Here's a story I'm writing for my students. The idea is that we read it in class and then they get to each write an ending for what promises to be volume one of this epic adventure. If you stumble upon this blog and care to, please feel free to add an ending of your own... Enjoy!
Souperman -Volume One
Kent Clarkson was late. He was so late, in fact, that it barely made any sense for him to bother getting dressed at all. Why not just take Monday off? He deserved it, didn’t he? The weekend had been long and stressful, what with all the preparations for the science fair and everything… This thought followed him lazily down the stairs to the kitchen, where a far more determined Mr. Clarkson stood waiting. As Kent wolfed down a few bites of old doughnut and swilled a cup of orange juice (which he immediately regretted, considering the doughnut) he shook his dreams of truancy away and opened himself to the day ahead.
The cranky old yellow school bus was always on time, much to Kent’s chagrin. It was obviously much older than his twelve earthly years could fathom, and probably even more deserving of a day off, yet it always managed to screech to a halt at the end of his driveway exactly at 7:03 AM Monday through Friday. Just how it managed to do this was a mystery to Kent, though he suspected it had something to do with the fact that his was the first stop, and his mother was the bus driver.
“C’mon son, hop on up here! Ole Bessie’s not gonna wait all day!”
“Yeah, ma, whatever… like Bessie cares about me…”
“Aw, Kent, why such a sour attitude? It’s a beautiful Monday morning, the birds are singing and the sun is shining bright! Let’s get you off to school!”
“Those aren’t birds ma, that’s just Bessie’s fan belt, and besides the weather report said that this afternoon would be mostly cloudy, with a good chance of rain.”
His mother sighed one of those “I give up” sighs and began to close the bus door behind her son. “Wait!” he yelled “I forgot my lunch on the table!”.
“Young man, you’ve made me late enough as it is with all of your gloomy talk of rain and squeaky fan belts. There’s no time to go get your lunch now. Here, take this to school.”
With that, she reached into her bag and pulled out a plastic wrapped, Styrofoam cup with the words “Instant Noodle Surprise – YUM!” written around the rim.
“Oh, instant noodle surprise. Thanks a lot ma” said Kent, stumbling his way to his usual back seat as the bus choked and spluttered off down Spring Street.
Upon arrival at Shoemaker Elementary school, Kent skipped the mine laden (that is, bully laden) playground and went straight to class. Troy and Susana were already waiting for him. They had their laptops open and were poised over the keypads, anticipating the start of today’s race. Kent pulled the Mars Racer Seven game cartridge out of his backpack and plugged it into the USB port of Susana’s Toshiba laptop. He may have forgotten half his notebooks, pens, pencils, socks and lunch at home, but this game was different. It would take a natural disaster to keep him from bringing it to school.
The bell rang all too quickly, just as Kent was finishing up his first turn. He’d only managed to run over seventeen aliens and hadn’t even had time to refuel his Mars rover with nuclear waste from the slime hole. The bell meant only one thing: PE. While Kent loved his science class, math, writing and reading, he always despised PE. It wasn’t that he hated sports. He loved ping pong, tennis, soccer and swimming, and excelled at all four. The reason he hated PE was named Jansen Dolores. Jansen was the biggest kid in sixth grade, and bore the nickname “bulldozer” with pride. He was silent through every period. He never raised his hand, or wrote so much as even a title in writing class, but when PE rolled around, he came alive. The PE teacher, Mr. Golinator loved Jansen and always made him team captain. This meant that Susana, Troy and Kent were always on the other team, and this naturally meant that they always left PE with cuts, bruises, rashes, muddy, ripped pants and on one occasion, half a missing finger. The other half of Troy’s pinky was never found, and many of the kids whispered that Jansen had swallowed it in a moment of point scoring glory.
Today was the first day of the week, so PE class was destined to be horrible. It was always bad the first day of the week, because Jansen was well rested from the weekend, and everyone’s clothes were clean and neatly sewed from the week before.
The usual teams were summarily chosen, and the beat down - uh I mean “game”, began. They were playing Rugby which is a violent sport even without the Jansen factor. In his world, rugby meant nothing short of all out war. Several of Jansen’s closest allies surrounded Kent right at the first whistle, and buried him in the mud. They even were so kind as to “mistakenly” throw the ball his way, just so they could tackle him.
