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Authors: Zoe Quinn

Totally Toxic

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Hester Velmans

superhero training manual was open to page ninety-four. I was sprawled across my puffy pink and green comforter, but in the last hour I'd barely glanced at the book. Instead, I'd been reading my newest Lightning Girl comic book; then I had started sorting through photos and other souvenirs from the school play. I was
to be studying for the superhero test, but I was entitled to a little “research”—the photos weren't going to put
into the album, right?

Smiling, I slid a photo of Howie Hunt into one of the pages. It was a great picture of him as Prince Irving St. Ives, snapped during his dance number.

Not that I needed a photograph to remind me. If I live to be five hundred years old (and who knows… I just might), I will never forget Howie Hunt's performance—or any other moment of the sixth-grade play. After all, it was not only a great theatrical success, but it also happened to be the most
exciting drama production in the history of Sweetbriar Middle School.

Of course, I was the only one who knew that. Me, and my grandpa Zack.

I plucked the program from the pile of flyers and ticket stubs and glanced through it. I was listed as a member of the stage crew. But that wasn't the half of it.

Not to brag or anything, but I, Zoe Richards, single-handedly prevented the production from being a full-on catastrophe. To be more specific, I used my superpowers.

Yep—I've got superpowers. And if you're surprised, think how I felt when I found out! Strange things began to happen to me on my twelfth birthday, the kind of things that don't happen in real life, you know? Like being able to outrun the school bus and lift cars with my bare hands. I was confused, to say the least, since I (like most intelligent, logical kids) figured superpowers were the stuff of comic books and action movies. But my grandpa Zack set me straight:

“Think of these powers as a special kind of talent you never knew you had. Being a superhero is, in the truest sense, part of who you already are: Zoe Richards. Nothing can ever change that.”

Grandpa knew what he was talking about, of course. He isn't just the proprietor of Sweetbriar's premier dry-cleaning store; he used to be a superhero, too. Even though he retired several years ago, he had one last task to perform for the Superhero Federation (oh, yes—did I mention that we have our own federation? Kind of like a PTA with extras). Now that he was sure I had inherited the superhero gene, it was his job to steer me through the early phases of my hero-ness, using the superhero training manual as a study guide. (Remember the superhero
manual? The one I was supposed to be reading instead of pasting snapshots into my photo album?)

Anyway, during a rehearsal for the school play, I'd used my very new superpowers to stop a giant stage light from crashing down on Howie's head in the middle of his tap-dance routine. Boy, would
have messed up his rhythm… not to mention the fact that it probably would have killed him!

The good news was that Howie walked away without a scratch, and nobody knew how close we'd come to disaster. The bad news was that as an apprentice hero, I really shouldn't have been using my superpowers at all. If the Superhero Federation were to find out (and I'm pretty sure they have ways of detecting that sort of stuff), I could be in for a major reprimand. Or worse. Looking at the photos of Howie reminded me of just how much trouble I could be in, right that very minute….

My worrying was interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the hall. Reaching over the stacks of photos, I grabbed the superhero manual and tucked it under my comforter just as my mother came through my bedroom door. She was carrying a laundry basket filled with folded clothes. She was frowning down at the clean laundry like she had no idea what to do with it.

“Hi, Mom.”

My voice startled her out of her daze, and she looked up from the basket. From across the room I caught a whiff of the flower-scented, just-washed clothes.

“Oh, hi, kiddo. Here's your laundry.” She placed the basket on the foot of my bed and smoothed a wrinkle from a sweatshirt that lay on top of the pile. “Nice and clean and still warm from the dryer.”

I squinted at her. “You okay?”

“Hmmm? Oh, I'm fine. Just thinking about something.”

“Something” could only mean one thing: a Big Thing. Mom doesn't waste time worrying about the small stuff in her life. If she was mulling something over, it had to involve the environment, or social injustice, or animal rights, or some other issue that needed a major campaign.

I sat up on the bed and moved some of the snapshots so I could scoot toward the basket. “Did you wash my gray T-shirt with the yellow sleeves?”

“I think so. It's probably at the bottom of the pile….”

“Great!” I snatched the sweatshirt out of the basket and dropped it on the bed. '“Cause I want to wear it tomorrow.” I began digging in the snuggly-warm pile for the T-shirt.


“Did you wash the camouflage cargo pants?” I grabbed a handful of socks from the basket and dropped them on the bed. “You know, the ones with the broken zipper on the side pocket? Emily says they go great with the T-shirt.”

“Zoe, I just folded those!” Mom shook her head and bent down to pick up the socks.

“Don't worry,” I told her, smiling as I tossed aside a pair of flannel pajama pants and leaned into the basket. “I'll put everything away as soon as I—”

I fell backward onto the pillows as if I'd been shoved. The room seemed to spin, and my eyes burned. I sucked in a deep breath, but that only made me dizzier.

Since I'd never experienced anything like that before, I couldn't help wondering if the reaction was superpower related. That would certainly explain why Mom wasn't gasping for breath like me. Luckily, she was on her knees at the foot of the bed, reaching underneath it to retrieve a yellow argyle, and didn't notice that I was clutching the headboard for dear life.

It was the scent! It was everywhere, like an explosion from the depths of the laundry basket, like some crazy chemistry experiment gone bad … only it smelled
Really good, like … like …

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