Except they get more than they bargained for. The truth is that Joshua and his friends have been chosen to form the greatest superhero team of all time. That is, if they make it through G&T's rigorous training.
Suddenly Joshua is thrust into the media spotlight, and it's not as glamorous as people think. And what will happen if his supervillain parents find out that the new celebrity superhero is . . . Joshua?
No one ever said fighting evil would be easy.
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The last day of the sixth grade wasn't turning out the way I'd expected at all. And that was before the substitute librarian tried to kill me.
I was in my room, looking for something to wear, when an explosion rocked the floor beneath me. Whatever it was, I had a feeling my mom and dad were involved.
Take it from me, when you have supervillains for parents, you get used to unexplained noises in the house. It might've been a new invention my dad was testing out. Or maybe one of my mom's experiments had gone terribly wrong.
Either way, I wasn't going to let it bother me. Not on a day like this. The school year was finally coming to an end. Summer was right around the corner.
Just the thought of it made me smile. Two and a half months of sleeping late and watching TV, not worrying about homework or schedules. Two and a half months of nothing.
If only I'd known how wrong I was.
My dad was seated at the dining room table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Strands of morning sunlight shone through the window, reflecting off the abnormally thick rims of the glasses he'd customized to regulate his super-vision.
"Morning, Joshua," he said.
"Hey, did you hear a noise a minute ago?"
"Noise? What kind of noise?"
Before I could answer, another crash erupted. It sounded like it had come from the kitchen.
"That kind of noise," I said. "What was that?"
"Oh, that's just Elliot," Dad said. "He's making pancakes."
All of a sudden, a robot lurched into the room. He looked a little like a tin trash can, with protractible arms on either side of his body and flat paddles for feet. His head was a cube-shaped hunk of metal that wobbled on top of a thin plastic neck.
Elliot had made his entrance.
Dad had come up with the idea for Elliot after sharing a ride with Captain Justice seven months earlier. It had been awkward enough for my parents to carpool with their sworn enemy, the superhero they'd been fighting for years. On top of that, Dad had also seemed a little jealous of Stanley, Captain Justice's robot butler in the driver's seat.
"Why can't we have a robot butler?" Dad had complained once we'd gotten home. "We're two of the most successful supervillains in the world, right?"
"Of course, honey," Mom had said, massaging the back of his neck.
"Then we deserve a robot butler too!"
And so Dad had set out to build one. But the thing about my dad is, when he gets really excited about an idea, he becomes kind of impatient. It's part of the reason why our house is so packed with inventions. He's always working on five things at once. And it's also part of the reason why all these inventions are usually a little bit . . . flawed.
Elliot was a good example. He'd only been in service for a couple of weeks, but he'd already destroyed half our house. He'd smashed the front window during his attempt to clean it. The living room rug had been torn to shreds as a result of his "vacuuming."
Breakfast didn't seem like it was going to turn out any better.
"The pancakes look delicious," Dad said to Elliot.
I glanced at the charred brown mush that Elliot was carrying. It looked more like grilled boogers than pancakes. But Dad just went on talking to Elliot like he was the best robot butler in the world.
"Thank you for preparing breakfast," he said.
"You are welcooooome," said Elliot in a slurred electronic voice. "It was my pleasummmmack!"
Did I mention that whenever Elliot spoke, his voice came out sounding like a radio going haywire? Dad kept promising to fix the robot's speech function. Obviously, he hadn't gotten around to it yet.
Elliot set down one of the plates on the edge of the table. The other plate missed the table and crashed to the ground in an explosion of porcelain shards and lumpy batter. He looked up at my dad with his big glowing eyes.
"My apologies, Mr. Dormmmilack."
"That's quite all right, Elliot. And my name is pronounced Dominick. Do-mi-nick."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Dummy-neck."
"Close enough," Dad said in a reassuring tone.
We both watched as Elliot attempted to pick up the shards of broken plate, tearing out several large chunks of the dining room floor in the process.
