Authors: R. L. Stine
But the ghost and I landed on our feet in front of Lucy's house. The windows were all lighted. A Christmas wreath hung on the front door. Santa and Rudolph the Reindeer decorations filled the living-room window.
“PleaseÂ â¦ let me go home.” The words came out in a choked whisper.
The Ghost of Christmas Present didn't reply. He gave me a gentle pushâand we floated through the front wall of the house.
Blinking in the bright light, I was standing in Lucy's living room. I still felt the cold of the wind on my cheeks. I brushed down my hair with both hands.
My heavy overcoat had disappeared. Now I found myself wearing a red hoodie over faded denim jeans. When my eyes could finally focus, I saw a tall Christmas tree. Brightly wrapped presents with red and green ribbons were piled under the tree. A fire danced in a wide fireplace under a mantelpiece with red candles on either end.
I turned from the fireplace and the tree and saw my friends. Lucy Copperfield was handing a red tree ornament to Davey Pittman. They both wore red-and-green Christmas sweaters. Lucy had a silver ribbon tied in her hair. Davey turned to hang the decoration on a branch of the pine tree.
My heart was pounding like a bass drum now. I was so happy to be back, to see my good friends again.
“Hey, guys! I'm back!” I shouted. I ran up to them. “I'm back! Hey, I'm back!”
They didn't turn or look at me. Lucy took a glass Santa ornament and, standing on tiptoe, dangled it onto a tall branch.
“Hey, guys!” I tried again. “Hi! You won't believe where I've been! But I'm back just in time for your party!”
The Ghost of Christmas Present strode up beside me. “They can't hear you, Scroogeman,” he said.
I uttered a shocked cry. “Huh?”
“They can't see or hear you,” he said. “I didn't bring you here to join the party.”
“Butâbutâthese are my friends,” I sputtered. “I know they've
to miss me. Why can't I be at the party?”
The ghost narrowed his eyes at me. “Are they really your friends? Did Lucy invite you to her party?”
I thought about it. “WellÂ â¦ no. She probably forgot. ButÂ â¦ everyone knows that I'm the
at parties. How can you have a party without Rick Scroogeman?
The doorbell rang. Lucy hurried to answer the door.
“You're here to watch them, Scroogeman,” the ghost said. “You're here to watch and observe. And perhaps learn the truth about yourself.”
He vanished in a puff of cold air.
“Hey, Davey!” I shouted. “
can see meâcan't you? Davey? How's it going? Huh? What's up?”
Davey Pittman lifted a shiny silver Christmas bell from the decorations box and stood trying to decide on a good place for it on the tree.
Shaking my head, I trotted past him and followed Lucy to the front door. She was greeting Josh Cratchit. “Hey, J-J-J-osh!” I called.
He stamped snow off his shoes and handed Lucy a wrapped present. I realized he didn't hear me. He took a few steps toward the living room, then stopped and peered around.
He waved at Davey. Then he turned to Lucy. “Who-who is coming to the p-p-party?”
“Just Billy O'Brian and a few other kids from our class,” she told him.
“Not Scroogeman?” he asked.
“Scroogeman? Of course not!” Lucy replied. She made a disgusted face. “Why would I invite Scroogeman?”
Why did Lucy say that? We've been friends forever.
Josh shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the coat hook behind the door. “G-good. I was worried.”
I stared at him with my mouth open. This didn't make any sense. “Hey, JoshâI thought we were good pals,” I said.
“Scroogeman ruins every party,” Davey said, hanging a red ball on the tree. “He takes over the party and ruins it for everyone else.”
“He's a total jerk,” Lucy said. “And the sad thing is, he doesn't even know it. He doesn't have a clue.”
What's up with my friends? Were they bad-mouthing me because they knew I was standing there?
“Guys! Guys! Give me a break,” I said. I walked over to Davey Pittman and gave him a hard punch on the shoulder.
. My hand went right through him. He didn't feel a thing.
I pressed my face against his cheek and screamed at the top of my lungs into his ear. “CAN YOU HEAR ME, DAVEY?”
