Lesson 1: First of All, Don't Let Them Get Away!
"Uuuggghhh. I still can't believe we're doing this," Avery groans loudly, tipping her chair back as far as she can without falling over. "I mean, out of all the places to choose to do a pretend stakeout, why did you have to pick the library?"
"Shh! Keep your voice down! You're going to get us in trouble!" I hiss.
Even though they’re hidden under the hood of my sweatshirt, my triangular, furry black ears twitch as I hear the sound of approaching footsteps. A librarian is heading toward our table.
"You girls need to quiet down or I'm going to have to ask you to leave," she scolds us. Her name tag reads "Alexis Conner."
"We're sorry," I reply, pointedly shooting Avery a sideways look. "We'll be quiet."
The librarian watches us through narrowed eyes for a few seconds, then stalks away.
I glare at my friend. “See, you almost got us kicked out!”
Avery brushes her honey-brown bangs out of her eyes. “Sorry.” She doesn’t sound sorry at all. “But, Karina, this is so boring!”
I turn a page in the book I’m reading—or at least trying to read. It would be great if I could tune Avery out and actually enjoy the story. But thanks to my feline-level hearing, and Avery’s obnoxiousness, it’s impossible. “It’s a stakeout, and a pretend one at that. Nothing exciting necessarily has to happen.”
Avery lowers her voice and leans in, making sure no one around us hears her say, “But we’re superheroes! We’re supposed to be hunting down villains and stopping them before they make trouble, not sitting around reading books and waiting for them to come to us!”
“We’re superheroes-in-training,” I correct. “And we’re supposed to do what Ms. Porcupine assigned us to do—practice our lookout skills by blending in and acting normal while secretly watching for signs of trouble. And what could be more normal than two teenage girls having a study session at the library on a Saturday afternoon?”
“Lots of things,” Avery grumbles. “This is definitely not normal for me.” She groans again. “Why did Ms. Porcupine have to make us partners?”
I ignore her, even though I’ve been wondering the same thing. “Besides, it’s not like this is a real stakeout. We’re just practicing. We’ll be called back to the Academy soon. So will you please stop talking so I can read?”
“Sure, whatever. But while you’re busy being a bookworm, I’ll be watching for trouble.”
“Fine with me.” I turn another page in my book. I don’t care what Avery does as long as she’s quiet.
My surroundings fade away as I become engrossed in the story. I have no idea how much time passes, but the next thing I know, the book is whacked out of my hands.
“Hey!” I shout, then lower my voice when I notice the librarian shooting a warning glance in our direction. “What’d you do that for?” I demand Avery.
“Karina, don’t read any more books in here,” she warns. “Something weird just happened. You didn’t even realize it, but when you started reading, you just...zoned out.”
“That’s what happens when you read a good book. Not that you would know anything about that, since, you know, you don’t read,” I snap.
“No, this was different. You completely froze for ten minutes—never blinked or turned any pages. I called your name multiple times and you didn’t answer. It’s like you were hypnotized. I didn’t know what else to do but smack the book away from you.”
“Oh, well...thanks.” I don’t know what else to say.
Avery smiles. “No problem, Kitty—as your partner, I’ve got your back!”
One of my ears twitch again under my hood, this time in annoyance. “It would be great if you stopped calling me ‘Kitty,’ though.”
Avery doesn’t seem to hear me. She tilts her head slightly, her brow furrowing.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
Avery shushes me. “Something’s not right. It’s too quiet in here.”
“Uh, it’s a library. Seriously, have you been to one before?”
“No, I mean...we’re the only ones talking. Something weird is going on here. Look around.”
Sure enough, the library is completely silent. The only sound I hear is the steady hum of electricity flowing through the lights overhead. And when I look around the room more closely, I realize what Avery is talking about. Everyone in the library appears to be reading, but they’re not moving. Not turning pages. Not even blinking. They’re like frozen zombies.
I turn to Avery. “Is that how I looked before you knocked that book out of my hands?”
She nods, her brown eyes gleaming with excitement. “My Dogtuition is telling me something super strange is up—sounds like a job for Dog Girl and Catgirl to investigate!”
“Hold up—your what?”
“Dogtuition. It’s what I call my sixth sense. I made up the name by combining ‘dog’ and ‘intuition.’ Pretty clever, right?”
I roll my eyes. “If you say so. But anyway, there’s nothing to investigate. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for what’s going on.”
“Oh, there is,” says a voice behind us. It’s the librarian, Alexis Conner. “They’re all hypnotized.” She says it so casually, as if she were making a comment about the weather and not about people who have strangely frozen like mannequins while reading books.
I narrow my eyes. “How do you know? Did you do this?”
“Of course I did, Catgirl.”
I freeze. How does she know about my superhero identity?