By the end of recess, Kent was broken and patriotic (that is to say, he was red, white and blue – closer to purple) he limped back into the classroom and prepared himself for Science class, which he hoped would be about tooth repair. Ironically, they were studying the human body and the immune system in particular. Mr. Scurvy, the most boring and vitamin deficient teacher in the history of Shoemaker Elementary, shuffled in and immediately began droning on as if he were still in the middle of last Friday’s class.
“So guys, you can see that the platelets are the part of your blood that shows up to stop a cut from bleeding too much. When you get an injury, the platelets show up and act like a rugby team and block, block, block! They dry up and stop any other blood from flowing out of the wound.”
“Whoa” thought Kent, “imagine that… without platelets, I’d just continue to bleed and bleed when Jansen punched me! Thank you, platelets!”
His platelet gratitude carried Kent through the next hour’s lesson about red and white cells, blood flow and heart chambers. The lesson ended at 11:00 when the students eagerly tore into their lunches like a pack of Serengeti lions, barely giving Mr. Scurvy time to utter the word “lunchtime”.
Susana had her usual ham sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, and Troy had leftover pizza from Franklin’s Pizza House, which was the best pizza place in Soupton. Kent pulled out the cup of instant Noodle Surprise his mother had given him and walked slowly over to the microwave, careful to allow Jansen plenty of time to heat up his mystery meat and shapeless potatoes. Jansen’s lunch always seemed to look as beat up as his victims. As you can imagine, Jansen was always the first to heat up his food, even if he was last to arrive at the microwave line. Any student that was dumb enough to get in his way would wind up eating their lunch through their nose…
Kent was last in line, and only just got his soup into the oven when the recess bell rang. No matter, he always spent recess in the classroom with Susana and Troy playing Mars racer. None of the teachers ever seemed to notice or care that they stayed inside. While the Styrofoam cup spun and the microwave contentedly whirred in the background, Kent delved into the game headfirst.
Mars Racer Seven was so much more than a racing game. There were seven worlds, each one offering more than ten racetracks. The tracks were filled with obstacles like neutron bombs, gas traps and aliens that sprayed a mix of acid and metal eating nanobots at your rover. If they hit you, you had 30 seconds to sand blast your car before it literally melted around you and exposed you to Mars’s harsh atmosphere. If that happened, you’d shrivel up and implode in a pixilated messy pile of blood and guts. The good news was that your racer was equipped with lasers and cluster bombs that could vaporize any alien that tried to stop you. You could also run them over, which was Kent’s favorite thing to do. He didn’t care about winning the race, he just wanted to picture Jansen’s face attached to each alien attacker and splatter him again and again with his low rider rover.
Possibly because of the extremity of his injuries that particular day that Kent managed to squash and combust sixty-two Jansen aliens and get a new high score. Susana and Troy were very impressed (and just a little scared). It was also the game’s fault that Kent forgot completely about the Instant Noodle Surprise and let it heat in the microwave for over ten minutes.
“Oh crap, my lunch!” Kent screamed as he finally died (in the game). He ran over to the microwave and found the Styrofoam cup partly melted and deformed around the edge, but miraculously still holding all the Noodle surprise inside. The noodle surprise was not at all what he’d expected (surprise!) The noodles were bright orange and instead of floating in soup, they appeared to be floating in some sort of jell-o like substance.
“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Hey guys, come check this out!” Kent called. Susana and Troy came running and all three oohed and aaaahed at the gelatinous mess that Kent was about to call lunch.
“I wouldn’t eat that if I were you” Susana warned, wrinkling up her nose.
“Oh I would!” said Troy enthusiastically. Troy was the kind of kid that would eat almost anything. He had once even scooped fallen peanut butter off the playground asphalt with his half finger and eagerly sucked it off, declaring it warmed to perfection.
