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The Black Belt

It had been several days and there were plenty of signs of the mad doctor—if you believed every paranoid kook that came up to you. Mrs. Oreal claimed to have seen him in the arts-and-crafts section of the Poolington Shopping Center. Mr. Ang claimed to have seen him breaking into his garden shed late the other night. And some youngsters claimed they saw him haunting the graveyard!

Everyone had some pretty wild stories about their encounter with the nefarious Dr. Red. But they were nothing compared to the rumors about Superkid's epic battle with the evil medic: Superkid defeating an army of the madman's mutant monsters - Superkid battling the madman who was inside a giant mecha - Superkid defeating the madman in a game of chess…

Like I said, wild stuff. Wild enough for Mrs. Purn to increase her already extreme measures. Policemen now regularly patrolled her block and she kept Aaron under lock and key. Poor Aaron could only guess at the reasons.

Darrin and Derrick couldn't clue him in, seeing as how he wasn't allowed to talk to either of them.

"Poor Aaron," Darrin said sympathetically. "Being alone and constantly watched by his mom."

"And she's probably a mean teacher too," Derrick added. Aaron was now home-schooled.

Darrin hung his head and said in a miserable tone, "It's our fault, you know."

Derrick protested, "How is it our fault?"

"If we had been better friends - if we hadn't teased him so much, he probably wouldn't have snapped. He probably wouldn't have a split personality."

Derrick threw up his hands. "How were we supposed to know that would happen? We were just messing with him!"

Darrin just shook his head.

But were they truly to blame? Was it really their teasing that shaped Aaron into Superkid? Could they really have prevented the crazy things that had happened to their town: the giant spider's rampage and the mad doctor's attack? Could they really be responsible for turning a peaceful, boring, little town into a battleground for the greatest clashes of good and evil? It didn't matter. Whatever the case, the excitement wasn't going to let up anytime soon. For you see, there was someone on the way who was going to add to the insanity.

Her name was Jennifer Ambers.

She didn't realize that she was on her way to creating more chaos in the punch-drunk town. In fact, before she had set out for Poolington she had browsed online maps, looking for a quiet, little town to settle down in. Poolington had sounded cozy to her so she had packed her stuff into a duffel bag, gotten into the car, and started on her way. Nobody had told her the town had recently become a target for villains, monsters and mayhem.

Now while she's blissfully driving toward the maelstrom of a town, I'll describe her to you.

She was a petite woman in her late twenties with blue eyes and shoulder-length blond hair. I'd advise you to hold off the blond jokes though. Sure she sounds plenty innocent but she was also a karate master and teacher.

Now I can hear some of you getting interested in her, but chances were she wouldn't be interested in you—especially if you're a guy.

That's right. She didn't like men. Actually, that's a polite way to put it. Kids, cover your ears.


She considered them to be cocky, arrogant, immature idiots who did stupid things to show off. Of course, if she had seen me performing that awesome bike jump, she would have changed her opinion instantly, but ah well.

But she liked kids—particularly little girls. She would burst with pride when her female pupils demonstrated a successful shoulder throw on some admirer of hers who came to flirt. But I suppose her attitude was understandable, considering what her childhood was like. But we won't go into that now. The important thing is that she knows karate and will become a villain.

She arrived in Poolington. As she made her way through the streets, she thought, "What a charming, little town." She mistook the repairs being made on many of the buildings to be new homes going up. She parked in front of the Poolington Business Building and entered.

She approached a man who was reclining in a chair with his feet on the desk and reading a book. When she reached the desk, he glanced at her and then immediately sat up.

"I was wondering if I could set up a karate class here," she told the man as evenly as she could. Just because she didn't like men didn't mean she wouldn't try to be at least civil.

"Any particular place you had in mind?" the man responded, trying to look cool by casually flexing his arm.

Her eyes narrowed but she managed to keep her voice even. "What buildings are available?"

"Mmmmm… let's see…" He rummaged through his desk, keeping her pretty figure in his sightline. She never tried to flatter her figure - today she was wearing faded jeans and a button shirt over a white blouse. Yet that didn't prevent men from looking her over—another trait in men she found annoying.

