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Authors: R. L. Stine

You Can't Scare Me! (8 page)

BOOK: You Can't Scare Me!
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22

I asked Kevin to help me, and he refused. So I brought Hat, Molly, and Charlene over to beg him.

“Let me get this straight,” Kevin said, frowning at us. “You want me and two friends to get into our Mud Monster costumes and scare some girl in the woods?”

“Not
some girl
,” I told him impatiently. “Courtney.”

“She deserves to be scared,” Charlene quickly added. “Really. She's been asking for it.”

It was Saturday afternoon. We were standing in my backyard. Kevin had the garden hose in his hand. He did a lot of lawn chores on Saturdays. He was about to water the flower beds.

“The video is all finished,” Kevin said, tightening the nozzle. “I'm glad I don't have to get into that costume and put on all that drippy makeup again.”

“Please!” I begged.

“It'll be fun,” Hat told Kevin. “It'll be really funny.”

Kevin turned the nozzle, but no water came out.

“The hose is tangled,” I said, pointing. “Let me untangle it for you.” I bent down and started to work the knot out of the hose.

“Courtney and her friend Denise have this tree house in the woods by Muddy Creek,” Charlene told Kevin.

“I know,” Kevin replied. “We did our video there. We used the tree house in the video. The Mud Monsters climbed up into the tree house to murder a guy. It was cool.”

“Great!” Molly cried. “How about an instant replay?”

“Please!” I pleaded. I'd been doing a
lot
of pleading with Kevin ever since I got the idea.

“So you want the three of us to wait in the woods at night, right?” Kevin asked.

I untangled the hose. Water sprayed out onto Hat's sneakers.

He jumped back with a startled cry. We all laughed.

“Sorry,” Kevin said, turning the spray on the flowers. “It was an accident.”

“Yeah. You and your friends wait in the woods. Then, when it's really dark, you come out and scare Courtney to death!”

“You mean we make weird sounds and stagger around with slimy mud dripping off us and pretend to chase her,” Kevin said.

“Right,” I replied eagerly. I could see he was starting to get interested.

“How are you going to get her to the tree house at night?” Kevin asked.

A good question. I hadn't really thought about that.

“I'll get her there,” Molly said suddenly. She'd been very quiet all afternoon.

“You'll pretend to be Denise?” I asked. “That didn't work out well last time.”

“I won't need to be Denise this time,” Molly said mysteriously. “Don't worry. I'll get her there.”

Kevin raised the hose till the strong spray rose up the side of the house. He had his back turned to me. I couldn't tell what he was thinking.

“Well? Will you do it?” I asked, ready to start pleading and begging again. “Will you get your friends to help out, too?”

“What's in it for me?” Kevin asked without turning around.

“Uh …” I thought quickly. “I'll be your servant for a week, Kevin,” I said. “I'll do all your lawn chores. I'll mow the lawn. I'll water and weed. And … I'll do the dishes every night. And I'll clean your room.”

He turned and narrowed his eyes at me. “Get serious,” he muttered.

“No. Really!” I insisted. “I'll be a total servant. Total! For a whole week.”

He turned off the nozzle. The water fizzled, then slowed to a drip. “How about for a month?” he said.

Whoa. A month was a long time. A month of doing all of Kevin's chores and jumping at his every command. A whole month …

Was it worth it? Was it worth turning myself into a pitiful, overworked servant for a month just to scare Courtney?

Of
course
it was!

“Okay,” I said. “A month.”

He grinned and shook my hand. His hand was wet from the hose.

He handed the hose to me. “Take over, servant,” he ordered.

I took the hose from him. Water dripped onto the front of my jeans.

“When do you want the three Mud Monsters to appear?” Kevin asked. “When do you want to scare Courtney?”

“Tomorrow night,” I replied.

23

I'm not really sure how the legend of the Mud Monsters got started. I heard about them first from another kid when I was little. The kid was trying to scare me, and he did a pretty good job of it.

