Excerpt from 1st Chapter:
Grubs are one of those bugs that you don’t want to touch. They’re white, slimey, and look like larvae. Imagine a wooden bowl full of them, with their six legs crawling all over each other. Some of them were long and juicy. To an outsider, this bowl looked like an infestation. But to Russ, it was delicious.
He drenched his eager paw into the bowl and grabbed a handful of squirming grub. Some of them were stretching their bodies to escape from his grasp. And then he shoved them greedily into his mouthwatering mouth. He loved to feel them fidget in his mouth and then the best part was when they popped. Yum.
Russ’s dad sat down next to him and placed another bowl of grub in front of him. “Happy birthday son! It’s not every day that you’re twelve!”
Russ picked up the first bowl he had been eating and slurped the rest of the grub down as if he couldn’t get enough of them. He set the bowl down and held out his hand to say no to another bowl. “Thanks Pa, but I’m good. I need to get my chores done before it’s dark out!”
“Okay, but just finish a row so we can start your birthday festivities!” His Pa called out as Russ rushed from the dining table and ducked down as he left the room. His duck turned into a somersault and then a roll as his body formed into a tight, little ball as he rolled through the living room and into his room.
Russ and his dad were armadillos. But not the kind you’d see on the edge of a road in Texas. They were walking, breathing, and communicating armadillos. Yeah, they loved their grub and dirt, but they were civilized folk. Heck, Russ even went to school with his armadillo friends and his dad worked in an office as a telemarketer.
And today was his birthday. He looked forward to having his two best friends, Fringe and Christi, over for his party.
Russ popped out of his roll and landed in a pile next to his bed in his room. He quickly looked around and saw that he was alone. He grabbed his sack from school and pulled out a shiny new comic: Edition 325 of The Elite. He held the comic in his hands as if it was too precious to open.
And then he couldn’t help himself and he opened the cover and saw the majestic, feline cougar leap in front of a family of mice. She caught a car that had been flipped at her from the monstrous Elephant! Her superhero name was Puma. They all had the coolest names, thought Russ! She caught the car easily and set it down behind her. The brushed the family of mice away as she roared like the angry feline she was and dashed at the Elephant! By now Russ was pages into the comic. It was so good!
The Elephant shot water from her tusks at the approaching Puma and she was blasted, sprawling into a building nearby. Wow the Elephant had a powerful shot! And then in swooped Puma’s companion and part of The Elite, the Chickler. She waddled out onto the street between the Elephant and Puma in an epic showdown.
Everyone knew you don’t mess with the Chickler. The Elephant stopped momentarily and then laughed and continued on to stop the little rooster. She spun her head away from the Elephant and stuck up her tail feathers at the approaching mammal and began shooting. Suddenly eggs zipped at the approaching Elephant. The eggs exploded all over the gray giant and one hit it right in the eye. It stopped its barreling run and jumped up on its hind legs as it bellowed out in rage. Its tusk whipped back to its face and wiped the yoke out of its eye. The Elephant landed back down on the street with all four of its feet, and as it did, it sent a shockwave going in all directions down. The black asphalt ripped around and shot the Chickler away.
Then the leader of The Elite landed on the destroyed street: Fuzz, the red panda. He stood in front of the Elephant and then in the next comic frame he was gone. Superspeed.
“Russ!” Russ looked up from his comic as his dad pulled it out of his hands.
The brand-new comic was caught between Russ and his dad and it gave way and ripped right down the middle. The shiny pages floated around in the air and landed all over Russ’s room.
“Dad! That was Fringe’s comic!” He complained.
“I told you, I won’t have you reading those lies under my roof! I’ll have a talking to Fringe’s parents!” Russ’s head sunk down and he sat on his bedroom floor. “You know better, son! Now, go out and finish your chores you left ten minutes ago to do, before I cancel your party!” Russ jumped up, wiped a tear out of his eye and rolled out of his room as fast as he could.
He couldn’t believe his dad just destroyed Fringe’s comic! He didn’t even get to see what happened to the Elephant! Was it still on the run in the streets of Timber City? He kept rolling and burst outside, where a farm sprawled all around him. He sped off to the plow he had left just the day prior.
