Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull (8 page)

22
Your Dumb Squeaking Skull

We dragged ourselves back to Alex’s house. My loose wing had come off completely, and my mouth was filled with the taste of soap, which I kept spitting out.

“This glue is killing me,” Tommy said. “I’m itching to death and my face is paralyzed.”

Buck Meson wasn’t shooting anyone with electron stares. Kyle was carrying the head with the hatchet in it under his arm.

Hector still had his mask on. The chupacabra was enjoying himself.

Alex’s dad was walking behind us.

“I guess we didn’t need two bags,” Tommy said to me.

“Barely one,” I answered.

Kyle said, “Well, at least we’re going to watch a great movie. It’s awesome.”

I looked at Alex, wondering if he’d told his parents about Kyle bringing
The Shrieking Skull.
I doubted it.

“Are we really gonna watch the Shrieking Skull movie?” Tommy asked.

“Sure,” said Kyle. “Why not? Right, Alex?”

Alex didn’t say anything.

“We
can
watch it, right?” Kyle said.

“My mom got us a movie,” Alex said. “So I think we have to watch that one first.”

“What is it?” Kyle asked.


Space Gremlins
,” Alex said.


Space Gremlins
?” Kyle made a face. “I saw that when I was seven! It’s stupid.”

“I saw it, too,” Joey said.

“So did I.” I’d seen it when I was in third grade, and I’d liked it. I was thinking that watching
Space Gremlins
was a very good idea.

The chupacabra was silent.

“Well, we have to watch the movie my mom got first,” Alex said.

“All right,” said Kyle. “And we can watch
The Shrieking Skull
when your parents go to bed. It’ll be better to watch it later anyway.”

“Okay,” said Alex.

Boogers. It sounded like the Shrieking Skull was going to visit me whether I liked it or not.

“Before we watch any more movies,” Tommy said, “Charlie should tell his story.”

I looked at him. I was surprised he’d said that.

“What story is that?” Alex asked.

“It’s this really scary story and it’s true,” Tommy said. “He told me about it.”

“Who cares?” Kyle said. “I don’t think Charlie even wants to see
The Shrieking Skull.

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” he said. “You’re afraid.”

“I’m not afraid of your dumb Squeaking Skull!” I said by mistake. As soon as I said it, everybody laughed—Alex, Joey, Tommy, and even Hector, who still had his chupacabra mask on.

Except for Kyle. “Well,” he said, “we’ll see which is scarier.
The Shrieking Skull
or your dumb story about whatever.”

“The Long-Fingered Man,” I said.

“Wow,” said Joey. “That sounds cool.”

“And it’s true,” Tommy said.

“Really?” Everyone looked at me.

“My brother says it is,” I said.

“Yeah, right,” said Kyle.

We walked up the driveway to Alex’s house. Inside, we took off our costumes. Hector finally
took off his chupacabra mask. Tommy went into the bathroom and tried to get the hair off his face, but when he came back out, there were still big patches of hairy glue where he hadn’t been able to peel it off.

“My face is killing me,” he said.

“It’s killing me, too,” I said. Everyone laughed.

We poured our candy out on the floor.

It wasn’t very much.

But Alex’s mom called us into the kitchen, where there were three whole pizzas waiting for us. We sat down at the table and started eating.

“Now,” Hector said, “I am not the goatsucker. I am the pizza sucker.”

“We’re all pizza suckers!” Tommy shouted. We all laughed and sucked pieces of pizza into our mouths. I wished we could just keep eating pizza until it was time to fall asleep.

We went into the family room and rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor. I put my bag between Tommy’s and Hector’s. Alex’s mom started the
movie. “I hope this isn’t too scary for you guys,” she said.

“It’s fine,” Joey said. “I saw it before.”

“It’s not scary at all,” Kyle said.

“Okay,” she said. “Watch the movie, then brush your teeth. And don’t stay up too late.”

We all said okay and watched her go upstairs.

23
The Attack of the Chupacabra

There were a few scary spots in
Space Gremlins,
but the story was mostly funny. Kyle kept saying how stupid it was. By the time the movie was over, we were all really tired. I just wanted to go to sleep. But Kyle insisted on watching
The Shrieking Skull.

“If my parents hear it and come down,” Alex said, “we’ll get in trouble.”

“I’ll turn it down low,” Kyle said. I could tell he wasn’t going to give up.

“Wait,” Tommy said. “First we have to hear Charlie’s story.”

“I don’t want to hear Charlie’s dumb story,” Kyle said. “I want to watch my movie.”

Kyle was taking over the whole sleepover. It seems like if you’re bossy enough, you can get your way even if other people don’t want to do what you want to do.

“No,” said Tommy. “First let’s hear the story. It’s really good.” He looked at me and smiled.

Tommy’s nuts.

Hector spoke up. “I want to hear the story.”

“Me, too,” said Alex, “and it’s
my
party.”

“Okay,” Kyle said, “we’ll hear your dumb story. Then it’s
The Shrieking Skull
—”

“Story first,” Tommy said. “Charlie, you sit up there in front of us.”

