Young Adult 2016 Utah Book Award Winner Marrow is a fourteen-year-old prodigy at FIST (Fantom Institute for Superheroes-in-Training). With a perfect score on his finals, the ability to smash through walls, and leaps that can launch him over a city block, the Sidekick Internship Program is bound to place him with a top-notch superhero mentor for the summer. But when a series of disastrous events lands Marrow on academic probation, he is forced to team up with Flex--a drunk, hippie, bum with the power of elasticity. The two Supers' powers and personalities clash as they are forced to overcome their differences to prevent the return of Cosmo City's most notorious foe, a supervillain so powerful, no one will survive the cataclysm he is sure to unleash. "If you can't get enough of superhero and comic book movies, read Marrow now! It's like stuffing an action movie into your head. The twists will surprise you."- Adam Glendon Sidwell, Bestselling Author of CHUM and EVERTASTER. "Fans of comics, superheroes, and stories with twist after twist will love Marrow. It's filled with nods and homages to classic heroes, yet still manages to put a unique stamp on the genre."- Jacob Gowans, Bestselling Author of the PSION BETA Series.
About the Author
Preston Norton has been reading superhero comics since he was old enough to look at pictures. And then he learned to actually read words, and they became a gazillion times better. Among Preston’s impossible achievements, he once ate thirteen slices of French toast in one sitting, he read the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird when he was twelve years old, assuming from the title that it would turn into a suspense/thriller murder mystery, and he somehow managed to receive an impressive scar from a pillow fight with his five-year-old little sister. He has a degree in English Education and has taught seventh and ninth grade English.
Read an Excerpt
Having super powers isn’t always as super as it sounds. Actually . . . that’s a lie. It’s pretty much awesome. It was the last day of Finals at FIST (Fantom Institute for Superheroes-in-Training). There were exactly ten of us who had qualified for the Sidekick Internship Program. All fourteen years old. All dangerous in our own unique ways. Based on our scores and overall performance, we would be evaluated and paired up with Superheroes who would serve as our mentors for the summer. With top-notch scores, I could be teamed up with a hero like Nova. Or Apex. Or the most legendary hero of them all . . . Fantom, himself. Fantom wasn’t just the founder of FIST. And he wasn’t just a Superhero either. The guy was an icon. A symbol of hope. He was the fastest, strongest, smartest, insert-whatever-awesome-adjective-you-can-think-of-est hero of them all. And the guy had style. Oh man, did he have style. Legend had it that Fantom was the first of the Supers—merely a kid out on a boat with his parents when the Gaia Comet struck. (It was the foreign radioactive energy of Gaia that gave birth to the Supers.) The comet made impact right where they were sailing, killing Fantom’s parents instantly. However, fate or pure luck allowed Fantom to emerge unscathed, and he was reborn with power unparalleled by any other Super. Fantom was going to be my mentor. I had already decided that. I was going to kick this Final in the butt. Sure, we all had to sign an insurance waiver in case of injury, psychological damage, dismemberment, death . . . blah blah blah. But basically, I already had a free ticket to spend my summer with a seasoned Superhero, fighting crime and basking in my awesomeness. The ten of us students were lined up in the Battle Dome—a white, spherical room with half a dozen sliding doors leading into separate Challenge Chambers. We trained here on a regular basis. Contrasting the glaring white of our surroundings, each of us was suited in matching black bodysuits—unrestricting, muscle-stimulating, cold and heat resistant, and even flameproof. You’d never suspect it though. The material was so light, it almost felt like you were wearing nothing. “Are you ready to eat my dust, bonehead?” asked Nero, sneering to my left. Nero was a punk. A tall, skinny punk with black hair and a smirk on his face that made me want to punch him every time I looked at him. He was also telekinetic—meaning he could move objects with his mind. This easily made him one of the top competitors. But being one of the best was inconsequential since I was the best. “You know, Zero, it’s funny,” I said under my breath. “I always thought it was necessary to actually have a brain in order to use mind powers. How do you do it?” Despite my hushed tone, my comment had not gone unheard. A girl laughed—Sapphire. “Marrow, if there was a superpower that made you good at comebacks, I’d swear that was your real power.” Sapphire was standing to my right. She was as cute as you could possibly be with blue hair. No, she didn’t dye her hair that color so they’d go with her pretty blue eyes (although they matched perfectly, I’ll have you know). It was somehow associated with her power—the ability to manipulate water and ice. It sounds like a wimpy power until you actually see what she can do with it. Even when there’s no water nearby, she can freeze the moisture in the air, creating an icy blast. And good luck if you tick her off and there is water near. When I first met her and heard what her power was, I laughed and called her the Ice Queen. