Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull (5 page)

12
Don’t Tell Anyone

The next day in the lunchroom, I told the guys at our table about Ms. Bromley and my rabid bat costume.

“It sounds really great, Charlie,” Joey said. “I think you might win the contest.”

“Thanks,” I said. “But, you guys, don’t tell anyone, okay? I want to keep it a secret.”

Tommy made them all raise their hands and swear they wouldn’t tell another soul. He also made them promise not to glue hair on their faces, since that was
his
idea.

“Is your mom going to let you do that?” Joey asked.

“I think so,” Tommy said.

A few minutes later, Kyle Curtis came over and sat down at the one seat left at our table. He usually sat with Darren and a couple of other kids from Tommy’s class.

“Hi, Kyle,” Tommy said.

“Hey,” Kyle said. Then he turned to face Alex. “What movie are you gonna show at your house on Friday night? I hope it’s something real scary and not one of those dumb kiddie movies.”

“Don’t worry,” said Alex. “It’ll be scary.”

Tommy and Hector and I didn’t say anything.

“Well, what movie?” Kyle asked.

“The Shrieking Skull,”
Alex said.

“Awesome,” Kyle said. “Then I won’t mind coming. I’ve seen it like a hundred times. I even have my own copy.” He looked around the table at us. “Have all you guys seen it?”

“I
almost
saw it,” Tommy said, “but then we didn’t get to go.”

“I saw it,” Joey said. “It was pretty freaky.”

“The special effects are super,” said Kyle. “You know what it’s about, right, Charlie?”

“Yeah,” I said, “sort of. This skull that eats things.”

“Everything it can find! It eats dogs and cats and bears and then it starts eating people—men, women, kids, babies. It has blood running down its mouth and everything. It’s awesome.”

“Cool,” said Tommy. Hector didn’t say anything. Neither did I.

The more I heard about the Shrieking Skull, the less I wanted to see the movie. I started thinking about a bloody skull that flies around eating people. Then I thought about the Long-Fingered Man who strangles people with his long index fingers. And then I imagined a screaming skull with long fingers sticking out of its ears.

I wasn’t getting de-scared. I was getting
re-scared!

Kyle looked at Hector. “What about you?” he asked.

Hector shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t seem very scared at all.

“Have you seen it or not?” Kyle asked him.

“No,” said Hector. “But it sounds a lot like the chupacabra to me.”

“Me, too,” said Joey.

“The what?”

“The chupacabra!” we all said at the same time.

Kyle looked at us. “What are you talking about?”

“The goatsucker!” we all said.

Kyle frowned and rolled his eyes. “You guys are weird. Well, I’ll see you Friday night. If you’re not too scared of the Shrieking Skull.”

Then he got up and left.

When we were heading back to class, Tommy asked Alex, “Is Kyle really coming Friday night?”

Alex frowned. “Yeah, my mother told me to invite him because he lives on our street and it would be rude not to include him.”

“Are we really going to watch
The Shrieking Skull
?” Tommy asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” Alex said, “but it’ll be something really scary. It won’t be any fun unless we freak ourselves out.”

“Uh-huh,” Tommy said. “Right.”

As we walked down the hall, Alex skipped ahead.

Tommy looked at me. “It’s probably a pretty dumb movie,” he said. I think he had guessed how I felt about it.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I might not get that scared, since Matt is telling me stories about the Long-Fingered Man.”

“The Long-Fingered Man? Who’s that?” Hector asked.

I told them about Simon Purslip.

I grabbed Tommy around the neck and yelled, “Arrrrrggggggh!”

He laughed. So did Hector. “That’s scarier than some old shrieking skull,” Tommy said.

I wasn’t so sure.

But I knew I wasn’t totally de-scared yet.

13
One Serious Bat

Ms. Bromley told me she was going to be in her room after lunch. She said I could just come down there right away and work on my costume through recess.

I did not want to miss recess. I wanted to play soccer. But I just kept reminding myself of the movie tickets. I had decided I was going to take Tommy and Hector three times. There would be one ticket left over. Maybe I would even take the Squid to one. Or Matt.

I’d left all the things I’d brought in for my rabid bat costume in the corner Ms. Bromley had fixed up
for me. She had set out everything else I needed—scissors, some special kind of tape, a glue called epoxy, this little puncher thing she called a grommet tool, and these little round things called grommets. She explained what I needed to do, and then she helped me mark the places for the holes on the sweatshirt and showed me how to use the grommet tool.

“Good luck, Bumpers,” she said. “You can work while I have my lunch. Just shout if you need help.”

Then she turned on some noisy dance music and sat at her desk eating a salad that smelled sort of funny.

I tried to follow all her directions. I had to cut the umbrella fabric just right, really close to the ribs of the umbrella. It was a very complicated process—trickier than anything I’d done before.

Ms. Bromley came over a couple of times to see how I was doing. She had to help me here and there, but mostly she just left me alone.

Toward the end of the period, she asked me if I was about finished.

“All done!” I said.

“Um, not quite, Bumpers. Look around.”

All around me was a big mess. How did that happen?

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll help.”

I picked up the extra twist ties and grommets from the floor, and she started putting away the rest of the stuff I hadn’t used. There were still some pieces left over from my dad’s broken umbrella scattered around on the floor.

“Wait!” she said. “I’ve just had a spectacular brainstorm.” She took two of the pointy parts of the umbrella with fabric on them and attached them to the back of the sweatshirt hood. “Bat ears,” she said.

They looked great.

“Put it on,” she said.

I slipped my arms into the sleeves of the sweatshirt. Ms. Bromley zipped up the front. I lifted my arms, and the umbrella sections opened up.

Holy moly! They looked exactly like bat wings. It was perfect!

