For Ages
8 to 12

The Fifth Hero #1: The Race to Erase is a part of the The Fifth Hero collection.

CHOOSE YOUR PATH. CHANGE THE STORY. SAVE THE EARTH. From the creator of the interactive Escape This Book! series comes a new adventure series about climate superheroes in which YOU get to help save the planet by choosing which story line you think is the right one!

The Calamity Corporation is determined to end life on Earth as we know it. The company has built hotels that orbit Earth and small cities on the moon and has plans to move the human population to Mars. The sinister corporation is determined to ruin Earth so that people have no choice but to leave it. 

Not so fast! Four kids who secretly possess the powers of land, air, sea, and creatures are about to change the course of history. These kids may not be the likeliest of heroes, but they are determined to stop Calamity Corporation from destroying Earth. And they have a secret weapon: a fifth hero. YOU! 

Throughout the book, there are three chances for you to help change the course of the story alongside our fearless team. Choose incorrectly and it's game over. But choose wisely and you might save the planet!

An Excerpt fromThe Fifth Hero #1: The Race to Erase

Chapter One

Vzzzt! Vzzt!

The timer on the handlebars buzzed, and Jarrett felt the unicycle lurch under his butt.

Uh-oh.

He could still make it to a transfer spot and switch to a new guzzler. But the nearest guzzler station was in the opposite direction, way back down the empty road. Besides, Lina’s mansion must be nearby--or at least Jarrett hoped so. He didn’t dare waste time checking his phone. He was dangerously close to being late for the Climate Club meeting and, more important, Lina’s party for her eleventh birthday.

The guzzler’s single tire started falling apart, like the tires always did after an hour of use. Bits of smoking rubber flew off, sizzling on the hot morning pavement. The burning smell made Jarrett’s eyes water.

Time for a shortcut. He’d have to guzzle through the woods, which terrified him, but maybe the patchy grass would be softer on the fragile tire. Before he could overthink it, he veered off the road and bounced onto what looked like an animal path through the trees. A passing branch poked his arm just as the silver line of a security scanner ran over his body. He guessed he must be on Lina’s property now.

Come on, guzzler, you can do it! he urged. Just a little bit farther to the mansion. You can make it!

Nope. No, it couldn’t.

The last strips of smoking rubber peeled off the rim, leaving scorch marks on the leaf-covered path. The guzzler’s metal wheel spun into the ground, like a giant pizza cutter, and got trapped between two rocks. The unicycle snapped back and then forward, shooting Jarrett over the handlebars and flipping him through the air.

Umph! Jarrett’s body hit the ground. Luckily, his backpack cushioned the blow. Or unluckily, actually. The birthday presents inside had smashed, and as the bag burst open, plastic packing peanuts exploded around him. Not good. He lay there for a second before clambering to his feet. Of course, Jarrett didn’t bother picking up the plastic peanuts as he resealed the backpack. He’d just leave them and the busted guzzler right where they were. Earth was old anyway, and other bits of garbage were already blowing among the trees nearby. What was a little more?

Hold on.

Those weren’t bits of garbage bouncing here and there. They were . . . chipmunks?

Jarrett froze. A frightened gasp squeaked through his clamped lips, like a balloon leaking a five-second pppptttt of air. The chipmunks might have thought the high-pitched sound was him trying to communicate. They tilted their heads, listening, all the while their little jaws chewing away.

What were they chewing on?

Jarrett struggled to remember. Were chipmunks omnivores? Did they eat plants and . . .

People?

No, that’s just silly, he told himself. Or was it? With so much wrong information out there, it was hard to know what was true anymore.

In a panic, Jarrett whipped around to get away and--ooof!--ran straight into a tree. He heard one of the chipmunks chittering like that was the funniest thing it had ever seen.

Jarrett brushed himself off, just in case a tree spider or another creepy bug had jumped on him. He hurried in what he hoped was the direction of the mansion. Above the treetops, birds swooped and shrieked. Were they vultures? And was that a moose (or a cow?) in the shadows back toward the road? And what was that smell?

This was why Jarrett was so glad he lived in a city like Oceanside. (Which, by the way, was nowhere near the ocean. A city planner had thought that name sounded better than Woodsy Flat Land.) In Oceanside he didn’t have to deal with all these weird smells and terrifying animals.

Kind of like the creature crouching on a low tree branch about twenty feet ahead. Wait a second! Was that a mountain lion waiting to pounce on him?

Jarrett jerked to a stop. He thought about screaming for help. He thought about running for his life. And finally he thought Ha! when the “mountain lion” said:

“Yoo-hoo!”