"It's important to remain encouraging," Dad whispered to me as Elliot tottered back into the kitchen, scattering pieces of porcelain behind him. "I really do think he's made some progress."
A crash rang out from the kitchen. It sounded like an entire drawer of silverware had been dumped on the floor.
"I'd better go check on that," Dad said, jogging through the door.
A moment after Dad left the dining room, Mom entered.
She leaned against the doorframe, her long black hair still wet from the shower. Her green eyes crinkled at the sides as she smiled at me.
"What happened here?" she asked, glancing down at the smashed plate and the missing sections of the floor.
"Elliot," I said.
Mom nodded. No need for further explanation.
"He's in the kitchen with Dad right now." I could hear the muffled sound of Dad speaking encouragingly to Elliot. "How long are we gonna have to put up with that thing?" I asked.
"Which thing?" Mom asked. "The robot or your dad?"
"I was referring to the robot."
She let out an exhausted sigh.
"This is important to your father," she said. "So I think we have to support him."
"But why do we even need a robot butler in the first place?"
"Ever since that ride with Captain Justice, your father has" Mom glanced toward the kitchen and lowered her voice. "He's felt a little . . . insecure."
I heard the rumble of drawers opening and closing. My dad's voice called out, "No, Elliot. Please don't put the cheese grater in your mouth!"
Mom took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "This hasn't been easy for either of us, you know. We spent the last ten years fighting with Captain Justice. Now we're not sure how we're supposed to feel about him."
I couldn't deny that my parents had been acting unusual for the past seven months. At least by their standards. Neither of them had been involved in a single attempt to destroy the world. Not even a continent.
It was bizarre.
Don't get me wrong. I was happy to see my parents considering other career options. For as long as I could remember, I'd known that they were different from other parents. And not different in a good way. More like they were different in a molten-lava-is-about-to-wipe-out-New-Jersey-and-it's-all-their-fault kind of way.
All along, I hoped they would find jobs that were more normal. Or at least less evil.
Now it looked like that was exactly what they'd done. Over the past seven months, Mom hadn't once used her power to control vegetation as a part of any super-villainous schemes. Instead, she'd been totally caught up in her job as a horticulture professor at Sheepsdale Community College.
And as for Dadwell, lately he'd been devoting all his time to Elliot.
"No, Elliot!" Dad called out from the kitchen. "Put the refrigerator down!"
This was followed by a clump and a howl of pain from my dad.
"YAARGH!" he screamed. "Not on my TOE!"
"Soooorry, Mr. Dummy-neck."
Mom rolled her eyes. "Just try to be patient. And let your dad know I'll be skipping breakfast this morning. Have to get to campus early to grade finals."
As soon as Mom swept out of the dining room, Dad hobbled into it. "I've got to find a bandage for my toe," he said. "Looks like you'll have to eat without me."
As he limped out the door, I glanced down at the burned mush waiting for me on my plate.
"Yum," I muttered.
When I got to the bus stop, I unzipped my backpack and pulled out the Sheepsdale Middle School yearbook. I'd received it the day before, just like everyone else in school.
I opened the book and flipped through until I found my picture. I was the skinny kid in the lower right-hand part of the page who looked like he'd just been stumped by a tough math question. My disheveled brown hair blended perfectly with a shadow in the background, making it look like I had a huge lopsided Afro.
Otherwise, it was a great picture.
There was a name printed beneath the photo, but it wasn't my name. At least, not my real name. Part of being the child of two notorious supervillains is hiding your identity. People still called me Joshua, but only a few peoplemy parents, Milton, Sophieknew that my actual last name was Dread.
It can be tough to live with a false identity, to switch your names the way other people switch shoes. But just like everything else in life, after a while, you get used to it. Soon you mostly forget that you were ever anyone else.
I closed the yearbook with a sharp crack and shoved it inside my backpack. As I did, a slip of paper fell out. It fluttered for a second in the air, then landed next to my foot. I bent down to pick it up.
The paper was small, about the size of a postcard. One side was blank. I was about to toss it into the trash can, when I noticed what was printed on the other side:
YOU ARE THE CHOSEN.
