Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull (6 page)

15
Some Kind of Evil Plan

On Wednesday at recess, Tommy waited for me outside with the soccer ball. Hector joined us, but before we could organize a game, Alex ran up.

“Hey, you guys,” he said, gasping for breath.

“Hey,” Tommy said.

“I, um …” Alex looked down at the ground and then at us, like he was trying to find the right words. “My mom, she said that she kind of … Well, she says we can watch a scary movie, but she’s not going to get
The Shrieking Skull
for us.”

Stupific!
I thought, trying to look really disappointed.

“How come?” Tommy asked.

“She said one of her friends told her it was really bloody and gory, so we have to watch something else.”

“That’s okay with me,” Hector said. “I don’t care.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex said. “I told my mom you all wanted to see it, but she wouldn’t listen to me. She said it was too scary. It’s totally not fair! She hasn’t even seen it!”

I wondered if it was because my mom called. “It’s okay, Alex,” I said in a sad sort of voice. But I meant it. It was REALLY okay!

“Don’t worry about it,” Tommy said. “We can—”

“You guys playing soccer?” Darren Thompson shouted. He and Kyle Curtis had appeared out of nowhere.

“We’re going to,” Tommy said.

“Hey, Alex,” Kyle said. “I told Darren about your Halloween party. Do you think he could come?”

Alex opened his mouth and then closed it. His
eyes shifted around like he was a hamster in a cage looking for a way out. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I could ask, but … um … I think there are kind of too many people already. Hector’s coming and that makes six of us and my mom’s kind of freaking out.”

“Are you sure?” Darren asked. “I’d really like to come.”

Darren had a way of making people feel uncomfortable. When he was acting all friendly like this it always made me wonder if he had some kind of evil plan.

“I’m
pretty
sure,” Alex said. He was having a hard time saying no.

“I am, too,” I said. “Remember when my mom talked to your mom? Your mom told her there were too many people coming already.”

My mom hadn’t really said that, but I figured Alex could use some help.

Darren looked at me like he was going to strangle me. “Whatever,” he said. “Who cares about a dumb
Halloween party? You guys will probably just do some stupid stuff anyway.”

“At least we’re watching a good movie,” Kyle said.
“The Shrieking Skull.”

Alex and Tommy and Hector and I looked at each other.

Darren saw right away there was something wrong. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “You’re too chicken to watch a real horror movie.”

“That’s not it,” Alex said. “We all want to see it. But my mom won’t get it for us, so we’ll have to watch something else. But it’ll be scary, too,” he added.

“Yeah, right.
Real
scary, I’ll bet.” Darren turned to leave. “Come on, Kyle.”

Before he walked away, Kyle leaned in toward Alex like he was telling him a big secret. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “I know a way we can still watch it.”

“How?” Alex asked.

“I’ve got my own copy. I’ll just bring it and we’ll watch it when your parents go to bed.”

“Um … okay,” Alex said.

“Unless you guys really are too chicken,” Kyle said.

“Kyle!” Darren called to him. “Come on!”

“We’re
not
chicken,” Alex said.

“Okay,” Kyle said. “See you guys later.”

We all stood looking at each other after he left.

“Why is Darren like that?” Hector asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“He’s not very nice.” Hector had this way of saying things very simply—like they were just true. “He’d better hope he doesn’t meet a chupacabra.”

16
Bats Don’t Need to Shave

The night before Halloween, I did my homework and then got out my rabid bat costume and put it on. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, raising and lowering my arms, I noticed that there was a little rip in one side of the sweatshirt where I had attached the bat wings, a twist tie had fallen off, and one of the metal pieces on the umbrella was bent. But I still looked really cool.

Then I remembered the rabid part. I needed shaving cream.

I wondered if Dad would mind if I borrowed his can of shaving cream for the day tomorrow. I
figured it would be all right, but I wasn’t sure. He’d probably think using shaving cream as rabid mouth foam was funny. He loves a good joke.

But he’s also a grown-up, which can sometimes be a problem.

I decided I’d better ask.

