Excerpts from HyperKid v BullBorg
I always knew that I was a little different than the other kids at West Plains Elementary. Mommy and Daddy say that every person in the world is different in one way or another, but you wouldn't know it because most of them don't show these differences in public so that on the outside they look just like the rest of the crowd. They also say that being different can be a very good thing. The most successful people in life are the ones who are able to embrace their differences and use them to break away from the pack. Besides, they say, it's boring trying to be like everyone else. The coolest kids in school are cool because they aren't afraid of being different, and they aren't worried about trying to hide their differences in order to fit in. If they just tried to fit in and be like everyone else, nobody would think they were cool or even notice them in the first place.
Maybe Mommy and Daddy are right, but sometimes I think they forget how hard it is to be a nine year old, especially one like me. It's really embarrassing when the teacher calls on you and you don't know the answer, or that you have to ask to repeat the question because you weren't paying attention, or that your handwriting is the sloppiest in the class, or that you're constantly being pulled from the classroom to go to group lessons that most of the other kids don't have to go to.
But the absolute worst thing in the world is when you have to stay in for recess to finish the classwork that you didn't get done earlier. This happens to me sometimes because I am easily distracted and sometimes have trouble focusing on what I am supposed to be doing. It doesn't seem fair that I get punished because of it while the other kids are outside or in the gym having fun. It makes me feel stupid when this happens. Mommy and Daddy say that I'm not stupid at all and that I'm probably one of the smartest kids in my class, but I just have to work a little harder than others at sitting still and focusing. I actually know that I'm not stupid because I know a lot of things that the other kids don't, but whenever I do have to stay in for recess I still feel stupid anyway.
* * *
Unfortunately, I also discovered that my new powers had their limits. A week before school started, Mommy and Daddy made me start doing some "refresher" reading, writing, and math work to get me back into school mode. At first I was actually excited about it because I thought it would be easy like so many other things had now become, but it was no different than before. My handwriting was still sloppy; I was still making lots of spelling errors; and I still had to count with my fingers for addition and subtraction problems.
During the second night of this "refresher" homework, I became so frustrated that I threw my pencil on the floor and screamed. Mommy and Daddy made me sit in the time out chair, and I started crying. I cried for a long time. When I finally calmed down long enough to talk, they asked why I was so upset.
"Because this was supposed to be easy!" I said, feeling like I was about to start crying again. "I thought that now that I had these new powers that all my schoolwork would be easy and I could just finish it quickly and get it over with. But it's still too hard!"
"It's not supposed to be easy," Mommy said. "You still have to work hard and practice to become good at things. Even with your new powers, there are still going to be things that are difficult to do. When you come across these things, all you can do is try your best. And even if you do something and it isn't perfect, or even if it's not good at all, the important part is whether or not you tried your best."
"But what if I fail?" I asked. "Failing is bad!"
"Not if you try your best," Daddy said. "And failures aren't always as bad as they seem. They can be opportunities. They can help you figure out what you need to work on and help you figure out what to do differently the next time you come across those same challenges. They can also help you figure out what you like and don't like, which is helpful in figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. As you get older, you will have to learn not to fear failure. You will certainly try to avoid it, and the most effective way to avoid it is to try your best at whatever you do—even if it's something you don't necessarily like to do, such as homework. But you can't be afraid of it, and you can't let it control you. If you truly try your best at everything you do—and I mean really, truly, honestly try—then failure won't find you very often. And when it does find you, it won't hurt so much because you'll know that you couldn't have possibly done anything more to succeed. That's all anyone can do, including the greatest super heroes."
I heard the blah blah blah's approaching in my mind, but I tried my best to listen so I could get out of the time out chair as soon as possible.
"Listen, bud," Daddy said, "You're also going to face some failures as a super hero. In fact, you're probably going to have all sorts of new problems. Being a super hero isn't easy. It's a huge responsibility. Even the best ones struggle sometimes. You're going to have to learn how to deal with these problems too."
"What kind of problems?" I asked.
"Well, the super heroes I've seen in the movies and in comic books aren't always the happiest people in the world. They all seem to have problems of some kind. Sometimes they feel lonely because they don't get to do all the things that regular people do. They can't just be themselves all the time because they have to keep secrets and wear disguises in order to protect themselves. It's not easy always having to hide who you truly are. You never feel free. You feel like you're in your own private prison. And people expect their heroes to be perfect all the time. You can save the day a million times, but if just one time you can't, people will start to turn on you. That level of responsibility can feel overwhelming."
