Villainous, p.2

Villainous, page 2

 

Villainous
 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  They’d parked his wheelchair at his favorite window, the one with the clearest view of the mountain, but though he stared at it all the time, he never really saw it. Not as it was today, in any case.

  “Did you enjoy your morning paper?” the nurse asked as she tried to slip the newspaper away from where it lay clutched in his lap. But his fingers, swollen knuckles gone white, would not release their grip.

  “Mr. Plunkett?” the nurse said again as she tried to pull the paper from his hands. “Are you finished with the paper, because there are other residents …”

  Ignoring her, he looked down at the paper in his Jell-O–stained lap. He’d been reading a story buried deep inside its pages. A small sidebar, listed under a regular section titled “Campbell’s Curiosities.” Herman didn’t know who this Campbell person was, but his tastes usually ran toward UFO sightings and batboys. But not today.

  “What’s that you’ve been reading?” asked the nurse. She’d given up wrestling with him over the paper and now seemed to be trying a new tactic of feigned interest. He really did despise her.

  “Oh!” she said, looking over his shoulder. “I love that column. So unusual! What’s this one about? ‘Astronomers Say Witch Fire Comet Returning’?”

  She made a face. “Well, that sounds downright spooky, doesn’t it?”

  Herman turned and looked at her, and for the first time in a long time, he had a reason to smile.

  Chapter One

  Summer School

  “Hey, kid! What can you do?”

  Daniel took his time chaining up his bike before glancing over his shoulder. He’d been hoping that if he pretended not to hear them, they’d go away, but no such luck. A tour group headed by a man in a cheap plastic cape had crossed the street and were now standing in a semicircle around him. Their camera phones were already clicking as they snapped pictures. They didn’t even ask if it was okay.

  “What do you mean, What can you do?” said Daniel, although he knew full well what they meant.

  “Do you do anything?” said a round woman who elbowed her way to the front of the group. Her arms wiggled as she moved. “Anything special?”

  Daniel considered what to say next. The morning was muggy already, and the sun burned hot and white in a pale sky. The heat and these tourists only worsened his mood, which was crappy to begin with. Even now, the fat woman looked flushed and sweaty from the heat, or maybe she was about to pass out from the possibility that he could be one of them. This was, after all, the town famous for being home to super-kids.

  He could play with these tourists. He could say he had the power to erase the memory cards on their phones with a wave of his hand, or that he could read minds, and did they know that one of them was secretly in love with another member of their group? Those had worked in the past. But the best was always when he told them his power was a radioactive field that he called his death zone. It wasn’t dangerous as long as you didn’t look directly at him and wrapped yourself in tinfoil.

  But it was too hot to mess with tourists today.

  “I don’t do anything special,” he said. “I’m just a kid.”

  He could feel their disappointment as, one by one, they turned their backs on him. Then they continued walking down the street, busily deleting the pictures they’d snapped of Daniel before they’d learned that he was nobody important. Maybe they’d wander into Arnold Lebowski on his paper route, the boy who could turn himself into a human-shaped cloud. If he tried really hard, he could squeeze out a few raindrops for onlookers.

  Daniel finished chaining up his bike and made for the opposite side of the street. He was a few minutes early today and decided to treat himself to something special. Lemon’s Ice Cream Parlor and Doughnut Shop had been a fixture of downtown Noble’s Green for nearly sixty years. It was a true family business that had weathered economic depressions, recent recessions, and globalization unchanged. But it had not weathered superhero mania.

  As Daniel opened the door of the re-christened Happy Hero’s Ice Cream Parlor—Home to the Superpowered Root Beer Float!—he was glad to hear the familiar chime of the old doorbell. At least that hadn’t gone away. And the inside of the shop still smelled a little bit like what Daniel imagined heaven must smell like: powdered sugar and cinnamon. Standing behind the counter, wiping down the chrome tabletop with a rag, was elderly Mr. Lemon himself, dressed in a shiny silver tracksuit decorated with glued-on felt lightning bolts. Mr. Lemon had not developed any powers as far as Daniel knew, but that hadn’t stopped him from cashing in on the town’s newfound fame.

