Authors: R. L. Stine
Charlie yawned and turned another page in his book. Mom settled back in her chair and started to knit.
I lowered my
shoulder and pushed it against the invisible barrier. I couldn't budge it. I strained and struggled, pushing the invisible wall with all my might.
“That won't do you any good, Scroogeman,” a voice said.
I spun around and gasped again. I stared at the Ghost of Christmas Present. Stared at his bulby nose and red cheeks, his ringlets of curly orange hair beneath his tall shiny black top hat. He wore the same red bow tie and still had a matching red flower in the lapel of his checkered jacket.
“Why not?” I cried. “Why can't they see me or hear me? Why can't I go to them?”
“You cannot go back to your life, Scrooge,” the ghost said, shaking his head. “Not until you prove you are ready.”
“I'm ready,” I said. “I've changed. I'm a totally new person! I'm kind now. I'm generous. I'm going to be nice to everyone. You have to let me back to my family. I miss them
The ghost frowned at me. “We Christmas ghosts don't do this for our health, Scroogeman. We took you away because you were ruining Christmas for everyone.”
“I know. I know. But that's the pastâ” I insisted. “That's before I learned what my friends really think of me. Before I learned how horrible I was.”
“You have to prove it,” he said. “I can't just take your word for it. You have to prove that you've changed.”
“No problem,” I said. “I
prove it. I want to. I want to show everyone that I'm a new Rick Scroogeman.”
He fiddled with his bow tie. “WellÂ â¦ go ahead. Show me that you have changed. And I'll send you back to your family in time for Christmas.”
“And my birthday,” I said. “Don't forget my birthday.”
But he had vanished once again. Ghosts have a habit of disappearing while you're still talking to them. It's very rudeâbut I wasn't about to complain.
The aroma of the roast turkey filled my nostrils. I saw Mom and Charlie in the next room, so close and yet so far away. Once again, I had a sudden urge to cry. Can you imagine?
That's how desperate I was to get back, to be with Mom and Charlie and have a real Christmas.
I suddenly had a plan. I knew just what I wanted to do.
I started with Lucy Copperfield. I walked through tall snowdrifts to her house in the next block.
Was the Ghost of Christmas Present watching me?
I didn't care. I didn't need him there. I knew what I had to do.
I kicked snow off my shoes as I stepped onto Lucy's front stoop. I rang the doorbell. After a few seconds, a voice shouted, “Go away!” It was Lucy.
“I just came to talk to you,” I shouted through the door.
“Go away, Rick,” she repeated. The door opened a crack. I could see one of her eyes peering out at me. “I know what you're going to do,” she said. “You're going to smear my glasses with your thumbs. Then you're going to mess up my hair.”
“No. No way,” I said. “Open the door, Lucy. I came to wish you a Merry Christmas.”
“Ha!” she exclaimed. “Double ha. I heard your essay in Miss Dorrit's class, remember? âBah, Humbug. Why I hate Christmas'? Everyone heard what you wrote, Rick.”
“No. That was a long time ago,” I said. “I was wrong. That essay was wrong. I've changed, Lucy, andâ”
“Beat it, Rick,” she snapped. “I'm working on an art project and I don't want it to dry.”
“I can help you with it,” I said. “I'm a good artist. Let me help you. Please.”
“Ha!” she repeated. It seemed to be her word of the day.
“I can help you with your homework,” I said. “Would you like that? Or I could walk Hank for you. I know you hate walking your dog in the snow. Let me walk Hank.”
“Stop trying to trick me, Rick,” she said.
“Would you like to bake cookies together?” I said. “We could have fun making Christmas cookies. Seriously.”
“And you'll smear cookie dough in my face?”
“No. No way. We can make little stars and little Christmas trees andâ”
. She slammed the door hard in my face. I nearly toppled off the stoop.
“Lucy?” I called through the door. “Come back. I just want to be your friend.”
Silence. She didn't return.
I sighed and slumped away.
Josh Cratchit lived in a tiny brick house two blocks away. I trudged through the snow and rang his bell. His mom opened the door. She seemed very surprised to see me.
