By Superfolder CJ
Chapter I: The Fortress of Only Dudes
Getting out of school is always the best part of any average day. It’s a rush of adrenaline as a child savors the long-anticipated freedom from responsibility, at least for a little while. Some kids hang out in their social groups and cliques after school, then go out for ice cream. Some kids go home and play videogames. Some go to karate or dance practice, or maybe even go on a daytrip somewhere. But me? Well, as long as I can remember, I always ran straight home after school. Actually, strike that – I ran straight to the forests behind my house.
Yeah, I didn’t even drop off my backpack at home; I just ran to the woods. Even when it was raining or snowing. In fact, I recall on a particular occasion that it was snowing a lot, and I was still kind of short, so I couldn’t even run to the woods. I just had to trudge there, step by step. But it was worth it, because, hidden behind those snowy trees, there was a wooden fort that my dad had built for me. We called it our “Fortress of Only Dudes.” Yeah, it’s a joke off Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude” because Superman comics were our greatest shared obsession.
Alright, I’m going to go off on a rant here, so buckle up. A lot of kids think Superman is kind of lame. Because of all the Marvel movies, most people are into Iron Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And if you do like DC Comics, then you’re probably more of a fan of Batman, Green Arrow, or The Flash. Those are the most popular ones. But Superman… well, a lot of people just think he’s kind of bland. Everyone else I talk to about him thinks he’s an overpowered alien, closer to being an unstoppable force of nature than a real person. Like, Batman is human, and has all this deep emotional drama; usually, he’s this hero fighting against both supervillains and his own inner darkness. And then Marvel superheroes are all about clever dialogue, hilarious jokes, tons of plot twists, and crazy action. Sure, I get all that – that stuff makes the story interesting. But why do I have to be the only one who sees how fascinating Superman is?
Like, there’s so much missed-out potential in the character of Superman. He’s a newspaper writer who writes about his own adventures! Why isn’t there newsier Superman stuff? Like, with Spider-Man, you had the Daily Bugle and Peter Parker was taking pictures of himself as Spider-Man. That was cool! And there’s tons of Superman comics that explore the different alternate universe Supermen and Superwomen. I don’t know, maybe I’m basing my case on my personal preference for Superman and associating it with my nostalgia for the good ol’ days with my dad. Still, I think he’s a cool character and definitely not boring.
I think, when you come down to it, the coolest thing about Superman is that he has near-unlimited power, but is restrained by a code and lifestyle put upon him by being raised as an American-born human being. Comic nerds often like to put superheroes up against each other, and when it comes to Superman, he can do just about anything if he wanted… but that’s why you have to keep things in context. Superman wouldn’t do a lot of things, not without logical reasoning, and even then, there are just some things he can’t do without totally ripping his character apart. And at that point, he isn’t really Superman anymore, is he?
Alright, I know, I’ve gone on enough. Now, I was talking about the Fortress of Only Dudes, right? Yep, that’s it… darn it, that place was special. I loved going there. It was a place that only me and Dad knew about. Well, Mom knew about it, too, but as it was the Fortress of Only Dudes and not the Fortress of Dudes and Dudettes (not to be sexist – I was only a little kid), I didn’t want her to come back there – that is, unless she was bringing dinner. Then it was okay. After all, eating food out in my secret headquarters was the coolest thing ever. It was like living in my own house.
The Fortress had all the coolest stuff: game boards, my Nintendo DS, a radio, walkie-talkies, and a box full of Crackerjack, Gushers, and Capri Sun drinks. I had a map on the wall of our town that I meticulously plotted out with names of places and the people who lived or worked there. Parked in the back of the Fortress was a really nice bicycle, spray-painted with blue, red and yellow colors, that I called my SuperCycle. It was big for me at the time, but I grew into it, and I still use it to this day. And it’s still in great shape, since Dad taught me how to take care of it and even fix it up when it got damaged.
My dad didn’t like letting things go to waste. He taught me about responsibility and all those other virtues. He always wanted me to do the right thing. He was a good father… I miss him. Several years ago, he had a heart attack while sleeping. An ambulance came to take him to the ER at the hospital, but it was too late. I never even got to say goodbye. But, hey, that’s life. I mourned, if only for a short time. I knew I had to be strong for Mom. I only lost one of my parents, but she lost her only husband, her lover, and her best friend. So, I’ve done my best to be responsible, just like Dad would want me to be. I don’t go to parties, I stay out of trouble as much as possible, and I always call or text Mom to let her know where I am. It helps her to not worry, and I know she worries a lot. She doesn’t need another heartbreak – not on my watch.
