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Unfortunately, the TV station that aired The Daring Dynamo was not so punctual. And because the show had finished late, Ernie-who couldn't bear to leave his living room while the Dynamo was still in the clutches of the dreaded Count Crustaceous-was late too. Again ...
Meanwhile, the four members of the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch) were hanging around their headquarters on the alert for an outbreak of mischief. The ceiling fan whirred softly overhead, ruffling the yellowed newspaper clippings that were stuck to the walls. "Burglars Busted by Baxter's Bravest!" one declared, and "Reformed Rogue Hails Heroes" said another. There was a gentle hum of washing machines coming from the laundromat next door.
The president of the Superheroes Society, Super Whiz, was leaning back in his chair with his feet on the table, while Housecat Woman was curled up asleep in an armchair that sat in a patch of sun in the corner of the room.
Valiant Vera, watched by Amazing Desmond, was sorting the mail that had just been pushed through the slot by the door. "Bill, bill, free pizza offer ..."
"I'll take that," said Amazing Desmond quickly, snatching the paper from her.
"Another bill ... Oooh, here's something. It looks like a letter from the Superheroes Society International Headquarters. We haven't heard from HQ in years. I wonder what they could want?"
Housecat Woman opened her eyes in surprise, and Super Whiz swung his legs off the table and sat up straight.
"Give it to me," he said importantly. "I should be the one to open it. I am the president-and the brains-of the branch."
Valiant Vera passed it over, and Super Whiz tore it open and began to read, muttering under his breath.
Then he raised his eyes from the letter to the ceiling. "There's been a change in leadership. I suppose the new guys will want to poke their noses into everything." He turned his attention back to the letter. "It has come to our notice ... blah blah blah ... no new members recruited in years ... blah blah blah ... youth ... grow and change to meet the needs of the twenty-first century ... Ha!" Super Whiz slammed the letter onto the table in disgust. "They think we're has-beens -that's what this means."
"It's not our fault that things are quiet in Baxter," said Amazing Desmond. "I imagine villains know we're keeping a sharp eye on things, and that's why they steer clear."
Valiant Vera picked up the letter from the table and began to read. "They say here we should try to find new members. Maybe approach the local school. You know, it's not a bad idea," she said. "If we get some new members while they're young, we'll have plenty of time to train them. That way we'd be-" she read from the letter in her hand- "'ensuring the future of the Superheroes Society for centuries to come.'"
"So they want us to drag people off the streets and turn them into superheroes," snorted Super Whiz. "As if anyone could be a superhero. I presume HQ will still allow us to choose new members according to our high standards," he blustered. "If we were to select some school students, for example, we would only want the brainiest ones from the top of the class."
"What about the top athletes?" asked Valiant Vera. "A superhero should be strong and brave."
Super Whiz nodded. "You're right," he said kindly. "We do need muscles to assist the brains. The only problem will be trying to choose our new members from among all the gifted young people begging to join our society. Of course, we can only accept the very best ... Maybe we could make up some flyers and ask the principal to hand them out to the most intelligent students." He rose to his feet and began pacing around the room, his hand clasping his chin thoughtfully. "I know!" he said. "A contest! They shall compete for the honor of a place on our team."
"That's all very well," said Amazing Desmond, "but what's the prize?"
"What do you mean, what's the prize? I just told you-the honor of a place on our team! I can see the advertisements now: 'Do YOU have what it takes to be a superhero?'"
"Yes," said Desmond, "I understand that. But you still need to offer a prize. 'Win a fast car' or 'Win a luxury vacation' or something."
"Desmond's right," said Valiant Vera. "You can't have a contest without a prize. But I think it should be something a superhero could use. Now what does a trainee superhero need?"
"Help," yawned Housecat Woman from the corner. The others turned to look at her in surprise. Housecat Woman rarely stayed awake long enough to follow a discussion all the way through.
"What's wrong?" asked Super Whiz politely.
"That's what a superhero needs," Housecat Woman said. "Help to do all the things a superhero does. Someone to share the exhausting workload." She gave another enormous yawn. "That's what I'd like, anyway," she said, and promptly fell asleep.
"Bingo!" said Amazing Desmond. "She's got it-a sidekick! There's nothing more certain to make a kid feel like a hero than their own faithful sidekick."
Excerpted from EXTRAORDINARY ERNIE & MARVELLOUS MAUD by Frances Watts Copyright © 2008 by Frances Watts. Excerpted by permission.
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