  “Hey there, Daniel!” said Mr. Lemon with a smile. “What are you doing up this early on a summer morning?”

  Ah, that was the question, wasn’t it? Daniel figured he’d better get used to it, as this was going to be his routine for the foreseeable future.

  “Oh, well,” he said. “I’m taking a few summer classes. To get ahead, you know.”

  From the look on Mr. Lemon’s face, Daniel could tell he did know. He knew that middle schoolers did not take summer classes to get ahead. It was called summer school, and if Daniel didn’t pass it, he would be repeating the eighth grade.

  But Mr. Lemon didn’t embarrass Daniel by asking any more questions.

  “Well, you’ll need to get something in your stomach before you hit the books, won’t you? I’ve got breakfast sandwiches that heat up real quick. Not half bad.”

  “Just a doughnut,” said Daniel. “Jelly. And an orange juice. It’s hot out there already.”

  “Looking for a sugar rush, eh? Well, I’ve got a fresh batch coming out of the oven right now. Be back in a second.” He scurried off to the rear of his shop, the homemade antennae on his silver superhero cap wobbling as he went.

  Daniel plopped down on a barstool to wait, enjoying the chill of the air conditioner. He held his arms away from his body to let the cool air work its way into his shirt.

  Summer school.

  For Daniel, it had turned out that keeping up with his studies had been a lot harder than he’d thought, especially when his nights were spent battling super-villains instead of studying. In the end, he’d just managed to scrape past his eighth-grade year with a miserable D in chemistry, but he’d flunked history, which was normally his best subject. His parents had greeted his report card with shock—Daniel had been an A and B student up until then. But to try to explain why his grades had plummeted would mean he’d have to tell them a whole host of secrets—about how when they’d moved to Noble’s Green two years ago, he’d discovered a small group of super-children living in secret. About how he’d saved those children from their enemy, the power-stealing villain called the Shroud. And he’d have to tell them that he, a regular kid from Philadelphia, had caused the world-famous Blackout Event, when two hundred and three people woke up one morning and suddenly remembered that they could fly. Or breathe underwater. Or any number of wondrous and sometimes bizarre things. There were super-adults, but just as many were children and more were being discovered every day. He’d have to explain all that to his parents and hope they didn’t lock him in his room until college.

  It was easier just to go to summer school.

  He wasn’t worried. He knew that if he knuckled down and studied, he would pass with no problem. If he could finally focus on his studies instead of sneaking out every night to battle monsters, he might even earn an A.

  “I threw a bagel with cream cheese in there—on the house,” said Mr. Lemon, reappearing with a small white lunch sack. “A jelly doughnut is no kind of breakfast for a growing young man.”

  “Thanks, Mr. Lemon,” said Daniel as he fished a couple of wadded-up dollar bills out of his shorts pocket to pay for the doughnut and juice. “And, uh, nice suit.”

  Mr. Lemon chuckled. “Oh, this ridiculous thing. Mrs. Lemon’s idea, you know. Whole town’s got the fever. Now if we could just get a photo of the chief eating a Lemon’s doughnut! That would be the ticket!”

  Mr. Madison, the floating fire chi
ef, was the town’s star resident. His smiling face graced travel brochures and billboards everywhere, and lucky tourists might catch a glimpse of his silhouette high in the sky, fireman’s helmet and rubber boots and all.

  “If I see him,” said Daniel, his mouth full of jelly-filled pastry, “I’ll tell him to stop by!”

  The new school, built along the slopes of Mount Noble, was called the Noble Academy for the Gifted, but its title was a carefully crafted understatement. Its students weren’t simply gifted; they were Supers.