He was concentrated on trying to watch her discreetly and nearly missed the map he was looking for. Hoping she hadn't noticed, he pulled it out and set it on the desk with great style… or so he thought. She could tell he was trying to impress her and she was, frankly, the opposite.

"Let's see…" He slid his finger around the map. "This building might be good for your classes. Uh, what kind are they?"


"Ahhh," the man leaned back with a sly smile. "I guess you would be… a black belt?"

"Eighth degree," she added a little threateningly.

The man didn't take the hint. "You know," he said, leaning on his elbow and giving her a sideways glance, "I practice a little martial artistry myself."

"Interesting," she muttered.

"I don't mean to brag, but I'm pretty mean with a nun-chuck." He suddenly whipped around imaginary nun-chucks and screamed nonsense, finishing with one hand over his shoulder and the palm of his other hand facing the karate woman.

"I'll bet you are."

"If you want, we could have a sparring session later. Give each other a few pointers."

"I would certainly love that."

He grinned goofily at her. She tapped her fingers against the desktop impatiently.

"Oh right." The man snapped out of his enchantment and tapped the building on the map. "Yeah, this might be a good place to hold your classes. Just allow me to get you the forms so that we can lease it to you…"

He was interrupted by screaming outside.

"What the…" She turned around and saw people running past the doors and screaming. "What's going on?"

"Must be another monster," the man answered suavely as he ducked under his desk.

She blinked in disbelief and muttered, "Another… monster?" She ran outside and turned toward the source of the people's fear.

"I'm cold-blooded!" the monster declared as it skittered through the streets. "And I'll have you all for dinner!" It laughed, which sounded like an old geezer wheezing.

"A giant lizard… that talks?" she wondered to herself. "Where did it come from?"

That giant lizard swung its head, yelling, "Boo!" at terrified citizens and wheezing amusedly to itself. Then it spotted Jennifer, noticing that unlike the rest of the citizens she wasn't running away. So it skittered to her and lowered its bulbous eyes to her.

"Ello there, ma'am," it chuckled. "I'm a cold-blooded monster and I'm going to eat you."

"Is that so?" she responded coolly. "You're really that cold-blooded?"

The giant lizard rolled its eyes awkwardly. "Well, it's more of a joke, see. I'm a reptile, which is classified as cold-blooded."

"Oh, now I get it." She wasn't smiling though. "You're a lizard so you're cold-blooded, but you also eat people, which is a cold-blooded thing to do."

The lizard beamed. "Yeah, exactly!"

"I hope you can fight better than you can joke!" yelled a voice.

The lizard rolled its eyes to locate the source of the voice. And it located the source all right. The source, in fact, threw itself right into the reptile's eye!

"Aaaack!" the colossal reptile scrambled backwards and then shook its head furiously, flicking its tongue over its eye, trying to deliver relief.

Jennifer watched the action dumbfounded. She didn't believe what she had just seen! You know it couldn't have been the giant, talking lizard that fazed her. She had rebuffed its attempt to deliver a good joke, after all. But what had fazed her was that she had seen what had gone into the monster's eye. And what had gone into the monster's eye was some kid! A kid in an orange and yellow costume—with a cape! What did he think he was—a superhero? He wasn't even tall enough to ride the good rides at the amusement park! He could get himself killed!

But before she could move to save his hide (and then whip it), the kid was flung from the lizard's eye. He hit the ground in a somersault and then sprang up onto his feet.

"Ta da!" he said, spreading his arms out.

She grabbed his shoulders and moved him to safety behind her. "Are you okay?"

"Never better!" the youthful vigilante cried. "As a matter of fact, I was feeling a little stiff without any evildoers to whup."

Jennifer frowned sternly. "I don't think you realize the danger you had put yourself in."

Our hero looked at her curiously. "You wouldn't happen to be new in town, would you?"

Before Jennifer could answer, the scaly monster hissed, "You will pay for that." It had finally calmed itself down enough to glare down at the two humans, licking its sore eye.

Superkid spun to face it. "How much is it going to cost? I've only got ten bucks and ninety-eight cents."

"Oh ha ha," grumbled the reptilian fiend, "and you said my joke was lame."

