Following Arachnaman’s bigoted, hateful attacks, life in beleaguered Vintage City finally quiets down, but it doesn’t last long. Eric’s father begins to show symptoms of extreme fatigue, symptoms that Eric notices in a number of other people he sees elsewhere. Along with the superheroes, he tries to find a common denominator in all this, the surprising result being a new perfume shop that hawks very strong fragrances. A familiar pair of supervillains is suspected, but before the heroes can further investigate the motives behind this threat, people exhibiting symptoms of illness are transformed in the most shocking way, throwing Vintage City in a state of panic.
In the meantime, Eric monitors the Unofficial Calais Fan Club, which is now exploding with romantic Mary Sue fanfiction involving Calais as well as curious messages posted by a girl who’s apparently wildly in love with the superhero. References to her making “new friends” alert Eric to suspect that she and the current mayhem being inflicted on Vintage City are somehow tied together. The stakes are now raised for Eric, whose father has become a victim to a new crime wave and whose superhero boyfriend might also be under threat. All this, and he’s yet to survive school and find a job.
I stopped about ten feet from the pile of crates and boxes. “Look, you’d better give yourselves up now before you get into more trouble,” I said.
The munchkin whispers continued. Then they fell silent, and I waited for another minute. I opened my mouth to say something when a figure appeared from behind a battered box.
It was a little girl, creeping out in a rainbow-striped T-shirt and shorts. She looked at me without blinking, her stolen stash hanging from both hands. Without saying a thing, she inched closer, and I couldn’t help but crouch down to come as close to her height as possible. Maybe having some towering gay boy who was running on perpetual sexual frustration intimidated her.
“It’s okay,” I said, trying to sound as gentle as I could. “No one’s going to hurt you. It’s not your fault you’re breaking the law.”
She nodded, pinching her mouth into a tight line. I waited for her to come closer, but she stopped about three feet away. It was pretty hard to read what could be going through her head at the moment. I’d never been in a situation where I had to communicate with a saucer-eyed kid-adult before. The only thing that crossed my mind was the thought that she looked like a Japanese anime character without the funky colored hair.
“Hey,” I said, even braving a smile. “Could you help me find your friends?”
She regarded me for another second, all sweet and cute. Then her face contorted, turned red, and she yelled, “Now! Get the motherfucker!”
And just like that, I heard shouts and screams coming from everywhere, and I turned in time to see a couple of tiny boys flying out from a pile of crates, their little faces twisted in rage. They landed right on top of me, and I fell back with a loud yelp. Stars exploded behind my eyeballs, and the world spun crazily. From elsewhere, I heard other little voices shout, and soon they were all on top of me, pounding away with their fists, kicking me, and in one case, biting my arm.
“Ow! What the hell! Get your stinking paws off me! Ow! Ow!” I flailed, pushed, squirmed, kicked, and tried just about everything short of actually punching a toddler, but there were too many of them ganging up on me.
“Someone grab his arms!” a girl cried out. “He’s yanking at my ponytail!”
I felt someone lock on to my left arm, nearly twisting my elbow out of its socket. I managed to turn my head and catch sight of a curly-haired boy literally clinging to my arm with both hands and legs, pulling it away from my body and forcing it down on the ground. I only had one arm and two legs to use against about six or seven psychotic kids.
“Let’s use him for ransom!”
I gritted my teeth and struggled more even though my energy was totally spent, and my back hurt, with me being pinned on top of my bulky-ass messenger bag. The world continued to whirl around in a bizarre psychedelic pattern, and I was getting really dizzy. My limbs were all sore, and my legs throbbed with pain from being kicked repeatedly.
“Hold his legs! Quick!”
Both my legs immediately flattened out on the ground, with two kids holding them down. They gripped my ankles and sat on my knees, tearing another jolt of pain from my strained muscles. For one crazy moment, I had to stop and think about what they’d just said, and I shook my head at it before continuing my one-armed struggle, which, I was sure, looked pretty pathetic from an overhead view.
“Got you now, you little meddler!” a boy crowed, and my right arm was finally immobilized. Like my left arm, someone had wrapped himself around it and brought it down, so that I lay on the filthy, slimy ground with my limbs all splayed out. Not only were toddlers clinging to them to keep me from moving, but I had a couple of girls sitting on my groin, which was a bad, bad, bad thing.
I wasn’t turned on by the pressure, no. I realized then that I needed to take a leak so badly. Little screwballs.
The dust finally cleared, with all of us panting and gasping for air. I was drenched in sweat as I stared dizzily up at the sky. “So what now?” I finally demanded once I found my voice again. “Are you going to sit on me like this all day or something? Not very impressive if you’re all trying to score your way up the supervillain ladder.”
“Oh, look, he’s beaten, and he still gives us sass,” the curly-haired boy on my left arm said. He actually sneered. “Typical.”
“Sounds like my twins,” the little girl, who was my distraction earlier, said. She was the one who sat on my genitals. That was a totally inappropriate -- not to mention illegal -- picture we made. I glanced down at her and saw her stick a thumb in her mouth. Yeah, absolutely, totally so not legal.
I squirmed despite being pinned down like that. “So what’re you all going to do now? Hold me for ransom? How? You don’t even have a plan. My family ain’t exactly swimming in cash, and the superheroes will kick your teeny asses and probably pass out from boredom doing it.”
“Yeah, really sassy,” someone piped up.
“Sassy can be a good thing. It’s great distraction, if you ask me,” a voice said from somewhere down the alley, and my heart leaped. I actually grinned at the sky even though it threatened to spew acid rain on us.
“Heya, Miss Pyro!” I called out. “Good to have you here!”
“How’s it going?” she replied, all cheerful. “How’s babysitting working out for ya?”
“It sucks ass.”
“The heroes!” the toddler sitting on my right leg cried out. He and his buddy had their backs to where Miss Pyro stood -- or hovered. The rest of their gang just froze where they were, glaring and channeling all their toddler fury into those expressions.
“Well, just one for now,” Miss Pyro said. I heard the crunch of her boots against the slimy asphalt.
I cleared my throat. “Uh -- try not to turn me into Peking duck when you save me, okay? I kind of want to live long enough to marry Peter and run off into the sunset with him.”
“No sweat. I’m doing a head count right now.”