Authors: Matthew Cody
Also by Matthew Cody
The Dead Gentleman
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Matthew Cody
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Geoffrey Lorenzen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Super / Matthew Cody — 1st ed.
Summary: In this sequel to POWERLESS, the superpowered kids of Noble’s Green are once again threatened by an unknown force that may be trying to steal their powers.
[1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Superheroes—Fiction. 3. Supervillains—Fiction.
4. Pennsylvania—Fiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Jack and Stan,
who filled my childhood
with dreams of flying.
And for Alisha and Willem,
My wife, Alisha, and my son, Willem, get a special place in the dedication, but they’ve put up with enough to earn an extra thank-you here as well. An extra-big thanks also to my editor, Michele Burke.
was the first book that we could really roll up our sleeves and work on together, from start to finish, and the experience was a joy. Thanks to my friend and agent, Kate Schafer Testerman, who continues to guide me through the wilds of publishing, and tells me to take a breath every now and then. She’s right, it helps.
And lastly to all the great teachers, parents, librarians, and young readers I’ve met over the last few years who’ve asked for a sequel to
—I told you it was coming!
The night terrors had started a year ago. The doctors said he’d grow out of it, that it was hormonal and normal and nothing to be alarmed about. This is what they told his parents. The doctors never really talked to Michael.
. The name alone was enough to cause nightmares. But these weren’t nightmares. Nightmares were bad, but Michael had never had a nightmare that left him sweaty and shivering at the same time. He’d never had a nightmare that made him scream so loud that his parents had to call 911. Nightmares were for children. They were the stuff of spooky closets and monsters under the bed. Michael’s dreams were haunted by something far, far worse.
The problem was, he couldn’t remember what. He’d awake in a panic and for a few seconds he would know—he could see it so clearly, it might as well have still been in the room with him. But try as he might, he couldn’t hold on to
it. It vanished. The fear was the only thing that stayed behind. He could feel it in his sweat-soaked sheets, he tasted it in his mouth, which had gone dry from the screaming. But he couldn’t give it a name.
In the sleepless, dead hours of the night, he was thankful that his mom and dad had stopped barging into his room every time it happened. The terrors were bad enough without Michael having to feel guilty about waking the entire house. Of course, they were probably awake anyway—no one could sleep through that kind of screaming—but the doctors had advised them to stop drawing attention to the problem. The doctors couldn’t make the terrors go away, but they could lessen the embarrassment a little, at least.
Tonight, as on so many nights, Michael found himself sitting upright in bed trying to quiet the sound of his own wildly thumping heart. This time he’d awoken pressed up against the headboard as if he could climb it to safety. It was always something like that. Sometimes he woke up on the floor, sometimes he’d made it as far as the bedroom door, but he always seemed to be trying to get away from the outside. Away from the windows. The source of his fear lay beyond the walls of his house.
The doctors made a point of correcting him when he said things like that. They reminded him that the source of his terror was his own subconscious, an unfortunate combination of teenage anxiety and a flood of hormones. The doors and windows were just objects that his subconscious
had fixated on. If only the doctors would explain that to his subconscious.
It didn’t happen every night, but when it did, Michael would sit awake in the dark, alone, until dawn. He actually felt safer with the lights off. Flip on a light in a dark room at night, and the window becomes a two-way mirror. You can’t see out, but anyone, or anything, can see in.
And it was an especially clear night tonight. The moon hung, a half circle, above the branches of the oak outside his bedroom. It was an old tree, old enough to reach up three stories to his window. When he was younger, he used to fantasize about leaping out and climbing the tree to freedom. He’d loved the oak, the open sky beyond, even the dark peak of Mount Noble looming in the distance. For him as a kid, the window had been a part of his recurring dream of flight, and in that nighttime fantasy, he leapt from the tree and kept going straight up into the sky. Even today he could almost feel the tickle of the leaves against his legs as he skimmed the treetops. But the window held no such fascination now. He stared at the branches and shivered. He always stood off to one side, out of sight. It wouldn’t do to stand in full view of the yard beyond. Not at night. Not ever at night.