Jennifer turned to our hero and hissed, "What are you doing?"

Superkid ignored her and said to the scaly monster, "Actually, I said, 'I hope you can fight better than you can joke.' And you know, I don't think you can."

The lizard sucked in a wheezy breath. "Are you insulting me?"

"Well, I'm not inviting you to a tea party."

The lizard growled and said, "That's it! Time to teach you respect!" and with that it shot out its tongue and smacked our hero in the forehead.

He blinked in surprise. He reached up and wiped the saliva onto his hand, which he studied. Then he burst into laughter. "Are you serious?"

At that moment, the lizard realized how pathetic that attack was and it rolled its eyes in embarrassment. Trying to save face, it responded in as menacing a voice as it could manage, "That was a warning."

"You've got to be kidding!" cried the fearless kid and burst into laughter again. Even Jennifer - a woman who made a nun look giddy - started to smile.

The lizard growled, "Don't laugh at me. Or I will make you pay."

But Superkid continued to laugh, doubled over and stumbling around. Jennifer watched him somewhat concerned. The lizard may not have seemed much of a threat, but it was a lot bigger than this kid was. She wondered if she needed to bring him under control before things got out of hand.

But then things got out of hand. The lizard's growl had gotten louder and louder until it finally roared, "YOU WILL PAY FOR LAUGHING AT ME!" and it charged toward Superkid. Jennifer gasped and then threw herself at Superkid, pushing him out of the raging reptile's path just in time.

But then it twisted itself back toward the two and snapped its jaws. Jennifer raised her arm to fend it off and gasped in pain when she found it clamped in the lizard's teeth. The gargantuan reptile flipped her away, sending her tumbling down the street. The monster then turned to Superkid who had rolled backwards and was now on his feet.

"That's no way to treat a lady!" Superkid yelled, his face deadly serious.

The giant reptile turned back in surprise. "That was a lady?"

Our hero took this opportunity to charge at the scaly fiend. But he had forgotten about lizards' amazing reflexes so he was batted away like a baseball when the lizard turned back to him.

"I swear I didn't…" the lizard was saying. Then it turned to where Superkid had tumbled onto someone's yard and yelled, "Hey! You were trying to cheat!"

"You hit a lady!" Superkid yelled as he stumbled to his feet.

"I didn't know! You all look the same to me." It skittered toward our hero. "I swear if I'd known that was a lady, I wouldn't have hurt her."

"You mean a monster like you has standards?" Superkid asked in surprise.

"That's right, you pesky little human," it hissed. "Maybe you think I'm a joke, but there are things that even I would never stoop to do, including hurt a woman."

Just then from behind the scaly monster, there was an indignant voice, "You would never stoop to do what?"

The lizard wheeled around to find the woman hissing through clenched teeth, her face red, her hair disheveled, and her arm bleeding.

It rolled its eyes awkwardly. "Are you the woman?"

She hissed back, "Do you have a problem with the woman?"

The lizard gulped. "It was an honest mistake. I was trying to go for him." It jerked its head to indicate Superkid, who was sneaking toward its tail. "Really, I would never try to hurt an innocent wo…"

It never got the chance to finish its apology. Jennifer was all over that scaly behemoth like flies in vinegar (whoever said you couldn't catch flies with vinegar has never even seen that stuff before!)

"You think you've got a problem with the woman?" she screeched as she jabbed the lizard in every tender spot it had. "I'll give you a real problem with the woman!"

The lizard thrashed in pain as it cried desperately, "Wait—ow!—I didn't mean—ow!—it like that—ow! Just—ow!—let me—ow!—explain—ow!"

"When I'm through with you," the irate woman snarled as she leaped onto its back and began jabbing, "you won't be able to have a problem with women ever again!" She finished this threat with a final jab to its spine and then jumped off. She stepped back to survey her work and bumped into Superkid. She turned and spotted him.

His mouth was open and his eyes were wide.

"What are you staring at?" she demanded.

Superkid shook his head. "Wow… that was amazing. I've never seen anyone fight like that before."

"It's called karate," she said.

"Would you teach me?" he asked.

