Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #Superheroes | Supervillains
“We know each other,” said Malcolm. “We, er, don't really have any other friends.”
“We just sort of hang out together because no one else likes us,” said Tara, again without looking at me or Malcolm. Her response surprised me, because I hadn't realized that she had been listening.
That was when I realized that I was hanging out with the freaks. I mean, not that I hated Malcolm or Tara, but I hadn't realized that they were clearly on the bottom of the John Smith High School pecking order until this moment. Just my luck, I suppose, that I, the new kid, would end up eating lunch with the two least popular kids in the school, which probably meant that the rest of the school would always associate me with these two even if I stopped hanging out with them.
While that realization sank in, Malcolm looked at Tara again and said, “Oh, hey, Tara, did you know that Kevin is from New York? We were just talking about Hero Island and how awesome it would be to go there.”
Tara suddenly froze. I didn't know her very well, but even I could tell that Malcolm had accidentally stepped on an emotional minefield. I fully expected her to throw her smartphone at Malcolm or maybe just throw him out the window.
But then Tara relaxed and said, in a tense voice, “I wouldn't want to go there. Those neoheroes aren't anything special.”
“What?” said Malcolm. “Oh, come on, Tara. Omega Man is awesome. And the Midnight Menace, too.”
“All they do is cause destruction and get innocent people caught in the crossfire of their dangerous battles,” said Tara, still without looking at either of us. “Personally, I think we'd be better off without them.”
Frankly, I was stunned by her excessive negativity toward neoheroes. I've always known that there were some people who hate anyone with super powers, whether they do good things or bad with those powers, but I didn't really encounter too many of those people back in New York. I'm not as big a neohero fan as Malcolm, but I liked them a lot and always thought it would be cool to become a neohero myself.
But I could tell that Tara had other reasons for disliking neoheroes. She didn't scream or shout, but I could tell that she must have been letting some of her personal experiences with them affect her. I considered asking her, but then realized that that would be like sticking your hand into a meat grinder just to see what happens.
Despite Tara's negativity, I still thought she was cute and was going to ask her out before a harsh voice behind me shouted, “Hey, new kid!”
Uh oh. I knew
tone. It was the sort of tone that all bullies used whenever they addressed their next victims. Or, at least, that was the tone bullies back in my old school used, which almost made me think that one of my old bullies somehow traveled all the way from New York to Texas just to pick up where we left off.
Nonetheless, I looked over my shoulder and saw a large guy with tanned skin and blond hair—the same guy I bumped into earlier—walking toward our table. He was taller and larger than me, wearing an old leather jacket that just made him look even more intimidating. He looked vaguely Mexican, but he looked like he might have had some other race in him, too, though I wasn't sure which.
“Uh oh,” said Malcolm with a gulp. “That's Robert Candle, the local bully.”
“Why does he seem angry with me?” I said as I tried to calculate how much time I had before he arrived.
“It's a John Smith High School tradition,” said Tara. “Robert always 'greets' the new kids, usually by stuffing them into a locker or making them give him their lunch.”
“Or both,” said Malcolm.
I hated dealing with bullies. It wasn't that I was a coward or small and weak; I was actually really strong. It's just that I'm bad at fighting and I've gotten in trouble at my old school for defending myself from the bullies there. I always found it easier to just go along with whatever the bullies demanded of me than make a scene and get in trouble with the school administration.
But there wasn't any running or making peace now. Robert looked like he was pissed, so I stood and tried to look as tough as I could, mostly because I knew that some bullies would leave you alone if you looked as tough as or tougher than them.
Robert, apparently, wasn't one of those kinds of bullies, because when he reached our table, he looked completely unimpressed by my tough guy act. He was taller than me, almost towering over me, though it was probably just his angry demeanor that made me think he was so much bigger than me.
Still, I did not cower before him. I just said, “Hi, Robert. What's the problem?”
“I'm not going to ask how you know my name, loser,” said Robert. He poked me in the chest with one of his large fingers. “But don't play dumb with me. You know what you did.”