Well, almost perfect. One section was bigger than the other, so I looked sort of lopsided. But I figured a rabid bat was bound to be a little bit lopsided.

Ms. Bromley pulled the hood up over my head, since I couldn’t reach back with my bat wings. She started laughing.

“That is awesome, dude,” she said. “You are one serious bat.”

“One serious
rabid
bat,” I said.

“That’s even better,” she said. “What are you going to use for the foaming mouth? Shaving cream?”

Genius idea! That’s exactly what I was going to use. My dad had a can of shaving cream. I’d spray some around my mouth for rabid foam!

I nodded.

“You’ve got to see yourself in the mirror,” she said. “I wish I had one here. You did a great job.”

“Thanks, Ms. Bromley.” I smiled. Those movie tickets were mine!

All I had to do now was figure out which movies I wanted to see.

14
The Final, Ultimate De-scaring of Charlie Bumpers

It was just three days to Halloween. Mom was working late like she’d told us. Matt started dinner and Dad finished cooking when he got home. When we’d cleared away the dishes after dinner, I put on my costume and showed everyone.

“It’s the best costume ever, Charlie,” the Squid said. “Next year I’m going to be a bat.”

“Pretty good for someone who is a total klutz at art,” Matt said.

“Not helpful, Matt,” Dad said.

“I
said
it was pretty good!” Matt protested.

I ignored him. Matt was good at art, and I figured he probably would have done a better job. But I was the one who’d had the idea and I was the one who had made the costume.

After dinner, Matt showed me what he was planning for Halloween night. He had stuck a bunch of corn stalks up on the porch, along with a rickety old chair from the attic.

“I’m just going to sit in that chair, really still, like I’m a mannequin or a stuffed scarecrow, and leave the candy in the basket by the door. And if a little kid comes up with his parents, I’ll just be a friendly ghoul and hand them some candy. But if it’s someone like Jared, I’ll slump there like I’m some kind of dummy. When he tries to take some candy, I’ll jump up and scream my head off. He’ll die of fright!”

It sounded hilarious. “I wish I could see that,” I said.

“No way. You’ll be wetting your pants over at Alex’s. But not to worry, little brother. Tonight I will
tell you the final chilling story of Simon Purslip, the Long-Fingered Man. Then
nothing
will scare you.”

Uh-oh,
I thought.
Maybe I should hide until after Matt goes to sleep.

My mom got home just before the Squid’s bedtime. The Squid wanted her to make the bunch of grapes costume right then.

“So it’ll be ready!” she insisted.

“No, Mabel,” Mom said. “We have to do it on Halloween day, so the balloons don’t lose their air.”

“I think we should do a practice one tonight,” said the Squid, “so I can sleep with the balloons on. It will be very comfy sleeping on balloons.”

But Mom said no.

Finally, I couldn’t put my bedtime off any longer. I put on my pajamas and brushed my teeth and called out good night to everyone. I read for a while.

No Matt.

Maybe he had forgotten. Maybe he was really tired, too, and had gone to sleep early.

I read for ten more minutes, then turned off the light.

“Chaarrrr-lie,” a voice whispered through the half-open door. “Chaaaaaarrrlliieeeeee.”

I looked up. The door slowly swung open. I could see shadows on the floor. They looked like two giant hands, each with a really long index finger. The fingers waggled back and forth.

“Cut it out, Matt,” I said. “You are not the Long-Fingered Man.”

“Noooooo,” Matt whispered. “Because the Long-Fingered Man is deaaaaaaaaad. And I’m going to tell you how he died.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Matt said.

I was a little relieved that the Long-Fingered Man wasn’t alive anymore. But I didn’t want to hear how he died. Unfortunately, Matt slipped inside the room and sat on my bed. Ginger sat up and looked at Matt like
she
wanted to hear the story.

I knew it wasn’t true. I knew Matt was just trying to scare me. I knew it was stupid.

But it still gave me the creeps.

“It was getting so bad that people were afraid to go out at night,” Matt whispered. “The police department had most of their men searching for the Long-Fingered Man. One night a policeman noticed an old run-down house on Fernglade Avenue. There was a faint light moving around inside the dark house.”

“Matt,” I said. “Stop it. This is totally freaking me out.”

“That’s what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “This is the final, ultimate de-scaring of Charlie Bumpers.”

I hid under the covers. Matt pulled them back and went on with the story. “So the policeman got out of the car, and he let out his dog—”

“He had a dog? A police dog?”

“Yes, dummy. He had a police dog because he was a policeman. And don’t interrupt me again. The policeman and his dog crept up the stairs.” Matt’s
voice got quieter and quieter. “When they came to the door, the cop knocked on it …” Matt rapped his knuckles on my bedside table.

I shivered.
I hate this!
I thought.
I hate being scared!

“The door creaked opened slowly, and—”

Before Matt could do anything to me, I jumped at him and yelled, “AAAAARGGGH!”

Matt let out a scream and rolled off the bed. He hit his head on my nightstand again. Ginger jumped on top of him and started licking his face.

“You idiot!” he yelled at me. “You bozo! You moron! You idiot bozo moron!”

I started laughing.

I was so glad the Long-Fingered Man wasn’t going to leap through the door to scare me or the policeman or the dog that I laughed harder and harder. I couldn’t stop.

“You jerk!” Matt said.

Then the lights came on. My dad looked down at Matt rolling around on the floor.

“What in the name of all that’s good in the world are you two boys doing this time?”

“Being de-scared,” I said.

“Matt, get out,” Dad said.

“Dad, your younger son is a bozo.” Matt stood up and walked toward the door.

“You’re lucky he’s not a rabid bat,” Dad said.

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