Authors: R. L. Stine
“So you're dropping me at another school to help me learnâ
exactly?” I said.
“I'm not here to help you, Scroogeman. I give up. Your school principal gave up on you, too. I'm not going to help you. I'm going to leave you here because this is where you belong. This is your future.”
“But you're not giving me a chance,” I said, my voice trembling. “Lucy's party changed me. I saw what my friends think of me andÂ â¦ andâ¦”
I gazed up at the circling vultures, and a shiver rolled down my back. The black flowers in the big flower bed shivered, too, blown by a sudden cold wind.
The ghost ignored my pleas. The robot led me up the dirt path toward the school entrance. The double doors in the front were black, the same shade as the whole building. “What is the name of this school?” I asked.
“It's called Dead Middle School,” it replied.
I saw black skulls in a row on a window ledge. I could hear the flap of the vultures' wings overhead. The wind blew at my back, as if pushing me into this school.
“Dead Middle School?” I said. “What kind of name is that?”
“You'll find this school interesting, Scroogeman. They have a very good afterlife program.”
I didn't understand. I just knew I didn't belong here. I turned to the robot ghost. “Take me home. Please,” I begged. “I'll change. I'll be totally different.”
It vanished in a puff of cold air.
The black double doors creaked open slowly. I stepped up to the entrance. “Dead Middle School,” I murmured softly to myself. “Catchy name.”
I took a deep breath and walked inside.
I blinked. I'd
expected a dark dungeon. Black halls with cobwebbed ceilings and skulls over every door. I mean, the outside of the school looked like a castle from a horror movie. But the inside looked like a normal school.
I gazed down the brightly lit hall. The walls were yellow tile. Two rows of green metal lockers on either side. The classroom doors were bright colors and stood open. But I didn't hear any voices in the rooms.
My shoes clattered on the tile floor. I stopped in front of a glass trophy case. Inside, the shelves were filled with gleaming sports trophies. One trophy read:
NATIONAL DEAD TENNIS CHAMPIONS, 2095
A red-and-black banner was draped across the hall. It had a football painted on one side, and it read:
CRUSH THEM, CADAVERS!
“What kind of animal is a cadaver?” I asked myself. I'd never heard that word.
I decided I had to find the main office and tell the principal that I'm here. Were they expecting me?
I strode quickly down the hall. Before I could find the office, a buzzer rang out. Kids came pouring out of the classrooms.
I stopped and stared. They looked like normal kids. The guys were in jeans and T-shirts. A lot of the girls wore short skirts with black tights underneath.
“The future looks a lot like my time,” I told myself. “I think I could like this school.”
I felt kind of excited. I wondered if I could make some new friends here. Maybe I could practice being nicer. Show everyone I could be a good dude.
Perhaps it wasn't so bad that the three Christmas ghosts had given up on me. Maybe I could have fun here before it was time to go back home.
But then I noticed something strange. No noise. No voices. The kids had just been let out of their classrooms, but they were all silent.
Must be a school rule
, I thought.
No talking in the halls.
“We'll have to change that,” I muttered. The quiet was giving me the creeps.
“Yo, everyone,” I shouted. “What's up?”
Kids stopped walking and turned to me. Their eyes were wide and blank. Their expressions were surprised. I guess no one broke the rule before.
Three or four kids walked up to me. They appeared to be about my age. They still hadn't made a sound.
A girl with pale green eyes studied me. She was very pretty. She wore a short pleated plaid skirt and a red top. Her light brown hair was perfectly smooth. Not a hair out of place.
I couldn't resist. “How's it going?” I said. I reached out and mussed up her hair. You know. Just being friendly.
Her green eyes went wide. Her mouth formed an O of surprise.
And then I uttered a cry. Staring down, I saw that a chunk of her hair had come off in my hand!
A thick tuft of her brown hair was twined in my fingers. She had a bald spot on top of her head. She grabbed her head and backed away from me.
“No! No way!” I cried.
A crowd quickly gathered around me. The kids' faces were cold. Not friendly. “Hey, guys,” I said. “I'm the new kid. This looks like an awesome school.”
A skinny kid with spiky blond hair stood with his hands on his waist, watching me with narrowed black eyes. “Yo. What's up?” I said. I reached out and bumped knuckles with him.
His hand came off with a soft ripping sound, and it fell to the floor with a
A gasp escaped my throat. I stared at the hand down on the floor.
“UhÂ â¦ sorry about that,” I said.
The crowd had grown bigger and uglier. It was easy to see that I'd made a bad first impression. These kids didn't like me.
I sighed. I felt so disappointed. I really wanted to have a fresh start here. Make some new friends.
But these kids were coming apart. I mean, their hair and hands were falling off. How creepy is that?
“What's up with this school?” I said. “Where do you all come from?”
No one answered.
A big, fat-faced kid with tiny bird eyes on a broad nose, and straight blond hair falling over his wide forehead, bumped up to me. I saw that his hands were curled into fists. I knew instantly that he wasn't coming over to welcome me. This guy was trouble.
I stood my ground. I stared into his little bird eyes. “Would you like a dance lesson?” I said.
I didn't wait for his answer. I raised my shoeâand stomped down as hard as I could on top of his left foot.
You'll never guess what he did.
He didn't do anything.
He stood perfectly still. As if it didn't hurt him at all. As if he didn't even notice that I'd pounded his foot into the floor.
I tried again. I gave him another dance lesson. I tromped as hard as I could on his right foot.
“Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip,” as the Ghost of Christmas Future would say.
He stood there, hulking over me, his fists curling and uncurling. A low moan rose up from the crowd of kids. They didn't speak. They only moaned. They had formed a circle and were closing in on me.
What did they plan to do?
