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For most people, the end of the world is a bad thing. For others, it's a career.
Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth. Weather forecasts predicted massive hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, typhoons, monsoons, mud slides, and heavy winds.
"We are asking all students to make an orderly exit," Principal Sloane's voice boomed over the loudspeaker. "Please do not run, push, or form an angry mob on your way out. Buses are waiting outside."
My parents never actually came out and told me they were planning on flooding the world. But they'd dropped plenty of hints over the previous few weeks. Dad had spent every spare minute in the backyard tinkering with his new Weather Alterator machine. And that morning, Mom gave me a sly wink as I was leaving for school. "You might want to take an umbrella with you," she said, smiling as if she knew something I didn't.
Stepping into the hallway now, I joined the mass of other students. I listened to the rain and wind beating against the walls outside, the sound of hundreds of feet moving across the floor inside.
Everyone seemed pretty calm, considering the world was about to end.
The weather was chaotic. Wind lashed in every direction. Massive gray clouds swirled violently overhead. Bolts of lightning flashed across the sky. It looked like it was raining and snowing at the same time.
"Weird weather, huh?"
I turned and saw my best friend, Milton, standing behind me. Well, technically, he was my only friend. I'd known him for two years, ever since my parents and I had moved onto his street. Milton was tall and gangly, with arms and legs like sticks that had been loosely tied together. His sandy blond hair always poked up in the back.
"Did you hear what the weather forecast said this morning?" Milton asked.
"Yeah." I looked up at the churning clouds. "They're predicting that the storms will destroy civilization as we know it."
"And it's perfect timing too! Mrs. Lange was about to give us a quiz when class got dismissed."
We both stopped talking when a bone-rattling crash of thunder echoed across the landscape.
"Come on," I said when the thunder had ended. "Let's get onto the bus before it leaves without us."
Milton and I pushed against the wind until we found our bus and took a seat near the back. The weather outside worsened as we waited. The wind blew a stop sign past my window. The sky exploded with lightning.
Finally the bus rumbled into motion. Looking out the rain-splattered window, I could see trees shaking and power lines snapping loose. We passed an electronics store where the manager was fighting off a group of looters with a vacuum cleaner.
That morning, before the weather had taken a turn for the deadly, it had been a sunny fall day in Sheepsdale, one of the last really warm days of the year. Sheepsdale was a small town in upstate New York, nestled between a river and rolling green hills. Except for the occasional threat of apocalyptic doom, it was a pretty uneventful place to live.
When we reached downtown, the harsh weather suddenly stopped. It was as if we'd passed under an enormous invisible roof. There was no rain or wind. Everything looked absolutely still. A wall of gray clouds swirled around us. An eerie silence hung in the air.
My first thought was that we'd entered the eye of the storm. But then the bus lurched to a halt, and I realized what was going on.
My parents were floating in the intersection. They were holding a press conference.
It's embarrassing to run into your parents when you're with people from school, especially when your parents are about to destroy the planet.
Mom was drifting five feet above the ground on her hover scooter, wearing her usual uniform--a green one-piece armor body shield and black eye mask. Dad was drifting beside her on his own hover scooter. He was dressed in a dark gray jumpsuit, with blood-red gloves and boots. He was wearing a pair of massive silver goggles.
Dozens of reporters surrounded them, spilling out into the street with their cameras and microphones.
Kids crowded to one side of the school bus, pressing their faces against the glass to get a better look.
"I can't hear anything!" someone in the front yelled. "Open a window!"
All at once, twenty windows rattled down.
I ducked low, worried that my parents would notice me. Milton squeezed against my shoulder to get a better look.
"That's the Dread Duo!" His voice was full of fear and amazement.
"Is it?" I asked, trying to sound like I wasn't sure who they were. Like I hadn't just eaten breakfast with the Dread Duo seven hours earlier.