Chapter II: ReAction Comics
I like jogging to school. Helps to clear my mind and keep me in shape. It’s nice and quiet for the most part as I jog, listening to my tunes. It’s better than sitting on a crowded bus, where everyone’s cussing each other out or whispering rumors – it’s really dumb. All the adults say I’m really mature for my age. Maybe that’s why I don’t like to engage in that normal high-school lifestyle. Heck, I don’t even have a girlfriend and am honestly fine with that. Dating just isn’t something I feel the need to worry about right now.
It was a few weeks into the semester, so I had developed a good routine for my normal day, including the jogging exercise. I’d get up early in the morning, and either Mom or me would make breakfast. Then, I’d make my way to school. I didn’t feel as winded when I finally got to school, and I always packed deodorant and a fresh shirt to change into. It’s especially important that I not go to school in sweaty clothes, since we have a dress code and whatnot.
My school is a private school of sorts called Donner Preparatory School, so that’s why we have a dress code. On this October morning, during second period, I was in study hall working on a new comic for “The Brando Weekly,” a fully online school newspaper. I draw my comics by hand, and then scan them into digital images. Because my comics are always featuring different characters and scenarios, I decided to give the series a general title – “ReAction Comics.” I kind of stylize them after those popular 2010s rage comics. Those were great for the hilarious faces they made, and I like doing a similar thing with my characters, hence the “reaction” part of the title. I really enjoy drawing; it’s a nice distraction. Plus, I get my homework done really fast, so it usually means I have a lot of free time during study halls and after school.
The current comic I was making was about Patrick the Perambulating Pancake. In this comic, Patrick tries to get into a hotel, but the sign says “No food allowed,” so he gets kicked out. Instead, he folds himself in half to look like a suitcase, and gets carried to his room. The comic ends with Patrick stating the punchline: “People dress for success, but pancakes pack for success!”
While doodling away, I could hear someone approaching me from behind. I pretended not to notice and kept working on my project. The reason for this? I’m not usually the talkative type, so I tend to avoid it if possible. I mean, sometimes I enjoy socializing, but usually I talk in rambling, wordy, and stuttering paragraphs when I try. It’s because of anxiety and social awkwardness, I guess. Anyways, when I do talk, I can usually see the exasperation in people’s eyes and how their interest in talking to me diminishes. That only makes my anxiety go higher, so either my words stumble out faster or I just shut up and find an excuse to run off.
So, because of this experience, I’ve become withdrawn from socialization. It’s just a lot of work without enough benefits, in my opinion… you know? Most people probably see me as a reclusive nerd, but I try my best not to care. But, funny enough, the person behind me didn’t leave. In fact, they got closer, and I could feel their breathing on my neck. I lightly coughed an “ahem,” tilted my head to the right, and shot my eyes quickly to see who this nosey stalker was. It took all I had to not fall out of my chair in shock.
It was a girl. A pretty girl. A REALLY pretty girl. And she was smiling. Well, okay, it was more of a smirk than a smile, but still, she seemed to be showing a sign of interest in my comic. I adjusted my uniform tie and stood up to face her.
“Uh, sorry, I was kind of zoned in on my work. I apologize for not noticing you. Um, can I, uh, help you… with anything?” I asked in my most earnest voice.
Her eyes flicked from my face down to my shoes, then back up, as if she was evaluating me. Then, she tilted her head and smiled. “My name’s Penny… Penny Layne. I just joined the student newspaper’s staff, and wanted to introduce myself to all the other staff members. You’re Chris Booth, right?”
I stuttered out a response. “Y-y-yes, Miss Layne. I’m Chris. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
She gave a smirk. “Dorky, mild-mannered type. I like you already. Can I see your pencil for a second?”
I obliged her and handed her the pencil. She proceeded to take one of the blank pieces of paper and write down a series of numbers, then tore the piece off and handed it to me.
“That’s my phone number. Text me tonight when you have free time. I have something interesting I want to talk to you about…” She gave me a wink.
I could feel my face redden. I had never had a girl notice me like this before, much less ever give me their cellphone number. It wasn’t even on my own volition that this had happened! She just waltzed right up to me and did it. But she wasn’t rude about it… she just seemed really confident, like she knew exactly what she was doing.
In reply, all I could do was nod my head and give an attempt at a smile. She giggled and patted me on the shoulder. “Your cartoon looks really cool, by the way. Anyways, later, Chris!”
I held my breath for a moment, then suddenly remembered my manners. “Oh, uh, goodbye! I mean, later, P-Penny!”
I stared off after her until she went back to her seat and sat down. I couldn’t believe that just happened. Her name… such a pretty name… I think I’ll say it again…
“Penny Layne’s got the hots for ya!” whispered a voice in my ear, followed by a slap on the back that made me spin around and almost scream.