I didn't wait to find out. I ducked my head and burst between two girls, shoving them out of my way. My shoes pounded the hard floor as I ran toward the front of the school.
Their frightening moans followed me. I didn't turn back. I shoved open the heavy double doors and burst outside. The moans cut off as the doors shut behind me.
I took off running. I ran to the side of the building and turned the corner. The black tower rose above me. I ran in its shadow. My heart pounded. My legs trembled as if they were made of Jell-O.
The air felt cold against my burning face. Over the thud of my footsteps, I heard the harsh squawks of the vultures high overhead.
I followed the black stone wall. It led to a wide courtyard behind the school. I stopped when I saw the gravestones.
Behind a school?
They were in neat rows. Low granite stones with rounded tops. All the same size, all tilting straight up in the tall grass of the courtyard.
A loud screech made me jump. Did the sound come from a grave? No. A black cat darted between the rows of graves, its tail held stiffly high.
I glanced back. No one had followed me. I was all alone in this strange school cemetery.
The wind made a shrill whistling sound as it blew through the gravestones. And the ugly squawk of the vultures overhead never stopped.
I stepped closer. Close enough to read the names engraved on the stones. Of course, I didn't recognize any of them.
But I gasped when I read the dates engraved beneath the names. The kids buried here had all died at age ten or eleven or twelve.
A shiver rolled down my body. A cemetery of kids' gravesÂ â¦ Dead Middle SchoolÂ â¦ Those silent kids I met in the hall with their hair falling off and hands dropping to the floor.
I don't know why it took me so long to put it together. But I finally realized the kids I met in that hallway were all dead. Zombies. Were they buried here in this little graveyard? Probably.
The Ghost of Christmas Future had dropped me off in a school of zombie kids.
“This is where you belong, Scroogeman.”
That's what he had said.
“This is where you belong.”
And as I walked along the row of low graves, my whole body shook in shudder after shudder. Was I stuck here with these zombies forever?
I stopped suddenly. My breath caught in my throat. My knees started to buckle. I nearly fell into the open grave in front of me.
A fresh, open hole, a deep rectangle cut into the earth. An open grave.
My eyes bulged and I let out a loud gasp as I read the name engraved on the stone:
So the robot
Ghost of the Future really did plan to leave me here forever. He really had given up on me.
But that wasn't fair. Not fair at all.
I stumbled back. I wanted to get away from the terrifying gravestone. But something held me there. Something stopped me from turning around and running.
I heard a whisper. It seemed to come from down in the open grave.
No. I imagined that. In my fright, my brain was playing tricks on me.
“No!” I cried out loud. “I'm not hearing this! Stop! I don't hear it!”
“Come downnnn, Scroogeman.”
And then I saw a dim flash of movement. Just a blur of gray at the bottom of the hole.
I couldn't help myself. I was too terrified to run. Too terrified to move. But I leaned forward. Leaned over the grave to see what was moving down there.
I opened my mouth to scream when I saw them. But no sound came out.
I stared down at the kids in the grave. They were crowded in there. At least a dozen of them. All staring up at me.
I recognized a few of them from inside the school. I saw the girl with the perfect hair. And the big guy with the bird eyes, the guy I gave a dancing lesson.
I tried to choke out another scream, but I couldn't catch my breath. They were huddled in my graveâand I could see right through them! They were transparent, all in shades of gray. No color.
No color because they were dead!
And now they raised their arms. All at once, they shot their arms up out of the hole. Hands wrapped around my feet. Two guys floated up and wrapped their arms around my waist.
“Nooooo!” I finally found my voice, and a howl of horror burst from my throat. “Noooo! Let GO of me!”
But they started to tug me down, down into the grave. A hum of excitement rose from down in the hole. They were all humming, humming a single note. Singing me to my grave.
I struggled with all my strength. But the hands tightened around my ankles with surprising strength. And more hands wrapped around my legs and waist.
The humming grew louder as the hands pulled and my shoes scraped the dirt at the edge of the hole. Then I started to sink. They were lowering me into the grave, humming, eyes wide, staring without blinking. Eyes wide and blank as they pulled me down.
I opened my mouth and screamed againâin a pleading cracked voice I didn't recognize: “No, please! Please! I'm not dead! I'm not dead! I don't want to be a zombie! Please let me goooooo!”
As I started
to slide down the dirt, down the front of the grave, I swung my body hard. I heard a ripping sound. One of the arms holding my waist fell off. The arm ripped off at the shoulder and fell to the dirt.
I kicked at the hands gripping my shoes. Kicked hard. Again. Again.
The hands went flying.
I frantically ripped away arms and hands. The humming stopped. The only sound now was the whistle of the wind through the graves and the squawk of the vultures circling overhead.
With a groan, I spun around and grabbed the soft dirt at the side of the grave with both hands. I don't know where I found the strength. I guess it came from my total terror. I scrambled up to the surface, my shoes kicking and sliding on the steep side of the grave.
I climbed up to the ground and glanced back down. The dead kids were bent over, recovering their hands and arms. Some dead kids had picked up the wrong hands and were passing them to their owners.
I forced myself to turn away and, sucking in a deep, shuddering breath, I started to run. I didn't know where to run. I just knew I had to get away from the dead kids and their frightening school as fast as I could.
My shoes pounded the grass. I watched the red sun lowering itself behind a row of tall, leafy trees ahead of me. I passed wide grassy lots and then came to a block of small, redbrick houses.
I didn't stop. My side ached and my chest burned, but I kept running. And I didn't look back.
Where was I? Was I really in the future? In the year 2095?
Was there any way I'd ever find my way back to my home, to my mom and brother, back in the time I belonged?
I tried to force these questions from my mind as I ran. I wanted to concentrate on getting as far away from the dead school as I could.