Authors: R. L. Stine
“Hey!” An alarmed voice called out from somewhere behind me.
The snarling dog appeared to stop in midair.
Its eyes still glowing like hot coals, it landed hard on all four legs.
“Hey â go away!” the voice cried.
I turned to see Hat running toward me, swinging a long stick in one hand. “Go away, dog!” Hat shouted.
The dog lowered its head and let out a growl, its eyes still on me. It took a reluctant step back, its smooth black tail tucked between its heavy legs. It took another step back. Then another.
“Go away!” I took up the cry. “Go away!”
I don't know if it was because there were now two of us, or whether it was the stick Hat was swinging in front of him â but the enormous creature suddenly turned and loped off into the trees.
“Oh, wow,” I moaned. “Wow. Wow. That was close.” I suddenly realized I'd been holding my breath for so long, my chest hurt. I let it out in a loud
“Are you okay?” Hat asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied shakily. “Thanks for saving my life.”
He stared into the trees where the dog had disappeared. “Was that a dog or a horse?” Hat cried. “He looked mean enough, didn't he?”
I nodded. My throat suddenly felt very dry. It was hard to talk. I knew I'd be seeing that growling beast again, in nightmares.
“Did you find Buttercup?” I managed to ask.
Hat kicked at a fallen tree trunk. He shook his head. “No. Not yet. Charlene's getting a little ballistic.”
“I â I know how she feels,” I stammered. I glanced to the trees. For some reason, I thought I saw the big black dog coming back for me.
But it was just a gust of wind, shaking the leaves.
“We'd better get back,” Hat said, giving the tree trunk a final kick.
I followed him along the path. It curved and then sloped downhill. Little creatures rustled the dry leaves at our feet.
I didn't pay any attention to them. I was still picturing the enormous growling monster, still thinking about my close call.
We caught up to Molly and Charlene a short while later. They both looked really miserable.
“What are we going to
Charlene whined. She had her hands jammed tightly into the pockets of her jeans. She looked about to cry. “I can't go home without Buttercup!” she wailed. “I can't!”
“I'll bet your dog went home,” Molly said. “I'll bet that stupid dog is home already.”
Charlene's face brightened a little. “Do you think so? You don't think he's lost in the woods?”
“Dogs don't get lost,” I offered. “Only people get lost.”
“He's right,” Hat agreed. “Dogs have a great sense of direction. Buttercup is probably at home.”
“Let's go check it out,” Molly urged, putting a comforting hand on Charlene's shoulder.
“And what if he isn't there?” Charlene demanded miserably. “Then what?”
“Then we'll call the police and ask them to help us find him,” Molly told her.
That answer seemed to satisfy Charlene. The four of us unhappily began trudging out of the woods.
We had just stepped out from the trees and were heading toward the street when Courtney and Denise came into view.
They were standing at the curb. There were two dogs standing with them.
Buttercup stood on one side of Courtney. The huge black dog-monster sat on its haunches on Courtney's other side.
“Hi!” Courtney called as we went running up to them. “Do these dogs belong to any of you?”
I just stopped and stared in disbelief.
Buttercup was affectionately licking Courtney's hand. The big black dog was tenderly licking her other hand.
“The Saint Bernard is mine!” Charlene cried happily.
“You should hold on to his leash,” Courtney told her. “He was totally lost when I found him.” She handed Buttercup's leash to Charlene.
Charlene thanked her.
“Isn't this other dog a sweetheart?” Courtney cooed. She bent down and gave the huge black monster a nose kiss.
That's when I decided to give up.
It was impossible, I saw. There was no way â
â we would ever scare Courtney.
It was time to admit defeat, I told myself.
Little did I know just how scary things were soon going to get.
Icy hands, cold as death, wrapped around my neck.
Charlene laughed. “Eddie, what's your problem? A little tense?”
“Why are your hands so cold?” I demanded, rubbing my neck.
She held up a can of Coke. “I just took this from the fridge.”
Everyone laughed at me.