“George! Don’t-” I glanced over at the overseeing study hall teacher to make sure they didn’t hear me. As normal, Mr. Buttersnatch was oblivious.
I lowered my voice. “We talked about this. Don’t sneak up on me. It stresses me out…”
He wrung an arm around my neck. “Ah, Chrissy, don’t you worry your silly head, buckaroo! We all know that the most stressful thing about school is school itself. A little jumpscare now and then is just icing on the cake to liven your day, my fine, flirtatious friend.”
I frowned. “I wasn’t flirting with her. She just came up to me and gave me her number, without any prompting. I barely even said anything to her.”
George noogied my head. “A girl’s number is still a girl’s number, regardless of how you got it. Don’t mess this up, butthead.” He chuckled and slunk back into his seat.
Chapter III: The Nosey Newsie
Later that night, I was binging the TV show Krypton on the DC Universe streaming service. I really enjoyed this prequel to Superman’s origin story, which focused on Superman’s grandfather Seg-El instead. It was a fun addition to the Superman story. Anyways, while watching it, my phone buzzed. This is a very rare occurrence, since usually the only person who calls me is my Mom, and no one has ever texted me before. So, having forgotten about what Penny had told me earlier, I was a little startled and surprised by this spontaneous buzz. However, I diligently checked my phone to see a notification of the following text message:
Penny: Howdy stranger! :3 It’s me Penny btw.
Realizing it was Penny who was texting me, I replied immediately:
Chris: Oh hey! How r u? Good I hope?
Penny: Better than good! Today I got a hUUUUGE lead on something I’ve been investigating.
Chris: Wut would that be???
Penny: Well, b4 I tell u, 1st u need some context. U know that guy Neil Swift?
Chris: The student gov president?
Penny: Yah! Well, did u know he’s actually the nephew of Phil Swift, founder & spokesperson for the Flex Seal company!
Chris: Um, idk who that is…😅
Penny: Really??? Phil is a huge meme on the internet. Here, 1 sec…
*Penny sends a meme of Phil Swift saying “THAT’S A LOT OF DAMAGE!”*
Chris: Ohhhhh, that guy! Wait, that’s Neil’s uncle?? WHOA!!!!
Penny: IKR? So, Neil holds huge parties a lot – u know, standard crazy house parties for the popular high schoolers. 🤮 Bleh. Anyways, these are REALLY high-end parties. Expensive stuff everywhere. It made me wonder if Neil’s family benefits from having an Internet-superstar and successful entrepreneur as a close relative.
Chris: Wow… that’s insane. But how do u know all this? Did u get invited to a party…?
Penny: Well, sorta-kinda-not-really… LOL! My friend Courtney, a cheerleader who WAS invited, brought me as her +1. Obv I’m not really want to “mingle,” and the whole point of me being there was so I could snoop around.
Chris: Gotcha. So did u find anything?
Penny: Yeppers peppers! But it wasn’t what I was expecting at all! It was so much worse!!! I snuck into the basement and there were some papers strewn out on a workbench… papers documenting Neil siphoning $ from the Student Gov fund! ANDDDD there r receipts 4 all these party supplies, refreshments, and other junk.
Chris: I’m guessing private, non-curricular parties aren’t according 2 the SG guidelines.
Penny: U bet ur bottom $! In fact, I read the guidelines myself and it explicitly states how SG funds are to be used, and these parties are a textbook example of misusing those funds.
Chris: Ok, I see where u r going with this. U r gonna make an article exposing Neil on hopes of reforming the SG. Do u have any proof?
*Penny sends photos of Neil’s scandalous documents and receipts.*
Chris: Yeah. That’ll do it.
Penny: Mmhm! Now, this is where you come in. I was hoping you could do me two favors.
Chris: Go ahead.
Penny: 1st, could u draw a political cartoon of sorts for my article?
Chris: Yeah totally. That sounds like fun.
Penny: Epic. 2nd, do u think u could maybe talk to Neil? Record an interview with him? I’ll write you up some questions to ask him. It might help our case if we can get him to slip up and admit something.
Chris: Don’t u think he’ll be suspicious?
Penny: Probably, but less so with you than with me. He talked to me at the party, which makes me more of a suspect 2 him. But a random student news staff person doing an interview would be less suspicious. Plus, Narcissistic Neil LOVES to talk about himself.
Chris: Rofl! I guess I can do that… sounds a lil stressful tho.
Penny: Don’t sweat it, kid! Send me over your school schedule and I’ll make an appointment 4 the interview during one of your study halls.
Chris: Sounds good!
*Chris sends a picture of his schedule.*
Penny: Great! Oh, btw, Chris?