The legend goes something like this:

Some early settlers of our town were too poor to build houses. So they set up little huts in the woods along the banks of Muddy Creek.

The creek was much bigger then, much deeper and wider. It wasn't just a muddy trickle of water the way it is today.

The people were poor and hardworking and, pretty soon, they'd built an entire village of huts along the creek. But the people in town looked down on them. They refused to help them in any way.

The town officials refused to share the city water supply with the Muddy Creek people. The
store owners refused to let them buy anything on credit.

Many of the Creek people were going hungry. Many of them were sick. But the town refused to help.

This all happened over a hundred years ago. Maybe even longer.

One night, there was a terrible rainstorm. Pouring rains and hurricane winds.

Before the Creek people could run to safety, the creek rose up. The muddy banks towered up like a tidal wave, a tidal wave of heavy black mud.

The mud swept over the village. It buried all the huts and all the people. Like lava from a volcano, it buried everything beneath it.

The next morning, there was nothing left of the village. The creek rolled by, high on its muddy banks. The woods were silent and empty.

The village and all the people were gone.

Only not completely.

According to the legend, once a year when the moon is full, the villagers rise up from the mud. They're monsters now, half dead and half alive. They're Mud Monsters.

And once a year the Mud Monsters pull themselves up from their muddy graves to dance in the moonlight — and to seek revenge on the townspeople who refused to help them.

That's the local legend, as much as I know of it.

Of course it isn't true. But it's a really good story, I think. And it's been told again and again, passed on from one generation to the next. The story has scared an awful lot of kids. Including me.

And now, on Sunday night, Kevin and his two fellow Mud Monsters were about to terrify Courtney, the girl who couldn't be terrified.

At a little after seven, Kevin was in the bathroom, putting the finishing touches on his costume. He had thick brownish-orange mud caked over his face and hair. He wore a loose-fitting black shirt over baggy black jeans. His clothing was dripping with mud, too.

I stepped into the doorway and examined him as he piled more thick goo onto his hair. “Yuck. You really look gross,” I told him.

“Thanks, punk,” he replied. “Did you finish loading the dishwasher?”

“Yes,” I said grudgingly.

“And did you collect all my dirty clothes from my room and put them in the hamper?”

“Yes,” I muttered.

“Yes,
sir,”
he corrected me. “A servant should always be polite.”

“Yes,
sir,”
I repeated. He had been running me ragged ever since I'd agreed to be his servant. It was truly unbelievable how many chores he found for me to do!

But now the big moment was rapidly approaching, the moment that would make my month of drudgery worthwhile.

Kevin turned to me. “How do I look?”

“Like a pile of mud,” I replied.

He smiled. “Thanks.” I followed him down to the front hall. He picked up the car keys from the little table. “I'm going to drive over and pick up my two friends,” he said, admiring his gruesome appearance in the hall mirror. “Then we'll find hiding places in the woods. Want a lift?”

I shook my head. “No. Thanks. I've got to go to Molly's first. There's one little detail we have to take care of.”

“What's that?” Kevin asked.

“Getting Courtney to the woods,” I replied.

24

“Hi, Eddie. What's going on?” Molly's dad asked.

We were standing in Molly's kitchen. Her dad pulled open the refrigerator and removed a can of ginger ale. Then he searched the shelves, squinting into the light.

“Nothing much, Dad,” Molly replied nervously. “Eddie and I are just hanging out.”

He turned away from the refrigerator. “You two want to play some Scrabble or something?”

“No. No thanks,” Molly replied quickly. “Not tonight, okay?”

I glanced up at the kitchen clock. It was getting late. We didn't have time for any long discussions with Molly's dad. We had to get Courtney to the woods.

“How about some card games?” her dad said, sticking his head back in the refrigerator. “You've been wanting me to teach you poker. I don't have much to do tonight, so —”

“Eddie and I have to talk about stuff,” Molly said. “And … uh … we have to call some kids.”

