Read Joshua dread Online

Authors: Lee Bacon

Joshua dread

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2012 by Lee BaconJacket art and interior illustrations copyright © 2012 by Brandon Dorman

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataBacon, Lee.Joshua Dread / Lee Bacon. — 1st ed.p. cm.Summary: Besides being bullied, Joshua faces one more obstacle in middle school, trying to hide his identity as the son of supervillains, the Dread Duo.eISBN: 978-0-375-98721-2[1. Supervillains—Fiction. 2. Superheroes—Fiction. 3. Identity—Fiction.4. Middle schools—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction.] I. Title.PZ7.B13446Jo 2013[Fic]—dc232012003155

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v3.1

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Excerpt fromThe Nameless Hero

For Eva

1

For most people, the end of the worldis 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 andtoldme they were planning on flooding the world. But they’d droppedplenty 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 myonlyfriend. 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 actuallyhere.”

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 withina 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 itwillget 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 recognizedhim 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.

2

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.” CaptainJustice’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 thetop 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 re-attach 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 todowith 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 leteveryone 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’shand. 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.

ZAAAAP!

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.

Captain Justice was on his feet in an instant.

“Engage Spear of Freedom!” His voice boomed through downtown Sheepsdale as he thrust a hologram spear into the air.

Dad veered to the side, and the spear grazed his utility belt, causing an explosion of sparks.

All at once, a remarkable change took place around me. The sky changed from dark gray to mild blue. The rain that had been pounding the scenery outside the Vortex of Silence vanished. Sunlight reflected in the puddles on the nearby streets.

Downtown Sheepsdale had returned to a normal sunny afternoon.

Dad glanced up at the sky, disappointment and rage filling his features. “Curse you, Captain Justice! You destroyed the remote for the Weather Alterator. It took me six months to construct that!”

Captain Justice looked just as surprised as my parents. “That’s—er … exactly what I intended to do.” He puffed out his chest as his beaming smile returned.

Dad was still lying on the ground gripping his ankle. His expression turned from anger to fear as Captain Justice grabbed a huge chunk of the wall that had once belonged to the Chinese restaurant.

“And now, to finish you off …” Captain Justice raised the section of the wall above his head, taking aim.

“WAIT!”

It took me a second to realize that I’d been the one to call out. Everyone on the bus turned to look at me. I hoped that my face didn’t look as red as it felt.

“Yes, child?” Captain Justice was grinning at me, waiting for me to say something.

My mind spun. I’d only yelled to distract him from killing my parents—I hadn’t really put much thought into what I should say after that.

I caught a glimpse of my dad lying on the ground. Recognition flashed across his features. He looked as if he couldn’t figure out whether to wave hello or scream for mercy. Everyone was watching me—Captain Justice, my parents, dozens of reporters. I shielded my eyes from the glare of flashing cameras, then cleared my throat.

“Um … would it—” My voice sputtered and I tried again. “Would it be possible to take a picture of you?”

“Oh, okay.” Captain Justice grinned. “Maybe just one photo.”

Floating in place, the superhero fixed his hair with one hand and balanced the brick wall above his head with the other.

The distraction was enough for Dad to get out his plasma gun. With a blast of red light, the brick wall exploded into a million pieces.

Captain Justice covered his eyes as dust from the destroyed wall rained down on him. Smoke from the explosion hung in the air. Dad aimed the plasma gun at Captain Justice’s chest.

“No!” I screamed.

I could see the hesitation on Dad’s face. His greatest enemy was floating in front of him, blinded. All he had to do was pull the trigger. He glanced from Captain Justice to me. With a sigh, he grabbed his hover scooter and flew to where Mom was lying. After helping her onto his scooter, Dad turned to give Captain Justice one last dirty look. Then my parents rose high into the air together. A moment later, they were gone.

When Captain Justice could see again, he flew toward us, brushing dust and brick fragments out of his hair.

“Another shameful plot has been foiled by Captain Justice!” he said, among wild whoops and cheers from the crowd of students and journalists. “But we must all remain diligent. For we never know when evil will strikeagain. One thing is certain, though. If you want to grow up to be super like me, you’ll remember to eat Frosted Fuel Flakes every morning for breakfast. Eight essential vitamins and all the nutrients you need to get your day started right!”

And then he launched into the air, vanishing into the blue, cloudless sky.

3

Having superpowered parentscan make life complicated at times.

The mood around the dining room table was tense. Mom was still wearing her body armor, but she’d slung her mask over the back of the chair and replaced her knee-high black boots with white slippers. Dad pushed his goggles onto his forehead and stared at his plate of salmon and asparagus as if it had just insulted him.

“What is it with that doofus always flying in and foiling our schemes?” he said. “I can’t even destroy one stupid little continent without him getting in the way!”

“And what’s the deal with all those hologram weapons?”Mom said. “The Net of Truth! The Shield of Glory!”

“Honor,” I said. “It was actually called the Shield of—”

Mom glared over at me. I decided it might not be the best time to dwell on specifics.

“Never mind,” I said.

The TV was playing in the living room, a jumble of noise in the background. Dad stabbed a bunch of asparagus with his fork like he was spearing a whale with a harpoon.

When the local news started, both of them turned to face the television. A reporter was standing on a street that looked familiar, pointing toward a pile of rubble that also looked familiar. Nearby was half a school bus that definitely looked familiar. It was the scene of the fight between my parents and Captain Justice.

“Today’s top story,” said the reporter. “Shock in Sheepsdale, as two supervillains tried to destroy the world by altering the weather.”

I cleared my throat. “You know what would be nice? Family dinner without TV.”

If my parents were in a bad mood now, the news was only going to make it worse. But it was too late. They were already shifting in their seats to get a better view of the television.

The reporter continued. “I’m standing outside what’s left of Mr. Chow’s Chinese Buffet in downtownSheepsdale. But the only thing on the menu today was chaos, as the Dread Duo frightened a busful of children. According to eyewitness accounts, the Botanist ripped a school bus in half while it was still full of students from Sheepsdale Middle School.”

“I didn’t do that!” Mom yelled at the screen. “Captain Justice tore that bus apart! I mean, I appreciate the credit, but—”

“Afterward,” the reporter went on, “she threw the top half of the school bus at a nearby post office.”

Mom shook her head with frustration.

“Fortunately, Captain Justice came to the rescue,” the reporter said. “While fighting against the two dastardly supervillains, the beloved Captain Justice single-handedly saved the school children and put a halt to a plot to destroy the world. If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that Captain Justice is a true superhero.

“After a short break, we’ll take it to Troy, who’s going to tell us more about that wacky weather today!”