Penny: Do u wanna go see a movie this Friday?
Penny: Chris? U still there??
Chris: Yes I’d love to go 2 the movies with u.
Penny: YAYYY!!! ❤ Oki, talk to u later!!
Chris: Later! 🙂
Chapter IV: Flexing the Legacy
My appointment with Neil ended up being at lunch time, since apparently that was the only time he was available. I was sitting at a No Nuts table in the far corner of the cafeteria (I have a pretty serious peanut allergy), and Neil was at a table right spank in the center. After finishing my food, I meandered over to where he was sitting. He was surrounded by a congregation of teens. It smelled a lot like lunch meat, AXE cologne, and cheap girl perfume. I gulped. I usually tried to avoid crowds, but I promised Penny I’d do this for her. With a big inhale, I pushed my way through the crowd, apologizing several times.
Finally, I made it to the table where Neil was sitting with his chums. His long, dark, flowy hair separated him from the crowd immediately. He had a square jaw and a big smile. He had a certain charisma while he spoke, which probably accounted for the multitude surrounding us.
Surprisingly, he noticed me as soon as I approached his sight of vision. His smile widened and he waved. “Hey, you must be Chris Booth! Penny told me you’d be coming around for an interview. Hey Mikey, scootch over and let Chrissy have a seat.”
I obligingly sat on the spot next to him. Now that Neil had acknowledged my presence, I was being watched by the whole crowd now. To say I was a bit anxious would be an understatement.
“Hey, Neil, it’s great to, uh, meet you. I, um, thought we would conduct this interview… uh, like, well, privately.”
I could already sense the dirty glances from the crowd. Neil, however, merely chuckled and pat my back.
“Nonsense, Chris. We’re all friends here, right?”
There was a pause, followed by sone murmuring. Some people were pointing at me, probably wondering what air vent I must have fallen out of.
Neil’s eyebrows furrowed a little, and he repeated his question in a lower, louder voice, “Right, guys?”
This time, having sensed the slight displeasure of their leader, the crowd changed its tune, and they all loudly voiced agreement with enthusiasm. This reluctant hive-minded group was starting to scare me, but I obviously wasn’t going to be able to separate Neil from the rest of them. I went ahead and started the interview, giving some basic questions that allowed Neil to flex his charming speaking voice and abundant vocabulary.
Soon, however, we got to some questions which were meant to reveal the truth about Neil. I hoped that, while being in a good mood and being oblivious to any secret sabotage, Neil would accidentally spit out enough info for Penny to crack him down.
“So, Neil, I’m aware you like to host parties for you and your friends. Is there any extracurricular point to these parties?”
“In all honesty, no, these parties are not school-related. They are merely friendly social gatherings I host, with my parents’ permission, to give many of the hardworking students of our school an excuse to take a break from their scholarly endeavors and, well, kick back a little! After all, the stress caused by attending a preparatory school that teaches teenagers at a collegian level is very high. I’m just trying to give back to my friends.”
This remark was affirmed by agreements and statements of gratitude. Some girl in the crowd screamed, “WE LOVE YOU, NEIL!” This caused Neil and company to break into a thunderous episode of laughter. Once this died down, I continued the interview.
“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, how do you fund these social gatherings?”
“I work a paid internship in marketing at a satellite branch of my uncle’s Flex Seal company. I’ve been very blessed to earn a nice living.”
“Very good. Next, I wanted to know more about your role in the Student Government. Like, for example, what do you do with the funds earned by SG?”
“Well, it’s funny you bring that up. I wasn’t going to say anything yet, but I might as well announce it now for the newspaper. The Student Government is going to host the first ever DPS Science Fair! Up until now, the school hasn’t been able to host one, so we scraped together what we could to get everything we need to have a proper, professional school event. I just made some purchases recently for the items we need, such as decorations, refreshments, etc.”
The crowd erupted into a loud roar of cheers. I was flabbergasted. This was not what I was expecting at all. Figuring that this would invalidate Penny’s claims, I decided to wrap up the interview. “Well, um, thank you for your time, Neil. It’s been a pleasure. I’ll just go-”
Before I could utter another word, Neil pulled me in for what seemed to be a hug, but held me in place with firm hands. He then proceeded to whisper into my ear, “I know why you’re here. Tell Penny she’s blacklisted from my parties.”
I pushed away from him, stumbling to get my footing, while seeing a malicious glint in his eyes and an all-knowing smirk running across his face, but only for a moment. Then, his face morphed back into the friendly, upbeat, lovable Neil face these groupies around me all know and love.
I now knew the true Neil Swift.