  The academy was the world’s first boarding school for superpowered children, located right here in Noble’s Green. In theory, it was a terrific idea. Staff the school with superpowered adults who could teach the kids to control their abilities, to use them to make a positive contribution to society. The advertising campaign was slick and seductive, with posters of beautiful children flying, like Icarus, toward the sun. Never mind, thought Daniel, that Icarus had flown so close that his wings had melted. That part of the story seemed lost on some people.

  The best thing about the academy was that classes had already begun. Parents wanted help dealing with the hormonal daughter who could break every window in the neighborhood when she screamed, or the kindergartner who could make it snow over the toilet. Parents were desperate.

  So, in effect, the academy was a combination of sleep-away camp and summer school for the Supers. Only their summer school was being held atop a mountain, like Olympus, while Daniel’s was in a basement.

  Being an ordinary fourteen-year-old, Daniel had a more traditional summer school experience. The middle school didn’t bother to open up the entire building for the summer students, so “repeat” American history was held in room 207 in the lowest level, which during the regular year was used for biology. Inside, a human skeleton hung on a stand beneath the flickering fluorescent lights, and on a shelf behind the teacher’s desk were rows of things floating in jars. All in all, the dangling skeleton and bloated, unrecognizable specimens made for a rather appropriate setting to kick off this new experience. All Daniel needed now was a black-hooded executioner to ask him for any last requests.

  At that moment, sitting in that dungeon classroom, just when Daniel’s heart had sunk to its lowest, he felt someone flick him on the back of the head. Hard.

  He turned around in his seat and found himself looking at an Asian American girl with straight black bangs cut close to her dark, almost black eyes. She had folded her arms across her chest, partially obscuring a T-shirt that read, in faded letters, IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU.

  “Hey,” said Mollie Lee, grinning.

  “W-what …?” stammered Daniel, rubbing the back of his head. He looked around her desk for the guilty weapon. It felt like she’d whacked him with a ruler.

  “What are you doing here?” he tried again. Although he was glad to see a friendly face, her unexpected appearance threw him off. She often did that to people, using her super-speed to surprise them. Sometimes to hit them if she felt the occasion warranted. To most of the world, Mollie Lee passed by as a breeze and blur. And occasionally a whack.

  “History,” she answered, shrugging. “But I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you were, like, Rohan’s brainiac twin or something.”

  “I’m not a brainiac …,” started Daniel. “But I fell behind last year. We had other things on our minds, you know.”

  Mollie nodded. “I had trouble last year too, and it’s getting worse. I think I’m getting faster.”

  “Wow,” said Daniel. He could hardly imagine Mollie being any faster than she already was. “Well, that’s great, isn’t it?”

  “Except that I’m having trouble focusing on stuff for very long. Teachers start talking and I just want them to hurry up already, and who can sit still and read a book​I​mean​what’s​the​use​of​all​this …?”

  As Mollie talked faster and faster, her words became impossible to understand. Several of the nearby students looked up at the intercom, trying to pinpoint the source of the sudden buzzing in the room.

  “Mollie! Slow down!” Daniel whispered.

  Mollie stopped talking and gave Daniel a depressed sigh. She rubbed at her eyes with the palms of her hands.

  “You see?” she said. “These days it takes everything I’ve got to not go into hyperdrive all the time. I don’t have any energy left for American history.”

  “How were your other grades?”

  “Not terrible,” said Mollie. “Algebra and chemistry I can get and then move on, you know? At my own pace. I don’t have to suffer through these boring lectures.”

  Daniel thought about this. He’d known that his friends were getting more powerful as they got older, but this was the first suggestion he’d had that this might not be an altogether positive thing. More power might be more of a curse than a blessing, especially when you were Mollie Lee and the world already moved in slow motion around you.

  “When I asked what you were doing here,” said Daniel, “I meant what are you doing here—the middle school? Don’t you want to go to the academy with the rest of the Supers? If you can fly, who there’s going to care about what you got in history?”

  Mollie flipped open her textbook and began paging through it, studiously avoiding Daniel’s eyes.

  “I’m not going,” she said finally.

  “What? Why?”

