After consuming an entire plate of radioactive squash at the John Cucumber Melon Camp, Eugene Spratt gained the proportional strength and agility of a butternut squash. After donning his costume and capturing notorious bank robber Farney Blarnsworthy red-handed, the Squash was born!
Eugene could not wait to go to school and show off his amazing new powers like producing vines from his hand and rolling on the bulbous bottom half of his body that replaced his legs. He could envision vanquishing bullies too quick to tease his horticultural hobbies and impressing the girls with his dashing feats and dazzling derring-do. He spent Sunday afternoon practicing his new powers and testing out heroic catchphrases such as, “Halt, scum!” and “Squash smash!” These admittedly needed some work.
Eugene’s grandpa Saul Spratt lived with him and his parents, and though Eugene loved him, his grandpa could sometimes test his last nerve. Saul was given to speeches that sounded profound but upon close inspection were nonsensical and contradictory. Saul shared Eugene’s passion for gardening, but had unusual and backward tips for planting, such as tulips should be planted bulb first, and placing bread crumbs and pig parts and mustard seeds in the ground next one another would result in a ham sandwich plant. So, it was unfortunate that Saul caught Eugene displaying his new squash powers. “Jumping Anaconda!” he exclaimed. “Eugene! How in the name of Ub Iwerks are you doing that?”
“I have super powers, Grandpa Saul! I am… The Squash!” And Eugene explained how he had come to acquire these powers and his heroic act of the previous day, and his plans for school Monday.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” Saul said. “You mustn’t use your powers to show off to your friends or to impress dames. Sit down, Eugene, while I impart wisdom your way.” Eugene rolled his eyes, but he did as he was told. “You see, when you become very powerful, you are also forced to be very responsible. Do you see the President flying everywhere just to get a tenderloin sandwich? Or the greatest tenderloin sandwich maker denying the world of his creation for a billion smackeroos? No! Because they have a responsibility to use their powers for good, and only when the necessity arises. Do you follow my lead here?” Eugene did, and he also craved a tenderloin. But he promised Grandpa Saul never to abuse his amazing abilities, and to use them whenever it would benefit mankind, like the tenderloin sandwich maker.
Across town, a young woman two grades ahead of Eugene was making a startling discovery of her own. Her name was Elsa, and her father was one of the scientists whose experiment had resulted in Eugene’s squash powers. Elsa didn’t know it, but she had been part of a control group since infancy. Matthias Harwood, her father, had discovered the secret language of the ladybug, and spoke to Elsa in this language, commingled with English, all of her life. It consisted primarily of whispery ssh noises, indistinguishable from the sound of the outdoors without a high-powered microphone. Elsa wasn’t even aware of the difference, and Matthias would carry on regular conversation, such as “Pass me the horseradish, please, and keep your elbows off sh ssh shsh sh.” Do you see where he switched into ladybug speak? Elsa did not. But she would.
The fateful day was that same Sunday, and Elsa was hurriedly preparing a class project on public speaking. She needed to record her voice delivering the weather forecast, and in her search for equipment, she came across her father’s high-powered microphone and headphones. Stepping outside to assess the weather conditions, she switched the microphone on and placed the headphones over her ears, so she could hear herself. What she heard instead were hundreds of ladybug voices, frantically crying for help. Their ssh noises were clearly translated into “Help us! Please, someone, help us!” Elsa scoured the yard and found that her father kept hordes of ladybugs trapped in clear plastic crates in their shed. “You can hear us!” one cried out. “Please, let us out! We coccinellidae were not meant to be encased in plastic.”
Elsa was stymied, but she unlatched the crate doors and threw them open. The ladybugs all rushed out to greet her, and to thank her. They swarmed around her, giving her ladybug kisses and swearing their loyalty. “Loyalty? But what can you do for me?” she asked.
“Anything you ask,” the one perched on the tip of her nose said. Elsa smiled. She could think of a thousand things to ask of her new subjects. A thousand things and more.
Monday morning came quicker than Eugene would have preferred, but as he ate his oatmeal and drank his coffee (everyone in the Spratt household drank coffee, even the cat) he felt a little better, and realizing he had a secret made him feel special. When he got to school and settled in for his math lessons, he was calm and satisfied. This was why he didn’t notice the screams right away.
Students and teachers alike were fleeing Mr. Tabey’s speech class, though on closer examination, they weren’t propelling themselves. Something was carrying them. Eugene used his enhanced squash vision to zero in on the culprits. He found that he didn’t have enhanced squash vision, so while the rest of the class hid under their desks, Eugene grabbed his magnifying glass and snuck out the door.
The first few ladybugs were disoriented by Eugene’s squash smell and stopped moving, causing a road block in the hallway. Eugene took this opportunity to inspect Genevieve Erwin, the poor sixth grader hovering in front of him. He was certainly familiar with ladybugs, trying desperately to keep the little pests away from his prized vegetables. What didn’t make sense was that they were attacking people, very unladybuglike. Then he heard Elsa, who had popped out of the classroom, making ssh noises into a microphone. The ladybugs nodded and proceeded out the door.
Eugene was stymied. Had that girl just issued a command to the ladybugs? And why was she now pointing at him? “You!” she yelled. “Get out of the hallway, or taste the wrath of Ladybug Lady!”
“Ladybug Lady? Isn’t that a bit redundant?” said Eugene. “Why not just Ladybug? Or Buglady?”
“Silence!” Elsa shouted, and then began making sh noises and a swarm of ladybugs surrounded Eugene. Without thinking, he unleashed a vine, wrapping it around the fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. The ladybugs stopped as he propelled himself upward, whispering to each other about how unexpected that had been. “What?” said Elsa. Then, “Get him!” The ladybugs didn’t respond, and Elsa realized she hadn’t spoken in their language. She rectified the situation and the ladybugs flew up toward Eugene.
But Eugene was too quick, and swung away from the oncoming insects. With his squash-like intellect, he deduced the noises Elsa made were the ladybug language, and he said, “Ah-ha!” aloud as he made this discovery. “Never fear, Mr. Tabey’s speech class, no force is too strong for The Squash! Hail and farewell!”
And with that, he threw himself at Elsa, his lower body a round squash shape which knocked her backward. He quickly grasped the microphone and began making the same noises into it. Of course, since he didn’t speak ladybug, it came out as gibberish, such as, “Elbow spinach sweet bear hall lad ho brick envelope pies your love oyster oyster farthest bluish credo tongue, no?” Ladybugs are notoriously subservient; they will do anything you tell them to, which is why Elsa could so easily convince them to take part in her evil scheme. However, this was the first time they had been commanded to do something they had no idea how to do. Disoriented, they dropped their captives and flew in dizzying patterns, until, exhausted, they fell to the ground. Sadly, many were subsequently stepped on.
Elsa tried grabbing the microphone back, but Eugene tied her up vinewise, and turned the microphone over to Principal Masengarb for safekeeping. At home, he recounted his adventure to Grandpa Saul, who said, “Good lad, Eugene. But remember; only use your powers when absolutely necessary. Like a flashlight or red pepper flakes.” Eugene agreed, and finished his plate of spaghetti.
Across town, however, Professor Matthias Harwood was plotting revenge. He was missing his microphone, his daughter had disobeyed him, and he had been thwarted by his accidental test subject. Things were looking bleak.
And Elsa had no spaghetti to speak of.
TO BE CONTINUED…?