"And super heroes also had to go to school when they were kids," Mommy said. "They had to learn how to write and spell and do math just like everyone else. Being a super hero does not excuse you from your regular responsibilities. You still have to be a normal fourth grader during the day. You can only be a super hero after school when you finish your homework."
"Harumph," I said.
The first day of fourth grade was a nightmare.
First of all, our teacher, Mrs. Crabcake, assigned me the seat closest to her desk in the front of the classroom. This wouldn't have been so bad considering that I usually wind up in the front near the teacher's desk, but Mrs. Crabcake had long been rumored to be a sea monster. A half-human/half-kraken, to be exact, who had grown up in the deepest, darkest part of the ocean and was now over a thousand years old and counting. I had never even heard of a kraken until I first heard about Mrs. Crabcake way back in kindergarten, but it is apparently a giant octopus-like creature that swallows ships whole. Mrs. Crabcake is only half-kraken, though, so I guess the school board thinks it is safe for her to be around kids and is the reason why she is not bigger than a ship. A few weeks earlier when we received the teacher assignment letter in the mail, I told Mommy and Daddy about Mrs. Crabcake being half-kraken, but they said that rumors were not often true and that I should only believe proven facts. Mommy is a lawyer, so she went on about how they would have to test her DNA to prove it but doing so without being accused of committing a serious crime would violate her Constitutional rights, yet none of that mattered because krakens were mythical creatures anyway. Daddy disagreed with that last part and said that he had heard stories passed down from his Scandinavian ancestors that his great great great great great great grandfather was once on a ship that was swallowed whole by a kraken but that he managed to escape when it let out a big belch. Mommy said that this story was just a ridiculous old sea yarn, but Daddy insisted that it was true. Then Mommy told him to prove it, and they went back and forth for a while longer and didn't even notice when I left the room to play video games.
Anyway, I know that I'm never supposed to judge people by their appearance, and I know that I should get to know someone first before deciding how I feel about them, but this was a challenge with Mrs. Crabcake. She was unlike any human being I had ever encountered. She was a full-figured woman with long frizzy hair that made her head look like it was covered with seaweed, and she had a face like a wicked witch in a bad mood. Her face actually didn't look that old, but the granny glasses she wore made her appear older. Her long red fingernails looked like crab claws, and a huge crab pendant hung from her pearl necklace. Her dress was covered with images of seashells and starfish. While her appearance was unusual, it wouldn't have been so bad if she didn't smell like low tide on a hot summer afternoon.
I was so distracted by my fear that this woman might really be a sea monster disguised as a fourth grade teacher that I wasn't paying attention while she was calling everyone's name for attendance. She had to say my name three times before I heard her. The other kids laughed when I finally emerged from my trance and said "here". I was so embarrassed that I felt like screaming, but I managed to stay calm until the feeling passed. Mommy and Daddy say that taking slow deep breaths helps you stay calm, but it's hard to remember that when you're in the middle of a potential meltdown.
Finally, a chorus of moans signaled that our hopes and dreams had been crushed when Mrs. Crabcake walked in through the open classroom door. But the moans quickly turned to gasps when we saw that she was not alone.
With her was a boy who must have been the biggest fourth grader in the world—if in fact he really was a fourth grader. His hair was messy like he hadn't bathed in weeks. His jeans were ripped, but not fashionably ripped like the high school kids—it looked more like he had been attacked by a badger. The sleeves had been torn off his unbuttoned flannel shirt, and underneath he wore a printed t-shirt featuring the skull of a bull's head with a nose ring hanging from its nostrils. The kid's own nostrils flared like a real bull, and my super hearing picked up some slight grunting under his breath. His eyes were bloodshot, and his eyebrows were furrowed like he was ready to strike. His fists were stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. His shoelaces were untied.
"This is our new student, Brian Bullini," Mrs. Crabcake announced. "He just transferred to us from East Plains. Everyone, say hello to Brian and make him feel welcome."
"Call me Bull," he grunted. His voice sounded almost as deep as Daddy's.
"In this classroom, you will be known as 'Brian'," Mrs. Crabcake said. A few of the other kids laughed nervously, but the room instantly fell back to stunned silence when Bull scowled at us.