Everybody climbed into their sleeping bags. Tommy turned out the lights.

I got up in front of the television and sat down on the floor. The other boys scooched their bags in closer.

“Wait, Charlie,” Alex said. He jumped up and
ran into the kitchen and was back in five seconds with a flashlight. “Use this! Put it under your face.”

Just like Matt! I turned it on and held it under my face.

“Awesome,” Alex said. “Now go ahead.”

“Yeah, hurry up,” Kyle muttered.

I took a deep breath. I tried to pretend like I was Matt sitting on the edge of my bed, waiting to scare me.

But this time I was the one doing the scaring. I just hoped I’d been de-scared enough to be scary myself.

“Okay,” I said. “Do you guys know where Fernglade Avenue is?”

“Uh-huh,” said Alex.

“I do,” said Joey. “It’s about five blocks from me.”

“Right,” I said. “It’s close to Tommy’s street.”

“I walk by it almost every day,” Tommy said. “It’s a dead-end.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, down at the end of the block, there’s this big house, way far away from the
street. The grass is really tall because—”

“What’s the address?” Kyle asked. I could tell he was trying to trip me up.

“There’s no number on the house,” I said. “And … um … there’s no mailbox.”

“Wow,” Alex said.

“And the house is really old.” I was trying to put in everything that Matt had told me. “And it looks like it’s empty. But sometimes, if you’re standing on the street really late at night, you can see a small light passing from one room to another.” I lowered my voice. “They say it’s the ghost of Simon Purslip, the Long-Fingered Man.”

“Who?” Joey asked. There was a dim light on in the hallway, and I could see that he was clutching the edge of his sleeping bag and chewing on it.

Kyle took a quick glance at me and looked back down at the floor.

“Simon Purslip,” I repeated slowly. “The Long-Fingered Man.” Then I stopped talking, just like Matt always did.

“Who’s he?” Alex asked.

“He’s not real, dummy,” Kyle said. “It’s only a story.”

“That’s what I thought at first, too.” Then I told him just what Matt had said. “It doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. It’s true.”

“He’s realer than the Squeaking Skull,” Alex said.

Everyone giggled.

Except Kyle. “Whatever,” he said.

“Go ahead, Charlie,” Joey said. “Why do they call him that?”

“Simon Purslip had long, skinny hands,” I whispered. I held up my hands in the dark and wiggled my fingers in front of the flashlight. “On each hand he had six fingers, not five. And his index fingers were
twelve inches long
.”

“A whole foot long!” Alex exclaimed.

I kept going. I couldn’t remember exactly what Matt had said, so I just made some things up. “Simon Purslip had lived in that house for fifty years. No one knew how he came to be there. And no one saw him during the day. The Long-Fingered Man had all his food and everything delivered to the back door of his house, and no one ever saw him take it in.”

“Then how do they know there even was a long-fingered man?” asked Kyle. He didn’t sound quite so bossy now.

“Because every so often people saw him at night.” Then, just like Matt, I paused and waited in silence.

“Who saw him?” Joey asked. Now he had his pillow over his head.

“At first just grown-ups. Grown-ups who were out late at night. They’d be walking their dogs, or just going down to the late-night store on Central Avenue.”

“I know where that is!” Alex said.

“And people would say they saw this really, really thin man walking down the street. He had this long coat and sticking out of the sleeves”—I held up my fingers in the air and waggled them slowly, just like Matt did—”were these really long, bony fingers … reeealllly long … bony … fingers.”

While I was talking, I saw Tommy slip out of his sleeping bag and tiptoe out of the room. Nobody else seemed to notice. Maybe he wanted to peel more of the glue off his face, or maybe he just needed to go to the bathroom.

I kept going, and the story got scarier. I told them about pets and other animals disappearing. I was afraid I might scare myself.

Alex was sitting up on his sleeping bag. His knee was jiggling up and down a little, but the rest of him was very still, which was a miracle for Alex.

“Then, one night, someone who had seen the Long-Fingered Man went out for a walk. But he didn’t come back.”

“How do they know?” Kyle asked.

“His wife called the police,” I said.

“Oh,” Kyle said. I could see his face by the hall light. He seemed kind of worried.

“They looked high and low for him,” I said, “but they never found him.”

“Why didn’t they ask the Long-Fingered Man?” Joey asked.

“The police went to his door and knocked. He told them he didn’t know anything about it. And they believed him.”

“Stupid police,” Joey said.

“Really stupid,” Alex said. I looked at Hector. He had a smile on his face. He was loving the story!

“And then, one by one, more and more people disappeared. First, it was just grown-ups. And their pets, if they were walking them. It happened over a long period of time, so that in between people kind of forgot about it.”

“Dumb grown-ups,” Joey said.

“And then, finally, one day, there was this kid. My brother said his name was Jason, and he lived on Turner Drive.”

“What?” Alex gasped. “That’s
this
street!”

“Really?” Joey looked like he might swallow his sleeping bag.