I found him in the family room, sitting in the big chair, watching TV.

“Dad,” I said.

“You want something,” he said. “I can tell by your voice.”

“Uh-huh.”

“The keys to the car?”

This was my dad being funny.

“No,” I said. “I can’t drive.”

“What do you want then?” He still had his eyes on the TV screen.

“I wanted to know if I could borrow your can of shaving cream tomorrow.”

All of a sudden Dad started paying attention to me. “Shaving cream?” he asked.

“Yeah. For my costume.”

“I thought you were a bat,” he said. “Bats don’t need to shave.”

“I’m a
rabid
bat, remember? And rabid bats need to have foaming mouths, so …”

“Okay. But listen to me, Charlie. You keep the shaving cream in your bag until you need to use it. Then just squirt out a little bit and put the can right back in the bag. Do you understand?”

I nodded. “Sure, Dad,” I said. “I’ll be super careful.”

“You’d better be,” he said, “or both of us will be in trouble with a capital
T
with you-know-who.”

He meant Mom. “Thanks, Dad!” I couldn’t believe it.

“Don’t let anyone else touch it.”

“Okay,” I said. “I promise.”

“I must be insane,” he said.

17
You Have to Have a Hairy Face

The minute I woke up, I remembered what day it was.

Halloween!

The costume contest and ten free movie tickets!

The sleepover at Alex’s house and tons of candy!

And …

I tried not to think about
The Shrieking Skull.
The Stupid Shrieking Squeaking Skull.

I got ready for school, and put everything I needed in my small duffle bag. My mom was already up, taping purple balloons to the Squid’s purple
turtleneck. She had a huge bunch of balloons. There hadn’t been any blown-up balloons when I went to bed.

I thought about my mom getting up early and blowing up a million balloons.

“Did you do all those?” I asked her.

“Your dad helped.”

The Squid tried on the shirt with the balloons attached. She looked completely ridiculous, sort of like a giant bag of purple marbles.

“I’m a bunch, I’m a bunch, I’m a bunch of grapes,” she chanted, dancing around the room.

“Grapes don’t dance,” I said.

“Yes, they do,” the Squid answered, like she was an expert on grapes.

Then Mom made her take the balloon shirt off, even though she wanted to wear it to school.

We weren’t going on the bus. Mom had decided to drive us that morning because of our costumes. So did a lot of other parents. The line of cars to drop kids off in front of the school stretched all the way down the street.

In the hallway, everybody was carrying their costumes. There were a lot of normal ones—capes or superhero costumes or masks of different cartoon and television characters. I saw the kid with the rhinoceros head. It was pretty cool and I got a little worried that maybe he would win—but then I saw there was nothing else to the costume, just the head. Maybe the judges wouldn’t consider that a complete costume.

Tommy ran up, holding out two hairy rubber hands. “How do you like my werewolf paws?” he asked.

“Stupific! What about the hair on your face?” I asked.

Tommy frowned. “My mom wouldn’t let me do it. But I have a plan.”

“What?” I asked. Tommy was usually a genius when it came to plans.

“I’m going to cut off some of my hair this afternoon, then I’ll glue it on my face when we go out tonight.”

“Really?” I said. “How are you going to make it stick?”

“I found a bottle of white glue in the kitchen junk drawer. I tried it on a small patch on my chin last night and it worked. If you’re going to be a werewolf, you have to have a hairy face.”

I looked at Tommy and shook my head. “Wow,” I said.

“I’ll need your help.”

“Sure,” I said. The plan sounded a little crazy, but when your best friend wants to be a werewolf, you help him be a werewolf.

The kids in our classroom were showing off their costumes. Samantha Grunsky was wearing big sunglasses and a long feathery sparkly scarf, pretending to be a rock singer. She didn’t look like
a rock singer—she looked like Samantha Grunsky wearing sunglasses and a long feathery sparkly scarf.

“What are you dressing up as?” she asked. She reached over and looked into my bag.

I jerked it away. “It’s a surprise,” I said.

