Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull (2 page)

3
Trickier Than I’d Thought

When I got home from school, I took our dog, Ginger, on her walk. After that I sat at the kitchen table and made myself some peanut butter and crackers.

The Squid came running in. “Guess what, Charlie?” she asked. “It’s almost Halloween! I can’t wait!”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about Halloween with her. Not until I’d talked to Mom about going to Alex’s.

“Aren’t you excited?” she asked. “What’s your costume? Have you even decided?” Sometimes the Squid just keeps asking questions. Once, when she
was four, my dad counted how many questions she asked in a day. It was over five hundred.

“I don’t know yet,” I said.

“Will you go as a ghost?”

“No,” I said. What a dumb idea.

“What about a pumpkin?”

“No!”

“What about a giant bug?”

“No, Mabel! Quit bugging me. You’re the one who should be a bug.”

“I can’t be a bug,” the Squid said, stuffing a cracker into her mouth. “I’m going as a bunch of grapes. But you’d better think of a costume, or you can’t go trick-or-treating with me. Don’t you want to go with me?”

“Not really,” I said.

“You have to,” she said. “It’s what we always do.”

“We don’t always have to do it like that.”

“What do you mean?” She gave me a suspicious look. Her mouth opened in a big O like she couldn’t
believe what I’d just said. Cracker crumbs fell out of her mouth onto her shirt.

“I don’t know,” I said. “We won’t go out on Halloween together forever.”

“We always go out together,” she protested. “It’s what we do.”

I didn’t say anything. Suddenly I realized that going to Alex’s would be a lot trickier than I’d thought.

My mom was going to ask what we’d be doing there. If I told her about the scary movie, she’d say it wasn’t a good idea.

Matt would find out and then he’d tease me about being a dorky chicken.

But worst of all, the Squid was going to be really upset about me not going with her. And then my parents would feel bad for her and make me feel bad, too.

I was going to have to be very careful.

After I finished my homework, I found my mom alone in the kitchen. She was cutting up some celery to put in the salad for dinner. It seemed like a good time to talk to her.

“Mom,” I said, “do we always have to go trick-or-treating all together?”

“What do you mean?” she asked. She wasn’t really listening hard yet, which was good.

“I mean I always have to go with Mabel.”

“What’s wrong with that?” The chopping slowed down a little.

I didn’t want Mom to listen too closely, because then she would start to ask questions.

“Well, she’s kind of slow, so we can’t get around to as many houses as I want. And then when you or Dad come along, you talk to the grown-ups, and that slows us down even more.”

She stopped cutting and looked up. Bad sign! I wished she would keep her mind mostly on the celery.

“Charlie, what is it you want to do?” she asked.

Uh-oh,
I thought.
Here goes.
“I … um … I want to go with just my friends,” I muttered.

Matt came into the kitchen. “Hey, when’s dinner?” he asked.

“When the cook is done cooking,” Mom grumbled.

I didn’t want to talk with Matt in the room. But Mom went right on with her questions. “So you want to go trick-or-treating with just Tommy?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“You can’t go with just Tommy,” Matt said. “You have to take Mabel.”

“I always have to take Mabel,” I said.

“That’s because you’re her older brother,” Matt explained, like he was a teacher or something.

“So are you,” I complained. “Why don’t
you
take her?”

“Because this year I’m in charge of candy distribution. Plus, I’m going to dress up like a ghoul and sit on the front porch and scare kids.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yep,” Matt said. “I’ll scare them so bad they’ll wet their pants.”

“Matthew Bumpers!” Mom snapped. “You will not do that!”

“But, Mom!” Matt protested. “You said I could.”

“I said you could hand out candy. I did
not
say you could scare children.”

“It’s Halloween!” Matt said. “The whole point of Halloween is to scare kids.”

“What about me trick-or-treating with friends?” I asked.

“Who else do you want to come over?” Mom asked.

“Well—”

Just as I started to answer, the Squid skipped into the kitchen.

“—Alex invited me to come over to his house,” I finished.

“And you would go trick-or-treating over there?” Mom asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Tommy’s going, too.”

The Squid stopped and stared at me. “What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Your big brother Charlie doesn’t want to go trick-or-treating with you,” Matt said.

“What?” the Squid asked again. Her voice was getting higher and higher.

“That’s not true,” Mom said.

Just then, the back door opened. “Sorry I’m late,” Dad said.

“Charlie isn’t going trick-or-treating with me!” the Squid squealed.

“What else are you guys going to do at Alex’s?” Matt asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to go.”

“You’d better be careful, Charlie,” Matt warned. “I’ve heard there’s a crazy guy in Alex’s neighborhood who eats nine-year-olds.”

“Matt!” Mom said.

“Shut up, Matt!” I shouted.

“Charlie!” Mom said.