I stepped inside. They had a scrawny Christmas tree in one corner. It was nearly bare. I didn't see any presents under the tree. Josh's baby brother was wailing his head off in a highchair. Josh's twin sisters were trying to quiet the baby.
“Josh is in his room,” his mom said, pointing to the door. “Does he know you're coming over?”
“It's a surprise,” I said. I poked my head into Josh's room. “Merry Christmas,” I said, flashing him a friendly smile.
“D-d-don't HURT me!” he cried. He jumped up from behind his laptop and backed away, holding both arms in front of him like a shield. “Please, Rickâdon't h-h-h-hurt me!”
“I just came over to say hi to a good friend,” I said. I raised my hand and stepped toward him. “Give me five, friend!”
“N-n-no. Please!” he begged. “Please don't p-p-p-punch me in the stomach or give me a wedgie or p-p-pull my shirt out from my jeans or twist my arm behind my b-b-back till it cracks.”
I shook my head. “Would I do something like that? That was the old Rick Scroogeman. Now I'm different. I came over to be your friend.” I pointed. “Look. Your sneakers are untied. Let me tie them for you. And I see that pile of dirty laundry on the floor. Let me do your laundry for you, okay? I can do all your chores, Josh. Like a real friend. Wouldn't that be awesome?”
“G-g-go away,” Josh replied. He backed all the way against the wall. His eyes were wide with fright. “Please, Rick. Give me a b-b-break. I know you're going to hurt m-m-m-me. Go away!”
I suddenly had a heavy feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. No one believed that I had changed. Did this mean I'd never be able to return to my family?
My shoulders slumped in defeat, I crept out of the house. I could still hear Josh's baby brother crying. The sun had disappeared behind heavy clouds. The air had become cold and raw.
Where should I try next? I didn't have a clue.
And then suddenly, I had a great idea.
I hurried home.
My brain was spinning. My plan had to work. I
to get back to Mom and Charlie. I was desperate to be home with them for Christmas.
I didn't want to think about what would happen to me if I failed again.
Mom and Charlie were in the kitchen. Mom was setting the kitchen table. Charlie was chewing on a Fruit Roll-Up, his favorite kind of fruit.
I called to them and tried to step into the kitchen. But the invisible wall blocked my way. They couldn't hear or see me.
A wave of sadness swept over me. I fought it off. I still had hope. I knew I had one more chance.
I climbed the steep steps to the attic and made my way quickly to the closet. I clicked on the light. The presents I had greedily unwrapped were still strewn on the closet floor.
I searched frantically through the presents until I found the ones I wanted to give away. I struggled to rewrap them as best as I could. Then I hurried back out of the house, into the snow and biting, cold air and the cloudy charcoal sky.
Back on Lucy's stoop, my finger trembled as I rang the bell.
“Go away!” I heard her angry shout inside the house. “I told you to beat it, Scroogeman!”
“ButÂ â¦ butâ¦,” I sputtered. “Lucy, I brought you two Christmas presents.”
I held my breath. Would she open the door?
Yes. She pulled it open halfway and eyed the packages in my hands suspiciously. “Is this one of your tricks?”
I pushed the two presents into her hands. “No. Merry Christmas, Lucy. These are for you. I picked them out special. I hope you like them.”
She still had that suspicious look on her face. She opened the first one. “What is this?” she demanded. “Handkerchiefs?”
I nodded. “They are for wiping your glasses clean whenever I smear them with my thumbs,” I said.
That brought a smile to her face. “Seriously?”
“Yes,” I said. “Open the other present.”
She opened it and stared at the present I'd given her. “Huh? A hairbrush?”
“That's for when I mess up your hair,” I said. “You'll always be ready to brush it again.”
Lucy laughed. “That's awesome. Great gifts, Rick. At least, I know they'll come in handy.” Her expression changed. “Sorry I didn't get you a present.”
“No problem,” I replied. “I just want you to be my friend.” I stared at her. “Will you be my friend?”
A long pause. Finally, she said, “Okay. We can give it a try.”