“No, I don't,” I said. Robert's tone was annoying me, but I tried to keep my cool. “I really don't.”
“You bumped into me back there,” said Robert, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “Remember? It was just five minutes ago.”
I nodded, albeit slowly. “Yes, I do, but I apologized.”
“I don't care,” said Robert. “I don't accept apologies. I think you were intentionally trying to piss me off.”
“Why?” I said. “I just got here. I don't even know you. Why would I go out of my way to make you angry?”
“I don't know why, but I think you did,” said Robert. “But I'm willing to overlook it if you would give me your lunch every day for the next week.”
“What?” I said, not bothering to hide the indignation in my voice. “You want me to give you my lunch for all of next week?”
“Yes,” said Robert. “If you do that, I might be able to overlook such stupid behavior from a kid as green as yourself.”
I raised an eyebrow. “A kid? We're probably the same age.”
“Shut up,” Robert growled. “I know what I said.”
I didn't think he did, but I decided not to say anything that could escalate the situation, although that was hard because my temper was starting to rise. Mom always told me that I should control my temper, but it was always hard to do whenever I was talking with a bully like Robert.
Still, I managed to say, in a calm voice, “What will happen if I say no?”
“Then I'll just beat you up and take your lunch,” said Robert. “Every day for the next week, I'll give you a progressively worse beating and then take your lunch.”
“What the hell?” I said. I stopped myself quickly, taking a few deep breaths to control my temper, and then said more calmly, “What? That's not a fair choice. Either way, you get my lunch every day for the next week.”
Robert smiled, a psychotic smile that I wanted to wipe off his face. “And? Why should I care? You're the new kid around here. That means you don't get a choice about what we choose to put you through.”
My hands balled into fists, but I shoved them into my hoodie. But that did nothing to cool the anger boiling within me.
I looked at Malcolm and Tara. “Guys, is he for real? Tell me this is some kind of elaborate prank.”
Unfortunately, Malcolm and Tara seemed to be trying to turn invisible, because Malcolm was looking at his food as if it was the most interesting thing in the world, while Tara had brought her smartphone even closer to her face. I would have considered this a betrayal, but neither of them were really my friends, so maybe I should have seen that coming.
Regardless, I looked at Robert again, who was still smirking at me. He put his hands on his hips and said, “All right, new kid, what will it be? Give up your lunch for a week or receive a beating from me and still lose your lunch for a week?”
My hands shook. I was starting to fantasize about knocking Robert out in one blow, but I kept myself from doing something I'd regret.
But neither was I going to stand here and take it. So I said, “Sorry, Robert, but looks like you're going to have to get your own lunch this—”
I didn't even see it coming. Robert's fist smashed into my abdomen, knocking the air out of me. I gasped in pain and fell down onto my seat at the table, causing Malcolm and even Tara to look at me in surprise.
Wrapping my hands over my stomach, I looked up at Robert, who was now holding his fist up like he was going to mash my head in.
to make things difficult, didn't you, new kid?” said Robert. He snorted. “Oh, well. It's been a while since I've gotten to beat a new kid. Most new kids don't have the balls to say no to me.”
Damn, Robert hit
. He really was as strong as he looked. Yet I didn't let the pain make me cower. Instead, it made me angrier than ever. My anger rose within me like a geyser and I was just about ready to blow.
Robert swung another fist at me, this time aiming for my head, but I caught his fist with my hand. I expected it to be hard to hold back, but to my surprise, I held back Robert's fist with ease.
“What?” said Robert. He sounded genuinely shocked, like he was incapable of understanding what was happening. “How did you do that?”
I wasn't sure how, because I had never done that before. But I didn't question it. I just stood up, forcing Robert's fist back as I did so. Anger continued to flow through my veins and I wasn't going to be calm anymore.
Robert seemed to get over his shock, because he pulled back his other fist and threw it at me. But I dodged it easily and responded with a punch of my own, aiming for his chest, which was unprotected and a big target.
