While his friends continue to develop their newfound powers, Eric begins to feel the effects of being the odd man out. Around him, things go from bad to worse for Vintage City as the Shadow Puppet, a new supervillain, steps into the Devil’s Trill’s shoes and wreaks havoc with his army of killer mannequins.
Magnifiman, Calais, and Spirit Wire have their hands full, with the Puppet proving to be much more slippery than the Trill and leaving the good guys scrambling for clues. Work-related stress creeps into Eric’s relationship with Peter, which reaches the breaking point when Peter takes a new superhero under his wing: a fire-wielding teenage girl, whose awesome powers could make her a better match for Peter.
To make matters worse, there are the strange headaches, sleepwalking, and nightmares that haunt Eric, as well as the Devil’s Trill’s call for him to take his place as a supervillain sidekick. There’s also Brenda Whitaker, her mysterious past, and her sudden desire to help Eric as he struggles to figure himself out and make the right choice before his parents ask him again about his awful Geometry and Chemistry grades.
The movie thing was completely spur-of-the-moment. It was another result of my annoying restless urges, something that came to mind from out of the blue just because I hated the idea of going home after school. With my employment hopes completely obliterated, that mental itchiness seemed to have quadrupled. Quintupled, even. I’d even go as far as it being tupled six times over. Nothing, absolutely nothing, gave me any kind of relief. Books, TV, net-surfing, everything sounded tired and dull.
All of a sudden, the more urgent problem of my family’s sucky financial situation had faded to the back of my mind. In fact, I’d practically forgotten about it till that moment when I stood in front of the theatre, fumbling around for my leftover allowance.
“Oh, yeah. We’re broke,” I muttered, staring at the bills in my fist, feeling nothing about it.
Then I walked up to the ticket booth with an indifferent shrug.
It was a strange moment. Somehow I felt completely detached from my body, as though I were watching myself from outside. An out-of-body experience, some people might say, with all feelings kind of muted, all thoughts limited to nothing else but what I was doing. Purchase ticket. Walk inside. Find a seat. I was aware of the total weirdness of my detachment, but couldn’t feel anything significant about it.
The number of people inside seemed no more or no less than normal. I took my usual spot near the back and next to the aisle. When I sat down, I could barely keep still, and it was driving me crazy.
“Oh, man,” I muttered, shifting every so many seconds and not finding anything comfortable enough. I thought at first it was just my ass that was being a serious jerk. But it turned out to be much worse than an asshole-y ass. That feeling of a billion ants marching across my body returned, and it was, like, magnified.
“God, what’s wrong with me?”
Just let things happen. Let things go. Fighting them won’t help you.
I could hear my heart pounding. There was something wrong with me. I knew it for sure no matter how many times I tried to blow things off. The voice I kept hearing in my head was me, and yet it wasn’t. I looked around, all desperate in distracting myself by checking out everyone else in the theatre. No dice. The restless stirring increased.
“No! Leave me alone!”
I realized I’d taken my glasses off and pinched my eyes shut the whole time. When I opened them, some of the kids sitting nearby had turned to stare, whispering to each other and giggling when I looked at them. With my glasses in my pocket, people were nothing more than somewhat fuzzy silhouettes, but I could still make out their movements.
“Hey, check this out. He’s talking to himself.”
“Dude, whatever you smoked, I want some,” a girl piped up from somewhere, and a low ripple of laughter swept across the theatre.
“Someone forgot to take his meds today.”
I gripped the armrests when the Billion Sucky Ants feeling throbbed till I thought I could hear them scuttling all over me. The headaches returned as well, pulsing in time with the itchy restlessness.
Let go. Let go. Let go.
“No. I won’t. I won’t.”
You’ll crack if you don’t. Let ... go!
I pinched my eyes shut again and bowed my head, tensing my body against the unbearable sensation that was now spiraling out of control. I felt a few beads of sweat trickle down my forehead, some trailing down my nose before dripping off. My body shuddered under the two fighting forces, and even with the rushing noise of blood pumping through me, I could vaguely hear my seat creaking and groaning from my violent shaking.
“Stop it ... stop it ... stop it ...”
“Hey, you! What’re the voices in your head saying?” Another ripple of mocking laughter swept through the theatre. A few kids from somewhere to my left pelted me with crumpled candy wrappers.
A sharp rush of air blew past my clenched teeth, and a force -- something like an invisible hand suddenly pushing hard against my chest -- threw me back against my seat. I must have let out a cry of pain or terror. I couldn’t remember clearly. The world seemed to speed up around me: shapes, colors, all turning into streaks against a brilliant white background. Sounds swelled to a rising wave of painful noise, as though a hundred people were screaming at the same time. My skull nearly exploded.
“Stop! No! No!”
I clawed at something, felt myself sink farther. I tried to scream as loudly as I could, but something warm and thick swept over me, like an ocean wave, only it felt like solidified air. I blinked and looked up, and everything had turned different shades of red and yellow. I fell back in my seat again as though I’d been punched against the chest I let out a sound.
Something like a scream -- or an ungodly noise that was nowhere near human.
“Hey, what the hell?” someone called out from the end of a long tunnel. “Shut up back there!”