“What is it?” she asked. “Are those bat wings?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“There are a million bats,” she said. “Everyone’s done that before. I hope you’re not thinking about winning the contest—to win you have to be something really special.”

I rolled my eyes. I thought about telling her my bat had rabies and she might get them too if she wasn’t careful, but I decided to wait. I didn’t want to give away the secret of the shaving cream—a secret worth ten movie tickets.

18
Are You Allowed to Strangle Your Little Sister?

At one-thirty, Mrs. Burke gave up trying to teach us anything and had us get our costumes ready. I asked her if I could take mine into the restroom so I could look in the mirror and make sure I got the ears on right. Some other kids wanted to go the restroom, too. She said we could go three at a time.

“Five minutes max,” she said. “Or I’ll send the Burke patrol out after you.”

Alex, Sam, and I got to go first.

There were a lot of boys from other grades in the bathroom, putting on their costumes. When I put on my sweatshirt with the wings and pulled up
the hood to show the pointy bat ears, everybody stopped.

“Awesome!” Sam Marchand said. He was wrapping strips of sheets around himself to be a mummy.

“Wicked awesome!” said a kid from Ms. Lewis’s class.

“That is the best,” hooted Alex. He was dressed up like a ninja and jumping all around the bathroom, kicking at anything and anyone who was near him.

“You are
so
going to win,” another boy said.

The rabid bat smiled. They hadn’t even seen the shaving cream yet! I had stuffed the can in the front pocket of my sweatshirt. I planned on spraying it around my mouth at the last second.

Mrs. Burke knocked on the boys’ room door. “Time, boys!”

We filed out of the bathroom, and when Mrs. Burke saw me, she broke into a huge smile.

“Charlie!” she said. “What a great costume! Where’d you get it?”

“I made it myself,” I said.

She patted the rabid bat on the back. “That could be a winner,” she said.

Stupific!
I thought. Mrs. Burke was hard to impress.

After everyone had changed into their costumes, we all lined up in the hallway and headed down to the cafeteria. Classrooms were filing down the hall from all different directions, and everyone was dressed up. Lots of kids pointed at me—I kept flapping my arms to show the umbrella wings.

When we got to the doors of the cafeteria, I saw Ms. Bromley standing at the entrance. She was dressed entirely in orange and black. There was a stuffed black cat sewed onto one of her shoulders.

She had on an orange wig. Or maybe her hair was dyed orange—I couldn’t tell.

As soon as she saw me, she gave me a huge smile. “Dude!” she said. She held up her hand to give me a high five. I lifted my arm as high as it would go.

I felt something rip.

I looked down—part of the umbrella section attached to my left sleeve had ripped off and left a long tear in the sweatshirt. My white undershirt was showing.

Ms. Bromley frowned. “Oh, rats!” she said. “I’ll go get some tape.” And she bounced off down the hall, the cat on her shoulder bouncing with her.

In the cafeteria, we lined up and sat down on the floor by classes, with the older kids in back. Being in fourth grade, we were very close to the back, with only the fifth graders behind us. I kept looking for Ms. Bromley to come back with the tape. My left wing was waving around, barely attached to my body.

When the cafeteria was almost full, the first graders came in. I saw Mrs. Diaz leading in her class. In the very front of the line was the Squid, with thirty purple balloons taped all over her shirt.

Right behind her was Brady Bernhart.

I almost choked when I saw him.

He was wearing a bat costume.

Exactly like mine.

How could that be?

Brady looked out over the crowd like he was searching for someone. Then he saw me.

“Charlie!” he yelled in his croaky voice. He flapped his bat wings. “I’m a bat, just like you!”

I couldn’t believe it. Brady Bernhart had stolen my idea! How had he found out?

The Squid, covered in purple balloons, just stood there looking over at me with her hand over her mouth.

She must have told her whole class about my costume!

Are you allowed to strangle your little sister?

Mrs. Rotelli, the principal, came to the front and told everyone to sit down. Three grown-ups I didn’t recognize were sitting at a long table to the side of the stage. Mrs. Rotelli introduced
them and told us that they were the judges for the best costume. Then she told the classes to stand up one by one. Each kid walked across the room in front of the table, where all the judges could see them. The kindergartners went first, but I barely noticed them.