Russ’s dad hunched over the comics strewn all over his son’s room. Had he been too harsh to Russ? All his son had asked for his birthday were comics. He was obsessed with these superheroes! Russ’s dad shook his head and stomped on the page with Fuzz on it. He crumpled up all the sheets and took them out to the recycling can outside their hovel. It was a fine house, but a lot smaller than most of the homes in their village of Dillo. He tried to give his son the best life he could, even if it wasn’t grandeur. He peeked around the corner to see Russ nearing the plow.
Russ’s tight ball rolled to a stop by of the plow. He stood up and looked at the job he needed to do. He couldn’t stop thinking about how mad he was at his Pa, and how he would explain the destroyed comic to Fringe. He pressed his weathered hands, that were used to farm labor, against the plow and began pushing. It was hot out today and the dirt was so compact that his pushing did little to break it up.
It was hopeless. The ground was too tough. He could barely make the plow budge. He turned around to look behind himself to see how far he’d come. He’d made it maybe five feet, which was nothing in comparison to the distance he needed to go for this one row. A little frustrated, the rodent hung his head, thinking back on the past days of labor he’d performed, and began pressing his shoulder and paws into the plow.
He stood up again, reinvigorated. He once again placed his paws against the warm metal edge of the plow, tucked his head down, and pushed his neck shell against the plow. The plow began to budge and then it moved rapidly quicker. Then the son, while giving all of his strength, slipped his head accidentally downwards towards his feet, and he went into a rolling ball. As a ball he exerted his energy rapidly and the ball began to spin crazily fast, as he had never done before. The plow in front of him lurched forwards and bolted across the farm plot. It bounced through the dirt, tearing through the dirt in a second. The plow crashed violently into a metal fence, nearly ripping through it.
“Son! Are you okay?” The father held his son in his arms. The son groggily opened his eyes and looked around him. He had made it across their farm plot and he was sprawled against the plow, which looked to have ripped into their fence, ripping half of it a part.
“What do ye dink yer doin’?!” Cried out a familiar, yet shocked voice. The son looked up to see their neighbor, Mister Dinkerton, sternly starring him down in his muddled heap by the plow.
“It was only an accident.” His father quickly replied to Mister Dinkerton. “We’ll replace this fence tomorrow!” The large armadillo picked up his son off of the ground and carried him back towards their home while the neighbor continued to moan and complain as they walked away.
The son, confused, asked, “Pa, what happened?”
“Get some rest and then let’s talk.”
He carried his dazed son into their wood dwelling, into his bedroom. He laid his son on his bed, which was carved out of a tree trunk, and filled with grass and hay for comfort and warmth. The father looked lovingly at his son, but he had a frightened look on his face.
He began to retreat from the room and then he heard a noise outside their home. It almost sounded like a dust storm was raging outside, even though they had just come in. The ruckus could be heard outside the abode and it was probably causing more damage than Russ’s incident did. It came all of a sudden and blew dirt through the opened window into the living room. This sudden gust of wind outside calmed Jamal and he shrugged his shoulders and told his son, “Ah, whew, we’re safe.” He lifted his hand and pointed for Russ to go look outside.
Russ cautiously looked through the window but couldn’t see anyone or anything due to the insane gust and dirt blowing around, and then he crept towards the doorway to investigate further.
Out of the insane windy, dust storm that was ripping up their front dirtyard, a silhouette could be seen in the midst of the storm. And then Russ made out a kangaroo, that could be seen lowering down to the ground. As he touched the ground the winds died down, which seemed so unnatural as storms don’t just abruptly stop. The kangaroo was elegantly dressed and didn’t seem to be fazed that he was just in the middle of a dust storm. In fact, a small kangaroo hopped out of his pouch, jumped up and down around him, and then dove back into the pouch as the kangaroo cordially walked up to their front door.
Russ’s Pa opened the door and Russ hid behind and listened in. His dad looked visibly relieved to see the kangaroo, but also a little nervous. “Nice to meet you. I am Professor Jumper from Tadpole Academy in Timber City.” The stern professor started to stick out her hand to shake Russ’s dad’s hand to shake and then looked down at the older armadillo and saw how dirty he was, and instead just nodded to the man in greeting.
