I made a face.
The room fell silent for a moment, until Lindsey cracked, “So what’s up with the principal’s pickle suit?”
We all chuckled at that one. Even Stella was grinning.
Then the door swung open.
“I hope you aren’t laughing at this situation, students,” Principal Pickle said. I spotted my dad standing just behind him. Ranger’s dad was there, too, next to Stella’s and Lindsey’s mothers.
“Your parents and I agree,” Principal Pickle declared, “that the four of you can return to classes as normal for the rest of the day, but you will report to the school cafeteria lunch staff to help serve and clean for one full week.”
I imagined being up to my elbows in a vat of our school’s superglue mashed potatoes. Could there be any worse torture than that?
The girls took off with their moms. Ranger and I faced our dads.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Ranger started to say. His dad interrupted.
“Jesse, I think you learned a valuable lesson here, don’t you?” his dad said.
“Indeed,” my dad piped up. “Never start a food fight, unless you can’t get caught!”
Both dads laughed hard. Ranger and I just rolled our eyes.
Welcome to Embarrassment City,
I thought to myself. Then I got an idea. I turned to Ranger’s dad.
“Mr. Ranger, you’re a scientist, right?” I said. “Well, can you answer a scientific question?”
“I will certainly try,” Ranger’s dad said to me.
“Can mantids grow to be extra large?” I asked.
“Extra large?” Mr. Ranger said, laughing. “What? Like Mega Mantis?”
My dad laughed even louder. “Do you watch those old flicks, Ranger? Damon loves B-Monsters, don’t you, son?”
Ranger and I shifted uncomfortably.
“Seriously, Dad,” Ranger butted in. “Can mantids attack people for real?”
“Gee,” Ranger’s dad said thoughtfully, “I know of only one
Giant Mantis attack. It took place in a remote village in . . . Malaysia, I think. A colleague of mine told me about it once . . .”
Malaysia? That was where Leery had last seen Mega!
“Why the sudden interest in insects, boys?” my dad asked. “Damon, I thought you hated bugs . . .”
“Yeah, well,” I turned back to Ranger’s dad. “Who was that colleague you mentioned?”
“Name is Dr. Von Rosenhof. And I do believe he just returned from a research trip. He has studied mantids extensively throughout his career.”
“Really?” This sounded like a guy we needed to meet.
“Believe it or not, Dr. Von Rosenhof lives right here in Riddle, right up the road from the school,” Ranger’s dad added.
“That’s a coincidence!” my dad chuckled.
Ranger flashed me a look. I knew exactly what he was thinking.
This was no coincidence.
It was a clue!
SQUAD FOR ONE, SQUAD FOR ALL
It took all my strength to get through the rest of the school day. After our temporary detention, I had to take that vocabulary quiz. What a bust. I didn’t recognize half the words.
When the end-of-day bell rang, I met up with the others at our lockers. Our dads had given us a major clue. We had new information and we had to adjust our plan of action. The four of us headed to the library to look up Dr. Von Rosenhof’s address in Riddle. We found it in the white pages. Stella recognized the street and house number right away.
“I know exactly where he lives!” Stella said. “You can’t really see the house from the road because of this tall fence but he has these bright spotlights on the property.”
“Okay,” Ranger asked. “What now?”
“Let’s go to Von Roffenfoffer’s place!” I cried.
Stella knuckle-noogied my shoulder. “It’s Von Rosenhof, Molloy. If you can’t even get his name right . . .”
“Von Rosenhoof, Von Foofenpoof,” I groaned. “What difference does it make? We wouldn’t even
his name if I hadn’t asked Dr. Ranger . . .”
“Let’s call! Stella, you have a cell phone,” Ranger said.
Stella dialed his phone number, but no one picked up. Not even an answering machine.
what?” Lindsey said.
“Plan B,” I said.
“We’re already on Plan B, Molloy,” Stella moaned. “Enough planning. Let’s pounce!”
“Stella’s right. We should figure out a way to beat the bugs on our own,” Lindsey said. “Just in case Dr. Von Rosenhof doesn’t turn up before we have to face them.”
“What about using one of those zappers Walter had at the castle?” Ranger suggested. “We could zap the bugs into a radioactive coma.”
“I don’t think zappers are what we need,” Stella said. “We need explosives! Let’s blast the bugs into bits.”
“And blast ourselves, too?” Ranger said.
“Have we completely given up on the space laser thing?” I asked.
“That’s it!” Lindsey cried. “We don’t have a real space laser but we could invent a bug weapon of our own.”