She stepped back. “Do you want to come in? We could work on my art project together.”
“Maybe later,” I said. “That would be awesome. But I have another present to give out. See you later.”
As I made my way down her snowy front yard, my heart started to pound a little harder. This next one was going to be harder.
A lot harder.
A few minutes
later, I stepped up to Josh Cratchit's house. The baby had stopped crying. But now Josh's twin sisters were fightingâscreaming and yelling. Something about which one of them broke an American Girl doll.
Josh lives in a very noisy house. I understood why he liked to shut himself up in his room.
When I poked my head into his room, he jumped up again. His face went pale and he staggered back to the wall. “Wh-what do you want?” he stammered, his eyes wide with fear.
I handed him the present I'd brought from my closet. “Here,” I said. “This is for you, Josh. Merry Christmas.”
He eyed me suspiciously, the same expression Lucy had. He unwrapped the present and stared at it. “A s-songbook?
A Christmas Carol
I nodded. “Yes. For you.”
“B-b-but why?” he demanded.
“A few weeks ago, I saw this show on Nickelodeon,” I explained. “It was about kids who stutter. And one kid said that he stuttered when he talked, but he
stuttered when he
. And I thought maybe you'd like to try it. Maybe singing will help you.”
Josh's mouth dropped open. He gaped at me wide-eyed. “Rick, what a n-n-nice gift,” he said. “You really w-wanted to help me?”
“Yes,” I said. “And, Josh, I promise I'll never make fun of you again.”
He stared at me, trying to figure out if I was serious.
“Let's try it,” I said. I took the book from his hands and opened it to the first song. “Silent Night.”
Josh hesitated. “I d-d-don't know. Iâ”
“Come on. We'll sing it together,” I said. I held the book between us and started to sing. We both sang “Silent Night,” and it sounded pretty good. And Josh didn't stutter. Not once.
“Let's try another one,” I said.
I turned the page and we sang “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” And again, Josh didn't stutter once.
When we finished the song, he had tears in his eyes. He shook hands with me. He actually
. “Rick, this is the n-n-nicest present I ever got,” he said.
“I hope that means we can be friends,” I said.
He shook my hand again. “Friends.”
I felt so good as I left Josh's house, I hopped down the porch stairs and did a cartwheel in the snow. When I stood up, the Ghost of Christmas Present was standing there.
He flashed me a thumbs-up. “Go home, Scroogeman,” he said. “It's almost Christmas.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I ran into the kitchen, wrapped my arms around Mom's waist and hugged her tight. “I'm home. I'm home, Mom,” I choked out.
I kissed her cheek. I hugged her again. Then I gave Charlie a long, tight hug. My throat felt choked with emotion. I couldn't speak. Couldn't make a sound.
“Rick, where have you been?” Mom asked. “You've been gone nearly an hour.”
An hour? That's all?
“UhÂ â¦ I went to see Lucy and Josh,” I said.
“Well, sit down,” Mom said. “I knew you wouldn't be late for Christmas Eve dinner. And, hey, it's almost your birthday. I have your favorite cake.”
“That's nice,” I said. “But I'm just so happy to be here, to spend Christmas and my birthday with you and Charlie. My awesome family.”
Mom squinted at me. “Rick? Do you have a fever or something? You're acting weird. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I said. “I'm just so excited to be back andâ”
“Well, sit down and stop yammering,” Mom said. “The food is getting cold.”
And soÂ â¦
It started out as the worst, most frightening Christmas ever. But it ended up as the best Christmas and birthday I ever had.
My new attitude changed everything. I loved all my presents. I loved my birthday cake, although vanilla isn't my favorite. I loved playing video games with Charlie. I even shared my birthday candy with him.
Because of my frightening adventures, because of the three ghosts and the horror they put me through, I was a changed kid. I was bubbling with happiness. And I loved Christmas. Everything about it.
I couldn't wait to get back to school after New Year's to show everyone the new Rick Scroogeman. That morning, I wore a new pair of straight-leg jeans and the red-and-black ski sweater Mom had knitted for me for Christmas. I felt good and I wanted to look good.