He didn't flinch or pull away. He handed a tree ornament to Josh. “Lucy's family always decorates their tree on Christmas Eve,” Davey told him. “It's their family tradition.”
I waved my hands in front of Lucy's face. She didn't blink.
I tried to mess up her perfect hair. But I could see through my hand. And I couldn't feel her hair at all.
I took a step back. I couldn't help it. I felt stunned. I mean, I should be the life of the party, right? Here I was, ready to have fun with everyone. ButÂ â¦ it was like I wasn't there.
Billy O'Brian showed up next, then some other kids from school. I watched them grab cups of Christmas punch and cookies. My stomach rumbled. All I'd had to eat was a plum and a few grapes.
I reached for a stack of Christmas cookies but my hand couldn't pick them up.
, I thought,
this is so unfair.
In front of the fireplace, Sheena Pryce, a girl I was never friends with, was saying something about me. I didn't hear what she said, but the two boys she was talking to burst out laughing.
“Lucy, this is an awesome partyâespecially since Scroogeman isn't here,” Billy O'Brian said.
“Hey, Bellyâyou're hurting my feelings!” I shouted. I grabbed his nose and twisted it. Only my hand went right through his head. He didn't feel a thing.
I swallowed hard. I suddenly realized my feelings
hurt. I felt totally sad, like a heavy wave of sadness had rolled down over me.
“I thought you guys were my friends.” My voice came out shaky and high.
Lucy said something else about me, and they all laughed.
They don't like me. It's true. They really don't like me.
“S-S-Scroogeman makes me f-feel so bad,” Josh said, shaking his head. “I h-h-hate my stutter. I'm t-trying so hard to get rid of it. B-but Scroogeman makes fun of it every t-t-time he sees me. And Miss D-D-Dorrit lets him get away with it.”
The poor guy had tears in his eyes. Because of me? I didn't want to hurt him. I was just having fun with him.
“I'm sorry, Josh,” I shouted. “I didn't know it made you feel so bad. I guess I just wasn't thinking. I promise I'll never do it again.”
He didn't hear me.
I gazed around. “Ghost, where are you? I want to apologize to Josh, but he can't hear me.”
No sign of the ghost.
Billy O'Brian poured himself another cup of punch. “The Christmas play was going to be so much fun,” he said. “I couldn't wait to play Santa. But now we have no costumes, and Mr. Pickwick had to cancel the play.”
“It's like Sick Rick ruined Christmas for everyone,” Lucy said.
Did Lucy call me that, too?
I had a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. My friends
me. They all started telling stories about what a bad dude I am. Even kids I didn't know very well had bad things to say about me.
I backed into a corner and dropped cross-legged onto the floor. I felt kind of dizzy. I guess I was in shock. It was like I was struck by lightning or something.
I didn't know how to deal with this, the idea that everyone hated me so much. All the fun things I did with themâthe dance lessons, my water fountain joke, messing up Lucy's perfect hairÂ â¦ I thought it was all funny.
And now, sitting there invisible, listening to them complain about me, calling me Sick Rick and even worse names, I suddenly
“I don't have any friends,” I told myself. “No friends at all. No one likes me.” I had to say the words to believe it, I guess.
I'd never cried in my life. Crying is for babies. That's what I always believed. Whenever I saw someone cry, it always made me laugh.
But now my chin was quivering. My whole face was trembling. I could feel teardrops cover my eyes.
I wiped them away. I crossed my arms in front of my chest and watched the party. They held an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. Davey won with his awful Rudolph the Reindeer sweater. On one side of the sweater, Rudolph's nose actually lit up and blinked on and off.
They had pizza and hot dogs. They sang a few Christmas carols.
“Lucy, open my present,” Davey insisted.
It was a big box. Everyone gathered around to watch Lucy tear off the wrapping and open it. She pulled out a big balloonlike thing. No. It was a punching bag. An inflated punching bag. You know. You punch it and it bops right back up.
Lucy held it up, a look of surprise on her face. “Davey? You bought me a punching bag?”