“It appears that a Mr. Russell Redwood was designated a spot at the academy nearly eleven seasons ago, no, wait,” The kangaroo pulled out a document from his pocket and read for a moment before finishing, “Twelve seasons ago to this day! Happy birthday little one.” The professor didn’t seem to be actually congratulating Russ, but more did it as an obligation.
Russ didn’t like the way that Professor Jumper elongated every word she said, as if she was more sophisticated than they were. The kangaroo stood up tall, even though she towered over Russ and his Pa. The Professor had dark rimmed glasses and wore a clean lab coat that trailed down to her gargantuan feet and stood out in contrast to her dark red fur color. She seemed to be genuine in his visit, but every word she spoke made it seem unwelcoming.
“I was on my way with my son, Jo,” the smaller kangaroo, who was probably about Russ’s age, popped his head out of Professor Jumper’s pouch that was visible between his lab coat, and waved to them, “and was taking him to the Academy after our summer break when he manifested. A little later than I had hoped. I was sincerely surprised.” She didn’t sound surprised at all. She just droned on, “And so I offered to take him with me as no other folk noticed any happenings. However, it looks like your manifestation caused quite the ruckus and the Hawk is on her way with her cleanup squad.”
Russ’s dad seemed a little on edge that the Hawk was mentioned. “I really need to get to work but I would like to speak with Russ for a moment before you take him with you, Professor Jumper.” Professor Jumper nodded as Russ’s dad softly closed the door and knelt down next to his son. He seemed flustered and didn’t start speaking for a moment until he seemed to remember something and ran into the kitchen and returned with an envelope. He handed it to Russ to read. Russ looked down at it and read the label on the envelope.
To: Mister and Misses Jamal and Sheila Redwood
29 Havel Lane
Dillo, The Kingdom of Timberland
The confusing part was that the letter wasn’t addressed from anyone, but as the little armadillo turned over the letter to open it, he saw a thick seal stamped with the letters TA. Tadpole Academy? Russ thought, because that was what the professor had mentioned. An educational institution for frogs?
“Open it, son.” Jamal beckoned for his son. He continued on as Russ opened the letter. “Ma and I got it when you were born. It’s only tradition.”
He slid his clawed paw into the letter to open it. It seemed old. It was yellowed from seasons. If it was given to his father when he was born, it must be at least twelve seasons old.
The letter read:
Dearest Russell J. Redwood,
You have been chosen as you are the child of a superanimal. As is customary in our society, superanimals are outlawed to use their gifts and therefore are required to go to Tadpole Academy in Timber City to learn to control and hide their gifts or face a lifetime of isolation in prison.
And then the letter’s previous message disappeared and new writing appeared.
You have been found using powers. The Hawk will be there shortly. Stay away from anyone who saw you use your powers. Please pack your suitcases and bring only what’s necessary because you will be coming to the Tadpole Academy in Timber City. We are a safe place. We welcome you to the academy to able to hone your powers and learn to keep them hidden.
With friendly regards,
Russell looked at his father, Jamal, with confusion in his countenance. His Pa seemed to be holding back telling Russ something, as if the knowledge held a weight on his heart.
Finally, he broke the silence, “Sheila and I knew this day would come, when your power would present itself. It’s possible sometimes it never manifests and you just can live a normal life. And you were getting close to the age of when manifestations end. I am truly sorry that this is being told to you now, but I had my reasons. I love ye, son. You need to go pack. It’s best that we move you to the Academy now. It’s not safe now that your power manifested.”
“Power?” Russ questioned.
“Russ, not now, forgive me but I couldn’t speak of your power because they’re searchin’ for you. All will be explained at the Academy. Trust me. When this calms down, I will find you and explain it all.” He assured his son. He looked around the humble dwelling frantically, as if he was expecting someone to burst into the home at any second.
“Pa, what power? What happened when I was out plowing? Russ questioned.
“All I can say to you, Russ, is that your mom isn’t here because of all of this business. To have a superpower you have to have a parent who is. So naturally when you were born to your mother, they sent us this letter. I’ve been avoiding all of this due to what happened to your mother so many seasons ago. But I will say that Tadpole Academy is a safe place with some devious animal folk in it. But it’s safer than anywhere else in this world. Trust the headmaster, he’s an old friend of mine. Go, with the Professor. You’ll be safe. I’ll write when I can.” Russ couldn’t remember meeting any of his dad’s friends. He never really mentioned anyone except their mom and they kind of lived a solitary life on their farm. He didn’t really go out much unless it was to school.