The four of us were sitting in Charlene's den a few days later, trying to decide what to try next. It was about eight-thirty on a Thursday night. We'd told our parents we were studying together for our math final.
“I think we should just give up,” I said glumly. “We can't scare Courtney. We just can't.”
“Eddie's right,” Hat agreed. He was sitting next to Molly on the brown leather couch. I was slouched in the big armchair across from them.
Charlene had dropped down to the shaggy white carpet.
to be a way,” Charlene insisted. “Courtney isn't a robot, you know. She's
to get scared sometimes!”
“I'm not so sure,” I said, shaking my head.
At that moment, Buttercup padded into the room, his tail wagging behind him. He made his way to Charlene and started licking her arm.
“Get that traitor out of here!” I demanded sharply.
Buttercup raised his head and gave me a long, wet stare with those sorrowful brown eyes of his.
“You heard me, Buttercup,” I said coldly. “You're a traitor.”
“He's just a dog,” Charlene said, defending him. She pulled the furry beast down beside her on the rug.
“Dogs sure seem to like Courtney,” Molly commented.
“Snakes and tarantulas like her, too,” I added bitterly. “There's nothing Courtney is scared of. Nothing.”
Molly suddenly got this devilish expression on her face. “Want to see something
scary?” she asked. She reached over to the other side of the couch and pulled the baseball cap off Hat's head.
“YUCK!” the three of us all cried at once. “Scary!”
Hat's dark hair was plastered to his head. It looked like wood or something. He had a deep red mark across his forehead made by the rim of the cap.
“Hey!” Hat cried angrily. He grabbed the cap back and jammed it onto his head.
“Don't you ever wash your hair?” Charlene cried.
“What for?” Hat replied. He got up and walked to the mirror so he could adjust the cap the way he liked it.
We talked about scaring Courtney for a while longer. We were pretty depressed about the whole thing. We just couldn't think of any good ideas.
At a little after nine o'clock, my mom called and told me I had to come home. So I said good night to my friends and headed out the door.
It had rained most of the day. Now the air was cool and wet. The front lawns shimmered wetly in the pale light from the street lamps.
My house was four blocks away on the same street. I wished I had ridden my bike. I don't really like walking alone this late at night. Some of the street lamps were out, and it was kind of creepy.
Okay, okay. I admit it. I'm a lot easier to scare than Courtney.
Cold hands on the back of my neck are enough to make me jump.
Maybe that's what we should try on Courtney,
I thought as I crossed the street and started down the next block.
Icy cold hands on the back of her neck â¦
I was passing an empty lot, a long rectangle of tall weeds and overgrown shrubs. In the corner of my eye, I saw something move along the ground.
A darting shadow, black against the yellow-gray ground.
Something scurrying through the tall weeds toward me.
I swallowed hard, feeling my throat tighten up. I started to jog.
The shadow slid toward me.
I heard a low moan.
Just the wind?
No. Too human to be the wind.
Another moan, more of a cry this time.
The trees all began to shake and whisper. Black shadows swept quickly toward me.
My heart pounding, I started to run. I crossed the street and kept running.
But the shadows were closing in. Darkening. About to sweep over me.
I knew I'd never make it home.
I was running as fast as I could. The dark hedges and trees flew by in a blur. My sneakers slapped the wet pavement loudly.
I could feel the blood pulsing at my temples as my house came into view. The yellow porch light made the front lawn glisten brightly.
let me make it inside.
A few seconds later, I was lurching up the driveway. I darted past the front walk, along the side of the house, and up to the kitchen door.
With a final, desperate burst of energy, I pushed open the door with my shoulder, bolted into the kitchen, slammed the door behind me, and locked it.
Gasping for breath, my chest heaving up and down, my throat dry and aching, I stood there for a long while, leaning my back against the door, struggling to catch my breath.
It didn't take me long to realize that no one had really been chasing me. I knew it was all my imagination.
This had happened to me before.
Lots of times.
Why am I such a scaredy-cat?