His room was stifling, and the humid air clung to his skin like a wet sweater. Despite Pennsylvania’s midsummer swelter, Michael always slept with the window shut. His parents had agreed to run the air conditioner for him, but it was a
weak old contraption that never managed to cool the upstairs rooms. He longed to throw open the window and let the mountain breeze in. He wanted to smell something other than his own sour sweat.
What was he afraid of? What did he think was out there?
Asking that question was like chasing a name on the tip of his tongue. But he was closing in on it. Just a little farther …
His hands pressed flat against the windowpane without his say-so. It felt good, this sort of numb distance that he was suddenly experiencing. So much better than the cord of fear that had twisted in his gut for so long.
With just a little effort, he clicked the locks open. First one, then the other. A wind blew through the oak’s branches outside, their tips brushing the window. It had the unnerving effect of sounding like someone tapping on the pane. The fear started to creep back into his stomach. Breathing deep, Michael leaned his forehead against the cool glass and watched as his breath fogged it up. What was he afraid of? He wasn’t asleep anymore. The terror, whatever it was, couldn’t hurt him now.
The wooden tracks squealed a bit in protest as Michael slid the window open. Mountain air and the musty-dirt smell of cut grass and green leaves washed over him at once. The air tasted so very good, and the night breeze cooled his feverish skin. Smiling, he leaned out the window and tested the nearest tree limb, tracing lines in the bark. The branch was sturdy and surprisingly smooth in places where it felt
like it’d actually been rubbed flat, almost polished with use. Here a handhold, there a foothold. For the first time, Michael really examined the windowsill. Even in the dim moonlight he could see the scuff marks where the painted wood had been rubbed thin. Someone had climbed out of this window and into this tree before. And they’d done it many times.
Carefully, Michael put one foot on the windowsill, in the exact spot where the paint was nearly worn bare. His long arms braced against either side for support and balance as he pulled himself up into the open window. It was a dizzying height, a full three-story drop to the yard below, but Michael felt surprisingly sure. He wasn’t scared of heights per se, but he also wasn’t normally adventurous enough to go tree climbing in the dark. And yet his hands knew where to hold on. His other foot had already found a place on the branch where he could pivot away from the window, secure in the knowledge that this was the right one. No, not knowledge. Michael still had no memory of ever actually climbing this tree, but it was like his
knew how. His muscles remembered what his mind had forgotten.
But how do you remember something you’ve never done?
Hand over hand he climbed while his feet found other branches that he just knew would support his weight. There were plenty of weak limbs this near the top, but he easily avoided those. Only minutes ago he’d been lying in his bed
paralyzed with fear, and now here he was doing daredevil feats in the dark. Although he was sure-footed here up top, the way down was still something of a mystery to him. The leaves were thicker just below; the branches there felt foreign. He had no sense of the path down. So little moonlight made it through the leaves that the space below him was nearly pitch-black. It would be hard to see where he was stepping down there.
That was an adventure for another day. Perhaps tomorrow, when there was sunlight to see by. For now he’d content himself with sitting at the top of his tree and watching the clouds drift in front of the moon. It was as peaceful as he’d felt in months, just listening to the creaking of branches bending with the breeze, the crickets chirping somewhere nearby. In the daytime such sounds were always interrupted by the gunning of a car engine or the buzz of a neighbor’s lawn mower. It was only at this hour of the night in Noble’s Green that the human sounds disappeared and you could really listen to the subtle sounds of nature, of the mountain itself.
Which was why the sudden rustle beneath him was so alarming. It was not the sound of windblown leaves. This sounded more like something
among the branches, moving with a purpose. But it sounded too large to be a squirrel or bird, and yet it didn’t have the weight of a human being stumbling through the foliage. This was a sneakier sound. Almost like slithering. Like fabric being pulled through the leaves. Up the leaves. Climbing the tree.