I was still hoping that people would realize my costume was special since I had made it myself. I looked around for Ms. Bromley.

I was pretty sure Brady Bernhart didn’t have a can of shaving cream. I figured that was my only chance.

When Mrs. Diaz’s class walked across, Brady Bernhart flapped his wings and ran around in circles, squeaking like a bat.

Everyone laughed and applauded.

“Charlie,” Hector whispered, “he’s wearing your costume.”

“I know,” I said. “I think my sister blabbed.”

Hector squinted at me and shook his head. I guess he wasn’t sure what I meant. “Blab” isn’t a Spanish word.

“I mean she told her class about my costume idea.”

“Oh.” He frowned. “We need the chupacabra to come and eat that little bat.”

“Do you think the chupacabra would do that?” I asked.

“Sí,”
Hector answered. “For sure.”

When it was time for our class to go, we lined up along the side of the cafeteria. Our custodian Mr. Turchin, who was standing near the entrance, saw me.

“Charlie!” he said. “You make a fine bat.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He leaned against the wall to watch the parade.

In a minute it would be our turn to walk past the judges.

It was time for the shaving cream.

I turned toward the wall and took out the can. I pushed the button on top and foam came pouring out.

A lot of it.

Too much!

I put some on my face around my mouth, but I still had a lot on my hand. I spread just a little more on, but the foam seemed to be expanding. My whole face was getting covered. I looked around, trying to figure out what to do with the extra foam.

“What’s that?” Alex was standing behind me.

“Shaving cream,” I said.

“Awesome!” He reached out and took a big scoop of it out of my hand.

“Alex, no!” I said.

Before I could stop him, he had swiped some on his face. He tried to shake the rest of the foam off his hand and a white blob flew out onto the floor.

Mrs. Rotelli walked over to us. “What are you boys doing?” she asked. Her voice didn’t sound as friendly as usual.

“It’s shaving cream for my costume,” I tried to explain. I started to stuff the can back in my pocket.

Mrs. Rotelli calmly took it out of my hands and turned to Mr. Turchin.

“Mr. Turchin,” she said. “Do you have something to wipe off these boys’ faces?”

He pulled out a rag from his pocket and handed it to Mrs. Rotelli.

Before I knew it, I didn’t have any shaving cream on my face. And neither did Alex.

“But it’s for my costume,” I explained.

“Your costume is fine without shaving cream,” she said. “You can get the can back when it’s time to go home.”

Then she walked back to where she had been standing.

Boogers.

While I was waiting to walk across, I swished the spit around in my mouth to make it into bubbles, hoping I would look rabid. But the slobber just dribbled down the side of my face and I couldn’t even wipe it off because of my bat wings.

A couple of seconds before I was supposed to walk by the judges, Ms. Bromley showed up with a roll of tape. “Here, Bumpers,” she whispered.

“It’s okay,” I said. I turned and walked past the judges. I flapped my wings. The one that had torn the sleeve of my sweatshirt just waggled in the air.

I wasn’t a rabid bat.

I was a slobbering bat with a broken wing.

Tommy and Hector applauded.

Some kid in another first grade class said, “That looks like Brady’s costume.”

Brady Bernhart won the prize for the best costume.

When we filed out of the cafeteria to head back to our classrooms, Ms. Bromley was waiting by the door.

“Mrs. Burke,” she said, “I need Charlie for a second.”

Ms. Bromley put her hand on my shoulder and led me down the hallway to her classroom. When she got there, she made me take off the sweatshirt. She glued some fabric on it where the rip was, then reattached the wings.

“There you go,” she said. “Now you can wear it tonight when you go out.”

“Thanks,” I said. It made me feel a little bit better.

I started to head out the door.

“Hey, Bumpers,” she said. I turned and looked at her. “I’m sorry someone took your idea.”

“So am I,” I muttered.

“But it was still your idea,” she said. “A good one. And you made the whole thing yourself.”

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