Authors: R. L. Stine
I pressed my ear against the closet door and listened. Silent out there. No creaks. No footsteps. No one breathing hard.
He wasn't there.
I was trapped in the closet. My heart was pounding now. Drops of sweat dripped down my forehead and cheeks.
I tried the door again. No. I couldn't move it.
Then the lightbulb went out.
And it got really scary.
I froze there
with my shoulder against the closet door. I blinked in the deep darkness.
“Whoa,” I muttered to myself. The closet suddenly felt hotter, as if someone had turned up the heat. I sucked in a deep breath, and the air burned my throat.
Locked in a pitch-black closet, and no one knew I was up here.
I mopped sweat off my forehead with one arm. My
was wet and sweaty. I made a wheezing sound as I sucked in another breath.
No air in here
, I thought.
It's getting hard to breathe
That thought sent a chill of panic shooting down my body.
I reached for the light switch. Clicked it several times. No light. The bulb was definitely burned out.
Should I call for help? Will Charlie hear me downstairs?
It was worth a try. I opened my mouth to shout. But I stopped when I saw an eerie green-yellow mist swirling at the other end of the closet.
I uttered a sharp gasp. It looked like a cloud. It curled in on itself like a snake. I stared without breathing, without moving as the mist curled and uncurled, up to the closet ceiling, then down again, floating closerÂ â¦ closer to me.
Was it going to wrap itself around me?
“Nooooo!” A cry escaped my throat.
The mist grew brighter. The green faded as the yellow flamed. Sparks spit out from the swirling serpent of fog.
“What is happening?” I choked out in a whisper.
The air suddenly felt cold, cold and heavy and wet.
The mist rose up in front of me. It formed a glowing, yellow wall. So bright I had to shut my eyes.
I was shivering now. Shivering from the cold and from my fear.
And when I opened my eyes, I found myself staring at a face.
A pale yellow face. An old man's face, with scraggly white hairs on a craggy bald head, white whiskers down both cheeks. His nose came to a sharp point. His eyes glowed red like burning coals. He wore a gray nightshirt down to his knees. It hung loosely on his thin body.
I couldn't look away from the glowing red eyes. They held me as if I were hypnotized.
And then I suddenly realized what had happened. The closet was so warm. I had fallen asleep. I had drifted off to sleep, and now I was having a nightmare.
“Am I dreaming this?” The words escaped my throat in a hoarse, trembling voice. “Can I wake up now?”
“You're not dreaming,” the old man replied. The words sounded as if they were coming from somewhere far away, not from this glowing yellow figure in front of me.
I swallowed. My mouth was dry as sandpaper. I started to shake.
I told you, there's only one thing in this world that I'm afraid of, and that's ghosts. And now I knew I was staring at a ghost. I was locked in this closet with a terrifying ghost.
“Wh-who are you?” I cried in a tiny voice.
“Don't you recognize me?” he boomed. The bright, pulsing light billowed around him.
“N-no,” I stammered. “Why should I recognize you?”
A wave of heat washed over me. The old ghost's eyes bulged. “I'm Marley's ghost,” he shouted, his voice echoing in the tiny closet.
My mouth dropped open. “Huh?”
His eyes narrowed on me angrily. “I'm Marley's ghost. I've come to warn you, William Delaney.”
“Whoa.” I raised both hands, signaling him to back off. My brain spun with confusion. “William Delaney?” I choked out.
The old ghost raised a bony finger and pointed. “You are William Delaney. Don't try to escape your fate, William. You cannot run from your doom.”
“ButâButâ” I sputtered. “I'm not William Delaney. I'm Rick Scroogeman.”
A flash of light made me blink. The ghost appeared to fade for a moment. He slipped back in the darkness of the closet until he appeared dim and small. “Scroogeman?” he said. “You're telling the truth?”
I let out a long, shuddering breath. “The Delaneys live across the street,” I said. “The redbrick house on the corner. You got the wrong house.”
Marley's ghost nodded slowly. His eyes appeared to sink deep in their sockets. A low hum came from deep in his chest. “Sorry about that,” he said. He turned to the wall. “I'll be gone now. I have to haunt William Delaney.”
“UhÂ â¦ wait,” I said. “Before you go, could you do me a favor? Could you open the closet door for me and let me out?”
He had nearly disappeared. Only his face and one hand remained, floating in front of me.
He floated closer, his ghostly face just inches away. “Your turn is coming, Scroogeman. You must remain in this closet. Your journey is about to begin.”
“You won't help me?”
He didn't answer. He lowered his head and began to vanish through the wall.
“Don't let the door hit you on your way out,” I said.
He was gone. Marley's ghost was gone. I sat there, still shaking, staring at the glowing darkness where he had floated.
Then the darkness exploded into bursting red and yellow lights. And from the flash of light came a deep voice: “I've come for you, Scroogeman. I've come for you now.”
The bright colors
faded. Blinking hard, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. And stared at a hooded figure. His long gray robe reached the floor, covering his whole body. It billowed like drapes at an open window, and I heard a sound like rushing wind.
