Authors: R. L. Stine
I couldn't hold it in any longer. I burst out laughing. “Can I help it if some of my ants escaped into the costume cabinet?” I said.
Of course, I was the only one laughing.
“Help me. I can't stop itching!” a girl cried. “I'm going to itch for the rest of my life.”
“The ants are biting me! Look. Red splotches all over my arm.”
“I'm allergic. My skin is breaking out. Ohhh, I feel sick!”
What a bunch of whiners.
Mr. P walked over to me, an angry scowl on his face. “Rick, why did you do this?” he demanded.
I shrugged. “Because it's funny?”
I didn't want to tell him I did it for revenge. The kids onstage didn't want me to be in the show with them. So I paid them back. A little innocent payback.
No big whoop. Nothing wrong with thatâright?
So why did I have to go immediately to the principal's office?
Mr. Martin beckoned
me into his inner office with his pointer finger. He doesn't talk much. He's usually quiet and serious. He watches everyone pass by his office through his square-shaped eyeglasses that make his eyes look as big as tennis balls.
But he never says
. Everything about him is serious and quiet. He wears gray suits every day with black or gray ties. His short brown hair is brushed straight back. He smiles sometimes, but I've never seen him laugh. When he talks to you, you have to lean forward. His voice is so soft, his words seem to dribble down his chin.
He pointed to a chair at the end of the table across from his desk. I sat down in front of a laptop computer. He pulled out the chair next to me and sat down.
“I can explain about the ants,” I said. “It was a total accident.”
Okay, okay. A little white lie.
“I don't want to talk about the ants,” he said. I could smell coffee on his breath, kind of sour. His tennis ball eyes stared into mine. “I want to show you a movie, Rick.”
He started tapping keys on the laptop keyboard. “This is a movie about a boy named Phil,” Martin said. “The movie is being shown in schools all over this country because it's about bullying. Do you know what a bully is, Rick?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“Well, I think you'll recognize what a bully is when you see Phil,” he said. A dark screen came up, and he clicked play. “The film is pretty short. When it's over, you and I will talk about it.”
He picked some papers off his desk and left the room. I rested my head in my hands and gazed at the laptop screen as the movie began.
I was feeling pretty good. I expected a long lecture about why I shouldn't put ants in kids' costumes and how I ruined the Christmas play. But instead I got to watch a movie.
It was fun, too. The movie was called
. This guy Phil looked about my age. And like me, he was the biggest kid in his class. He was loud and funny.
In the first scene, he is in the lunchroom. He tries to take a girl's sandwich. When she grabs it back, he tips a whole carton of chocolate milk over her head. She leaves the room screaming and crying. She's your typical bad sport.
Phil goes out on the playground. He takes a Frisbee away from a bunch of little kids and throws it down a sewer. The little kids get all crazy and upset and start crying. They can't take a joke.
A boy and a girl are doing schoolwork together, standing against the wall. Phil sneaks up behind the boy and pulls his pants down. The boy is so embarrassed, he runs away. Then Phil trips a girl carrying a birthday cake to the lunchroom. She falls on top of the cake and crushes it beneath her.
This is a comedy
, I thought.
Why is Mr. Martin showing me a comedy?
Back in school, Phil takes a girl's homework paper away from her. He crosses out her name and puts
name at the top. Then he hands it in to the teacher. Very clever.
He presses a finger over one nostril, then blows his nose in a girl's hair. Then he pours a box of grape juice into a boy's backpack.
In the last scene, Phil is taken to the principal's office. The principal is this older woman with a stern expression. She sits him down in front of a laptop. And she shows him a movie. It's called
The movie ended. I gazed up and found Mr. Martin standing behind me. He pulled out a chair and sat across from me. “Rick, do you understand now why we are showing this movie to certain kids across the country?”
“Not really,” I said.
My answer made him blink. He clasped his hands together on the tabletop. “Well, do you understand about Phil? Why he has no friends? Why he is so unhappy and alone?”