"There's the Botanist." Milton pointed at my mom. "She can control plants with her mind. And next to her is Dr. Dread. He wears those goggles because of his superpowered eyesight. They set a horde of zombies loose in Washington, D.C., last year. They tried to vaporize California with a death laser, but then it got blocked by Captain Justice. I can't believe they're actually here."
Milton went quiet as soon as Dr. Dread--my dad--began speaking to the gathered reporters.
"You may have noticed the sudden change in weather when you reached this intersection." He gestured to the wall of pounding rain and snow that surrounded the calm, clear area of downtown where our bus was stopped. "We have created a Vortex of Silence, which neutralizes the effects of the Weather Alterator within a fifty-foot radius of wherever we go. This Vortex of Silence will keep us safe and dry, even as the weather outside gets worse."
"And we assure you that it will get worse," my mom continued. "Much worse. Unless the government agrees to meet our demands, every continent on earth will be destroyed in"--she checked her watch--"less than four hours."
My parents did this kind of thing sometimes--death lasers, rampaging zombies, floods. I guess it was part of their job description. They were two of the most feared supervillains in the world. But that was only one part of who they were. As far as anyone in town knew, my mom was just an ordinary horticulture professor at the local junior college and my dad was a stay-at-home inventor. They had a regular house in a regular neighborhood on the outskirts of a regular little town. And they had a regular son.
In other words, me.
My name's Joshua Dread. Well, that's one of my names, anyway. I've gone by lots of them. My last name changes every time my parents pick up and move to another new town. Some kids have to make new friends when they move. I have to make up a whole new identity. But I can't tell you the name I go by now. It would be too dangerous--for me, and probably for you too.
The press conference was still going on. Reporters screamed questions to my parents.
"How can you expect the government to meet such an unreasonable demand in such a short amount of time?" yelled one.
"I don't think a private jet filled with hundred-dollar bills is so unreasonable." A wicked smirk passed over my dad's face. "I prefer to think of it as . . . creative."
"What about Captain Justice?" called another reporter. "Aren't you concerned that he'll put a stop to these plans?"
My mom glared at the reporter with a sour expression. Captain Justice was the most famous superhero in the world. He was also my parents' archrival. Just mentioning his name around the house was enough to get me sent to my room.
"Actually," Mom said, "Captain Justice doesn't concern us. It's you who should be worried. All of you. Because soon--"
She was interrupted by a booming voice in the distance.
"DID SOMEONE SAY 'JUSTICE'?"
A flurry of excitement passed over the reporters. One of them pointed to the other side of the intersection, where a figure had appeared from the storm, floating above the rooftops, flying in our direction. I recognized him right away. I'd seen him in countless commercials and on magazine covers. He was wearing a tight silver jumpsuit and a shiny blue cape. His teeth were blindingly bright as he smiled.
Captain Justice had just arrived.
If you're going to get into a deadly fight, make sure you do it on camera.
Milton pressed closer to me, trying to get a better look. For as long as I'd known him, he'd been obsessed with superheroes and supervillains, but he'd been especially obsessed with Captain Justice. Milton had Captain Justice posters on his wall and Captain Justice trading cards. The only cereal he would eat was Frosted Fuel Flakes (sponsored by Captain Justice).
And now Captain Justice was floating just outside the window.
"If it isn't the Botanist and Dr. Dread." Captain Justice's voice echoed across downtown Sheepsdale. "How unpleasant it is to see you again."
My parents glared back at him.
"How did he get here so soon?" Dad muttered to Mom.
My dad's hand dropped down to his waist, his fingers running over a small gray box that was hanging from his belt. The control box for the Weather Alterator. It contained a button that could trigger total meteorological meltdown, destroying the world--or at least everything outside the Vortex of Silence--in a matter of seconds. And nobody, not even Captain Justice, could stop it.
"You are a truly wicked pair," Captain Justice said. "Flooding the earth. Terrorizing a group of journalists. Holding innocent children hostage. Is there any act of treachery that is too evil for the Dread Duo?"
My dad glanced at our school bus as if he hadn't noticed it until now. "We aren't holding any children hostage!"