When my fist collided with Robert's chest, Robert literally went flying. He flew backwards through the air, across the entire length of the cafeteria, screaming loudly and drawing the attention of everyone in the cafeteria. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed Robert as he flew, until he smashed straight through the cafeteria wall and stopped screaming.
I stood there, blinking in disbelief. I looked down at my own fist, which looked no worse the wear for having punched a big guy like Robert all the way across the cafeteria. The only thing I noticed was how strong I felt, but I was too shocked to pay attention even to that.
Then I looked at Malcolm and Tara. Malcolm was staring at me like I had grown a set of wings and flew away, while Tara had actually dropped her smartphone onto the table and stared at me with the same shock as Malcolm.
That was when I felt people looking at me and looked back at the rest of the cafeteria. Everyone in the cafeteria was looking directly at me, wearing expressions as the ones Malcolm and Tara wore. I probably looked the same, but I didn't have a mirror so I couldn't see my face.
All I knew was that I had done something I had possibly just murdered another kid … and I hadn't even known I could do it.
hy wasn't anyone talking? I hated it when things got silent like this. Everyone was staring at me. Everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of freak. Even the lunch lady behind the cafeteria counter was staring at me soundlessly, holding a spoon full of grub halfway in the air. The only sound was the sound of bits of plaster and plywood falling onto the floor from the Robert Candle-shaped hole in the wall on the other side of the room.
Feeling hot around the collar, I looked at Malcolm and Tara. They seemed to have completely lost the ability to talk. I thought that their brains probably hadn't caught up with the reality of what they just saw yet.
Then, all of a sudden, Robert groaned from behind the hole in the wall. Like a spell, the entire classroom suddenly burst into loud screaming and shouting. The other kids started pointed and shouting at me, like I was some kind of monster, while a couple of teachers ran into the cafeteria. It was Mr. Randal, the English teacher, and Miss Norman, the History teacher, who were now trying to figure out what happened, but there was too much screaming and shouting for them to make sense of what happened.
Again, I looked back at Malcolm and Tara. I said, raising my voice to be heard over the screams echoing in the cafeteria, “I don't know what happened! You have to believe me!”
But Malcolm and Tara were now looking at me with the same fear that the other kids had. Tara was even scooting away from me on the bench, while Malcolm looked like he was trying to figure out if he should run or try to confront me. Although neither of them were really my friends, I still felt awful about frightening them with powers I didn't even know I had.
Then I heard a loud voice shout, “Kevin Jason!” and I looked and saw a large, balding middle-aged man in a suit walking up to me. I recognized him as Principal Thomas, the principal of John Smith High School, who I hadn't actually met until today. I wasn't sure where he came from, but it didn't matter because he was clearly pissed.
“What is the meaning of this?” said Principal Thomas as he approached me. “I heard you punched a student through the walls. Explain yourself!”
I didn't know what to say. I held up my hands to show that I didn't mean any harm, but Principal Thomas just stepped backwards like he was afraid that I would punch him, too.
“I-I-I'm not sure,” I said, stuttering more than I had ever stuttered in my life. “I—”
“I want no excuses,” Principal Thomas interrupted me. He poked me in the chest with one meaty finger. “I am going to tell the police and your parents about this and will get to the bottom of this nonsense no matter what. I will not be having students in my school punching each other through the walls with powers they have not previously disclosed. Do you understand me, young man?”
My temper flared again, because Principal Thomas was acting like I had intentionally hidden these powers from everyone, even though I was just as surprised by my super strength as anyone. I was almost tempted to punch him out, but I restrained my anger, though just barely.
“He understands you perfectly, Principal Thomas,” said a slightly muffled, calm voice that seemed strangely familiar to me, but which I was too upset to place. “He just doesn't know his own strength is all.”
I looked over to the corner of the cafeteria, where the voice had come from, and was surprised to see someone standing there. He was a tall man, about as tall as me, and wore a white lab coat and a strange-looking helmet with a visor that completely covered his face. He wore metal gauntlets that had touch screen displays and tons of buttons on them that I didn't understand at all. He was not the kind of person you'd expect to see in a small town Texas high school cafeteria, to say the least.