By now I had already forgotten about asking Mrs. Crabcake if I could transfer into Mr. Cooldude's class. I could tell by the expressions of shock and horror around the room that we were all thinking the same thing. Everyone had heard the stories about East Plains kids—that they are actually alien zombies with three eyes and tails and webbed feet disguised as regular kids; that they eat bugs for breakfast, mud pies made of real mud for dessert, and use their glowing green snot as syrup on their pancakes; that their hair is actually poison vines that would paralyze you if you ever touched it; and that if you look at East Plains kids directly in their eyes, they go into super-psycho zombie mode and eat you.
This was the first time I had knowingly seen an East Plains kid up close. While this Brian Bullini wasn't exactly what I had imagined an East Plains kid would look like, my cyborg sensors started scanning him and a message appeared on my screen:
I didn't know that "a.k.a." meant "also known as" until I asked Daddy about it later, but I did know that I was a green meteor type and I also knew about the Shanghai SuperTech Corp. I realized that he must have been exposed to meteor rays like I had been, except his were red and mine were green. In the super hero world, green usually meant good and red usually meant bad.
But what really made me nervous was that he suddenly started staring directly at me as if his sensors detected that I was a cyborg as well. This meant that he now probably knew as much about me as I knew about him. I also knew that he might very well be my first arch enemy as a super hero.
Daddy was right. Super heroes do have extra stuff to worry about that other people don't.
When I looked up I saw something so unbelievable that I didn't know what to think. It was Bull wearing his own super hero costume, except his was a hodgepodge of mismatched items that made it difficult to tell whether he was trying to look like a super hero or a cyborg clown. Only the yellow dish towel cape and the big letter "B" with bull horns drawn sloppily on the front enabled him to pull off the super hero look. An old knit cap with eye holes cut out was pulled all the way down to the bottom of his nose. Through the eye hole on his right, his exposed cyborg eye glowed bright red and was a terribly frightening sight even though it looked exactly like mine. On his left hand he wore a glove from an old space ranger costume similar to the one I had worn on Halloween when I was in kindergarten. His right cyborg hand was uncovered and looked just like mine. His legs were covered with tight space ranger pajama pants that were several sizes too small and reached only to his knees, and his feet were covered with a dirty old pair of rubber rain boots.
"Halt in the name of justice, Underpants Boy," he said.
"My name is not Underpants Boy," I said, feeling the anger flaring up inside me again. I stood up and brushed the dirt and grass off my legs "My name is HyperKid."
Bull laughed out loud.
"Who are you supposed to be?" I asked.
"I am BullBorg," he said triumphantly.
I was tempted to ask if his Mommy had made that costume for him in the same mean way he had asked me the day before, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do. I actually felt kind of bad that his mommy obviously didn't make a really cool costume for him like mine had made for me.
"I just came to get my Hot Dog Guy back," I said. "I see him on the swing over there."
"Hot Dog Guy, you say? Why, he's my sidekick now!"
"But he's a good guy," I said. "And you're a villain!"
I was expecting the heated exchange to continue, but instead BullBorg just looked down at his boots and said nothing. Then I heard a noise that was very familiar to me but completely unexpected coming from him. It sounded like he was crying.
"Why are you crying?" I asked.
"I'm not crying!" BullBorg shouted, but clearly he was. "I'm a good guy! I'm not a villain!"
"But you took my toy!" I said. "Why would you take my toy if you're a good guy?"
"Because Hot Dog Guy is the perfect sidekick for a good guy hero like me!"
"Then why don't you get your own Hot Dog Guy?"
To this he did not answer but started crying again.
"I just want my toy back," I said, looking at Hot Dog Guy standing triumphantly on the seat of the swing.
"No!" BullBorg yelled. "You can't have him!" He then pointed his cyborg index finger at me and shot a laser beam that struck the "H" logo on my chest and sent me reeling backwards a few feet, but it wasn't powerful enough to knock me down. Before I realized what I was doing, I pointed my cyborg index finger back at him and shot a more powerful laser beam that struck him right on the "B". He reeled backwards a few feet and fell hard on his butt and then on his back.
For a long moment he didn't move. I became worried that he was seriously injured, but then he suddenly jumped to his feet and ran towards the gate on the far side of the ball fields. With my super hearing I heard him crying as he ran. I stood and watched as he passed through the gate and disappeared into the neighborhood.
I retrieved my Hot Dog Guy from the swing and looked at him. As much as I loved this toy, I wasn't as happy as I thought I would be to have it back.