She raised her eyebrows at him. "Teach you?"

"Yeah. See, lately this town has been under attack a lot. As its sole defender, it would really help if I could fight better."

"You, this town's sole defender?" she said incredulously. "You mean to say you actually are a superhero?"

Superkid thrust out his chest. "Yup. And believe it or not, I've actually got a few battles under my belt."

She looked him up and down, focusing on the gold insignia on his chest. "But aren't you a little short—I mean, young—to be fighting monsters?"

"The only complaints I've gotten from the monsters I've fought is how sore they're going to be in the morning," Superkid responded, dancing on his feet and jabbing the air. Then he grinned and spread out his arms. "So what do you say? Will you teach me?"

The karate woman thought about it. The lizard muttered, "Just what he needs: a more efficient way to deliver pain."

Ignoring the beast, Jennifer asked our hero, "Would your mother approve?"

"I'll talk to her about it," Superkid said evasively.

Jennifer hesitated. But at last she said, "Very well, I accept you as my pupil."

Superkid whooped, throwing his fist into the air. Then he declared, "Let all evil villains beware. Superkid's about to get even more dangerous!"

"Not if I can help it!" hissed the giant lizard as it wheeled around. It snapped at Superkid who leaped backwards. The karate woman jabbed its neck and it reacted with a squeal. Superkid ran to its head and jumped onto its snout.

"What are you doing?" Jennifer cried.

The fearless kid didn't answer. Instead he sucked in a big breath, looked the giant lizard straight in the eye, and then puffed out the biggest breath that he could.

The lizard's reaction was its most violent yet. Superkid was thrown when it wheeled around, screaming, "My eye! It's melting! I think I'm going blind! Gah!" The scaly behemoth charged as fast as it could back to where it came.

Jennifer hurried to her fallen charge. "Are you okay?"

It certainly hadn't been the most graceful way to end a battle but our charming young hero managed to grunt, "Feeling pretty good," as he struggled to sit. Jennifer wrapped her arm around his back and began to help him to his feet.

This could very easily have been mistaken as a romantic moment if you ignored the age gap between the karate woman and the heroic kid. This was exactly what the media did when they swooped in on the two.

"A hero wounded fatally during the battle with a massive reptile, and his faithful lover taking him home to recover," said a reporter as she scribbled it down. Then she turned to the pair who had looked up in surprise. "But tell us, Superkid, how did you defeat that monster?"

"Well actually, she did most of the fighting," said Superkid, pointing at Jennifer.

His modesty was lost on them. He hadn't even finished his answer when the next reporter asked, "How long have you two been together?"

Jennifer opened her mouth to make the correction, but another reporter cut in with another question for the fearless kid, "What's next for you?"

And so it went. Question after question was lobbed at Superkid while the reporters completely ignored Jennifer. She was finding it harder and harder to resist the urge to grab one of the reporters by the collar and hurl him into a telephone pole. How dare they ignore her and paint her as some damsel in distress! How dare they treat her inferior! Especially to a kid!

The kid was doing his best to set them straight. But using their training in the art of roundabout questioning, the reporters forced him to answer their questions in such a way that he had no choice but to admit he was a hero—not that he wasn't.

"You made sure that monster won't come back?" a reporter asked.

"I doubt it will, but uh…"

"This is your third battle won, correct?"

"Well, actually…"

"Will this victory be an effective message to other villains that you are not someone to toy with?"

"I suppose…"

It wasn't his fault. Really it wasn't. But still Jennifer couldn't help hating the kid for all the attention he was getting. She couldn't help but hate how the reporters were putting him on the pedestal while they gave her the shaft. She really couldn't help it…

And so it began. The seeds of antipathy for our hero had been planted in her heart.

The story in the papers the next day was one of terror and excitement—one that was sure to be a legend in Poolington. Unfortunately, containing the aspects of legends, most of the story wasn't really true. According to the Poolington News, it was a giant mutant turtle spewing fire that had kidnapped a beautiful maiden. Then Superkid came and rescued this helpless maiden by dropping the evil turtle into a vat of radioactive sludge - then the story speculated on whether the monster would make a dramatic return for an epic rematch, but that was beside the point. We know the true story. It was a giant lizard with bad taste in humor.