Chapter V: No One Dupes the Supes
After the interview, I met up with Penny Layne and explained the situation. Although I was pretty shaken by the fact that Neil had already been two steps ahead of us this whole time, she showed little concern or worry, much to my surprise. In fact, after we discussed it, she simply told me not to worry about it, instead deciding to change subjects to our “date” on Friday, although I refused to refer to it as such.
So, things were pretty normal until Friday. We met up at the local theater, and they were having one of those throwback movie screenings of old classic films. Penny had learned of my affinity for Superman and DC Comics (I have a tendency to mindlessly rant…) and found out that the 1979 Superman film was being screened tonight.
I was absolutely ecstatic. I couldn’t stop thanking her for her thoughtfulness.
“Just seeing your reaction makes it all worth it. I love it when your face lights up.”
I immediately blushed and looked away. This was the first time a girl had ever flirt with me before. I took a deep inhale and replied, “I think… I, uh, feel the same. Towards you. I mean, um, I like it when your face lights up when you, uh, smile… and stuff. Heh.”
Penny giggled. “You’re soooo nervous. It’s adorable. Such a guy.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. “Come on, let’s go get some refreshments.”
I offered to pay for both the popcorn and drinks, but she insisted on splitting the cost. So, that’s what we did. I ended up dropping some of the money, and we both dropped to the floor to pick it up, laughing while we did so. After that, we went to take our seats.
Lord, I love that movie.
The opening theme song, composed by the famous John Williams, had the same effect on my soul as it did when I first heard it. Then came the epic Krypton scene, and then baby Kal-El coming to earth. Penny especially liked the scene when Superman took Lois Lane for a flight. She said it felt like Aladdin in a way.
However, about two-thirds into the film, Penny grabbed my knee. I thought this was a romantic gesture, but I was very wrong. I looked towards her, but her face was very serious. She said, “I need to go to the bathroom. Maybe you should go, too.” Her eyes zipped back and forth, urging me to move. Something was wrong, obviously, and she was trying to signal to me that we needed to leave immediately.
I slowly nodded, and we left without even taking our leftover food or drink. We walked normally at first, holding hands again. However, as soon as we left the movie screening room, she started running, dragging me behind her until I caught up with her pace.
“What’s going on, Pen?” I inquired with concern.
She explained as we ran out of the theater. “We’re being stalked by some of Neil’s goons. They were here in the lobby a minute after we came in, then they followed us from afar. They sat down in the back, but kept moving closer every now and then. They were three rows behind us when we left. And I saw them start to get up as we left, so they’re probably not far behind.”
“Well, what should we do?”
“Well, I’m guessing if Neil would go this far to get revenge, that means he probably already had a backup plan to catch us near our homes. Is there anyplace you can think of that we could hide out at for a couple hours?”
As soon as she said that, a huge lightbulb lit up in my brain. “The Fortress…” I muttered. “There’s a small hideout in the woods behind my house that only I know about. We can go to the woods from another way so we don’t get too close to my house. Come on!”
This time, I was the one running ahead and pulling Penny behind me. Soon, we made it to the woods, and before long we were at the fort. We both took one more look around to make sure no one was around. Then, I ushered her inside and quietly shut the makeshift door behind us.
I turned on an old lantern that still had some battery juice in it. I looked around. I hadn’t been back here in years. As I expected, it was dusty and had its fair share of cobwebs. However, it seemed to be in pretty good shape for an old kid’s hideout.
I then turned my attention to Penny. She was sitting down on the ground, breathing heavily. I sat down next to her and thought about hugging her, but was hesitant to since I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate right now or comfortable for her. However, I didn’t need to decide; she immediately threw her arms around me and, for the first time since I met her, started crying. Seeing her like this made me emotional, too. So, for what seemed like forever, we just sat there and sobbed together.
Eventually, we let go of each other and wiped our faces. She looked at me right in the eyes, and I looked right back at her without feeling the need to let my eyes wander. Being in her presence was surprisingly more comforting now then it was only a short time ago.
Finally, Penny spoke. “I’m sorry for getting you all wrapped up in this, Chris. You’re such a sweet guy, and I took advantage of you by sending you after Neil and making both of us his targets. You deserve better than that. So much better than that. But, if its any compensation, I really do like you. A lot, in fact. I’m so sorry… m-maybe if I give myself up, they’ll leave you alo-“
“No,” I replied sternly. “There is no way you’re going to sacrifice yourself for my sake when I, of my own free will, wanted to help bring Neil to justice. And at this point, it’s too late to turn back. The fact that Neil sent his dogs after us means that he’s afraid of us; it also means that he does have something to hide. We have to figure out what he has planned before the Science Fair. I have a feeling that’s when it’ll all go down.”