"Silence! I didn't come here to listen to your pitiful excuses." Captain Justice turned to our bus. "Worry not, dear children! Captain Justice shall rescue you from the clutches of these vile enemies!"
Swooping downward, he gripped the bus roof. A wrenching sound filled the air as he tore the top half of the bus off. Some kids screamed. Milton snapped a photo with his cell phone.
"Be free, children!" Captain Justice said, holding the top half of the bus above his head with one hand as if it weighed nothing at all. "You are trapped in this bus of death no longer!"
My classmates remained in their seats, stunned.
"Go on," Captain Justice urged. "You're all free now."
"Captain Justice?" said a girl a few rows ahead of me.
"What is it, little girl?"
"The bus driver said it wasn't safe for us to go outside the Vortex of Silence on foot. Because of the storm and all."
Captain Justice glanced up at the top half of the bus like he was trying to figure out whether he could reattach it.
"Never fear," he said. "Captain Justice will find a way for you to return to your homes safely."
He shrugged and then tossed the top of the bus over his shoulder like a crumpled piece of paper. The enormous metal object crashed into the post office, destroying the entire front wall.
I watched my dad with a rising sense of fear. He looked panicked, on the verge of pressing the meltdown button. I wished that they'd never gone ahead with this plan in the first place. What were we even supposed to do with a private jet full of hundred-dollar bills? Our driveway was barely big enough for my parents' Volvo.
I thought about calling out to them. Maybe I could convince my parents to give up their scheme and let everyone go. But what if someone realized that I was related to them? What if everyone in school found out that I was the son of the Dread Duo?
On second thought, I was better off taking my chances with world annihilation.
The weather continued to worsen. The tumble of clouds turned from gray to black. Rain lashed the sides of buildings; wind ripped street signs loose. But everything within fifty feet of our bus was perfectly calm and still.
Captain Justice had turned his back on my parents and was now floating ten feet off the ground, posing for photographs. He smiled at the crowd of journalists, flexing his muscles for the cameras.
My dad's finger inched closer to the meltdown button. I ducked even lower in my seat as he glanced at our bus. His eyes lingered on the bus for a split second, and then he shook his head and pulled his hand away from the button. He reached for another part of his utility belt. His plasma gun.
"Hey, Captain Justice," he said, removing the gun from its holster. "How about one more shot?"
He aimed and pulled the trigger. A vivid red beam burst out of the end of the gun.
Captain Justice spun around, yelling, "Engage Shield of Honor!"
A glowing blue shield took form in Captain Justice's hand. It looked both real and unreal, like a hologram had emerged from his wristband. The plasma beam reflected off the Shield of Honor and hit Mom's hover scooter. She crashed to the ground.
Dad flew over to help her just as Captain Justice raised his other hand. "Engage Net of Truth!"
Another blue hologram appeared from his wristband. This time it looked like a net, which flew just over our heads and collided with my father. He and his hover scooter crashed into a bush.
"You see that, kids?" Captain Justice said, drifting closer to our school bus. "This just goes to show that honor and truth always prevail. It reminds me of the time I single-handedly battled Abominator and his army of mutants. They had me surrounded, but I was able to--OOF!"
Captain Justice's speech came to a sudden halt as the branches of a nearby tree circled around his waist. Before he could escape the tree's grip, it whipped forward, flinging him through the air like a superhero-shaped football. He soared over the top of our bus and past the crowd of journalists before crashing into a Chinese food restaurant at the corner.
Now, some people might find it slightly unusual to see plants go on the attack like that. But when your mom can control any kind of vegetation on earth, you get used to it.
Dad untangled himself from the hologram net and launched across the intersection on his hover scooter. At the other end of the street, Captain Justice was lying in a pile of rubble and egg rolls. Dad fired his plasma gun.
Everyone around me gasped, then cheered as Captain Justice dove to the side. The plasma beam flew over his shoulder, igniting a box of fortune cookies behind him.