“Well, it smells okay” said Kent cautiously. “And besides, I’m really hungry. I wish I’d remembered the lunch my dad made for me – Spaghetti and meat balls, my favorite. Anyway, I’m just going to eat it. It can’t make me sick, it’s been cooking for long enough to kill any microbes.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me” said Susana, “that stuff looks like a nuclear waste dump site”
“When was the last time you saw a nuclear waste dump site, Sue? Don’t worry so much. I’m sure it’s fine, now… Eat it, Eat IT, EAT IT!” chanted Troy.
Kent sunk his spoon into the orange goo and shoved a mouthful that could have fed a precocious two year old for a week into his mouth. The effect was immediate.
If you’ve ever seen a chicken step on a bent up nail while being boiled alive and dancing some sort of demented version of a cumbia (which I highly doubt) then you’d have some idea of what Kent Clarkson looked like at the moment of his transformation. If you’ve never seen this, imagine a chicken stepping on a bent up nail. Then imagine the facial expression that same chicken would have while being boiled alive. Now add in the twisted, hopping strangely coordinated bodily movements of a demented cumbia and you’ve got it!
When the smoke cleared and the dropped Styrofoam cup’s contents had finished bonding with the poor sixth grader’s DNA, he was exactly 43,2 centimeters taller. His shoulders were 15 cm broader, his hair was bright orange, and now more closely resembled curly Chinese ramen noodles. It bounced and cascaded down his back, tickling the backs of his knees. Kent’s skin had changed too. It now glowed with an odd artificial tan color and his movements seemed more fluid, as if his muscles and bones, though still giving him form, were more flexible, almost, as some people would later observe, soupy.
“Hey, what the heck?” he said out loud. These were not necessarily the words one would expect of a newly reborn super hero, much less one whose destiny was to save the world. Nevertheless, these might very well be the words you’d speak first if your lunch instantly turned your insides into a noodle surprise.
“I… what?” muttered Troy, equally at a loss for profound words.
“I knew there was something weird about that soup!” said Susana. “Why didn’t you listen to me?”
“Sorry, Sue. I was hungry. Actually, this doesn’t feel so bad. I feel somehow stronger and more energetic than before…”
“Aaaaaah! What is that thing?” the voice startled them all and they turned to see three of their classmates coming in from recess, sweaty and shocked. The voice belonged to Starling Jones, the class gossip.
“Not to worry, Starling! It is just me, Kent. I’m just…. Well, it looks like I’m going through puberty or something.”
“Aaaaaaaah! That’s what puberty is like? Oh nooooooo! I KNEW IT! My mom is such a liar!” With that, Starling turned and ran down the hall to the girl’s room where she hid until the end of school.
“Kent, that’s not puberty, man. I read about it in a book called Adolescent Changes and You. What’s happening to you is scientifically impossible. No homo sapiens can endure such a rapid change in physical structure and pigmentation and survive.” This came from Eugene Stafale, the class science nerd. He’d won the state science fair five years in a row, and had come in second in kindergarten. If anyone should know about these things, it would be him. If anyone was to beat Kent in the science fair, it would be him as well.
“Well, Eugene, here I am, alive and changed. Do you have any idea-” but just as Kent was about to explain what had transpired, he was interrupted rudely.
“Well, well, well… Kent Crapson. What have you stepped in?” This voice, was unmistakably Jansen’s”.
“Oh no! This can’t be happening. I can’t deal with HIM right now” said Kent, exasperated. Unfortunately for our noodly hero, Jansen was exactly what he had to deal with right then. Running wasn’t an option, as Jansen was blocking the only doorway. Jumping out the window wasn’t viable either, since the school board had chosen to spend their budget surplus from the year before on reinforced steel window bars that at once saved the school from robbery gave it that prison touch that was all the rage in education those days. Not even Mr. Scurvy could help him, considering that he was reliably eight minutes late returning from his lunch of boiled eggs and salted pork every day. Jansen knew all about this window of opportunity and regularly took full advantage. No recess monitors, no teacher… it was a perfect storm.
“Crapson! What’s happened to your hair and skin? You look like you plugged yourself into a toaster and a pasta farm at the same time”
“Pasta isn’t from a farm. It’s made in facto”- was all Eugene got out before an oil stained potato chip bag found its way from the garbage can into his throat.