There was a long pause where Penny and I simply stared into each other’s eyes. Then, she sighed and nodded. “Okay, if that’s what you truly want, then that’s what we’ll do… but how?”
I thought for a moment, looking around the fort, as if my answer was hanging on the wall.
Well, turns out, it was. On the wall, in a small picture frame, hung a piece of memorabilia from many years ago. It was a scrap of newspaper that had been folded to Superman’s insignia – the five-sided diamond with the letter S. My father had folded it, and I painted it, albeit crudely, with the colors red and yellow.
Upon seeing it, I immediately stood up and took the frame off the wall, then managed to open it and pull out the origami symbol. Penny cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “A paper Superman crest? What’s that have to do with anything?”
I smiled. “I read online about this mysterious vigilante who rifts off Batman by calling himself Batfold. Apparently, he’s been pretty successful on his endeavors. Which makes me wonder… what if I created a persona that symbolizes that stands for what we both fight for: justice, equality, and truth. Superman stood for that. And that’s also what honest news writing should be about, which I know you believe in, Pen. Which, I might also mention, is kind of fitting since this symbol is made out of an old newspaper, don’t ya think?”
Penny started chuckling. “You for real? You wanna be a masked vigilante?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I have no plans on wearing a mask to hide my identity or resorting to violence unless absolutely necessary. That would make me too much like Neil, and I won’t compromise just to beat him. There is always a better way.”
Penny smiled gently and rubbed my face. “I love that about you, Chris. You have good ideals and you actually try to follow through with them. That’s… that’s pretty amazing.”
I shrugged and smiled in return. “Just trying to do the right thing.”
Chapter VI: All’s Science Fair in Love and War
After hiding out for a little longer, I walked Penny back home. It didn’t seem like anyone was stalking around her house, but she entered through the backdoor, just in case. Then, I walked back through the woods to my house. Once I was safely inside, I texted Penny to let her know I was safe at home.
I put my headphones on and played some music on Spotify. I liked listening to old songs a lot. A certain song called “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, an 80’s band. Some lyrics caught my ear before I fell asleep:
“Ooh, Superman, where are you now
When everything’s gone wrong somehow?
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour.”
I spent that weekend at home, talking to Penny over texts and phone calls. We thought it would be safest if we didn’t go out and about until school on Monday. It was okay, though, because our chats and conversations made the hours go by fast. We even binged some episodes of Krypton together using an app online that allowed us to stream it simultaneously.
We also worked on our projects for the Science Fair. Penny designed a Powerpoint presentation on how news, academic journals, and the internet has allowed scientists to correspond and connect with each other, while also informing the public of scientific discoveries. I, on the other hand, made a homemade hot knife experiment. And, if you’re wondering, I got special permission from the science teacher in charge of the fair to bring in the equipment for the experiment, and he would provide the knife when it was time for the demonstration.
Monday soon came. Several days passed, and nothing happened. Then, one day, while I was walking home from school, I got ambushed by two big guys I recognized from Neil’s clique.
“We’re here to send a message from ol’ Swifters himself,” said the first one.
The other one added, “Stay out of the Science Fair, or else your lady friend and youse are gonna get it!”
I narrowed my eyes. “And if I don’t?”
The two looked at each other and smiled, then turned back to me with fire in their eyes. “Well, in that case,” the first replied, “we’ll break your legs!”
“So you’ll be at the hospital instead of school!” the second chimed in.
The two rushed to tackle me, but I dodged with ease. They kept jumping at me and throwing punches sloppily, and I simply avoided them. One of them tripped over the other, and sprawled to the floor. The second tried to punch me, but I grabbed his arm and held him as he tried to squirm out. They had underestimated my strength, and I could see the surprise and terror in his eyes.
I did not feed off this terror, however. I had no ill will towards these men. They probably got forced into this by Neil because of a favor or a lost bet. Who knows why. I simply needed to demonstrate to them that I was not someone to be trifled with.
“Leave. Tell Neil I’ll see him at the fair,” I said sternly.
I shoved the kid back a bit to add emphasis to my statement. This was enough to send them moving in the other direction, muttering curses and insults as we went our separate ways. Surprisingly, I felt very calm about this whole ordeal that had just gone down. I was not afraid for Penny or for myself. I trusted that it would all work out. Although I did not know much about Neil, I knew he wouldn’t jeopardize getting himself involved in hurting other students. He probably had just sent his minions to shake me up a little bit after we avoided all the others at the theater. However, despite his precautions, he had clearly underestimated me, at least as far as my self-defense skills go.
Another weekend came and went, and before I knew it, it was the Donner Preparatory School Science Fair Day! I was very eager to see Penny there with her slideshow and projector all set up in the gymnasium where the fair was being held. Her face immediately broke out into a big smile upon seeing me. She wrapped her arms around my neck and hugged me.