Phew. The shadows had played tricks on Jarrett’s eyes. It was just his best friend, Agnes, in a half crouch on the end of the branch. As always, her hair was spectacular. Long and black, with supertight curls that fell to the waist of her white denim overalls. She pinwheeled her arms to keep her balance.

“Agnes!” he warned, suddenly in a panic again.

“What’s wrong?” she said, mocking his urgent tone. “Do I have something in my teeth?”

“That branch!” he yelled. “It’s going to break!”

“Relax.” She smirked, bouncing on the branch. “How can you be in the Climate Club when you know so little about nature?”

“Um, you’re not exactly a nature expert yourself,” he shot back. “And you know why I’m in the Climate Club!”

“Yes, sure, to hang more with Malik and--”

Jarrett held up his hand to stop her from finishing. He was nervous enough already.

“Fine!” she cried dramatically. “But you’ve been missing out. Nature is like an amusement park, and this is just one of its rides!” With a wicked grin, she stood all the way up and bounced higher and lower. “Why would the tree have a branch if it wasn’t totally safe?”

Finally, the branch made a snapping sound but didn’t break. Instead, the end lowered to the ground. Agnes just stepped off, as if she’d planned all along for that to happen, leaving the bent branch dangling oddly behind her.

“See?” she asked smugly. “Let’s go. Lina said her security scan spotted you, so I came to find you. The rest of the Climate Club is over there.” When Jarrett started walking in the direction she’d pointed, Agnes got a look at his shorts. “Nice wardrobe choice. I heard grass stains are all the rage in Milan.”

He laughed--it was hard not to. Agnes was constantly giving him a hard time but always in a funny way. Besides, Jarrett couldn’t help it that he liked having the latest clothes. Today he was wearing lime-green shorts. The collar and sleeves of his red polo matched his shorts, and so did his backpack.

“Grass stains don’t come out of clothes, do they?” he asked, stopping to rub at the dark-green streaks on his shorts.

Agnes shrugged. “Probably not. Good thing clothes are disposable after one or two wears anyway.”

That didn’t ease his mind. “I like these shorts, that’s all.” After a pause, he added, “Lime green is kind of our favorite color.”

“Our? You mean you and . . . ?”

“Fine, yes, Malik,” he said, knowing he couldn’t avoid the subject forever, especially since Malik was going to be at the meeting today too.

“Malik’s great,” Agnes said, “but style is not really important to him.” She reached for Jarrett’s hand and pulled him along. “Being your friend is his thing, though, I know it.”

“I hope you’re right.” Jarrett’s feet crunched on leaves and twigs as they walked--it felt weird, like stepping on little bones or something. That was another reason why being inside was way better. “I’m glad you’re here, Aggie. I need the moral support.”

“No problem, I’ve got you.” Agnes let go of his hand to give his nose a playful boop with her finger. “I’ll also protect you from Lina’s rage for being late, Jar Jar.”

But even her silly nickname for him couldn’t get rid of the sudden feeling that things were about to go terribly wrong.

Chapter Two

Jarrett and Agnes emerged from the trees onto a lawn of fake grass that spread out in a circle for acres. It was so fake and so green that it made Jarrett’s eyes water again. In the center of the circle rose a mansion that resembled an airport . . . or an octopus. The middle of the mansion was a giant, shiny globe, maybe six stories high. Eight arms extended from the globe about two hundred yards in different directions. From these arms, car-sized FuelFlighter ships were taking off and landing constantly. Clearly, Lina’s family ran much of its business from home.

With so much to check out, it took a second for Jarrett to spot the three other members of the Climate Club, standing in the shade closer to the mansion. They were hanging out next to a clump of tall bushes that had been clipped to look like a herd of dinosaurs.

“Finally!” Lina shouted at Jarrett and Agnes, waving them over impatiently. Lina wore black pants and a black T-shirt, her bald head shining even in the shade. She said she didn’t like wasting time on washing and combing her hair. It was easier just to shave it clean with an electric razor every few days.

When Jarrett reached the little group, he gave Freya a double thumbs-up. Sure, it was a weird greeting, but he didn’t really know her. Freya was the new girl at school this year. Jarrett’s mom had told him that Freya was being raised by her grandparents. Before coming to Oceanside, they’d lived out west--just the three of them, alone in a big house without any neighbors. So that might be why Freya talked like an eighty-year-old from 1989. At first, she’d said things like “eat my shorts” and “bodacious.” Then, when that met with nothing but giggles and confusion, she just stopped talking very much.

For some reason, she was all dressed up, wearing an aqua shirtdress with a heavy blue belt. She looked taller than usual. She had piled her long red hair on top of her head and was sporting ankle-high black boots. After Freya gave him a thumbs-up of her own, Jarret finally turned to Malik nervously. They hadn’t seen each other outside school in a long time.