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of doing this while we were training by the courtyard fountain. She made the fountain erupt and hit me with it like a mini tsunami. The nickname, Ice Queen, died the day it was conceived. Nero was scowling on my other side. He may have had almost top scores at FIST, but the kid was about as witty as a box of rocks. He couldn’t come up with a comeback to save his life. And everybody knows that a Superhero needs to be good with comebacks. There was a subtle whoosh as the sliding door directly in front of us opened. Out stepped a black man in a black leather vest and camo pants. He was our instructor at FIST. His name was Havoc, and he typically dressed like he had ransacked Mr. T’s wardrobe. He was built like a barbarian with his facial hair trimmed and shaped like curving sharp-edged tribal tattoos. I had never seen Havoc smile. Not once. “You finally made it,” said Havoc, his thick arms pulled behind his back. “The Final Challenge.” I don’t think any of us could fight the smiles on our faces. I know I couldn’t. I could feel the adrenaline screaming through my veins. “So here’s how this is going to work,” Havoc continued. “We’re going to divide you into pairs.” Several students groaned. Others lit up with excitement. I felt myself stuck somewhere in between the mixed response. Working as a team had its perks, depending on who your teammate was. Sapphire, for example, was an excellent teammate. And not just because I liked to show off in front of her. Or because she looked hot in her bodysuit. Or because . . . well . . . you get what I mean. Unfortunately, working as a team was a double-edged sword because there were also teammates like Nero. Or . . . Nero. Yeah. I mean, the guy had skill, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately, the kid deliberately tried to make things as difficult as possible. It was like a part of his twisted moral code or something. “Come on,” said Nero, groaning. “I didn’t get this far to have someone else screw it up for me.” I rolled my eyes. “You’re one to talk,” I grumbled under my breath. “You talkin’ about me, Marrow?” asked Nero, snapping his head at me. “Oh no, I was talking about your mom.” Nero went rigid, his face reddening as everyone laughed. I assumed he was scraping the back of his telekinetic brain for a comeback. Of course, he had nothing. “Both of you, shut your pie holes!” Havoc barked. Nero and I knew better than to push Havoc’s buttons. Both of us bit our lips simultaneously. Havoc’s chest puffed out as he took a step forward, his eyes bouncing between the two of us. “That’s the whole point of this, isn’t it? To be teamed up with a real Superhero? If you ninnyhammers can’t even work as a team with someone on your own level, then why should we waste our time placing you with an experienced hero?” His piercing glare homed in on Nero who immediately cringed and stared at his feet. It took every ounce of will power for me not to grin. “You have anything else to say, princess?” asked Havoc, still glaring at Nero. “No,” Nero murmured. “No?” Havoc repeated, hovering even further over the student. “Just no? No what, Nero?” “No sir,” Nero hastily added. Because Nero and I were the same height, it was easy to tell that he was cowering. “That’s right! No, sir, you do not have anything else to say!” Havoc took a step back, sweeping his gaze past all of us in a row. “Does anyone else feel an urge to waste my time with their stupid comments?” No one spoke. No one was that dumb. “Good,” said Havoc, snorting. “On that note, let’s get you turds divvied up. These pairs come straight from Oracle, so I better not hear any whining from any of you about how unfair it is.” Again, he scoured us with his terrifying gaze as if daring us to challenge him. Personally, I would rather challenge a volcano. I had only met Oracle once. Though hardly a Superhero, she did have a supernatural power. She was a Telepath. She could see inside your head. Read your thoughts. Her level of telepathy was so advanced, in fact, that she had the ability to see images from the future—signs, visions, premonitions . . . you know . . . weird stuff like that. Other than that, she was just your average wrinkly old cat lady. Seriously . . . like two dozen cats. It didn’t help that she smelled like mothballs and boiled cabbage. Oh, and she was blind. That’s only important in the sense that she creeps the bejeebies out of me every time she looks at me with those blank milky eyes. I know she can’t see, but there’s definitely a sense of awareness in there. Havoc removed an envelope from the inside of his vanilla suit coat. Slowly, he opened it with his meaty fingers. “And the pairs are . . .” Sapphire . . . Sapphire . . . Sapphire . . . I was going to be paired with Sapphire. “Sapphire . . .” Havoc read aloud from the sheet of paper he held. My breath stopped short. “ . . . will be paired with . . . Whisp.” Have I mentioned how much I hate working in teams? Whisp was a scrawny kid with big glasses. He was easily the worst when it came to hand-to-hand combat, but he made up for it with perfect scores in weapons knowledge, equipment handling, medical training, escape and evade techniques, and especially computer hacking Seriously, give that kid a computer to crack and he’ll know that thing inside out in minutes. Even