Her dad looked hurt. He pulled some cold cuts from the fridge and started to make a sandwich. “You two hungry?”

“No. We're not,” Molly replied impatiently. She pulled me toward the den.

“Molly, we've got to hurry,” I whispered.

“Tell me about it,” Molly said dryly. She pushed her glasses up on her nose. “Here. You can listen on this phone, Eddie. I'll go upstairs and call Courtney.”

“What are you going to say? You're not going to pretend to be Denise?” I was starting to feel really nervous. We should have called Courtney a lot earlier. We shouldn't have waited until the last minute.

Molly flashed me a mysterious smile. “You'll see,” she said slyly. Then she disappeared upstairs.

I paced back and forth in the den for a minute or so, giving Molly time enough to dial. Then I carefully picked up the receiver and held it to my ear.

Molly already had Courtney on the phone. “Who is this?” Courtney was asking.

“It's Molly,” was the reply.

I held my breath. Why was Molly telling Courtney the truth?

“Hi, Molly. What's up?” Courtney asked, surprise in her voice. She and Molly had never exactly been pals.

“I heard something I thought you'd be interested in,” Molly said breathlessly. “I just heard that the Mud Monsters are supposed to appear at the creek tonight.”

There was a long silence on Courtney's end. Finally, she said, “This is a joke, right?”

“No,” Molly answered quickly. “I really heard it. They said it's a full moon, and this is the night the Mud Monsters rise up every year.”

“Molly, give me a break,” Courtney said sarcastically. “Come on. Why'd you call me?”

She isn't buying it,
I thought, gripping the phone tightly, too nervous to breathe.
Courtney isn't buying it. Molly's idea is a flop.

“Well, Courtney, you said in school that you believed in monsters,” Molly said. “And so when I heard about the Mud Monsters, I thought you would be really desperate to see them.”

“Where did you hear about this?” Courtney demanded suspiciously.

“On the radio,” Molly lied. “I just heard it on the radio. They said the Mud Monsters were going to rise up in the woods tonight when the moon is up.”

“Well,
you
go,” Courtney said coldly. “You can tell me about it in school on Monday.”

Oh, no,
I thought.
Failure. Total failure. The whole plan is a bust. My brother is going to kill me!

“Well, I might go,” Molly told Courtney, not giving up. “I mean, you don't get a chance to see real monsters very often. But if you're scared, Courtney, you should stay home.”

“Huh? What did you just say?” Courtney demanded, her voice rising shrilly.

“I said,” Molly repeated, “if you're too scared, you definitely should stay away from the woods.”

“Me? Scared?” Courtney's voice was almost high enough for only dogs to hear. “I'm not scared of any Mud Monsters, Molly. I'll see you there in ten minutes. Unless
you're
too scared.”

“No. Really. Stay home,” Molly told Courtney. “I don't want to be responsible. If you start to panic and you get hurt —”

“See you there,” Courtney said sharply. She hung up.

A few seconds later, Molly returned to the den with a wide, pleased smile on her face. “Am I a genius, or what?” she asked.

“You're a genius,” I replied. “Let's get going.”

25

I felt a cold shiver as Molly and I neared the woods at Muddy Creek. The air was surprisingly cool and damp. Slender wisps of black clouds floated over the full moon, which still hovered low over the trees.

“This is exciting,” Molly said, her eyes searching the dark trees ahead of us. “I can't believe we're finally going to scare Courtney.”

“I can't believe it, either,” I said. “I just keep wondering what will go wrong
this
time.”

“Nothing will go wrong,” Molly assured me. “Stop being such a pessimist. Tonight's the night, Eddie.”

Charlene and Hat were waiting for us at the edge of the woods. Molly saw them first and waved. We both began jogging over to them.

“Have you seen my brother and his two friends?” I asked, gazing toward the dark woods.