As pressing as was the concern for the accuracy of the type of monster, Jennifer was more concerned with the victim of the monster—the "helpless maiden."

"Reporters," she snarled, crumpling the paper into a wad. "Liars, every single one of them!" She tossed the wad into the wastebasket just as there was a knock on her door.

She sighed. "Come in."

The hero entered and said brightly, "Am I late?"

She glanced at the clock. "No. Actually, you're kind of early."

"Shall we begin then?"

She glared at Superkid, whose innocent smile became a concerned look. He asked, "What's the matter?"

She shook herself, realizing that it wasn't the kid's fault that the media had insulted her. In fact, looking back, he had tried to set the record straight.

She shook herself again, fixed a smile on her face and answered, "Sorry, I was just thinking." She posed herself in a karate stance and said, "Very well. Let us begin."

And begin they did. As every good master should, she taught him the basics first. After an indeterminate amount of time (because it would be utterly inconvenient for the villains to have to wait for his training to be completed before they could challenge him, by which time he'd be along in his years and they would have died of old age), he mastered the basics and was ready to move on to the advanced moves. After another indeterminate amount of time, he mastered these. He was Jennifer's best pupil—ever! She was quite impressed and even taught him some of her secret moves. Now he was a true crime-fighter—able to hold his own against any opponent…

Well, almost any opponent…

But hold on a moment. I'm getting ahead of myself. Opponent-wise, he was actually unsurpassed in his skills. Monsters came regularly into town, looking to try their luck at squashing the fearless kid, and all left in shame. They were nothing more than practice dummies to Superkid. To the media, though, each successive battle was a proven mark of Superkid's role as a superhero.

No one acknowledged his master's role in these battles even though she used the monsters to demonstrate techniques to her pupil. No one considered her worthy of their idolization. She was nothing more than the fearless kid's love interest. And it irritated her.

After each story depicting her as the helpless maiden, that irritation grew. Soon that irritation turned into jealousy… and soon that jealousy became full blown hate. She tried to control it. Tried to shrug it off. But day after day that hate grew and festered.

Until finally it happened.

It happened on a day that was like any other day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. And the citizens were reading the latest of Superkid's escapades in the papers… Jennifer Ambers happened to be one of them.

"The nerve of those jerks!" she exploded. "I did most of the fighting on that giant centipede! But they made me, 'Once again, the helpless victim of the ferocious monster'! Do they think we women are not as good as men? That we are only meant to be helpless damsels in distress? Are we less than a mere kid?"

Just then, there was a knock on the door.

"And there's the big hero coming for the thanks he deserves!" she snapped, stomping to the door and yanking it open.

Our hero—who deserved every thanks that was possible to give to him—immediately backed off. He had heard the remark and the tone it had been made in, and he knew the kind of damage she could do—especially when she was in a rage.

"Uh—is today a bad day?" he asked cautiously from a safe distance, which was about a street's width.

"What do you mean?" she asked, trying not to sound angry.

"You sound like you could use a nap."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It's uh… what my mom does… when she's stressed."

The karate woman took a few deep breaths, releasing the tension in her. Then, at last, she let out a great sigh.

"It's okay," she said in a far calmer tone. "It's nothing. Come in…"

She was interrupted by screams.

"Now what?" she groaned, clapping a hand to her face.

Superkid turned and hurried into the street. He muttered to himself, "What giant animal is it this time?" When he reached the main street, the giant animal this time made him gasp.

"You're back!"

"And you're still here, I see," countered the giant spider. "Good. Now I can wreak my revenge. That dump truck was full of garbage! I trudged through that remorseless desert for weeks trying to find enough water to wash away the smell!"

"I guess you never found it," Superkid responded, wrinkling his nose.

The gargantuan arachnid sneered. "Still comedic as ever, I see. But be warned, Superkid, I won't go down so easily this time."

"Thanks for the warning," said Superkid, grinning mischievously. "Allow me to return the favor by warning you that I've learned some new moves."

The colossal crawler's brow rose. "Oh really? What ones?"