I saw Kyle glance toward the window.

“I know,” I said. “And he was in fifth grade.”

“At King Philip?” Joey said. “He went to
our
school?”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “And one night, he let his dog out to go to the bathroom, and when the dog didn’t come back, Jason went outside to look for him.”

“Oh no,” Alex whispered.

“Right,” I said. “So he went down to the end of the driveway and he looked up and down the street. And then, he thought he saw something standing behind a tree.”

“This isn’t true,” Kyle said. But he didn’t say it like he didn’t believe it. He said it like he was afraid it was true and didn’t want it to be.

“But what if it is?” Hector asked. He was totally into the story.

I wondered why Tommy hadn’t come back. Maybe he’d changed his mind about listening to scary stories. I decided to finish up quickly.

“So, the kid, Jason, started to walk over to the tree to see what it was, and then out from behind the tree came … the Long … Fingered … Man!” I whispered. Everyone leaned closer. I looked around. Kyle’s eyes were open wide. Joey had a pillow over his face. And then, I saw Tommy creeping into the room behind Joey, Alex, and Kyle with his arms
spread out. He was wearing Hector’s mask and he was going to scare everyone’s pants off.

The attack of the chupacabra!

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed at him. At the same time he let out a bloodcurdling yell. “AAAAAAAAAAHHH!”

And then everyone else screamed in terror, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!”

They were completely freaked out.

Except for Hector, who fell over on his side laughing.

“It’s only Tommy!” I yelled.

But Tommy kept on screeching and jumping on one kid after another. Maybe he couldn’t tell that they were really scared.

“Tommy, stop it! Stop it!” I grabbed him and pulled off the chupacabra mask.

Joey and Alex were still screaming.

“Omigod!” Alex yelled. “You almost made me wet my pants!” Then he started laughing.

“I want my mommy!” Joey shouted. But he started to laugh, too. Hector was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.

I looked over at Kyle. He was just sitting on his sleeping bag, rocking back and forth.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Shut up,” he said. “Leave me alone.”

Tommy was still jumping around, making horror sounds.

“Hey, Tommy,” I said. “Cut it out.”

Just then, the overhead lights in the family room came on.

“What’s going on here?” Mr. McLeod asked. He was one unhappy-looking grown-up.

“Um … Charlie told a ghost story and Tommy scared us and …” Alex seemed to run out of explanations.

“Okay,” his dad said. “That’s enough. It’s late. You guys need to get in your sleeping bags and go to sleep. Absolutely no more noise. Don’t make me come down here again.”

While Mr. McLeod was talking, Kyle had rolled up his sleeping bag. He picked it up and went over to the corner and put on his sneakers.

“What’s wrong, Kyle?” Alex’s dad asked.

“Nothing,” Kyle said.

“What are you doing?”

“Going home,” he said. “I have a stomachache.”

We all got really quiet when he said that. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it and was trying to get out as quickly as he could.

“Do you want me to walk you home?” Alex’s dad said.

“No,” Kyle said. “My mom said she’d leave the back door open.”

“Uh-oh,” Joey said. “She must not have known about the Long-Fingered Man.”

I saw the look on Kyle’s face when Joey said that.

“Come on. I’ll walk you home,” Alex’s dad said.

“Okay,” Kyle said.

“Hey, Kyle, don’t you want your movie?” Alex asked.

“I’ll get it later,” he mumbled.

“Okay, good night,” Alex said.

“Good night,” Kyle said.

“Good night, Kyle,” we all said back.

Then he left with Alex’s dad, who was still just wearing his bathrobe and slippers.

We all sat around in a circle in our sleeping bags.

“Kyle wasn’t sick,” Joey said. “He was scared. That’s why he went home.”

“He said he wasn’t going to be scared,” Tommy said. “But he was the most scared of all of us.”

“He’s really a chicken,” Alex said.

“Wait until people hear about that! Kyle Curtis is a scaredy cat!” Joey said. “He kept talking about the Shrieking Skull, but he couldn’t stand to hear about the Long-Fingered Man.”

“And the chupacabra finished him off!” Tommy added.

“It was pretty funny,” Alex said.

“Not really,” I said.

“Yes, it was,” Hector said. “Your story was very funny.”

“I know,” I said. “And it
was
kind of funny for Tommy to jump out like that. But still—”

“It was hilarious, Charlie,” Alex said. “And you taught Kyle a lesson—he said he wasn’t scared of anything. But he was.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t like being scared. Kyle was right. I never wanted to see
The Shrieking Skull,
but I was afraid to say so. And I don’t like scaring people, either.”

Then we sat there for about ten seconds not saying anything. I sort of wished I hadn’t said all that. But it was true.

“I think it’s okay,” Tommy said.

“Me, too,” said Alex.

“I guess this means we can’t watch
The Shrieking Skull,
” Joey said.

“You mean the squeaking skull?” Tommy said. “Eeek-eeek!”

Then we all started squeaking like mice. And we started jumping on each other, eeking and squeaking and pretending we were going to eat each other alive.

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