I stared at the words, my mind spinning to make sense of them. The chosen? What was that supposed to mean?
I nearly dropped the slip of paper when I heard a voice behind me.
I spun around and saw Milton. Tall and thin, with sandy blond hair that never seemed to stay in place, Milton had been my closest friend ever since I'd moved in down the street from him nearly three years earlier. Even after learning that my parents were the Dread Duo, he still treated me the same as he did before. Well, pretty much the same. Every once in a while, he asked to borrow my dad's plasma gun.
"I've got big plans for our first week of summer," Milton said. "On Monday, we can go to AwesomeWorld. That new amusement park outside town? They have a ride there that's so extreme, if you don't puke, you get your money back!"
"That sounds . . . great," I said, hardly listening. My thoughts were still coiled around the slip of paper in my hand. You are the chosen. How could it have gotten into my backpack without my knowing about it? And what did it mean?
Chosen for what?
As the bus pulled up, I gripped the note a little more tightly in my fist. All of a sudden, I had a feeling that my plans for a relaxing, stress-free summer had just gone up in flames.
On my way to school, I made up my mind. The note must've been a prank. And I had an idea who was behind it.
Joey Birch and Brick Gristol.
The two of them had been picking on me since my first day at Sheepsdale Middle School. They'd probably snuck the note into my backpack the day before when I wasn't looking. No telling what it was supposed to mean, but if Joey and Brick were involved, I was sure they had something unpleasant in mind.
A few minutes before first period, I caught up with them in the hallway. Joey had red hair and a permanent scowl on his face. It was easy to spot Brick standing next to him, since he was about a head taller than anyone else in our grade. Brick was shaped like a refrigerator (except uglier), with a mouthful of crooked teeth and a buzz cut. At the moment, he was holding a fifth grader upside down by the ankles.
I stepped toward them. Joey, Brick, and the upside-down fifth grader all looked my way. "I know about the note," I said.
"Listen, Dorkface," Joey said. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Besides, me and Brick are kind of in the middle of something right now."
He nodded at the upside-down fifth grader in Brick's grip. The fifth grader waved at me.
For a split second, I wondered if he was telling the truth. But if it wasn't them, then how had the note ended up in my backpack? It's not like it could have just appeared there.
"There's no point lying," I said. "I know it was you."
Joey turned to where Brick was standing. "You know anything about a note?"
Brick and the fifth grader both shook their heads.
Joey looked back to me. "See? We don't know what you're talking about. Now why don't you get out of here before we make you?"
Joey's sneer deepened. He took a step in my direction.
A feeling came over meat once familiar and completely strange. See, my parents aren't the only ones in the family who have superpowers. Earlier in the school year, I'd learned that I was Gyfted, which is another way of saying that freaky things sometimes happen to me. And I'm not just talking about puberty. I have the power of spontaneous combustion. Basically, it means that I can make things blow up. Spontaneously.
My Gyft kicks in whenever I concentrate really hard or get too stressed out about something. My fingertips start to tingle, and a rush of adrenaline shoots through my body. Blood surges through my veins, and my heart pounds so hard that it feels like it might burst out of my chest any second. These are the warning signs that something's about to spontaneously combust.
And I was feeling all of them right then.
But before I had a chance to test out my power on Joey and Brick, another voice cut into the group.
Sophie was standing beside us. I guess you could say Sophie was one of my best friends from school. She was also Captain Justice's daughter. As soon as Joey saw her, worry flashed across his features. Brick took a step back, trembling so much that the fifth grader in his hands began to shake.
Sophie was a slight, wispy girl with blue-gray eyes and blond hair that hung to her shoulders. You might think it's a little odd that a girl like this could cause such a reaction from the school's two biggest bullies. But Sophie was also born with a Gyft. And if you'd ever seen her power in action, you'd know she can cause some serious damage. Earlier in the school year, Joey and Brick had experienced this firsthand. Ever since, they'd done their best to avoid her.