Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull (3 page)

6
Don’t Say That!

I made it all the way through dinner that evening without saying anything about Halloween. Finally, after we’d finished washing the dishes, I heard my mom talking on the phone in the hall. I went out to listen, but she motioned for me to go away so I went back in the kitchen and stood by the door.

I could tell she was talking to Alex’s mom. They were chatting about some new grocery store and how good the prices were. Grown-ups always spend a lot of time talking about things that don’t really matter. I wondered when Mom would start talking about something really important, like me going to Alex’s house.

She finally asked who else was going to be there on Halloween. Then she asked if Alex’s mom needed any help. Then she asked what else we would do besides trick-or-treating.

She listened for a while, then said, “I’m a little concerned, because Charlie doesn’t do well with scary movies.”

OH NO!
I thought.
Don’t say that!
I stepped into the hallway and made a desperate face at Mom.
“I’m not scared!”
I whispered, shaking my head.
“Don’t say that!”

Then she said goodbye and hung up.

“Can I go?” I asked.

“Are you sure you really want to do this?”

“Of course, Mom! That’s why I asked.”

“I have to talk with Dad about it,” she said. “Mrs. McLeod told me they’re going to watch horror movies. You didn’t mention that.”

“I forgot,” I said, although I didn’t really.

“I know you don’t like horror movies,” she said.

“I do now!” I said. “I really do!”

Mom looked right through my eyes and into my brain. It’s hard to make your mom believe something she knows isn’t true.

“I mean I’m not scared like I was before,” I explained.

“I asked Alex’s mom to let me know what movies they’re going to let you boys watch. I told her I hoped they’d make sure they aren’t too scary.”

“Mom! What if she tells Alex?”

I thought about it. If Kyle came and Alex told him I was scared of horror movies, Darren would be
sure to find out, and he would never let me forget it.

“Charlie,” Mom said. “There’s nothing wrong with being scared. And besides, you don’t have to do something just because your friends are doing it.”

“I’m
not
scared,” I insisted. “I really want to go. Can I please go?”

Mom shook her head a little and sighed. “All right. If Dad says okay, then okay,” she said.

“Thanks.” I crossed my fingers and waited while she went in and talked to Dad.

When I heard him say okay, I did a little happy dance in the hallway. Stupific!

I was psyched, but I decided to keep it a secret at home. I didn’t want the Squid to be upset about me not going trick-or-treating with her, and I didn’t want Matt to tease me about being scared.

But it’s hard to keep a secret in our house.

7
The Squeaking Skull

I was in my room reading a book for school when Matt came in.

“Are you going to Alex’s for Halloween?”

“I think so,” I said.

“Are you going to watch a horror movie?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Which one?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Alex said they might get
The Shrieking Skull.


The Shrieking Skull
? That’s the creepiest movie ever!”

“It is?”

“You’re going to die of fear when you see that movie.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s this really scary story about a skull with no body. It flies around and eats everything. It’s terrifying. You’re going to wet your pants!”

“I am not!”

“You might! Even
I
was scared when I saw it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s got this part in it where the Shrieking Skull starts chattering its teeth and moaning, and then someone starts wailing, like ‘Ohhh noooo, the Shrieking Skuuulll! Argghhhhhhh!’”

Matt held his throat and made gargling sounds like someone was strangling his guts out.

Suddenly, my bedroom door opened wide.

It was the Squid.

“Hey, you guys! What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” I didn’t want to talk about the Shrieking Skull in front of our sister. I looked at Matt and he nodded—he understood.

“You were talking about
something
!” she said. “What was it?”

“It was nothing, Mabel,” Matt said. “Just some dumb thing your brother is doing.”

“You
were
talking about something,” she said, folding her arms across her chest and screwing up her mouth. “I heard you. And I know what it was!”

“What?” I asked.

“Someone was screaming because of a squeaking skull!” She nodded her head like she had caught us.

Matt and I burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny about a squeaking skull?” she asked. “What does it do?”

I figured it was safe if everyone thought it was

just a squeaking skull. “It squeaks,” I said.

“Why? How does a skull squeak?”

“It just does,” I said. “It has this really high-pitched squeak and it drives everybody crazy.
Eeeeeek! Eeeeeeeeek!” I made as high-pitched a squeak as I could.

The Squid giggled. “That’s silly! A squeaking skull!”

“Eeeeeek! Eeeeeeeek!” I screeched.

The Squid turned and ran down the hall. “Mom, I’m a squeaking skull! Squeeeek! Squeeek!”

“Matt, please don’t tell Mom or Dad about
The Shrieking Skull,
” I said.

“I bet you wish it
was
a squeaking skull,” he said, “and not a shrieking skull.”

“No, I don’t,” I said, even though I did. A movie about a squeaking skull would be hilarious.

“Don’t worry, little brother. It’s okay even if it is a shrieking skull.” Matt lowered his voice to a whisper. “Because I have a plan to save you. I’ll be back at bedtime.”

Later that night, I got in bed and waited for my brother. I wondered what he had in mind this time. Matt’s pretty smart, and his plans are mostly good,
but sometimes he comes up with horrible ideas, like the time he got me to use laundry detergent to wash my hair.

I didn’t have to wait long. He gave my door a little rap, then came in.

“Okay. What’s your plan?” I asked.

“I’m going to de-scare you,” he said.

“De-scare me? What’s that?”

“I’m going to fix it so you won’t be scared by anything,” he said.

It sounded like a great idea. “How are you going to do that?”

“Every night until Halloween I’m going to tell you a terrifying story at bedtime. At first you’ll be really scared, but every night you’ll get a little less scared. By the time Halloween comes, when you watch a scary movie you’ll just laugh.”

“Really?” I said.

“Works every time,” he said.

