The other passengers on the bus gave us funny looks. They all exited the bus with their umbrellas open. They thought rain was on the way.
“Psst! Let’s walk to the castle,” I whispered to the other three. “It’s not that far. Maybe the gnats won’t notice if we sneak away.”
gnats won’t notice,” Stella said. She pointed to the exhaust pipe on the bus. It was stuffed with thousands of dead bugs. Was that why the bus stopped and went out of service? Did the gnats know
were on the bus?
I started to walk fast down the road. The squad followed me. The castle was ten minutes away. It only took us five, running as fast as we could. Maybe we really could outsmart the bugs.
When we got to the castle’s
gates, however, a single fly buzzed around the security box. Where one fly flies, more would follow. We didn’t have much time.
I rushed to the gate and punched the security code that we’d used last time.
It didn’t work!
No dice. I looked behind me. The swarm was coming toward us. They had caught up.
Lucky for me, Ranger was right there. He had already figured out what to try next.
“Same castle, different monster,” Ranger quipped. Just like that, the
claw gates opened.
“Hurry, hurry!” Stella said. “I think the giant gnat cloud is about to make landfall!”
We sprinted to the door and pounded on it.
I tried the handle. It was unlocked. We hurried in and slammed the door shut before the bugs could follow us.
“Hello? Anyone home?” I called out. The castle seemed to be deserted.
“We can talk to Walter later,” Ranger said. “Let’s go to the video vault now!”
We headed downstairs. I hummed theMega Mantis
Claws and wings
Comes to town to destroy things
Mega-right or Mega-wrong?
Eats you up with just one bite
Mega-Mantis! What a fright!
Stella grabbed my sleeve. “Would you pipe down, you’re hurting my ears.”
“I’m just having fun!” I said.
“Have fun later,” Stella growled. “This is serious.”
get some earplugs,” I said. “Or just go away. Far away.”
“Say muenster!” Lindsey cried. I turned and she snapped a picture of us.
The camera flash put a thousand dots in front of my eyes. It was like seeing the backyard fireflies all over again. Thankfully, there were no
bugs inside the castle with us—
Stella sped up to walk ahead of us. We followed her downstairs and into the video vault. I scanned the walls and shelves and bins and floor and . . .
“Whoa,” I said, taking a step back. “Is this place
Movie reels were now lined up alphabetically alongside old video cassettes, DVDs, and other discs.
“Walter said he was going to straighten it out for us,” Lindsey said. “I guess he meant it.”
“It looks like a real library now,” I said excitedly as I glanced over rows and rows of reels. I wondered which ones were originals and which ones were copies.
“Found it!” Stella cried from across the room. Wow! She worked fast!
In Stella’s hand was a reel marked
Ranger noticed there was a sticker on the box, too.
We groaned. Something marked
could not have let loose the giant mantis in Riddle. Only reels marked
could be destroyed to stop the monsters. I guess it made sense that Leery would have destroyed all of the originals he had.
“I knew it wouldn’t be that easy,” Lindsey said. “But let’s watch it like we planned and look for some clues.”
We popped the reel onto a projector and settled down to watch.
Opening credits scrolled onto the screen. Creepy background music got louder as an ordinary looking praying mantis twitched on a leaf. The camera pulled back to reveal an oversized terrarium and a pair of scientists. They observed the bug through a pair of binoculars. One scientist shouted, “Sir, I think the subject’s forelegs are growing again!” The other scientist shouted, “Horrors, my good man!”
These guys were dorkier than the biggest dorks at Riddle Elementary.
All at once, the camera panned to the outside of the scientists’ lab. Before I could even think
, the whole building blew up. Just like that, the entire town was blanketed in radioactive isotopic experimental desert dust. Well, that’s what some guy in the movie called it.
Leery must have filmed the scenes for
out at the old Riddle Air Force hangar. I recognized the wire fence around its borders, the tumbleweeds, and the deserted hangar in the middle of it all. There were these big spotlights that lit everything up, too. What a perfect landing strip for Mega! Where better for a hundred-foot bug to spread its wings?
There were other scenes filmed all over Riddle, too. I recognized the enormous cedar tree that was outside the Riddle Library. Mega snapped off some of its wide branches and chewed them right up. Once Mega Mantis had grown as tall as a skyscraper, it hissed its way through Main Street, stepping on people and animals and destroying every car in sight. The sound effects were incredible!