“Look at its face,” Davey said. “Don't you see why I bought it? It looks a lot like Scroogeman!”
I jumped to my feet and walked closer. WellÂ â¦ it had my dark hair, and the face was a little like mine.
“Go ahead. Punch Scroogeman out,” Billy O'Brian shouted.
Lucy gave the thing a hard punch. It tilted back almost to the floor, then bounced up. She punched it again. Harder. “Take that, Scroogeman!”
“I want a t-t-turn,” Josh Cratchit said. He started punching the bag across the room.
As I watched in shock, other kids eagerly took their turns punching, punching me. Bopping the bag harder and harder. And laughing. All of them laughing as they hit me.
Believe me, I felt every punch. I felt them in the pit of my stomach.
Punch. Punch. Punch.
I was doubled over in pain. I didn't really feel their punches. I felt their anger and their hatred.
The room filled with shouts and laughter. They were having so much fun punching Scroogeman. “Best present ever!” Lucy shouted over all the voices.
“But I can change!” I cried. “I can change. Really!”
I knew they couldn't hear me. But I shouted anyway. “I can change! I can be a good friend! Do you hear me? Pleaseâhear me. I can change!”
Someone punched the bag so hard, it flew into the air and crashed into the Christmas tree. Ornaments went flying. Everyone suddenly hushed.
I took a step back. I remembered where I was. One block from my house. I could get away from this horrible party. I could run home and see Mom and Charlie, people who loved meÂ â¦ People who didn't hate me.
I turned and took two steps to the front door. And stopped.
They'd disappeared. The room stood empty. No kids. No one.
And then the room vanished, too. I was surrounded by nothing. Pale blue nothing. What was I standing on? The sky?
I spun around. I gazed up, then down. The room was gone. The whole house was gone. If I was floating in the sky, there were no clouds, no sun or moon, just this solid pale blue all around me.
I raised both hands and tried to fly. But no way. I felt as if I were hanging there, like a puppet, suspended by an invisible string.
A burst of cold air, and a silvery figure floated up beside me. A robot. A metal robot. “Who are you?” I cried.
The robot hummed to life. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Future,” it announced in a tinny voice.
“Another ghost?” I said. “Can't I just go home? I think I've learned my lesson. Seriously.”
“Come with me,” the robot said in the tinny, metallic voice. “You have more to learn, Scroogeman. You have only begun to learn the truth about yourself.”
“But my house is only a block away,” I protested. “Pleaseâlet me go home. I learned a real lesson at that party. I know what I have to do now. I have to become a better friend.”
“I am not convinced,” it droned. Its metal hand closed over my hand. It felt cold and hard. “You need to see your future, Scroogeman. Then perhaps you will mean what you say.”
We began to move, soaring higher into the solid blue.
“Wait. Stop! Where are you taking me?” I cried.
“To your future, as I said,” it shouted, and we soared higher. “To the place you deserve. Where you will spend your daysÂ â¦ forever.”
That didn't sound good.
“Can we talk about this?” I asked.
“Another school?” I
cried. “You're dropping me at another school?”
I stared at the tall black building. It looked like Dracula's castle, with two tall round towers on the sides. We were on a dirt path that led to the school. The robot ghost and I stood beside a wide flower bed. The flowers were all
“I'm not going to stay here,” I said. I crossed my arms in front of me, trying to look tough. “That first ghost took me to a weird school where the kids were all mean to me. I've been there, done that.”
The ghost locked its glassy eyes on me. “The other two ghosts tried to help you,” it said, pronouncing each word like a computer. “You ruined Christmas for your friends and for your family. The ghosts tried to help you learn how to treat others and what Christmas should mean to you.”
“I've learned a lot!” I cried. “I can change. Really. I've learned what I have to do.”
“Scroogeman, you learned nothing,” the ghost said. “Zero. Zip. Nada. Goose eggs. Nil. Nix. Naught. Zilch. Diddly squat.”
I squinted at it. “Diddly squat?”
It nodded. “We robots say that a lot in the future.”
I gazed at the tall towers of the huge school building. Were those
circling the towers?