“Heya, tiger! So happy to see you!” she replied.
I chuckled. “Hey, Pen. How’s it going so far?”
“Great! The judges really liked my presentation! Though, they did note how it was a little unorthodox since there was no kind of experiment or physical project.”
“Well, I think it looks amazing!”
“Awww, thanks! You’re so sweet!”
I rubbed my neck and smiled. “So… dug up anything about what Neil has planned for today?”
She shrugged. “I’m so sorry, Chris, but I couldn’t find anything from asking around. Whatever it is, it’s top secret stuff. I guess we’ll just have to wait on the receiving end.”
I nodded. “I just hope it’s not too late by then…”
Penny leaned her head on my shoulder. “Aw, c’mon, what’s the worst thing he could do?”
With impeccable timing, a reverberating “HELLO DONNER PREP!!!” echoed across the room. I whipped my neck around to see Neil, microphone in hand, standing on the portable stage that had been brought into the gymnasium for the fair. Everyone started cheering loudly. I glanced over to Penny and nudged my head towards the stage.
“May as well get up close and personal,” I said sarcastically.
She chuckled, and together we walked hand and hand to see whatever Neil was about to unveil. For a moment, I allowed myself to consider the thought that, perhaps, there wasn’t actually any diabolical going on after all. Perhaps, this has just been blown out of proportion. Neil might have just felt threatened by Penny and I snooping around his home and getting all up in his personal business. Even if he wasn’t as nice a guy as he acted to be, maybe he wasn’t the villain that my mind had made him into. I allowed myself into a false sense of assurity for just that moment, as Penny and I watched the grand revelation of this whole journey we had gone on together.
Neil swung his arms as he pranced around the stage, giving a speech of sorts to thank all the involved persons who had made this event possible. Then, he got to the point of his speech.
“I hope you have all enjoyed your time at the Science Fair! And in a moment, the awards will be given out by our lovely board of judges! But before that, I have a little science project of my own I’ve been waiting to show. I don’t wish to be presumptuous, but by the end of this, I think you might agree that I saved the best for last!”
Finally, at long last, Neil pulled the blanket hiding his science fair project. And behold, in all its glory… it was…
For a moment, everyone was confused. But then, Neil took a large spoon and scooped out a green solid-liquid mix from the tub. He poured the liquid into a container with the following label:
Penny muttered under her breath. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Neil held the container for all to see. “This, my friends, is Flexonite! I’ve been working at my uncle’s company, testing and perfecting his work, until finally I came to create the most superior, most durable, most groundbreaking form of Flex Seal that has yet to be made! A combination of nepheline syenite, titanium dioxide, carbon black, etc., plus my own special secret ingredients!”
A random student yelled, “Why is it green?”
Neil narrowed his eyes at him. “One, it looks cool. Two, good for marketing. Three, it distinguishes it from all less superior forms of Flex Seal. Now, I know you’re all tired of me ranting about this, soooo… how about a demonstration?!”
Neil raised his arms behind him to the curtain in front of the stage. The curtain pulled apart to show a giant robot.
“To show you the power of Flexonite, I put this robot together with only wiring, metal, my genius, and Flexonite!”
The silver and green robot proceeded to walk forward across the stage, as the audience awed in wonder. Then, the robot waved, and everyone cheered. Penny and I looked at each other, as if to say, “Is this really happening?”
Neil’s smugness only intensified. “And you want to know what the best part is, kids? You can get your hands on this state-of-the-art, new and improved product, official Flexonite today for the low price of $19.99 a canister!”
I grimaced. “Y’know when you said what’s the worst thing Neil could do?”
Penny raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Capitalism,” I replied. “Capitalism is the worst thing he could do.”
People were running to the stage with money in their hands, eager to get their hands on some Flexonite. I now realized that, although he had used the Student Government budget for a school event, he was still making buck off it by advertising his practically bootlegged product! He had circumvented the system. I was frozen in shock for a moment, but I felt a tug on my arm.
Penny looked into my eyes. “We have to do something. This is just… so dumb and messed up.”
I nodded. I immediately started running towards the stage, past the other persons racing to get their share of Flexonite, and then leaped onto the stage. I stood up to face Neil directly. I grabbed the mic from his hand, and he growled in return.
“This is wrong! Neil Swift is profiting off what was supposed to be a fun, extracurricular day for students, parents, and teachers to bond together over what their students’ success. He was allowed to spend hundreds of dollars of Student Government funds for this event, only to reap back more money that doesn’t belong to him. If you were a good person, Neil, you would donate this money back to the Student Government! Were you planning on that?! Huh?!?!”
