Read Fear the Barfitron Online
Authors: M. D. Payne
“Dude!!!” he yelled. A yellowish wad of goo slimed its way down his shirt.
“Is that some kind of sauce?” Shane asked as he poked at his dry burger. “I didn’t get any sauce.”
The burger was totally funky, but I didn’t care. I was starving. I took another bite—so what if it was a little crunchy?
“Arrgh, this is the worst day ever!” yelled Gordon as he wiped off the goo. “Two of my shirts are ruined—”
“One of your shirts,” interrupted Ben.
“And Coach Grey has gone crazy!”
“Wait,” said Shane. “I thought you and Coach Grey were besties.”
“Yeah, well not after today,” Gordon continued. “I just found out that everyone on a sports team has to ‘volunteer in the community’ or we’re off the team.”
“So,” Shane asked, “what are you going to do?”
“I guess I’m gonna have to do it. Coach said that even if we didn’t care that it was our ‘civic duty,’ we could do it for money.”
“What money?” I asked.
“He said the local Rotary was giving away five hundred dollars to the Rio Vista Middle School student who did the most hours of volunteering for the first half of the school year. But I have to spend time perfecting my technique! ARRGH!”
“Wait. Is it just jocks who can win the Volunteer of the Year award?”
“No, it’s the whole school. Which is why there’s no way I’d win it!”
My brain buzzed at the idea of winning the money.
“Okay, wait. No, really, last question!” I was so excited I almost burst. “Where do you go to sign up to be a volunteer?”
“Mrs. Gonzales is the volunteer coordinator. Sign-up starts tomorrow. Why do you care?” asked Gordon. “Volunteering isn’t your thing. It doesn’t involve books or studying or writing papers.”
Shane raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Ben asked. “What’s the deal?”
I stood up for dramatic effect. A few kids looked over from other tables. “I’m going to be Volunteer of the Year. I’m going to win the five hundred dollars. I’m going to buy the telescope of my dreams!”
The alarm clock buzzed and buzzed and buzzed. I set it for extra early the night before so I could get to school before all the other volunteers. The best volunteer assignment—and the TRQ92—would be mine!
My bed was so hot, I felt like a slug. My eyes refused to open. I reached over to the alarm clock to shut it up, and then yawned. And yawned three more times. My eyes felt like they were glued shut. When I finally opened them, I couldn’t see anything.
I rolled over to the window at the foot of the bed and threw open the curtains. Barely any light came in—it was almost as dark outside as it was inside. Large black birds circled below huge dark clouds. I opened the window to let some fresh air into my slug cave, and I
could smell rain. Thunder boomed somewhere far off.
Blindly, I stumbled over to the light switch and flipped it on. My head felt as hazy and cloudy as the sky. The lights flickered slightly as lightning struck. A boom echoed through town. My head throbbed, and my stomach hurt. I burped a little burp, and I could taste the Blandburger from the day before.
The storm continued to rage on. It was still pitch-black outside when I got to school. My wet shoes squeaked loudly as I walked to Mrs. Gonzales’s classroom. Each squeak echoed up and down the empty hallways, and I suddenly felt very alone. Half of the lights weren’t on yet. The thunder still rolled outside. I felt like I was walking deep into a ghost town.
When I got to Mrs. Gonzales’s classroom, I peeked through the window in her door. The lights were still off and the room was empty.
I’ll just wait for her inside
, I thought as I pushed open the door. That’s when I saw it: a strange green light coming from Mrs. Gonzales’s desk.
There was a flash of lightning, and I swore I saw someone in the back of the room. I twisted my head around the door and searched the shadows. Nothing. As the thunder faded, I couldn’t hear anything but the
rapid beating of my own heart. My stomach squirmed with fear.
I stepped inside and closed the door.
The mysterious green light glowed stronger with each step I took toward it.
As I reached the desk, I saw that the glow was coming from a letter—
Almost as if the words were written with some kind of glow-in-the-dark ink.
I picked it up. It felt extremely old. I remembered reading a letter that my grandfather had kept from his first job in 1965. It felt exactly like that—thin, from a different time. An older time. It smelled moldy. It looked like it had been written on a typewriter instead of a computer!
I read the letter:
Dearest Students of Rio Vista,
Volunteers are needed to tend to our geriatric patients’ every want and need. Many of our residents suffer dementia, necrosis, and many more rare and vexing ailments. Toward that end, discretion is very much necessary, as is a strong stomach.
Volunteers who are able to tend to
these dear, suffering wretches, for as many hours as possible and as soon as possible, will be most welcome!