“Well, that takes care of the nerd. He needed more cholesterol in his diet anyway” laughed Jansen. Kent would have pointed out that cholesterol comes only from animal products, and that the real threat from potato chips was saturated fat and sodium, but he didn’t want to give Jansen any further reason to relieve him of his fingers.
“So, anyway” continued Jansen, obviously on a roll now, “who fried you in lo mein? Actually, as ugly as you look right now, I think it’s an improvement over how you looked before…”
“Oh, Thanks Jansen, can we just go sit down now? Mr. Scurvy will be back any second”
“Not so fast. Scurvy’s still sucking eggs in the lounge and I’m not done with you yet. I said you’re less ugly than you were, but I still don’t like you. C’mere so I can rearrange that disgusting hair you’ve got.”
Jansen made the first move. For a boy the size of a piece of construction equipment, he was surprisingly agile. In a moment, Troy and Susana, who’d feebly tried to stand in the way, were split and Jansen’s left hand closed around Kent’s new curly locks. However, even as the right hand rose to deliver whatever punishment it had in store, the left received the shock of its over confident life.
In the blink of an eye, Kent’s hair wrapped itself around the offending appendage and squeezed. To the astonished crowd, the astonished assailant (not to mention the astonished owner of the hair) it looked as though a thousand tiny orange boa constrictors were closing in on a single five fingered rat. Bones snapped like dry ramen noodles and Jansen’s right hand forgot all about the left. A look of sheer terror came over his face and he screamed a scream that would have sent any teacher running to see what was happening. Unfortunately, Mr. Scurvy was enjoying his lunch far too much to be bothered by something as trivial as student mutation and murder.
Meanwhile, inside Kent’s brain, an amazing thing was happening. Kent was there, watching what his hair did, as well as what his body did next, but he controlled none of it. It was as though he was a spectator, cheering in the stands and his body was acting on its own, driven by the yummy surprise magic of instant noodles.
He watched, half horrified, half entertained, as his hair released Jansen’s broken, twisted hand and slackened. Without thinking, he reached out and took the boy’s face between his fingers. His hand began to stretch and flow amorphously over the bully’s features until it swallowed his whole head and with a single twisting motion, spun Jansen’s whole body, now limp as a rag doll, pushing it out the door into the hallway. Moving Jansen, who must have weighed over 75 kilos was as effortless for Kent as moving a feather in a hurricane. Before Kent could tell it otherwise, his hand had sent Jansen spinning across the hall straight into the steel lockers on the other side. He bounced off them, did a strange sort of ballet pirouette and collapsed on the tiled floor inert right in front of an astonished Kindergarten through fifth grade crowd who’d poured out of their classrooms upon hearing the ruckus.
Within seconds teachers screamed, kids cheered and clapped, someone pulled the fire alarm, and an out of breath Mr. Scurvy quietly slunk back to the lounge to plan his early retirement. Ever the quick thinker, Susana sidled up to Kent, put a coat over his huge shoulders, and ushered him outside. No teacher could find the words or the classroom management strategy to stop them. Their exit was hardly subtle, made even less so by the cheers of hundreds of bullied munchkins, not to mention Troy, who was hopping around like a CEC student on a sugar high, screaming “The alien is dead! The Alien is dead!”
Once outside, the trio hailed a taxi and made their getaway to the closest thing to a lair this intrepid hero had – the tree house they’d build on Troy’s family farm. It wasn’t hidden behind any waterfalls, or built into a space craft, but they were the only ones that new where it was, and that was good enough.
“Man! That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” beamed Troy once they were all seated inside.
“That was the… that was the… what was that exactly?” whispered Susana, who always whispered when speaking of something secretive, regardless of who was or wasn’t there to hear.
“I’m not sure exactly, but I think we can all agree that either the soup, the microwave, or the combination of the two did something strange to me.”
“King obvious does it again!” Troy giggled, “The question is what exactly did it do to you?”
“Well, from the way I exacted a much deserved albeit predictable revenge on Jansen, I’d say it greatly augmented my strength and flexibility. And did you see what my hair did?”