"Karate," Superkid responded and struck a stance.

"Karate?" the spider snorted. "Where'd you learn karate?"

"From me," said the karate woman as she stepped into view.

"Yeah, from her." Our hero flashed his master a dazzling smile.

"I see," the vile creeper chuckled, "and she probably made your costume, too." It eyed the yellow and orange costume with a sneer.

"Actually," Superkid corrected, "Mrs. Terrell made it—with a new feature. Just got it today."

The spider's brow rose. "New feature?"

"Yep." Our fearless hero was almost bouncing with excitement. "Watch this." He grabbed a thin hose dangling down his shoulder and puffed air into it. Suddenly his cape expanded into a balloon and began rising above his head. He puffed some more, expanding the balloon some more until, incredibly, it began to lift him off the ground!

"What the!?" both the beast and the karate master gasped.

But the fearless kid hadn't finished yet. He still had another surprise to reveal. He puffed air into the hose again.

This time, there was the sound of rushing air from two vents in his back, which pushed him at the colossal critter with jet-like speed. He stuck his legs out in front of him, which connected with the spider right in its soft, sensitive head.

The impact sent the giant arachnid bouncing onto its behind with a surprised, "Gah!" Superkid flipped backwards in the air and executed a perfect landing.

"How did you do that?" his flabbergasted master gasped.

"You mean the balloon thing?" responded our hero. His master had already seen him making a fool out of himself trying to perfect a backflip forever and ever, so she must have been asking about that. He explained, "Dr. Red accidentally gave me the ability to control the temperature of my breath. So I decided to make it useful and had Mrs. Terrell make a costume with a cape that could turn into a miniature hot-air balloon."

Jennifer shook her head. "That's amazing."

Superkid beamed. "I know, isn't it?"

The massive critter stumbled forward, rubbing its head with its foreleg, and mumbled grumpily, "Interesting power."

"A unique one, I would say," said the thermodynamic, aerodynamic, and just plain, old dynamic kid.

"Indeed," the spider agreed. "It's almost a shame I'm going to crush you."

Our hero snorted. "That's what you said last time and you got clobbered."

"I'm a bit smarter than last time," the monster replied, aiming its abdomen at the kid.

"Quite an edge there—except for one thing."

"What's that?" the spider asked and immediately fired a string of web. The dastardly arachnid had hoped that this surprise attack would catch Superkid off-guard. But it had underestimated our youthful vigilante. He had deftly dodged it with a leap and a twirl (which is manlier than it sounds).

He now turned to the dastardly arachnid and said with a grin, "I've gotten smarter too."

The giant hairy creature growled in annoyance. Then it grinned as it aimed its spinnerets at the twelve-year-old hero. "So you've learned a few tricks?"

Superkid blew into his tube, ballooning his cape, which shot him into the air. "Yep!"

The spider's smile widened and its eyes narrowed slyly. "So have I." It shot another string of web at the airborne kid, but instead of letting it hit him, the spider caught the rope. Superkid watched a little puzzled as the spider flashed him a grin. Then suddenly the rope came up and cracked him on the head.

Superkid cried in pain as he clutched his head. Spots flashed in front of his eyes.

The evil arachnid chuckled. "Score one for the bad guy."

It gasped when it felt a sharp pain in its second right leg. Then there was another shock of pain to its second left leg. After that the rest of its legs experienced shocks of pain and it came crashing down. Then it felt what seemed suspiciously like a kick to the rear.

"Whun—the?" it grunted, trying to get back to its feet. Then it saw the karate woman leap into view.

"You," it growled. "You're that kid's master… taught him karate?"

"Precisely," said Jennifer, "and as his master, I am responsible for his protection."

"Then…" the evil critter grunted as it got to its feet, "I will have to deal with you as well."

"That's right," she growled, crouching in a fighting stance.

The evil arachnid brought its whip cracking down on the karate master—or rather, where she had been. She had dodged it with a cartwheel and now gave the spider a chop on the leg joint.

"Ungh!" The spider snapped its whip to the right. She dodged it as it whipped past her then grabbed it as it pulled away and used it to launch herself feet-first into the side of the spider's face.

"Aack!" the monster stumbled sideways and then collapsed.

Jennifer huffed in satisfaction. Then she glanced up at Superkid hovering several feet in the air, still cradling his head.

"Are you okay?" she called to him.

It was a few second before he responded, "That whip is mean! I think it gave me a few scars right next to my eye! But other than that, I'm okay."

"Let's see if we can bring down the monster. I'll try to take its whip, you keep it busy."

"Yes ma'am," said our hero with a salute. He yanked the hose on his shoulder, releasing air from his balloon, and dropped to the ground next to his master. Together they charged the behemoth as it was getting back to its feet.

It surprised the master and pupil when it snapped the whip at them, causing them to react by leaping backwards. It turned to face the two. Superkid skirted around to try to get behind the dastardly creeper, but it turned to keep its face to him and snapped the whip to stop him.

- which was exactly the sort of distraction that Jennifer needed. With its attention on the costumed kid, she scooted around to its massive abdomen. She leaped onto a car parked on the side of the road and launched herself from there onto the gargantuan arachnid's back.

"What?!" the spider glanced behind itself and saw the karate woman balancing on its rump. With a snarl, it began spinning in a circle, throwing its legs out from the sheer speed. Jennifer was forced to drop and cling as tightly as she could to its hair.

Superkid took this as his chance to run in close to the monster. After gauging the speed of the spider's spin (try saying that three times fast!), he went into his own spin and then delivered a well-placed kick to the behemoth's pivotal leg.

It was like a bully tripping a nerd. The behemoth crashed to the ground, driving its face into the unforgiving asphalt where it lay groaning.

Jennifer immediately got up and hurried to its head. With a cry, she jabbed the back of the massive monster's head and it was immediately knocked unconscious. Chalk another victory for the karate team.

The official scorekeepers—the reporters—rushed in for congratulations.

"Isn't this the same giant spider you defeated before?"

"Have you killed it this time?"

"How many more monsters do you think you'll have to defeat before they realize not to mess with you?"

Jennifer dropped from the monster's head, determined that they were going to get the story right this time.

But it just wasn't fated to be, for when the reporters noticed her, one of them—a solidly built man with a handsome mustache (a combination that knocked most ladies over)—asked, "And how did this delicate damsel find herself in the clutches of this monster?"

That was the final straw. She finally snapped—finally had enough!

"I WAS NOT ITS VICTIM!" she screamed.

Everyone turned to her in shock.

But she wasn't done. She had quite a bit more steam to vent and vent she did, "I WAS NEVER THE VICTIM! I HELPED DEFEAT THOSE MONSTERS! BUT YOU PEOPLE COME ALONG AND WRITE RIDICULOUS STORIES ABOUT HOW I GOT IN THE MONSTER'S WAY AND SOME STUPID KID RESCUES ME! LIKE I'M SOME DELICATE DAMSEL! (At this, the solid man with the handsome mustache raised his equally handsome brow) LIKE SOME HELPLESS WOMAN!"

SHE TOOK A FEW—Sorry. She took a few gulping breaths and then continued, "I taught him how to fight! I taught him how to defeat those monsters! Everything he knows was taught by me! He knows karate because of me!"

"Karate?" asked a young and eager reporter. "So that's the style of fight he employed against that monster? What's his level?"

"Yellow," Superkid answered humbly. "She's a black belt. Much higher than me. A black belt."

But his master didn't hear his attempts to establish respect for her. She stooped down and snatched the whip still clutched in the spider's claws. Then she stood and snapped the air with the whip.

"Listen to me now! I am a black belt and don't any of you forget it!"

And no one did. In fact, that young and eager reporter scribbled the name on his pad and circled it several times for emphasis. It would end up appearing in a story where a seven-year-old kid defeated a ten-story monster and was about to celebrate his victory when the mother of the monster arrived to wreak vengeance, which was a lot tougher to beat because it had a black belt in karate. The editor-in-chief would, in a stroke of inspiration, decide to call this mother monster "the Black Belt" as a pun on the spider, the black widow, and the high-ranking karate belt. And that's how she became known as "the Black Belt."