Neil grimaced. “Who the heck do you think you are, Booth?”
I ripped my button shirt apart to show my shirt with the pinned-on origami Superman symbol. I continued speaking into the mic: “My name is Chris Booth, but you can call me SuPaperman! In the name of truth, justice, and equality, stop your diabolical scheme!”
Neil narrowed his eyes. “Alright, SuPaperman,” he said with disdain in his voice. “If you wanna play hero, I’ll play with you. I’ll be the big baddie, because that’s all you’re going to see me as, when in reality I’m only trying to benefit others with what I have to offer. With this money, I could have continued to improve my Flexonite formula, or gone on to make more inventions useful for everyone! But no! You had to stop me! You just can’t see the big picture, can you? You idiot! You fool! You absolute moron!”
I smirked. “You done?”
“Well, if you’re SuPaperman, I guess that makes me flippin’ Flex Luthor.”
With that, Neil spooned out a big wad of Flexonite from a can and flung it at me. The green goop wrapped around my wrist, and the force sent me tumbling backwards. I caught myself, and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Exactly what was that supposed to do?” I asked.
Neil suddenly started to smile. The smile grew wider and wider. He had to cover his mouth to hide his laughter.
“CHECK THE INGREDIENTS, CHRISSY!!!” he hollered, then ran off the stage with whatever money he had already collected.
I was feeling a little weird all of a sudden. I grabbed the nearest canister of Flexonite to look at its ingredients list. I scanned through it fast until one item caught my eye…
As I said earlier, I was lethally allergic to peanuts. Like, just the touch of them could send me into a fit. I quickly got my EpiPen out, but I realized this would only last so long with this Flexonite bracelet wrapped around me. I pulled hard on the goop, but it had solidified and bonded to my skin like rubber concrete. My breathing was getting harder. People were pointing at me and freaking out, which means my face was probably swelling and getting red.
Suddenly, a thought came to my mind. I yelled at Penny through swollen lips. “GET DA HAWT KNIFE!”
Penny, who had been watching this whole time in shock, immediately nodded and ran to the table that held my hot knife project. If she could just get it and bring it back, it could probably cut through the Flexonite. If only she could… get back… in time…
I fell backwards. My whole body was spasming. As I fell, I dropped my EpiPen. I felt like such an idiot. If I didn’t put that thing in me now, I would have no chance. I tried crawling to it, but I was starting to feel lightheaded, like I might pass out. I pushed forward, so close to it. With one final heave, I lurched towards it, grabbed it, pulled the cap off, and plunged it into my arm. I suddenly felt a rush of relief. For a moment, I actually did black out, but only very shortly. I soon woke up to see Penny, with surgical precision, cutting through the Flexonite, then manhandling it off and throwing it away as far as possible.
“Someone get the school nurse!” she yelled, then grabbed my hand. “Chris, Chris, hun, are you okay?!”
I nodded weakly. “It’s okay, Pen. I’m alright. Heh.”
Penny’s eyes started getting wet. “I’m so sorry this happened. I-”
“Don’t you dare say this was your fault. It wasn’t. And hey, it worked out, right? We exposed Neil for being the bad dude he is, right? I mean, I almost thought I was a goner there.”
“Don’t say that. You know I’ll always have your back.” Penny hugged me tightly.
“And I’ll always have yours, too.”
Epilogue: A New Genesis
So, what’s left to say? Neil’s been suspended from Donner Prep, Penny got her scoop (which ended up on the front page of The Brando Weekly), and I was recognized for my honorable work in standing up to Neil by the principal. I suddenly gained my own friends’ circle, and I actually felt sort of… popular. Weird, huh?
Anyways, when Neil was forced to resign from the DPS Student Government, he immediately rallied whatever followers he had left (which, granted, was still a lot of teens) to form a new high school club. Apparently, the school staff was either unaware or just ignorant to Neil’s shenanigans. Neil got enough signatures on his club creation form, and thus, C.A.D.M.U.S. was formed.
C.A.D.M.U.S. stood for “Collaborative Association Designated with the Mission to Unite Students.” Sounds like a pretty promising group, huh? Well, it also sounds like the perfect cover for whatever scheme Neil has planned next.
He even has a little kid involved in this. The kid came up to me one day after school and started asking me all these questions, saying it was for an interview as part or a school report. Oddly, it reminded me of how I had “interviewed” Neil.
I tried to give honest answers. Once we finished, the kid smiled and said, “Wow, thanks so much, Mr. Booth! You’re so cool. I hope I can be like you someday!”
I smiled in return and asked, “What’s your name, bud?”
“Charlie, sir. Charlie Swift! See you around!”
I was too surprised to reply, as I watched him leave on his scooter.