  Mollie stopped fidgeting with her book.

  “We took a vote,” said Mollie. “Rohan, Eric, Michael, and I. It was unanimous. We’re not signing up for the academy.”

  Daniel was dumbstruck. Why not? What about the shining towers, the mountain air?

  Mollie read the look of bafflement on his face correctly.

  “I think it’s creepy,” she said. “You see those ridiculous posters?”

  “Well, I admit they are kind of over-the-top. But aren’t you curious about it?”

  Mollie shook her head. “Nope. What are they going to teach me about my powers that I don’t already know? I’ll bet I know more about flying than any of their stupid faculty.”

  That was true, but Daniel had to wonder if someone up there might be able to help Mollie with her speed problem. Power-wise, none of the adults would be able to come close to Mollie or Eric. Most of the adults had been without full powers for decades, and when they finally returned, they were weaker than before. That’s why they’d ended up with a floating fire chief rather than a flying one.

  “I don’t think it’s a powers contest,” said Daniel. “That’s not the point of the school.”

  “You sure?” asked Mollie. “How do you know?”

  “Well,” said Daniel, hesitating. “The posters, I guess.”

  “See? Nobody knows anything about that place. It’s all Hey, are you having trouble getting your super-kid to clean up his room? Well, then, ship him off to us and you won’t have to worry about it for the next seven years!”

  “Yeah, I guess the whole boarding school thing is kinda … British.”

  “Kinda.”

  “And Eric and Rohan feel the same way you do?”

  Mollie nodded. “Michael too. They can take their super-school and shove it. I don’t want to be sent off to a whole different school just so ordinary people can feel comfortable around me again.”

  Daniel cringed at the word ordinary, and Mollie, to his surprise, seemed to notice.

  “You know I didn’t mean—” she began.

  “Don’t worry about it,” said Daniel, waving it away. By now, you would’ve thought he’d be used to it. “But I still think the academy’s probably a good thing for a lot of kids. Most of them just got their powers back after years of going without, and they’re having to learn how to use them all over again. And I’ve heard that there are even more who are developing powers for the very first time.”

  “I know. It’s like, with the Shroud gone, everyone’s suddenly a Super.”

  The Shroud. Just the mention of their old enemy made Daniel’s mouth go dry. For generations, the creatur
e known as the Shroud had preyed upon the super-children of Noble’s Green, stealing their powers and their memories. But all that had changed when Daniel revealed the Shroud’s real identity to be old Herman Plunkett, the town’s billionaire son. Powerless and defeated, Herman was now safely tucked away up at the Mountain View Home, hopefully until the end of his days.

  “Mollie?”

  “Hmm?”

  “You guys … you’re not doing this … I mean, you’re not all doing this so that I won’t be alone next year in school, are you?”

  Mollie snorted as if he’d just claimed that the earth really was flat. “Keep dreaming!”

  But when she said it, she didn’t—or couldn’t—look him in the eye.

  That was the end of their conversation since a hush fell over the class as their new history teacher entered the room. He wrote his name on the board—Mr. Smiley. Daniel immediately picked up on the irony of the man’s name, because one look told him that Smiley was as sour-faced a person as he had ever seen. His face looked built in such a way as to make it impossible to crack a smile. He was obviously even less happy to be here than his students were.

  “So,” Daniel whispered before turning back around in his seat to face their new teacher. “The original Supers of Noble’s Green together again, that it?”

  “You bet your butt,” she whispered back.

  And at that moment, Daniel’s mood brightened—despite the grim classroom, and Mr. Frowny at the board, and the academy, and the sheer cosmic unfairness of school in the summertime. Because now he wouldn’t be alone after all. Not yet anyway. He’d have Mollie, at least, to keep him company for a while longer.

  “Mollie,” Daniel whispered again over his shoulder. “I’m glad.”

  She didn’t answer this time, but Daniel knew Mollie was smiling. He could feel it. It tingled, like a warm breath on the back of his neck.

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll