Authors: Frances Watts
They all got out of the van and stretched, and Maud trotted briskly around the car park a couple of times to make sure her hooves still worked. ‘Sheep aren’t really used to sitting down,’ she confided to Ernie as they filed into the restaurant.
The four superheroes and two trainees crowded into a booth and examined the menus.
‘Ah, yes,’ said Desmond when a waiter approached to take their order. ‘I’ll have a nice big juicy steak … I mean—’ Desmond broke off and looked uncertainly at Maud, whose face was still buried in the menu. Maud was a strict vegetarian.
‘Salad,’ Ernie supplied helpfully. ‘I’ll have a salad, please.’
‘Me too,’ said Super Whiz quickly.
‘Er, me three,’ said Desmond, a bit sadly.
‘And me,’ said Valiant Vera.
‘A small bowl of milk, please,’ said Housecat Woman.
Maud looked up at the sea of expectant faces. ‘My turn? Well, you all mightn’t be hungry,’ she said, ‘but I’m starving. I’ll have the macaroni cheese with extra cheese, a big
piece of apple pie with cream
ice-cream, and a chocolate milkshake, please.’
A few minutes later Super Whiz looked anxiously at his watch. ‘I do hope they’ll be quick. We don’t want to be late.’
‘Why, Whiz? Are you afraid we’ll get in trouble?’ teased Desmond.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Super Whiz indignantly. ‘Superheroes aren’t afraid of anything!’
Desmond guffawed. ‘Oh, come on, Whiz!’ he said. ‘Of course they are. Superheroes are only human—’
‘Not sheep,’ Ernie heard Maud mutter to herself.
‘—we have fears too.’
‘What are you afraid of, Amazing Desmond?’ asked Ernie, as the waiter returned with their lunch.
‘Cold, soggy pizza,’ said Desmond, poking
miserably at a lettuce leaf and casting a longing look at Maud’s extra-cheesy macaroni.
‘I’m afraid of dogs,’ Maud said. ‘Big black dogs with sharp teeth.’
‘Me too,’ said Housecat Woman between sips of milk.
‘What about you, Valiant Vera?’ Maud asked. ‘What’s your greatest fear?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Valiant Vera thoughtfully. ‘Lots of things I expect.’ But after giving the matter some consideration, she shook her head. It appeared she couldn’t think of any.
Ernie was secretly pleased when Super Whiz tapped his watch and said, ‘Eat quickly, everyone.’ If he’d had to list all his fears—bullies, big waves, getting locked in a trunk, sharks, stampeding elephants—they would have still been there at dinnertime! The more he learned about heroes, the less sure he was that he would ever really be one.
It was almost three o’clock by the time the superheroes of Baxter Branch arrived in Thomastown.
‘Very nice,’ Vera said approvingly as they passed under a banner that read:
Thomastown welcomes superheroes to the National Superheroes Conference.
‘Follow the signs to the Pleasant Dayz conference centre,’ Super Whiz instructed.
They drove down a main street that was every bit as busy and bustling as Baxter was on
a Saturday afternoon, then crossed a river over a small stone bridge and turned into a driveway next to a sign reading,
Enjoy your stayz at Pleasant Dayz.
When they pulled into the car park, Ernie saw dozens of vans just like theirs—and dozens of superheroes.
‘Look, Maud,’ he whispered. Milling about with suitcases and backpacks and baskets and boxes were superheroes of all shapes and sizes: tall and thin, and short and plump; tall and plump, and short and thin. And although Ernie couldn’t see any other sheep, he did see a small scattering of animal sidekicks.
The air was filled with a happy buzz.
‘What a lovely pair of tights!’
‘Thank you, they’re new.’
‘I hope the dinner menu is better than last time.’
‘… big and red, but he won’t be flying in until tomorrow.’
Ah, Dynamo always arrives in style …’
‘Look, it’s Magnificent Marjory from Beezerville Branch! Marjory, over here!’ called Valiant Vera, waving at a muscular woman dressed in yellow.
Magnificent Marjory gave a whoop and swooped over like a giant canary.
‘Vera!’ she said, giving the other woman a hug. ‘Ah, Super Whiz, I’m looking forward to your speech tomorrow. Desmond, handsome as ever, I see.’ Desmond turned red and tried to suck in his tummy, which was poking through the gap between his orange top and purple tights. ‘And Housecat Woman—keeping the mice at bay, I hope?’
‘These are our trainees, Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud,’ Vera said, gesturing at them.
‘I’m very pleased to meet you,’ said Magnificent Marjory. ‘Vera has told me a lot about you. Beezerville Branch has brought a
couple of trainees along too. You should keep an eye out for them, I’m sure you’d have plenty to talk about. Well, must dash—registration is through there.’ She pointed towards a table on a patch of grass at the edge of the car park. ‘See you later!’
The superheroes holding their suitcases, Maud carrying a straw basket between her teeth, and Ernie with his backpack slung over his shoulder, headed for the queue snaking back from the registration table.
‘Right,’ said Vera, when they had signed in. ‘We’ve got two cabins, 37B and 37C.’
‘A cabin?’ Maud, who had put down her basket, gave a happy skip. ‘I’ve never slept in a cabin before! Though I did sleep in a barn once, when I was a little lamb …’
Following a map they had been given at the registration table, they found their small wooden cabins at the edge of a field opposite the cafeteria and a large assembly hall.
‘This will do very nicely,’ said Vera with a nod, as she opened the door to the first cabin to reveal a bunk bed against one wall and a single bed against the other.
Housecat Woman, who was good at climbing and liked high places, quickly claimed the top bunk, and Maud, who liked neither, put her basket down on the bottom.
Super Whiz led Ernie and Desmond to the cabin next door, which had an identical layout. Super Whiz quickly claimed the single bed.
‘You’d best take the top bunk, Ernie,’ Desmond decided. ‘I’m not as nimble with ladders as I used to be.’
There was a crackle, then an officious voice boomed over a loudspeaker: ‘The welcoming address will begin in fifteen minutes. Please make your way to the assembly hall. I repeat: the welcoming address will begin in fifteen minutes.’
The members of Baxter Branch emerged from their cabins and joined the throng of superheroes hurrying towards the assembly hall.
‘This is amazing,’ Ernie whispered to Maud when they were at last seated in a middle row of the large hall. ‘I’ve never seen so many superheroes!’
Their attention was drawn to the stage as a small round woman with glasses and curly hair tapped the microphone and said, ‘Ahem,’ in a high voice. Her one-piece orange costume and cape shimmered with silver stars.
‘That’s Stupendous Sue,’ whispered Amazing Desmond, who was seated on the other side of Ernie. ‘She’s the president of the Superheroes Society National Headquarters—she’s stupendously well organised and very, very smart. In fact,’ he continued, lowering his voice even further,
Clearly he hadn’t lowered his voice low enough, because Super Whiz, who was sitting
on the other side of Maud, hissed, ‘Shhh. Don’t be ridiculous.’ But Ernie noticed he was blushing.
‘I would like to welcome you all to this year’s National Superheroes Conference,’ the president was saying. ‘For my welcoming address today, I’ve chosen the topic “Superheroing for a Safer Society”.’
Wow! Ernie couldn’t imagine a more interesting or important topic. It seemed that the other superheroes were equally interested, as all the murmuring and whispering died down and the audience sat up a little straighter.
‘In the age of the internet,’ Stupendous Sue began, reading from a sheaf of papers. But before the eager audience could learn how the internet related to Superheroing for a Safer Society, there was a blur of red and white as someone streaked across the stage—and snatched Stupendous Sue’s notes straight out of her hands!
‘Stop thief!’ cried Stupendous Sue.
Two hundred superheroes stared at each other then back at the stage, aghast. Who would dare steal from the president of the Superheroes Society—in front of a hall full of superheroes?!