“We can certainly try,” Ranger said. “My dad’s laboratory is open. He has a bunch of tools and supplies we could use.”
“After we do that, we need to lure the bugs somewhere,” Stella said.
“We can totally lure them. This is a great plan!” Lindsey cried.
Everyone lifted their palms for a group high five. On contact, Ranger pulled his hand away and wiped it on his pants. He looked right at me.
“Damon, what is wrong with your hand?”
I looked down. My hand was so super-duper sweaty, it was dripping.
“That’s disgusting, Molloy!”
Stella cried, shaking her own hand out.
Lindsey smiled at me. “
disgusting. Good one.”
“Squad for one and squad for all!” I fake-cheered.
If only my clammy palms could defeat Mega Mantis. Then we’d
be in business.
BUG VS. BUG
For someone who couldn’t stand the sight of a fly one week earlier, I was getting used to the B-Force bugs.
Dr. V would have been really helpful right about now. He could have lectured us on the weaknesses of the average mantis. But he still wasn’t answering his phone and we didn’t want to show up at his place unannounced. It wasn’t like Leery Castle, where we knew we were welcome to just walk in and snoop around.
Instead, we headed for Ranger’s dad’s laboratory. When we parked our bikes outside, I noticed lots of spiders around the place. I guess B-Force attracts eight-legged creatures the same way it attracts six-legged ones.
Mr. Ranger’s lab was full of amazing stuff. He’s working on a special machine that can wash your clothes while you’re still wearing them. I don’t really understand how that’s possible, but it sure sounded cool.
Mr. Ranger wasn’t around; Jesse gave us the grand tour.
“What are we looking for?” Lindsey asked.
“Helpful gadgets,” Stella said.
“Like this?” Lindsey held up an oversized swatter. “S’wat do you think, Damon?”
“Buzz off!” I joked back.
Everyone laughed except for Stella. She was in one of her serious moods.
Bins and buckets were crammed into every corner of Mr. Ranger’s lab. Objects had been neatly stored and labeled in bold letters.
But the whole place wasn’t just bits and pieces. There were some old or non-working inventions piled up around the place, too. Like the Amazing Electric Melter, an eggbeater that sent out heat rays! Could this melt bugs? Probably not. It was way too small to fry even the most miniscule mantis.
I found a fifty-foot Rope-O-Matic buried under some boxes. Ranger said it was a tape measure for cowboys. Instead of tape inside, it had enough rope to lasso a bull.
“Let’s lasso Mega Mantis!” I suggested.
Stella thought it was a fun idea, but we agreed it would be tough to rope all six bug legs at once.
In a far corner of Mr. Ranger’s lab, Lindsey found something that would work. She spotted a stash of spray cans with hoses still attached. They looked a little like water guns, only with bigger barrels and buttons all over.
These had potential. I grabbed a couple.
“I remember those!” Ranger said. “They were supposed to shrink things but Dad could never make them work. He could never come up with the right formula.”
“Shrinking potion sounds cool,” I said thoughtfully. “But I have another idea. If we can’t shrink ’em, let’s squirt ’em!”
I’d already spotted the poison: RID.
Everyone knew RID was the go-to poison for rats, bugs, fungus, and lots of other gross stuff. My mom kept some locked up under our sink. It was marked
but I knew it was
what the Monster Squad needed to beat this B-Monster.
“We can pour the RID into the discarded spray cans!” Ranger said.
“If we spray enough at the exact same time,” Lindsey said, “we can stun the mantids. Those bugs won’t know what hit ’em.”
I opened up the cans so we could pour in the RID. It smelled so bad, like wet dog. But we managed to fill two cans each with the stuff. Mr. Ranger would have freaked out if he saw us handling these hazardous materials. But we carefully put on gloves and safety masks that we also found in the lab.
In no time we were armed and ready to take down some bad bugs. Our specially rigged backpacks were ready. Whoever spotted Mega Mantis first was supposed to yell, “SPRAY!” Then we’d all shoot at the target.
“Let’s go over Molloy’s list again,” Ranger said. He took a pencil from his dad’s lab desk and made notes. We needed to use the information we’d gathered so far. It would help us to figure out where to look for Mega and its pals next.
What We Know About the Mantis So Far
Hunts and snatches things—like us???
Very fast!!!—can even FLY!!!
Hisses—makes loud squeeeeee before appearing. Very loud.
Camouflaged during both day and night—except for the fact that it is as big as a tour bus!!!