The Picking Order
Being a kid with no superpower in a town where everyone has a superpower can make you feel bad enough all by itself. I guess gym class was invented to rip away any remaining shred of dignity. At least that's how I felt on Friday afternoon as Coach Inflato lined us up for his twice-weekly ritual of humiliation.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm no good at sports. In a fair game I can hold my own pretty well. The problem is, where do you find a fair game when everybody else has some sort of power? The truth is that a lot of the kids in my class have pretty useless powers. Still, guess who almost always gets picked last when it comes time to choose teams?
I prepared myself for the worst as the coach bunched us together in one corner of the school gymnasium. It was a typical basketball court sort of setup, with a stage at one end that was used for school plays and presentations.
I would tell you that Coach Inflato is your typical muscle-bound jock, but that would only give you part of the picture. In fact, his muscles are so enormous he looks like he would burst, but usually the only thing to explode is his temper.
"All right, kids," he hollered as he fished a handful of uninflated soccer balls from a canvas bag. "Today you're gonna keep yourselves out of my hair by playing dodgeball."
"But—but—" I started to sputter. Dodgeball had been eliminated from grade school gym classes years ago because the already violent game only got worse when kids with superpowers were added to the mix.
"No buts," Coach Inflato said. "Dodgeball it is."
I groaned as I saw Cannonball and the Quake grinning. They knew that this gave them free rein to pummel other kids. To make matters worse, Coach Inflato's normal routine was to get a game going and then disappear until the end of class. With no adult supervision, things always got out of hand.
"Today's team captains will be—" The coach paused for a moment as he brought one of the deflated balls to his lips and then in one quick burst filled it to capacity with air. "Cannonball . . . and—"
"Chooth me! Chooth me!" I heard Melonhead, the most annoying kid in my class, shout as he splattered seeds against the back of my neck.
What a relief! With my buddy as one of the captains, I wouldn't be in any danger of being picked last.
"Now choose your teams," Coach Inflato instructed. "Stench, you go first."
To no one's surprise, Stench's first choice was our fellow Junior Leaguer, Tadpole. It was a smart choice. If there's anything Tadpole hated, it was losing.
Cannonball's first choice, however, was a complete surprise.
"I choose Sparkplug," he said, a confident smirk on his face.
An agitated murmur spread through my classmates as Cannonball's best friend, Lobster Boy, spoke up. "But what about me?" Lobster Boy's claws clenched and unclenched as a shocked look of betrayal spread across his face.
But the selection process went on. For the next round the captains had to choose a girl.
"I'll take Plasma Girl," Stench said immediately.
Another member of our team and another excellent choice.
"Transparent Girl," Cannonball countered.
"Halogen Boy," Stench responded.
While it would have been nice to be the next person selected, I had to admit that it made more sense to choose Hal. Stench knew that there would be no danger of me being picked by Cannonball, so why not first choose the remaining member of the Junior Leaguers who had a power? I knew that he would pick me next time.
"Foggybottom," Cannonball said next.
A hushed silence fell over everyone. None of us wanted to look over at Lobster Boy, but we could all sense his dismay.
Foggybottom was sort of a mysterious kid who never really spoke much. He had the ability to create a cloud of fog around himself. I'm not certain how he produced it, but based on his name I had a pretty good guess.
As the choosing continued, with Stench taking Limber Lass and Cannonball picking the Quake, it suddenly became clear to me what Cannonball's strategy was. His choices all had powers that gave them an enormous advantage in dodgeball. Sparkplug could generate a magnetic force field to protect himself. Transparent Girl could make herself practically invisible. Foggybottom could disappear into a cloud of fog. The Quake could knock anyone off balance who tried to aim a ball at her. And then I realized why Cannonball was not going to choose Lobster Boy.
I was eager for Tadpole and Stench to choose me so I could warn them about Cannonball's strategy. Unfortunately, Stench's choice was not what I predicted.
"I'll take Lobster Boy," he said cockily, as if he had managed to pull one over on Cannonball.
I could tell by the grin on Cannonball's face that Stench and Tadpole had walked right into his trap.
And here I was, still unpicked. Then I noticed that Cannonball's gaze had stopped on me. I could feel his beady eyes boring into me, and I suddenly got the sense that he was going to choose me. I was so horrified that I think I even stopped breathing for a second. Looking straight at me, he made his next choice.
"I'll take the Spore."
My breath rushed back out with relief. A second later, I also realized I was incredibly insulted that he hadn't considered me worthy of being picked. I know that sounds contradictory, but I never claimed to be Logical Boy. As I stood there and fumed, I barely heard Stench make his next choice. But after Cannonball picked the Banshee, I was up again.
"Thelect me, Thtenth," Melonhead began slobbering. "I'm an athet in any thituathion."Despite Melonhead's self-promotion, Stench didn't hesitate this time.
Excerpted from The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, Book 2: The Return of Meteor Boy? by William Boniface Copyright © 2007 by William Boniface. Excerpted by permission.
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