“See? The whole school saw you toss him around like a basketball, turn your hand into goo and your hair break his arm! You are a genuine super hero, Kent! You’re just like that… oh what’s his name? That guy from another planet that turns into the strong guy with the S on his chest… I can never remember.”
“What are you talking about, Sue?” Troy deadpanned, stifling a knowing giggle and winking at Kent, who read far more comics than Susana even knew existed.
“Anyway,” continued Kent, “what do I do now? I can’t go back to school, they might arrest me or suspend me or something. Oh my gosh! What if I killed Jansen? Maybe I’m wanted for murder right now…”
“Calm down. You didn’t kill him. He was still breathing and even crying a bit when we left. Besides, he started the fight. He can’t do anything to you, and school policy doesn’t suspend students for acting in self defense.” Susana would know. She’d read the manual as well as about a thousand of her mother’s law books. Her mom was a judge.
“Well, the first thing we gotta do is see how powerful you really are!” said Troy. “Let’s see what that hair can do!” In a flash, he picked up the rock that served as a doorstop and flung it right at Kent’s face. The hair reacted instantly, catching the stone and flinging it back at Troy. It would have gone right through him too if Kent’s hand hadn’t reached out to stop it.
“Okay that was a stupid test” Troy panted, glad that Kent’s instincts could separate a true threat from a test. “I won’t be doing that again.”
“So, your reflexes are fast, you’re really strong, your hair acts like tentacles and you can shape shift. This is great! What about flying?” asked Susana, who was getting more and more excited.
“I really don’t want to find that one out.” said Kent. “Every superhero that tries to fly and can’t becomes another dead star in the Marvel universe. It’s like the Darwinian hero filter.”
“Well, what if you try jumping out of the tree house?” encouraged Troy, who was being pushed by a potent mix of excitement and curiosity. “We’re not that high, and the worst that will happen is a twisted ankle.”
“Well, I’ll give it a try” said Kent. So saying, he stood up, walked over to the door, and with a confidence he’d never before known, threw himself out.
As it turned out, he couldn’t fly. He fell. Fast. But, dear reader, he didn’t twist an ankle either. He didn’t break any bones, or even suffer a bruise or cut. As Troy and Susana ran over to see what happened next, Kent reappeared at the door smiling in mid-air before dropping a second time. When he hit the ground, he simple bounced as though made of rubber, and landed smoothly back inside the tree house.
“Wow! You’re like… rubber man or something.” Said Troy.
“Rubber man… that’s a terrible name. But you do need a name, Kent – Uh I mean a super hero name.”
“We know what you mean, and you’re right.” Said Kent, who was just starting to realize that his life was at that very moment changing forever.
“How about Flubber Boy?” suggested Troy
“Nah, too Robin Williams” answered Susana, wrinkling her nose as she remembered Death to Smoochy.
“What about Bouncy Incredible Guy with Hair And Muscles?”
“Troy, heroes with names that long always end up as acronyms, and in that case, mine would be BIG HAM.” Said Kent shaking his head.
“What’s wrong with big ham? I like it”
“I wish I could remember the name of that guy with the S on his chest”
“Oh Sue. Don’t tell me you can’t remember Superman!”
“Hey, that’s pretty good! Souperman” said Kent, suddenly pensive and looking like he was expecting a slow fade out. No fade out came, only an awkward silence.
“So… are you gonna, like, fight crime and stuff?” Asked Susana, breaking the moment.
“Uh, I guess so. Yeah, that sounds like fun” said Kent, not at all sure if it sounded like fun.
“I sure hope you’re bullet proof, or at least that you hair can deflect them.” Troy added.
“Me too! That would really help. But how do I find crimes? I can’t just fly out and look for them.”
“Batman listens to the police radio” said Troy, using his most know-it-all voice.
“So does my mom. She always wants to know what will be hitting her desk in a year or two… I’ll go get her scanner.” Replied Susana even more matter-of-factly.
Within minutes, Susana was back (she lived two houses down from the farm) carrying an official police scanner. They turned it on and immediately heard what was to become Kent’s first official mission as Vermont’s finest super hero since Patrick Leahy.