“When else have you done it?” I’d never heard of someone being de-scared.

“You’re my first case,” he said. “But I’m sure it’ll work. When you see people being devoured by a flying skull, you’ll laugh your head off.”

I decided it was worth a try.

“Okay,” I said. “Are we starting tonight?”

“No,” Matt said. “We’ll start soon. When you’re not expecting it. The first night will be the worst.”

Now I was getting the creeps. Matt could be pretty scary.

“Good night, Charlie von Bumpermeister,” Matt said in a raspy Dracula voice.

“Good night,” I said. “Um, thanks, Matt.”

“Anytime, my little brother. Sleep well.” He turned off the light and slowly closed the door.

I rolled over. I hoped the de-scaring would work. But when I shut my eyes, all I could think about were flying skulls and evil goatsucking monsters.

8
Umbrellas and Vampires

The next morning it was raining like crazy and the wind was blowing. The Squid and I finished breakfast and started getting ready to walk down to the bus stop.

“Hurry up,” Mom said. “And don’t forget to take your umbrellas.”

“I love my umbrella,” the Squid said.

“I’ll wear my raincoat.” I didn’t want to carry an umbrella around. It seemed dorky.

“You can share mine,” the Squid said.

“No thanks,” I said. Her umbrella was bright yellow and had rainbows and pink frogs all over it.

“You’ll get wet,” she said.

“I love getting wet,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We said goodbye to Mom and went out the front door.

As soon as we started down the steps, the wind smacked us in the face.

“I can’t hold my umbrella,” the Squid said. “It’s blowing away.”

“Here,” I said, taking it from her. “I’ll help.” I held it over her head and we hurried toward the corner. There I was, holding a dumb yellow umbrella with rainbows and pink frogs all over it—exactly what I did
not
want to do. What a bozo.

By the time we got to the bus stop, the wind was blowing even harder and whipping the umbrella around.

“You have to hold it better,” the Squid said. “I’m getting wet.”

“I’m trying, Mabel,” I said. “I’m not your servant, you know.”

“But I’m getting really wet!” she whined.

Then, an enormous gust of wind pulled on the
umbrella and turned it inside out. It was all I could do to hold on so it wouldn’t blow away.

“It’s broken!” the Squid squealed.

“No, it’s not. I can fix it.” I pulled on the little metal spokes to get it back the way it was supposed to be. Then I heard something rip. Once I got it the right way around, I could see there was a rip all the way down one side of the umbrella.

Boogers.

“It’s ruined!” I could see that the Squid was about to start crying. We were both getting drenched.

“I’m sorry, Mabel.”

“It’s my favorite umbrella!” she said.

It was her
only
umbrella, so of course it was her favorite. I didn’t point that out. When the Squid is screaming, you can’t really explain anything.

A few other kids showed up. Danny Fujita, who lives down the block, looked at the umbrella. It was ripped and ragged, and the wind nearly pulled it out of my hands again.

“Wow,” he said. “It looks like a bat wing flapping around.”

“It’s not a bat,” Mabel said. “It’s an umbrella, and Charlie broke it.”

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did. And it was my favorite.”

I told her that Mom would know where to get another one just like this one but brand new. The Squid calmed down a little and then the bus came. She didn’t want her favorite umbrella anymore, so I had to carry it. We got on the bus, both of us dripping and me holding a broken yellow umbrella
with rainbows and pink frogs on it.

The Squid sat in the front of the bus and I headed toward the back, where I usually sit. When Tommy got on, he sat next to me.

“Is that
your
umbrella?” he asked. I could tell by the way he looked at it he was wondering why I was holding a yellow umbrella covered with rainbows and pink frogs.

“No,” I said. “It’s Mabel’s. It ripped and now she doesn’t want it. Look,” I said, opening it up. “Doesn’t it kind of look like a bat wing?”

“Yeah,” said Tommy. “Or it could be a vampire wing, except for the color. And the rainbows. And the pink frogs.”

That’s when it hit me—the answer to all my problems.

Well, at least one of them.

“Yes!” I stood up and punched my fist in the air.

“What?”

“You’re a genius! No, I’m a genius! We’re both geniuses!”

“What are you talking about?” Tommy asked.

“I know what to be for Halloween! Look at this!”

I held out one arm with the ripped umbrella hanging underneath it. When I moved my arm up and down, the cloth and spokes folded and unfolded.

“It’s a wing! See? I’ll get my mom to sew these on a jacket or something and they’ll look just like bat wings. I’ll be a bat!”

“Outrageous!” Tommy said.

“Spectacular!” I said.

“Spectageous!” Tommy said.

“Super spectageous,” I answered.

“But are you really going to be a bat with yellow wings that have rainbows and pink frogs on them?”

I laughed. “No. I’ll just have to ruin another umbrella. I could win the costume contest at school with this idea.”

“Stupific!” Tommy said.

“Hey, back there!” the bus driver called to us. “Sit down and be quiet!”

We did. But I was happy.

Deciding to be a bat is a great way to start any school day.

I had the costume on my mind all day long. My mom is good at making clothes and stuff and I figured it would be easy for her to make a bat costume for me. She can do just about anything.

I thought.

That night when I explained to my mom about the costume I wanted her to make, she just rested her head on her hand. I could tell she was trying to listen—her forehead wrinkled up like she was thinking—but she looked really tired.

“Hmm,” she said finally. “That sounds kind of difficult to do, Charlie. Maybe we could find something a little easier.”

“But, Mom,” I pleaded, “this is a really good idea. I might be able to win the prize with—”

“It
is
a good idea,” she said. “But tonight I have to fill out all these forms for work.”

“But, Mom, what about my costume?” I asked. “We’ll see,” she said.

Not a good sign. She hoped I would forget.

It looked like I might have to make the costume myself.

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