“No,” Hat replied.

“But we saw Courtney,” Charlene reported. “She and Denise were hurrying to the tree house.”

“She brought Denise?” I cried. “Great! We'll terrify Denise, too!”

“Did they see you?” Molly asked Charlene.

“No way,” Charlene replied. “Hat and I hid. Over there.” She pointed to a cluster of thick shrubs.

The woods suddenly grew brighter. I glanced up to see that the wispy clouds had rolled away from the moon. Pale yellow light, eerie light, washed over us.

The trees suddenly shook in a gust of wind. It sounded like whispering all around us.

“My brother and his friends must be hiding down by the creek,” I said. “Come on. Let's go. We don't want to miss the big moment.”

The four of us made our way through the trees. We tried to walk silently, but twigs and dried leaves crackled noisily under our sneakers.

I gasped when I heard a soft moan.

A haunting, sad cry. Mournful.

I stopped and listened. Another moan.

“Wh-what's that?” I stammered in a choked whisper.

“Sounds like a bird. A dove, maybe,” Charlene replied.

Another moan. Yes. It was a dove, up in a tree.

“Hey, Eddie, you're not freaking
already,
are you?” Hat demanded. He slapped me hard on the back. “You've got to keep it together, man.”

“I'm together,” I muttered. I felt embarrassed that I'd panicked over a stupid dove. I was glad it was too dark for them to see me blushing.

I reached out and flipped Hat's cap around, just to get my mind off the dove.

“Hey!” Hat cried out, spinning around angrily.

“Ssshhh.
Quiet. Courtney and Denise will hear us,” Molly scolded.

We made our way quickly toward the tree house. The woods grew darker as we crept under the whispering trees. We huddled closer together as we walked. No one whispered or spoke.

I heard more low moans. Soft cries.

I forced myself to ignore them. I wasn't going to allow myself to be frightened by any more birds.

It seemed as if we had walked for hours, but I knew it had only been a couple of minutes. My throat felt dry, and my knees were a little shaky. Just from the excitement, I guessed.

“Oh!” I cried out as I tripped over something, a raised tree root or a rock. I went sprawling in the dirt face-first. “Ow.”

Hat and Charlene pulled me up quickly. “Are you okay?” Charlene whispered.

“Yeah. Fine,” I muttered, brushing myself off. I had landed hard on my right elbow, and it was throbbing like crazy.

“Stop trying to scare us,” Charlene scolded me.

“I'm not,” I protested. Rubbing my aching elbow, I followed them along the path.

We stopped at the edge of the clearing. Keeping in the darkness of the trees, we stared out at the tree house.

It was more like a platform with walls than a house. I mean, it didn't have a roof or anything. Courtney and Denise were perched in it, leaning against one side.

Moonlight washed over the clearing, and I could see them both clearly. Courtney had a pair of binoculars up to her eyes. Denise was shining a flashlight into the trees. She had a camera around her neck.

Perfect,
I thought, snickering to myself.
They always have to be the perfect scientists.
I was surprised they hadn't made work sheets so they could check off the Mud Monsters when they saw them. Under wildlife!

My three friends and I squatted down behind a clump of tall weeds and watched them. Courtney and Denise kept chatting as they peered out over the tree house wall. But I couldn't hear what they were saying.

“I can't wait!” Hat whispered, leaning toward me. His dark eyes flashed excitedly under the brim of his cap. He was furiously chewing a big wad of gum. “Where's your brother?” he asked.

My eyes searched the trees that lined the creek bed just behind the clearing. “I don't see him,” I whispered to Hat. “But he and his friends are there somewhere. And they're going to come walking out any minute.”

“And then the fun will begin,” Hat whispered, grinning.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Then the fun will begin.”

But I had this gnawing doubt, a heavy feeling of dread.

Where
were
Kevin and his friends?

Where are they?

And then I saw something moving behind the tree house at the edge of the clearing.

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