Ranger and I disagree on many things about the Bs, but one thing we always agree on is that Oswald Leery knew his facts and he used them carefully. If Leery made a movie about bugs, his bugs were mostly anatomically correct and they did bug things. The only monsters with no rules or reality were B-Monsters like the Beast with 1,000 Eyes who could, by the way,
people to death after putting them into zombie trances and making them do very weird things.
But Mega was wild enough for today. We watched as the mantis chomped off someone’s head and chewed it like a piece of gum.
Then I noticed something about this B that I had never seen before now: Wherever Mega went, little bugs always surrounded it. Little
Swarms like the ones that had been following us everywhere.
Near the end of the film, Mega Mantis knocked down an army tank with its forelimbs. Then it scooped up a crowd of unsuspecting bystanders with its power-grip antennae. Nothing—not even a metal tank—was any match for this incredible B-Monster. The entire town was doomed.
But just as Mega was about to crush the tank with a loud hiss, a laser beam shot down from space. Oswald Leery really outdid himself with this movie’s special effects. The beam shot down once, then twice, and then a third time.
It was the third ray from space that ignited the top of Mega’s head. In a matter of minutes, the mantis was in full burn. Even its pincers were on fire! Mega Mantis looked more like a birthday candle on top of some cake than a bug. And as it burned, the bug let out this whistling wail. It sent shudders down my spine. Oswald Leery captured the moment perfectly! He shot an ultra-close-up on the mantis’s body. It crackled like a barbecued chicken leg on a grill.
“So that’s that,” I said to the others. “All we need is a space laser.”
“A space laser?” Lindsey asked.
“Where are we supposed to get
? The space laser
?” Stella said sarcastically.
“Um . . . could your dad make a space laser?” I asked, turning to Ranger.
“Yeah, Jesse,” Stella said. “Your dad can invent
“Gee,” Ranger muttered, sounding concerned. “My dad’s a pretty busy guy . . .”
“Too busy to save the world?” Lindsey asked.
“Hold on. Maybe we could crisp the giant mantis with something
a laser?” I suggested.
“Like what? A bug-sized flamethrower?” Stella suggested.
“Mega-microwave oven?” I said.
“Mega-nuclear reactor?” Lindsey said.
“How about a plain old pack of mega matchsticks?” Ranger quipped. “Add a gallon of gasoline and
“Um, Damon,” Stella said with this intense look on her face, “I don’t want to freak you out or anything. But there’s something black crawling on your arm . . .”
“Huh?” I jumped up.
“GOTCHA!” Stella cried.
Lindsey and Ranger both laughed.
I gave them both the evil eyeball.
“We need to find Walter and Leery,” I grumbled.
THE AMAZE-ING TRUTH
We were all jumpy as we made our way through the castle looking for Walter. Stella kept trying to scare me just for fun. Lindsey kept taking pictures. Every flash made me see double. I had a fear headache. And I didn’t want to see another bug.
So when something swooped down past my head, I lost it.
“GIANT INSECT!” I wailed at the top of my lungs.
Only that flying object was no insect. It was Poe the crow, official bird of Leery Castle. He landed on my shoulder. Even though he wasn’t nearly as scary as a gnat swarm, my knees were still shaking.
“Hey, Poe. W-w-what’s up?” I stammered.
Lindsey giggled. “Photo op!” She held up her camera for a picture. “Say gorgonzola!”
I was ready to scream again, but thankfully Ranger spoke up first. That guy’s coolness surprises me sometimes.
“Hey,” Ranger suggested. “Maybe Poe can lead us to Walter?”
I looked at the bird. “Yo, Poe, where’s Walt?”
Poe let out a
and flew off my shoulder and into the air. We followed him into a long, skinny hallway.
A row of oil paintings hung on the wallpapered walls. The faces all looked like Leery’s face, so we guessed these were portraits of Desmond and Lucas Leery, Oswald’s father and grandfather. I half expected the pictures to have eyeballs that moved and followed us down the hallway, like the lamest
But the eyes didn’t move.
Each picture was framed in a gold leaf design that looked ordinary from a distance. But up close, I saw the frames were actually made from bugs.
I jumped back.
Then I realized the entire wall was crawling!
I dug around in my pocket for my lucky keychain. It has a penlight on the end of it. I shined the light on to the crawling wall and shivered.
This was so gross.
But there was no time to be scared.
As soon as the pen light hit them, most of the bugs scattered. I saw beetles, grubs, and other crawlies in all sizes. If only I were carrying a portable laser beam instead.
“Geesh,” Stella exclaimed. “This place is even bugging
“Everyone run!” I cried, taking off down the hall.
“Wait up!” Ranger called out to me. “Damon! We have to stick together!”