I asked myself, starting to feel a little more normal now that I was home safe and sound.
And, then, standing in the empty kitchen, waiting for my heart to stop pounding, I realized what my friends and I had been doing wrong. I realized why we hadn't been able to scare Courtney.
“Eddie, is that you?” my mom called from the living room.
“Yeah. I'm home,” I called back. I hurried through the hall and poked my head into the living room. “I just have to make one call,” I told her.
“But you just got home â” Mom started to protest.
I was already halfway up the stairs. “Just one call!” I shouted down.
I flew into my room, grabbed the phone, and called Charlene. She picked up after the second ring. “Hello?”
“We've been doing it all wrong!” I told her breathlessly.
“Eddie? Are you home already? Did you run all the way?”
“We've been doing it all wrong,” I repeated, ignoring her questions. “We've got to scare
Courtney at night! At
! Not in the daytime. Everything is scarier at night!”
There was a brief silence. Charlene must have been thinking about what I was saying. Finally, she said, “You're right, Eddie. Everything
a lot scarier at night. But we still don't have any good ideas.”
“Yeah, you're right,” I admitted.
“We can't just jump out at Courtney in the dark and yell âBoo!'” Charlene said.
Charlene was right. Nighttime was definitely the right time to scare Courtney. But we needed an idea. A really good, terrifying idea.
Strangely enough, Courtney gave me the idea herself the next morning.
We were discussing monsters at morning meeting.
We have morning meeting to start each day. We all gather in the meeting area at one end of the classroom. Mr. Melvin leans against the chalkboard or sits on a little three-legged stool he keeps there. And we discuss all kinds of things.
Actually, the same three or four kids have the discussion. The rest of us just sit there and pretend to listen while we struggle to wake up.
Of course Courtney is one of the big talkers. She's always bright and enthusiastic, even first thing in the morning. And she's never afraid to give her opinion on
Today, Mr. Melvin was telling us how people have always believed in monsters, since very early times. “People have a need to create monsters,” he said. “It helps us believe that the real world isn't quite as scary. The real world isn't as scary as the monsters we can dream up.”
He went on like that for quite a while. I don't think anyone was really listening. It was very early in the morning, after all.
“There are countless legends and myths, stories and movies about monsters,” Mr. Melvin was saying. “But no one has ever proven that monsters exist. Mainly because they exist only in our imaginations.”
“That's not true,” Courtney interrupted. She always started talking without raising her hand first. She never cared if she was interrupting someone or not.
Mr. Melvin's bushy black eyebrows shot up on his shiny forehead. “Do
have proof that monsters exist, Courtney?” he asked.
“Courtney's a monster,” someone whispered behind me. I heard a few kids snicker.
I was sitting on the window ledge. The morning sunlight through the window felt warm against my back. Molly was beside me, trying to unstick some gum from her braces.
“My uncle is a scientist,” Courtney said. “He told me that the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland really exists. It lives in this big lake, and it looks like
sea serpent. And people have taken pictures of it.”
“Those pictures aren't really proof â” Mr. Melvin started.
But Courtney kept going. She never stopped until she'd said all she had to say. “My uncle says
that Bigfoot is real, too. He's seen photos of Bigfoot's footprints, taken in the Himalaya mountains.”
There were whispered comments around the room. I glanced at Hat, who was sitting on the floor in the middle of the meeting area, and he rolled his eyes at me.
“People don't just imagine all the monsters,” Courtney concluded. “They're real. A lot of people are just too scared to admit that they're real.”
“That's a very interesting theory,” Mr. Melvin said, scratching his neck. “Does anyone agree with Courtney? How many of you believe in monsters?”
A few kids raised their hands. I didn't notice how many. I was lost in my own thoughts.
Courtney believes in monsters,
I told myself.
She really believes that monsters exist.
Slowly, an idea began to hatch in my mind.
Monsters â¦ monsters â¦
Monsters at night. In the dark â¦
Thanks to Courtney, I was beginning to get the perfect plan for scaring her. The perfect plan that