But we're getting ahead of ourselves again. Right now, the irate woman continued, "You want to see how helpless I am? Wait until I'm finished with your beloved Superkid!" And she snapped the whip.

Reporters scattered, yelling in pain. This left Superkid wide open to receive the black belt's full wrath.

"Uh-oh," he said and ran.

She gave chase. She had longer legs than our diminutive hero and was soon close enough that she snapped the whip, which wrapped around our hero's leg. She halted and yanked on the whip.

Our hero's leg flew out behind him and he belly-flopped onto the asphalt, which was no more forgiving to the hero than it was to the monster. It was especially brutal to his stomach when the black belt began reeling him in.

Superkid knew he was no match for the karate master. If she got her hands on him, he'd be minced so neatly he'd fit in a shoebox. Fortunately he had an idea. He grabbed the hose on his shoulder and blew into it.

His cape ballooned and lifted him into the air. The black belt doubled her speed in reeling him in. Superkid blew more air into his balloon. He swung in the air to directly above his former master and then, incredibly, began to lift her!

As insensible as she was, the black belt knew she would have little advantage in the air. Sure she was strong enough to climb up and then beat the living daylights out of the kid, but that would leave her stuck in the air with no way of getting back down safely. So she gave her whip a shake to dislodge it from his leg and then glared up at the airborne kid, who was like a tiny bird in the sky.

"Get down here!" she screamed in frustration.

"Not until you calm down!" he yelled back.

"How can I calm down if every time we defeat a monster, I'm made its victim?" And you're made out to be the one always rescuing me?!"

"It's not my fault!"

"It's YOU who's always the hero! YOU who saves the day! YOU who rescues the damsel in distress, ME!" She snapped her whip at a mailbox, leaving a nasty gash in its metal body.

"But I'm not going to be the damsel in distress anymore! Let's see how your hanger-on media hounds like it when the helpless maiden becomes your worst enemy, Superkid! When we meet again, we will see who's better! We will see!" And with this dire threat, she stormed through the pack of media hounds trying to ask her questions. Only when she chopped a man in the stomach did they give her room.

But there was still one reporter who had enough gall to stand in her way. A woman in black: black shirt, black pants, black shoes, black hair—this woman was serious about black.

"So you've decided to become a villain?" she asked, poising her black pen over her white notepad (she wanted to have it black, but black ink against black paper is kind of hard to read).

The karate woman replied tetchily, "Who are you?"

The reporter smiled, showing long, pointy teeth. Jennifer was taken aback by this and felt a chill travel down her spine. When this woman in black reached forward and grasped her hand to shake she shivered for the hand felt cool—like stone. Not only that, Jennifer felt the strangest sensation rushing through her hand as though her thoughts were being siphoned through there.

"My name is Rachel Meranst," this unnerving woman said crisply. With a sly smile, she added, "I'm a reporter."

The karate woman's eyes glazed over and her voice took on an airy tone. "Really?"

"That kid being a nuisance?"

"Well, I may have misdirected my anger…"

"Misdirected your anger at a kid who upstages you all the time? Misdirected your anger at a kid who takes the glory which rightfully belongs to you?"

"You… have a point." The black belt couldn't think straight. It seemed easier to just agree with this strange woman.

Rachel's smile became very malicious. She gave one last shake of the karate woman's hand and said, "We shall expect you for a rematch with that upstart brat who has the audacity to believe he was your hero." She let go, gave a nod to the dazed black belt, and then strode toward the hero who was coming down from the air.

Jennifer blinked stupidly while she gathered her flimsy thoughts together. At last, she shook her head and glanced toward the reporter.

Who was that? Who is that woman?

She shuddered when she recalled the creepy smile and those pointy teeth.

There's something wrong about her. Something strange. Something evil…

She shuddered again and then turned and hurried on her way.

Yes, that reporter was right that she was going to be back to settle the score with that little upstart. But she hoped she wouldn't have to face that reporter again. She wasn't going to cross paths again with that strange woman if she could help it.

Or was she…?

Maybe so, maybe not. But someone was going to cross paths with that creepy reporter very soon… a short, orange-and-yellow-costumed someone…

And it was not going to be pretty…

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