Alexis Conner smirks. “Yes, even without your supersuits, I knew who both of you were all along. Plus, even with your ears and tail hidden, Catgirl, your vibrissae still give you away."
"Her what?" Avery says, her brow furrowing in confusion.
I reach up to my face, my fingertips brushing... "My whiskers." Duh! How could I have been so silly? What other person on Earth has cat whiskers but me? I really need to find a way to hide them when I'm not in my Catgirl identity.
"Your pathetic school thinks they’re so slick in sending their students to spy on me,” Alexis Conner continues.
“What are you talking about? Who are you?” Avery asks.
The librarian lifts her chin and announces dramatically, “I am...Lexicona!”
She stares at us expectantly, like she’s waiting for us to recognize her.
“Who?” Avery finally asks.
“Lexicona! One of the best supervillains in the world?”
Avery just shakes her head blankly. "Sorry, never heard of you."
“Lexicona...Lexicona…” I mouth the name under my breath. It kind of sounds familiar…
The librarian huffs, exasperated. “Neither of you have heard of me? What are they teaching you at that so-called ‘superhero school?’”
I snap my fingers, suddenly remembering. “Oh, wait, Lexicona! The librarian with the power to manipulate books to do all kinds of things, like hypnotize people and make fictional characters appear in real life? I remember reading about you on that supervillain website a while back.”
She gives a satisfied smile. “Well, looks like at least one of you has heard of me.”
“Well, no matter who you are, why are you using books to hypnotize these innocent people?” Avery demands.
“Because it’s fun. And because it’s part of my brilliant plan—which no one will be able to stop, especially not you two amateurs who call yourselves superheroes!”
Avery growls. “We are superheroes! And whatever your ‘brilliant plan’ is, we will stop you.”
Lexicona smiles again. “Oh, I don’t think so.”
She snaps her fingers, and all of the hypnotized people turn to look at her. “Get them,” she commands, pointing to us.
Everyone starts charging toward us.
“Now would be a great time to run,” Avery remarks.
“You think?” I’m already dashing away. I try to leap onto the nearest bookshelf, but with my tail tucked into my pants, my balance is off. “Uh, you know what you said earlier about this being a job for Dog Girl and Catgirl?” I ask Avery.
She grins. “I see where you’re going with this! Time to suit up!”
She grabs her backpack off the floor near the table where we were sitting, and together we make a beeline toward the restroom, slamming the door behind us and locking it so that the hypnotized people can’t follow us in.
We change into our supersuits: Avery in her furry brown dog costume and black mask over her eyes, and me in my sleek black catsuit and mask. I lash my tail back and forth a few times, allowing it to stretch after keeping it hidden in my pants all day.
“Okay, so what’s the plan?” I ask Avery—no, Dog Girl. Angry shouting and pounding is coming from the other side of the bathroom door.
Dog Girl throws a few punches, pretending to fight an imaginary enemy. “We don’t need a plan. We just go out there and show Lexicona who’s top dog!”
She pauses, noticing me watching her with my hands on my hips and one eyebrow raised. “Oh yeah, and top cat too, of course.”
I flick an ear. “No. We need a real plan. You heard Lexicona. She thinks we’re amateurs. She doesn’t think Spark Hero Academy is teaching us how to be real superheroes. We need to look like we know what we’re doing.”
“Oh, I know what I’m doing. I’m doing this.” Before I can stop her, Dog Girl unleashes her trademark Supersonic Bark, which blasts down the bathroom door, as well as the hypnotized people standing outside the door.
I cover my ears. “Ouch! Next time warn me before you do that! And I hope you didn’t hurt anyone. These people are innocent, remember?”
People groan as they sit up and stagger to their feet. “What happened?” someone asks.
Looks like Dog Girl’s Supersonic Bark un-hypnotized them!
I check to make sure they're all okay. They seem a little dazed, but otherwise fine. But there’s still one problem. “Where’s Lexicona?” I wonder.
Dog Girl wanders all around the library, sniffing the air. “Not a trace of her anywhere,” she reports when she comes back. “She’s gone.”
“She must’ve escaped while we were in the bathroom,” I realize, a little angry at myself for allowing her to get away so easily.
“But we’ll find her,” Dog Girl says, a determined gleam in her eyes. “And when we do, we will show her just how super we are!”
“Yeah, well, for right now we’d better head back to the Academy,” I say. "We should probably let Ms. Porcupine and the other adult heroes know what happened, too."
“Yeah, you’re right.” Dog Girl gives everyone a little salute. “See you later, citizens! Dog Girl and Catgirl out!”
Awkward silence follows after Dog Girl bounds out of the library.
“Well, um...bye, guys,” I say finally, then dash out the door after her.
We will find you, Lexicona, I think to myself. And when we do, we'll be ready.