“Not really,” I said. “Phil looked pretty happy to me.”
Mr. Martin made a choking sound. He blinked a few times. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Well, let me ask you this, Rick,” he said in his soft, quiet voice. “What is your opinion of Phil? What do you think of him?”
“He's awesome,” I said. “I think he's way cool. I mean, he's the star of his own movie, isn't he? That's totally cool!”
Mr. Martin swept a hand back over his short hair. Behind his thick glasses, his eyes went dead. He had no expression on his face at all. He suddenly looked to me like a balloon the air had all gone out of.
He sighed. “Is there anything about Phil that you would change?” he asked. “Think about it before you answer. Please.”
“That striped shirt he wore was kind of lame,” I said. “I guess I'd change his shirt.”
“You wouldn't change anything about Phil's behavior?” Mr. Martin raised his voice for the first time. His gray cheeks turned rosy pink.
“Not really,” I said.
“You know the costumes for the Christmas play have to be sent to the cleaners now. They won't come back in time. You've ruined the Christmas play for everyone, Rick. How does that make you feel?”
“No big thing. It was kind of funny,” I said. “Just a joke, you know?”
“I thinkÂ â¦ I'm goingÂ â¦ to give up on youÂ â¦ Rick,” he said slowly. “I'll have to speak to your mother.” He made a waving motion toward the office door. “You can go home now.”
“Thank you, Mr. Martin,” I said. I climbed to my feet. “And thanks for showing me that movie.”
“Please think about Phil later,” he called after me. “Think about how Phil should change his behavior.”
“No problem,” I said. I stepped out into the empty hall. I could hear the kids from the play in the auditorium down the hall. They sounded angry and upset.
I started to the front doors. I pictured them all scratching and squirming with ants crawling up and down their skin. It made me chuckle.
I didn't realize it was the last time I'd ever see my friends. The last time I'd see Mr. Martin. The last time I'd ever see my school.
As I started to walk home that afternoon, I had no way of knowing that my life was about to change, and the terror would soon begin.
“Rick, can you
help me?” Charlie greeted me as I came through the kitchen door.
I dropped my backpack on the floor. Then I grabbed both of his ears and tugged them as hard as I could. Charlie has huge ears that stick out like side-view mirrors on a car. I just can't resist them.
“Ow. That hurt.” Charlie backed away from me.
“Man up,” I said.
Mom stood at the sink, peeling carrots. She turned around. “Don't pull your brother's ears, Rick. We don't want to make them any bigger. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Five hundred,” I said.
“So? Will you help me?” Charlie waved a big sheet of paper in my face. “I need help with my drawing.”
“Go help Charlie,” Mom said. “Dinner won't be ready for another hour.” She squinted at me. “How come you're late? You didn't get into trouble again, did you?”
I shook my head. “No. There was a big insect problem at the Christmas play rehearsal,” I said.
Of course, I didn't tell her that I caused the problem.
Charlie grabbed my hand and tugged me to his room. He has an awesome room. Big posters of Thor, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man cover the walls.
Charlie is into superheroes and he likes to draw them. The kid has talent. Maybe he'll be a cartoonist someday.
He pulled me to his table and pushed a black marker into my hand. “I'm having trouble drawing a squirrel,” he said.
“Huh?” I stared hard at him. “You draw superheroes all the time. You can't draw a simple squirrel?”
“It's for art class,” he said. “I'm going to get a grade on it. And I don't know where to start.”
“Start with a nut,” I said. “Draw a nut. Then draw the squirrel grabbing the nut.”
He shoved my shoulder. “Don't be funny, Rick. It has to be good.” He pushed my hand toward the paper. “Go ahead. Start it for me. You start it and I'll finish it.”
“Okay, okay.” I leaned over the paper, pulled the cover off the marker, and started to draw.
It took me less than a minute. I set the marker down, raised the paper, and showed Charlie my drawing.