“I don’t want to go trick-or-treating by myself!” The Squid started to cry.

“Mabel!” Mom said.

“It’s nice to be home,” Dad said. “Is dinner ready?”

“Charlie
has
to go out with me,” the Squid said as soon as we sat down at the dinner table.

“Not yet! Not yet!” Dad said. “We’re not arguing about anything until I eat something.”

So we all ate something and calmed down a little.

Dad asked about our days, which he always does. When it was my turn, I decided to go for it. “Alex asked if I could come to his house for Halloween. Tommy and some other kids are going and I really want to go, too.”

“Are Alex’s parents going out with him and his friends?” Mom asked.

“I think so,” I said. “I’m pretty sure.”

“He doesn’t know,” Matt said.

“I’ll call,” Mom said.

“No! I mean, you don’t have to call,” I said.

Having parents call each other is almost always a bad idea. They could find out more information than they need and then they might say no.

“Fine,” said Dad. “I’ll call.”

“No, Dad!” I said.

He grinned. “Then Mom will call.”

“Mom, please. I
really
want to go,” I said.

“Who will I go with?” the Squid whined. “I can’t go by myself.”

“Matt will take you,” Dad said.

“Can’t. I have an important job to do,” said Matt. “I have to scare trick-or-treaters.”

“What about me?” the Squid asked. She does not give up very easily. Like Dad says, my sister is persistent.

“If Charlie isn’t here, then I’ll go with you,” Dad said.

“You don’t have a costume. What will you wear?” the Squid asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Maybe I’ll just go in my underwear.”

“Daddy!” she screeched. “You can’t do that!”

“Why not?” Dad tried to look very serious.

“Because!” she said. “You just can’t. And you’ll be cold.”

“Dad in underwear is really scary,” Matt said.

I laughed. But I was still worried about my mom talking to Alex’s mom. “I really want to go.” I figured it wouldn’t hurt to say it one more time.

“I know that,” Mom said. “We’ll see.”

Not a good answer. When a parent says that, it usually means, “I hope you forget.”

I decided the best thing to do was to be quiet and hope for the best.

4
Good It’s Not a Goat

In school the next day, it seemed like any time we weren’t doing math or reading, someone was talking about Halloween. Even our art teacher, Ms. Bromley, was having us make Halloween masks.

Ms. Bromley isn’t like any other teacher at our school. For one thing, you never know what she’s going to look like. I usually don’t pay any attention to what teachers wear, but with her you can’t help noticing. Sometimes she puts a lot of sweaters or jackets or shirts over each other, with some kind of scarf around her neck. Her hair looks different just about every day. Once, she tied bits of it up with rubber bands in little spikes all over her head.

Very weird. But I kind of like it.

I like art class but I’m not very good at it—most of my projects end in disaster. Once I used too much glue on my collage and got some in Ms. Bromley’s hair. Another time, I stepped on the clay I was supposed to be making into a bowl and left a trail all around the room. Ms. Bromley said it looked like Sasquatch had paid us a visit.

In art class that day, I was making a devil mask. I had made two horns from empty toilet paper rolls, but I couldn’t get them to stick on the sides of the head. After using about half a roll of tape, I finally got them to stay on.

My mask didn’t look like a devil—it looked like a goat.

To make it look more like a devil, I painted it red.

Then it looked like a red goat.

Hector was sitting next to me. He moved here last summer from Chile. He’s good at art and was making a really cool mask. It had a scary man’s face, but the nose and the ears were pointy like a dog’s,
and it had big sharp teeth and a big mouth. It was awesome. He looked over at my mask.

“Is that a goat?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s supposed to be a devil.”

“It’s good it’s not a goat,” Hector said, “because I’m making
el chupacabra
.”

“Choopa what?” I asked. Hector speaks Spanish, so I figured it was a Spanish word. Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like English to me.

Hector pronounced the word very slowly. “Chu … pa … ca … bra.”

“What the heck is a chupacabra?”

“It is a terrible creature that eats goats and chickens and horses and pigs and maybe even cows.”

That sounded pretty interesting.

“What does it mean in English?”

“Hmmm. I think it would mean ‘sucker of goats.’”

“Sucker of goats? Goatsucker?” I laughed.

“Yeah.” Hector smiled. “They say it sucks the blood out of animals.”

“What’s it look like?”

“This!” Hector said, holding up the mask. “Kind of like a dog. But no hair. And big. And scary.”

“Is it real?” I said.

“I don’t think so,” said Hector. “But people in Chile tell stories about them like they’re real.”

“Do they come out at Halloween?”

Hector shook his head. “We don’t have Halloween in Chile.”

“No Halloween?”

“Not like here. But I thought it would make a scary mask.”

“You should definitely wear it on Halloween. You’d be the only goatsucker in town.”

“I don’t know if I’ll go out to trick-or-treat,” he said.

