Faster!” Frank Hardy shouted.
His brother, Joe, bent over the handlebars of his bike, pumping as hard as he could after Frank. Their bikes flew up a hill and jumped off the far side, landing on the dirt trail below.
“He’s coming!” Iola Morton shrieked, glancing over her shoulder. She was riding her bike beside Frank’s.
“We have to get away!” their other friend, Phil Cohen, yelled from his bike.
“Go! Go!” Joe urged.
All four of them sped around a curve in the trail. They were deep in the woods behind Bayport Park. It was pretty wild back there, with lots of winding trails and hills. It was a fun place to ride bikes—at least, when there wasn’t something scary chasing you.
Just then there was a terrifying roar from somewhere behind them.
“It’s the Morph Monster!” Iola cried. “He’s catching up!”
Joe pedaled even faster. “If he catches us, we’re dead meat!” he yelled to the others. “He’ll eat our brains and take over our identities!”
“Yeah. Then he’ll go eat all our friends and families too!” Phil exclaimed.
He skidded around a sharp bend in the trail. Frank and Iola were right behind him.
Joe started to follow the others. But the trail was a little bit muddy here. His friends’ tires had gouged a rut in the dirt when they spun around the bend. Before he knew what was happening, Joe’s front tire got stuck in the rut. The handlebars twisted out of his grip, and Joe went flying.
“Ow!” he yelped as he hit the rocky ground.
His hands and knees scraped painfully on the dirt, but he hardly noticed. He was back on his feet a second later.
“Hey!” he yelled to his brother and their friends. “Wait up!”
But they were already out of sight around the bend. Joe could barely hear them calling to one another as they rode away.
Gritting his teeth, he yanked his bike free of the mud. Then he jumped back on and tried to ride after them. But the front wheel wouldn’t move, and Joe almost ended up on the ground again.
“Oh no!” he muttered.
Now he saw that the front wheel was twisted. It must have happened when he crashed.
“Guys!” he shouted, louder this time. “Come back! The Morph Monster is going to get me!”
Joe winced. It was too late! He spun around . . . just in time to see his friend Chet Morton ride into the clearing. Chet was wearing a scary monster mask over his bike helmet.
“I got you, Joe!” Chet cried gleefully. His voice sounded muffled behind the rubber mask. “I’m Morpho, and I’m going to eat your brains!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Joe said with a sigh. “You got me, okay? Now come help me fix my bike.”
Chet dropped his bike and pushed back his mask. His round cheeks looked extra pink from being under it.
“What’s wrong with your bike?” he asked, hurrying over.
“The wheel’s twisted.” Joe was already trying to bend the bike back into shape.
“Ha-ha!” Chet chortled. “Then you are truly helpless to escape the wrath of Morpho! I shall use my monstrous Spork to eat your brains so I can take over your identity!”
He leaned over, pretending to scoop Joe’s brains out of his head with an imaginary spork. Joe just sighed again. Chet loved Morpho even more than the rest of them did. He had first editions of all the comics. He’d seen the Morpho movie seven times. He’d even dressed up as Morpho last Halloween.
“Fine, go ahead and eat my brains,” he told Chet with a frown. “It’s not like Frank and the others will care. They didn’t even notice I wasn’t with them anymore!”
Chet shrugged. “They were probably too scared of Morpho to think straight,” he suggested. “Anyway, now that you’re my victim, you can help me catch them, okay?”
That made Joe feel a little better. “Cool,” he said. “I can be your monstrous partner in crime!”
“Yeah!” Chet agreed. “Here, let me help you with your bike. . . .”
The two of them managed to bend the wheel back into shape. Joe climbed on and rode around in a circle to test it.
“It’s fine,” he reported. “Let’s go find the others! Hey, can I wear the Morpho mask for a while?”
Chet shook his head. “No way!” he said. “Sorry, Joe. But this is a limited-edition mask. See? It’s got purple ooze on the nose instead of just green ooze.”
“Oh yeah.” Joe peered at the mask’s nose. “That’s cool. But how am I supposed to be your sidekick if I don’t have a mask or anything? Come on—I’ll be careful, I swear!”
Chet looked worried. “Um, I don’t think so,” he said. “But I have a better idea. Let’s make you a Morph Spork!”
Joe nodded. Morpho’s trademark tool was the giant spork that he used to eat brains. It was a combination of a fork and a spoon. Chet had a plastic spork at home, but he hadn’t brought it today. So the two of them looked around until they found a branch that was about the right size and shape.
“This should work,” Joe said, waving it around like a sword. “I wonder why Morpho uses a spork, anyway.”
“Nobody knows,” Chet said. He was the expert on everything about Morpho. “Just like nobody knows his original human identity.” He grinned. “Hey! Maybe you and Frank should investigate and try to solve the mystery!”
Joe and Frank were known around town for solving mysteries, even though they were only eight and nine years old. Everyone said they were following in their father’s footsteps. He was a successful private investigator who’d solved lots of tough cases. But right now Joe wasn’t really thinking about that.
“Frank won’t be able to solve anything once I eat his brains,” he told Chet with a grin. He waved his Spork, then aimed his bike down the trail. “Come on, let’s go get them!”
© 2011 Simon & Schuster, Inc