His friend--Malik and he were friends, right?--wore basketball shorts and a button-down shirt with a bow tie, and he was holding a black leather briefcase in one hand. He was dressed like a basketball-playing businessman, but somehow Malik still managed to look cool.

“Hey,” Jarrett said. Malik gave the tiniest wave possible and then quickly looked away.

Ugh, that didn’t go so great, Jarrett thought, and shared a look with Agnes.

“You’re more than two minutes late, Jarrett,” Lina sang in a fake, cheery voice while the tiny drones that filmed The Lina Show flew around them in a swirling cloud. “We need to talk about Climate Club, I guess, before we get to the important topic of the day . . . my birthday!” Then, noticing Jarrett’s grass-stained shorts, she dropped the singsongy tone. “You didn’t walk here, did you?”

Scoffing, Jarrett lied, “No, of course not.”

“Oh, he totally walked here!” Agnes chimed in.

The drones froze as if someone had just burped at a funeral.

“Thanks, Agnes,” Jarrett said through clenched teeth. So much for protecting him.

Agnes gave him a funny bow. As usual, whenever his friend did something goofy, he had to laugh.

“Okay, okay, Lina,” he admitted. “My guzzler fell apart just inside your property. But I didn’t walk that far.”

Lina glanced at the drone nearest to her as if thinking about what this scene would look like to her millions of viewers. Suddenly, she became all soft and caring. “You should’ve just grabbed a new guzzler at a station. That’s why my family provides them, after all. Sit down. Do you feel okay?”

But she didn’t really do soft and caring, and watching her try was as creepy as spotting a hungry chipmunk.

“What? Yeah,” Jarrett spluttered. “Actually, I feel fine.”

Lina snapped her head back and forth. “No, you don’t. You couldn’t possibly. You, as the Climate Club servant must know that--”

“Secretary,” he corrected her. “I’m the Climate Club secretary.”

“--nobody should ever walk that far.” Lina moved her fingers like she was casting a spell, and a chair zipped toward them across the lawn. Gesture cameras on the drones knew what she wanted just by the way she waved her hands. Lina had all the latest gadgets, mind-blowing tech that the public wouldn’t be able to get for years. At school, she bragged constantly about the EyePhone, the contact-lens phone she wore in her eyes that let her text just by blinking.

Maybe Lina was right, Jarrett thought; maybe he didn’t feel so hot. Maybe it was the way things were going with Malik, or maybe it was the walk after all. Everyone knew that walking outside was bad for you--and risky, with all the pollution, droughts, and floods.

“That’s why it’s so important people start listening to Climate Club’s message,” Lina was saying, more to the cameras than to the kids in front of her. “We need to get off Earth as soon as we can. This is a dangerous planet! More people need to listen to my parents . . . and to me.

Blech. This was just another chance for Lina to make everything about her. Jarrett didn’t feel like being part of her show today. He flicked the chair away with a motion of his hand. But he must have made the wrong gesture, because the chair shot straight up into the air and flew out of sight.

Lina blinked and leaned in close to Jarrett so she could angry-whisper, “Remember our deal? You get to be in the Climate Club, but you have to smile for the cameras, please.” Then, more loudly so the drones could hear her, “That’s the reason my family’s company makes guzzlers available to everyone everywhere. So no one has to walk or run outside. Oh, sorry, did you guys know my family makes guzzlers?”

She smiled to let them know she was joking. Of course they knew her family made the guzzlers. The same way they knew her family made disposable cars and planes, and gigantic houses and hotels . . . both on Earth and in outer space.

With a clap of her hands, Lina announced, “That’s enough Climate Club for the day. Let’s get my birthday party started. Follow me!”

Lina led them to the main entrance of the mansion and through tall doors that Jarrett guessed were at least three stories high. Everything glittered, from the shining marble floor with CC, for Calamity Corporation, painted in gold to the sparkling overhead chandeliers.

“Whoa, it’s all so . . . new,” Agnes breathed, her fingers leaving tracks in the thick velvet wallpaper. “Did you just move in?”

“No, we redecorate twice a month,” Lina said. “Got to keep up with the trends! Can’t have Mom’s new blue shoes clashing with the sofa, right?” She laughed. “And as long as the sofa is going, why not redecorate the entire place? All one hundred thirty-five rooms of it.”

The gentle hum of air conditioning, the light plinking of harp music, the soft carpet under his feet--this house was so different from Jarrett’s family’s apartment. His parents and he and his five brothers and sisters lived in a two-bedroom place with bunk beds and a pullout couch in the living room. It was so noisy and crowded that Jarrett had turned his lower bunk into a blanket-covered fort to escape the chaos.

Under the Cover