All interested parties should favor us with their company at our facility on Saturday next at nine o’clock in the morning.
If you find the time and opportunity to visit, we shall be extremely glad to see you.
The Staff of Raven Hill Retirement Home
As I finished reading the letter, Mrs. Gonzales’s door creaked open!
I scooped up the letter, dropped to the floor, and hid under Mrs. Gonzales’s desk. There was nowhere else to go.
The lights came on in the room. I held my breath and crouched down extra tight, hoping that I would just disappear.
Footsteps slowly made their way toward the desk. Huge, banging footsteps.
CLOMP. CLOMP. CLOMP.
A monstrous pair of boots, caked with black goo, appeared in front of the desk.
I clutched the letter and thought,
Someone is coming to get me because I saw this freaky old letter!
Two massive, hairy hands came reaching down toward the desk…
…and grabbed the trash can!
The janitor tipped the can into a trash bag, and then left the room.
I jumped up and scurried out through the door before Mrs. Gonzales could catch me under her desk.
That day at lunch, I sat at our table munching a nasty, cold Ick Stick with a huge smile on my face. Gordon noticed.
“Thinking about the moon again, space boy?” asked Gordon.
“Yeah,” I said, dreamily. I put my hands on my cheeks, looked up at the ceiling, and sighed for comic effect.
“What a difference a day makes,” Ben said.
“I got a really sweet volunteer assignment,” I said.
“Yeah, where is it?” Shane asked.
“Raven Hill Retirement Home,” I said. “I just need to show up Saturday, and I’ll be able to volunteer as much as I want.”
“Raven Hill?” asked Ben. “I heard Tami Evans went up to Raven Hill and never came back…”
“What?” I asked.
Outside the lunchroom someone screamed, and I jumped. I turned my head toward the doors.
“Did you guys hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what?” Shane asked. “That Tami disappeared? I heard she moved.”
“No, did you hear—” I started, but Gordon cut me off.
“You’re out of your mind, volunteering there!” Gordon said. “Don’t you know what old folks in retirement homes are like?”
“Well,” I said, “I seem to remember visiting my Nana once when I was five. But, I don’t remember much.”
“Well, remember this…” Gordon leaned into the lunch table. Shane gave him a look that meant
Shut it, dude
, but Gordon wouldn’t shut it.
“They smell totally funky. They mumble and moan. Some of them drool and shake. You’ll have to do all sorts of crazy things for them, like change their bedpans, wipe drool off of their mouths, even—”
Now Shane cut Gordon off.
“Don’t sweat it, dude,” said Shane. He glared at Gordon across the table. “Old folks take care of themselves at these places. Well, actually, the nurses take care of them. You’ve got nothing to worry about!
Just play a couple of games of poker or Mario Kart or whatever it is old people play now and you’re IN!”
But it didn’t matter what Shane said. All I could think about was what Gordon and Ben had said. And that scream!
Saturday arrived before I knew it. I felt like I’d been on a roller coaster ever since finding the mysterious letter—and I wanted to throw up. I spent all night thinking about what my friends had said, and I still wondered if someone else was in Mrs. Gonzales’s room when I found the letter. But I just
to go to Raven Hill. It was the volunteer opportunity of the century.
The drive to Raven Hill felt like a dream. No, worse…a nightmare. Unable to focus, I just stared out the window as my mother drove us to the other side of town. Neither of us spoke.
The sign for Raven Hill sat just off the road. It was so overgrown with creeping ivy that we nearly missed it…almost as if it didn’t want to be found. The car made a
sharp left, cutting off a huge tractor-trailer, and we shot up the hill.
The farther we went up the hill, the darker it got. I looked through the windshield to see a thick forest blocking the sun.
The trees leaned down and tried to hit our car as we whizzed past! I looked up through the sunroof, and could see branch after branch just barely missing our car: WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH!
“Mom, do you see that?” I asked, pointing. “Maybe you should speed up.”
“See what, dear?” she asked.
Clearly, she didn’t see anything, which made me feel even more panicked—and crazy!
I looked down the hill through the rear window and saw no road—just forest where the road we had driven on used to be. The forest was moving in from all sides!
When I looked through the windshield again, I could see a small bit of sky ahead. But the closer we got, the smaller the sky got—the forest was closing in on us.
“Mom!” I yelled.
“Honey, I’m getting you there as fast as—”
“Just floor it!” I yelled.
“Okay, okay, fine!” she said, and then…
We reached the end of the forest at the top of the hill, but not before a branch hit the windshield! For the
split second before we came out into the sunlight, it looked as though the branch had left a slimy green glow, just like on the letter from Raven Hill.