“Why not?”

Hector shrugged. “My parents don’t understand about Halloween. And I don’t really know any kids around where I live.”

“You should go!” I said. “You’ll get free candy! It’s really fun. You could go as the goatsucker!”

Hector smiled and shrugged. “Are you going out?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I always go every year.”

Hector nodded, then went back to putting teeth on his chupacabra.

But I was thinking about Hector and Halloween. No kid should stay at home on Halloween. Especially if he could be a goatsucker.

5
Watch Out for the Goatsucker!

The next day at lunch, Tommy and I sat at an empty table. Then Alex came bouncing over like a kangaroo and sat with us.

“Hey, you guys,” he said. He plopped his tray down and his plastic fork bounced off onto the floor. When he leaned over to pick it up, he knocked over his milk carton.

“Did you ask your parents?” he asked, stuffing about half of his taco into his mouth.

“I did,” Tommy said. “I think I can do it. But my sister Carla is upset because I usually go with her.”

“Same with me!” I said. “But I’m hoping I can go. My mom’s going to call your mom.”

“Okay.” Alex finished off his taco in a second huge gulp. I took a bite of the chicken salad sandwich my dad made. He’s in charge of making lunches every morning before he goes to work.

“Hey, Alex,” I said. “Is anyone else coming on Halloween?”

“Maybe. I asked Joey Alvarez.”

“I was just wondering …”

“What?” Alex asked, cramming a handful of grapes into his mouth. The kid was a human garbage disposal.

“Do you think Hector could come?”

“Hector?” Alex asked.

“Yeah. He’s never been trick-or-treating, so I thought it would be fun for him to go out with us,” I said.

“He’s never been trick-or-treating?” Alex asked. “Does he come from Mars?”

“No, Chile. You know that. He told me they don’t have Halloween there.”

“That’s crazy,” Tommy said. “I can’t imagine not having Halloween. I’d hate that.”

“Me too,” I said. “But they do have this creature there that eats goats and cows and horses and stuff.”

“Really?” Alex’s eyes widened and he stood up. “Does it just eat them whole? What’s it called?”

“I can’t remember the Spanish word for it,” I said, “but the word means ‘goatsucker.’”

“Goatsucker? That is so cool!” Tommy switched to his TV announcer voice.
“Watch out for the goatsucker!

“I know,” I said. “And Hector’s making this cool mask of one.”

“Oh, right. I saw that!” Alex said, hopping from one foot to the other. “It’s super-looking.”

“So do you think you could invite him to come with us on Halloween?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” Alex said. “I just have to make sure there won’t be too many people. Kyle Curtis might come.”

“Why?” Tommy asked.

“I don’t know. He lives two houses down from us, and sometimes I play with him. My mom thinks we should include him.”

I looked at Tommy and he frowned. Kyle was friends with Darren Thompson, who had made me nervous ever since he gave me a wedgie in second grade. And earlier this year when we were having a race to see who was the fastest runner in fourth grade, Hector beat him. Darren still blamed me for making him lose, because I had asked Hector to run. And Kyle was always on Darren’s side.

“Counting you, that’s just five kids,” I said. “I still think it would be great for Hector to come.”

“Okay, I’ll ask my mom,” Alex said. “Do you think he’ll come as a goatsucker?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

“What’s your costume?” Alex asked. “I’m going to be a ninja.”

“I’m a werewolf,” Tommy said. “I’m putting hair all over my face.”

“Cool!” Alex said. “Your mom will let you do that?”

“I hope so,” Tommy said.

Alex looked at me. “What about you?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I’m working on it.”

Just as we were finishing our lunch, Hector walked by to put his trash in the garbage can.

“Hey, Hector!” Alex said.

Hector stopped and looked at him. “Yes?”

“Are you really going to be a goatsucker for Halloween?”

At first Hector looked confused, then he glanced over at me and smiled. “Maybe,” he said.

“What’d you say it is in Spanish?” I asked.


El chupacabra
,” he said.

“Chu-pa-ca-bra!” Tommy said. “Awesome!”

“Stupific!” I said.

“Hey, Hector,” Alex said. “Do you think you could come to my house on Halloween? I’ll have to ask my mom first, but if it’s okay with her, you could go out trick-or-treating with us.”

“Maybe,” said Hector.

I could tell he liked being invited. I sure hoped it would work out.

“And you could be that goatsucker thing!” Alex said.

“Chupacabra,” Hector said again.

“Yeah! Chupacabra!” Alex repeated.

“Yes,” Hector said.

“And we’re going to watch a really scary movie,” Alex said. “
The Shrieking Skull.
It’ll be awesome.”

“Okay!” Hector said.

Boogers. I had forgotten about the movie.

Now I had to worry about Kyle Curtis
and
that freaky skull.

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