd better not see you looking, Max," Kenji said casually. "Otherwise we'll put you on level two probation. And you don't want that, do you?"

Max was laughing now, placing her hands over her eyes. "All right, I get the message, you guys," Max said, still laughing. "Stop acting like drill instructors." LaCienega and Kenji smiled, but still decided to tease their friend.

"You'd better get the message," LaCienega and Kenji said in unison, then went off to hide as Max began to count. Max stood behind the tree, hands still clasped over her face as she reached ten. She could hear absolutely nothing; LaCienega and Kenji were the best and quietest hide-and-seek players she'd ever met. When Max finally reached twenty, she removed her hand from her face. It took awhile to adjust to the afternoon light, since her hand had been over her face for so long.

She staggered, then when she got used to the light again, she saw that Kenji and LaCienega were obviously nowhere in sight. Max had a good idea where LaCienega was...hiding behind her house. The Mayor was her father, and he owned the biggest house in the village. It would be hard to find someone behind that house, and Max knew that LaCienega loved large places where no one could see her.

Max ran up the dirt path, feeling the sun on her back as she ran up the cobblestone pavement to LaCienega's house. She waved to Mrs. Kanemori, a small Japanese woman with her hair constantly in a tidy bun. She flipped the silver gate open, went past the Kanemori pool, and straight to LaCienega's favorite hiding place...the largest rose bush in her backyard. Max pushed the red, delicate flower petals aside, and found no LaCienega. She felt defeated, like LaCienega changed her hiding place on purpose. Max almost felt sorry for nearly trampling Mrs. Kanemori's roses as she turned to leave. "All right, LaCi, come out when you want to," Max said aloud, wringing her hands as she continued to search.

She went back to the oak tree and searched every place around. No LaCienega anywhere. Max sighed, and went to the small cave by the oak tree. She crawled inside, getting down on her hands and knees. "This cave gets smaller and smaller," she said, crawling until she reached the boulder where she and her friends used to draw long ago. Max brushed the dust and grime away from the old rock, and found the pictures she had drawn with chalk. She had been five years old when she drew a picture of herself and LaCienega, standing under the oak tree. Max smiled, and turned to examine the picture she had drawn of Kenji, who was smiling and looking down at them from the tree.

Max's eyes glittered, and she felt her heart take faster beats as she stared into the cartoon Kenji's eyes. She never really noticed how great his eyes looked...she couldn't draw so well, even when she had the time when she was young. Max looked down at her own feet, and found that she had stepped on the chalk that she used to draw with. "It's still here," she said aloud, then picked up a piece of the broken chalk. Her tongue stuck out of her mouth with concentration as she made Kenji's hair and eyes better. Her hand was deft and sure, her eyes hard momentarily with such seriousness and carefulness. She drew back to examine her work. She had drawn another picture, one of Max and Kenji sitting under the tree, eating apples from the great giant.

"Max!" a voice called, and she immediately looked up from her art. Max stood up, brushing dirt from her shorts. "LaCienega? Is that you?" Max shouted, running to the direction of the voice. She heard LaCienega's voice utter a faint "yes," and Max went immediately to the back of the cave. Max looked around, and found LaCienega and Kenji standing there, looking frightened and somewhat disturbed. "What's wrong?" Max asked, hugging LaCienega and Kenji. They didn't answer immediately, they merely pointed behind them with quivering fingers. Max turned to look behind her friends, and saw an eerie purple light emerging from the cave wall.