“Hey! You're dumb!” he cried. “You didn't draw a squirrel. You drew a house.”
“I know,” I said. “The squirrel is
inside the house.
I walked out of his room, laughing my head off.
Mom stepped into the hall, brushing her hair back with both hands. “I have to go to the store,” she said. “I forgot the chicken broth. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Watch Charlie, okay?”
She didn't wait for an answer. She turned, grabbed her purse, and hurried out the back door.
Perfect. I was hoping she would leave for a while. Because it was time for one of my important Christmas traditions.
I was already having a fun Christmas season. On Sunday, a group of kids from the high school walked onto our front yard and started singing Christmas carols. They could not
the barrage of snowballs that I heaved at them as they tried to sing. It was a total riot.
Now it was time for another holiday tradition of mine. This was my special tradition where I find where my Christmas presents are hidden, and I check them out before Mom gives them to me.
Ha-ha. Why take chances? In case she messed up, I can give her some new hints about what I need her to buy me. What could be more important at holiday time than getting all the presents I asked for? Especially since it was my birthday, too.
This year, I knew where the presents were hidden. In the big closet up in the attic.
Through the front window, I saw Mom's car speed off. I peeked into Charlie's room to check on him. He was hunched over his squirrel drawing, humming to himself as he drew.
So I crept to the back stairs and climbed to the attic. The wooden stairs were steep and creaky. The air grew hot as I stepped into the attic. It smelled kind of stale up here. A little bit like old sneakers after your feet have sweated in them.
I had to duck my head because the attic ceiling is very low. Gray evening light washed in from the one small window at the other end of the long room.
I unlatched the closet door and pulled it open. A whoosh of hot air greeted me. I fumbled for the light switch and clicked on the single lightbulb that hung on a cord from the low closet ceiling.
There they were. Two piles of Christmas presents stacked against the back wall. One for Charlie and one for me. Already neatly wrapped in shiny red-and-green-and-silver paper.
I walked over to them and counted. Eight presents for me. Six for Charlie. Not bad.
But the big question was, did I get the PlayStation games I wanted? Or did Mom blow it and buy me baby games again this year? Or Xbox games that don't work on my player?
I had to find out. I grabbed the present on top of my pile and ripped open the wrapping.
One of the games I asked for. I tore off the wrapping on the next present.
. A gross, ugly sweater. What is her problem? I
her not to buy me clothes.
I tossed the sweater to the floor and grabbed the next present.
I realized I was sweating. Was it that hot in the closet? Or was I just excited about seeing my presents?
I tore off the wrapping. Handkerchiefs? Huh? A whole bunch of handkerchiefs. Was she out of her mind?
The next present was just as lame. A hairbrush. Yuck.
Mom was totally blowing it this year.
I unwrapped the next one on the pile. Whoa.
A Christmas Carol
songbook. Kill me now.
Worst. Presents. Ever.
The others were a little better. I finished checking them out. Then I rewrapped them quickly. Too bad that I was so eager, I ripped a lot of the paper.
I started in on Charlie's presents next. I had to make sure he didn't get anything that I wanted for myself.
I was about halfway through his presents. Looking at a paint set the little kid was sure to go nuts over. Ha-ha. Another ugly sweater. He'll
I stopped when I heard a sound.
A creak. A quiet squeak.
I glanced up in time to see the closet door start to swing closed.
“Hey!” I cried out. “Who's there? Charlie? Is that you?”
The door shut with a hard slam. I heard a click. The latch on the other side of the door.
“Hey!” I called out again. I dropped the sweater to the floor and lurched to the closet door.
I gave it a hard push. It wouldn't budge. I pushed again. Again. Oh, wow. I was locked in.
“Charlieâopen up!” I shouted. “You're not funny. Open the door if you don't want to get pounded!”
“You're dead meat, Charlie!” I screamed. “Open this door! Charlie?”