I can’t do that. And his super power? Get this . . . he talks to animals. I’m not kidding. He’s an animal whisperer, hence the nickname, Whisp. He’ll talk to a squirrel and tell it to go gnaw your legs off. And it will. He’s very persuasive in that department. Unfortunately, his power is pretty useless unless you happen to have a city zoo handy. Of course Oracle would put Dr. Dolittle and the Ice Queen together. Havoc continued to rattle off partners’ names, but I was only halfway paying attention. At this point, I didn’t even care who I got paired with. Just so long as I didn’t get stuck with . . . “Nero and Marrow,” Havoc bellowed—there was no hiding the slight smirk on his face. “You two are a team.” Oracle obviously hated me. Neither Nero nor I spoke as Havoc finished off the names. I simply bit my lip, hoping that, somehow, Nero and I could simply ignore each other as we finished the Challenge. I suppose the one good thing was that I didn’t have to worry about him not being able to keep up. Now if only I knew that he wouldn’t deliberately be my biggest obstacle. “That’s everyone,” said Havoc. “Once the timer starts, each team must pick a Challenge Chamber door. And yes, the Challenge inside each door differs. Each will be based on one of the Defeated. If you’ve studied your history, this will be to your advantage. If not, then may God have mercy on your pathetic little souls.” The Defeated were infamous Supervillains who had already been vanquished. Unfortunately, a disturbing number of these were Superheroes-gone-bad, several of them FIST graduates. These were the villains that Fantom specialized in defeating. Nothing infuriated Fantom more than a Superhero overcome by greed, using his power for his own vile purposes. Fantom was merciless in these circumstances. These were the villains that he killed without blinking. “Our virtual recreations of the Defeated are, of course, simplified,” said Havoc. “But that’s not to say that they aren’t capable of killing you. If there is no danger, there is no challenge. But, of course, I, and several specialized teams, will be observing your every movement. If it’s obvious that you or your teammate won’t make it out of this alive, we will intervene. However, if we have to do so, you and your teammate will be disqualified from the Sidekick Internship Program. Any questions?” If anyone did have a question, I doubted they had the guts to ask. Havoc liked explaining things as much as he liked smiling—which, I already mentioned, is never. “Good,” said Havoc. Without another word, he lifted his thick wrist and glanced at his watch. At least it looked like a watch. He scrolled his thick finger on the small round face and pressed a button. At that very instant, a digital number ten lit up over each chamber door. Nine. Eight. The timer continued to count down as each team randomly began selecting their own door. Nero and I, without even looking at each other, began walking to the door straight ahead—the one Havoc had come from. “Just stay out of my way, Bonehead,” Nero muttered under his breath. Now you’re probably wondering why Nero always calls me Bonehead. Believe it or not, there’s actually a reason for that particular nickname. It may be the only halfway clever thing that’s ever come out of his mouth, even if he does milk it for all its worth. It’s associated with my power—the ability to alter my bone density. Yeah, it may sound like an awkward power, but people usually have a change of heart when they see me in action. I am the highest scoring student at FIST, after all. “No sweat, Zero,” I said with a nonchalant shrug. “Hey, is it possible for you to telekinetically kiss my butt?” Three. Two. One. The sliding door opened. Nero and I stepped inside. Though our surroundings were obscured in darkness, it was obvious we were in a sewer. Circular passageways of metal and concrete branched out in several directions. Pipes lined the ceilings and walls. An inch-deep layer of murky water splashed beneath our feet. However, down the distant passages, I could sense shadowy movement. We weren’t alone. I glanced back at the doorway which strangely appeared to be a mere opening in thin air. As the sliding door then closed on its own, it was like a dimensional portal closing. All indication of an opening vanished entirely. There was no turning back now. “Wading in poopy water with Zero,” I said with a sigh. “It doesn’t get much better than this.” For once, Nero didn’t respond to my insult. His distracted gaze wandered. “I’m sensing an electric lighting system in here. I can feel it.” “Electric lighting in a sewer?” I said, raising an unconvinced eyebrow. “It’s not a real sewer, Bonehead. It’s a Challenge Chamber.” Though we had to strain to see in the shadows, we pressed forward. Neither of us hesitated reaching and grabbing and feeling, searching the walls blindly. Maybe we just didn’t want to look like wimps in front of each other. I know my pride refused to give Nero the pleasure. Even when I heard something—several somethings—crawling across the floor. The walls. Even the ceiling. My hand grazed a lever, slanted downward. “I think I found it.” Gripping the handle with both hands, I forced the lever up. The lights turned on. The entire sewer was moving. Swarming. Fat hairy bodies pulsed and squirmed, elongated legs twitching and clawing. Spiders. Lots of ‘em. And they were nearly as big as us.