“Pa! Tonight, is my birthday! I was going to have Fringe and Christi over.” Russ complained.
“Son. Take this.” He reached down and picked up a sack. He had already prepared a bag for his son. Russ looked through it and saw that it was full of necessities, some snacks, paper, and a few more supplies.
“You knew this day was coming!” Russ accused. “Pa, I don’t want to go with that stiff, emotionless kangaroo man!”
And then Jamal looked at him serious. “It will all make sense. You are a superanimal, Russ. You have to go. I’ll tell Fringe and Christi what happened and they can write you. Go, son, please.” Russ couldn’t move. His little legs just felt like stone.
Suddenly, a noise made Russ jump that came from outside. It sounded like a loud thud on their roof. They both ran outside to see what happened and they swung their door open to see hundreds if not thousands of roly polys crawling across the ground. More like rolling across the ground. They were pouring off of the roof like a waterfall. Russ bravely walked through a shower of bugs and they poured all over him. He was excited to grab a handful and plop them in his mouth when another thud made him jump again, from above. And then a giant hawk thudded to the ground in front of Russ.
It was menacing. Russ’s dad stepped outside into the roly poly chaos and pushed Russ out of the Hawk’s sight.
“Don’t dare think about snacking on my little clean-up crew!” Russ reached around his dad to infer to the Hawk that he probably squished a good hundred when he leapt onto the ground when the Hawk snapped her beak angrily at the boy. Russ jumped back and hid behind his dad.
“Now, now, thank you for doing your job,” Professor Jumper interceded as he attempted to avoid stepping on the roly polys and strode up next to the armadillos. “We must really be on our way.”
“It’s my job to take the recruits to the Academy!” The Hawk growled at the kangaroo. Now that Russ took another peak at the bird, it was giant. It towered over their home and had talons as large as Russ. It must have had a wingspan wider than a bus. It had striking red and black feathers that added to its gruff demeanor. And while the Hawk bent over talking to the Professor, the roly polys seemed to be departing from their front dirtyard and were well on their way to… his neighbor’s house! They were called the clean-up crew. Russ thought that Mr. Dinkerton would have a heart attack seeing these bugs getting so close to his house. He absolutely detested that Russ’s Pa farmed grub as well as crop. As the last of the roly polys rolled across the floor by his feet, he slyly scooped a few in his hand and popped them into his pocket for a snack.
“I thought I would be able to help on my way back to the Academy and I knew you were flying out to do some more business, so I figured I could give you a break.” Professor Jumper logically explained. Russ’s dad nodded and pushed Russ towards the kangaroo. The Hawk stared at the Professor threateningly and then relented and began walking slowly away from the group. She bent down and then blasted into the sky and indeed her wingspan was as long as a train compartment! She lifted off and then glided off towards Mr. Dinkerton’s home.
Russ’s dad mumbled, “I’ll be off, Russ. I’ll be in touch! I love you!” He bent down, kissed Russ on top of his scaled head, and then rolled off down their dirt driveway towards town.
Just then as Jamal ran off, Professor Jumper pulled something out of her pocket, and tossed it at their wood dwelling. It was a little red contraption. It stuck right to wood siding on the house, and then their house imploded in an instant. The house just vanished, as did the red contraption. “Where did my house go!?” Russ angrily mumbled. His dad must have seen it happen too and he didn’t stop them from doing it….
The dust around them settled slowly from when the Hawk took off and Professor Jumper looked down at Russ. “Would you like to travel via pouch or hold onto my paw?” Russ looked confused at the Professor’s pouch, which already had a head popping out of it. And then a second littler head popped out of it. What else was in there!? Professor Jumper smiled. Her first genuine smile. She explained, “And there’s little Roro woken up from his nap. He also wanted to come on the adventure.”
He imagined that there probably wasn’t room in the pouch with the two kangaroo already in there, so he replied, “Uh, by paw?” The Professor nodded and reached out her paw and took Russ’s. Then she bent down and kicked her foot once on the ground and then leapt high into the air. Russ was ripped off the ground with her!