I couldn't see his face. It was hidden under the hood. “I've come for you, Scroogeman,” he repeated in his deep bass drum of a voice.
He turned toward me and I could see into the hood. I saw only blackness in there. No face. No face at all.
“G-go away,” I stammered. “You have the wrong guy. You want Delaney across the street.”
,” the ghost boomed. And again I heard the wind, as if a storm had blown up inside his empty hood.
“Wh-what do you want?” I choked out. “This isn't Halloween. You're too late for the costume contest.”
The wind became a roar, like a powerful burst of thunder. I fell back against the closet wall. My whole body shuddered.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past!” the hooded figure screamed.
“You don't have to shout. I can hear you,” I said, rubbing my throbbing ears. I stared into the hood, into the solid blackness.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” he repeated, a little softer.
“And I'm the Easter Bunny,” I said. I don't know where I got the courage. But my fear turned quickly to anger. “Get out of my closet. Let me go.”
The ghost floated over me. “You'd better act more scared,” he warned. “I really am a ghost.”
And now I started to shudder. Sitting on the floor with my legs outstretched, my knees began to knock. I couldn't stop them.
I told you before, I've been afraid of ghosts my whole life. Ghosts are the only thing I'm afraid of.
And now here I was, locked in the attic closet, storm winds blowing, and a headless, hooded ghost come to haunt me.
“What do you want? Where are you taking me?” I cried.
But he didn't answer my question.
“Scroogeman, you have ruined Christmas for the kids in the school play,” he said. “You have frightened your classmates and made their lives unhappy. And now you have ruined Christmas for your mother and your brother by tearing up all the presents.”
An invisible hand clamped onto my shoulder. I couldn't see it, but it felt wet and cold. “Come with me. I'm going to take you to where you can see the error of your ways.”
He tightened his hold on me until I gasped in pain. “Is this like the movie?” I cried. “That gross Christmas movieâ?”
“IT ISN'T A MOVIE!” he boomed, his voice rattling the closet door. “This is real, Scroogeman.”
The wind picked up again. It quickly grew to a roar. And then a
rocked the closet. I covered both ears with my hands as the blast sent me flying off the floor.
Flying into a deep blackness.
I could still feel the bone-hard grip of the ghost's invisible hand pulling me. I couldn't see him. I couldn't see anything. But I felt him pulling me awayÂ â¦ away from the closetÂ â¦ away from my home.
Pulling meÂ â¦ away.
I shut my
eyes tight. Swirling winds howled around me. I heard voices moaning as if in pain. I heard loud sobs. Someone groaned, “
Help meÂ â¦ Hellllp meâ¦”
The cries made me open my eyes. No one there. I was still being pulled through total darkness. The skin tightened on my face. I couldn't breathe. The wind was smothering me.
screaming? Wailing at the top of my lungs without stop?
My cries echoed as if I were in a huge cave. And thenÂ â¦ I was on a street corner. The hooded ghost stood beside me, still squeezing my hand in his icy grip.
Too dizzy to stand, I slumped onto my knees. My head felt like a spinning top. The ground tilted and swayed.
Finally, I felt a little stronger. My heart pounding, I climbed to my feet. I was suddenly wearing a heavy overcoat and a fur hat I'd never seen before.
I gazed around. A tall, dappled horse clopped past, pulling a small wooden carriage. No cars on the street.
Two men walked past, wearing long black overcoats and wide-brimmed hats pulled down low over their heads. They stepped over snowdrifts, their leather boots nearly up to their knees. One of them carried a slender silver walking stick. He gestured with it in the air as he talked.
Two men on horseback trotted past. And then another horse-drawn carriage.
“Where am I?” I demanded. My voice came out faint and shrill, like a whistle. “Is this the past or something?”
The ghost nodded. “You got that right.”
Two women wearing big gray bonnets and fur-collared coats over long, pleated skirts walked past. One of them walked right
That sent a chill down my back. He wasn't kidding about the ghost part.
That meant I'd been kidnapped. Kidnapped by a crazy invisible ghost and takenÂ â¦ taken who knows where!
Were there police here? Could I report him to the police? Can you report a
to the police?
I suddenly thought about Charlie. Mom was at the store. He was home all alone. What if I couldn't get back home? Did that mean he'd get all of
No way I'd let that happen!
I tugged my hand free from the ghost's cold grip. “You have to take me home,” I said.
“No, I don't,” he said. “I have taken you far from your home. To a distant time. Before you were born.”
“But my mom will be waiting. Sheâ”
“Your mother hasn't even been born yet,” he said. “Scroogeman, I brought you back to the distant past to show you a lot of things. You ruined Christmas for a lot of people. Now you need to learn the real meaning of the holiday.”
“But I already know that,” I protested. “What do you think I was doing in that attic closet? I was discovering what's important about Christmasâmy presents.”
He shook his head. Two tall dark-hatted men in long overcoats walked past, both rubbing their beards and talking at once. One of them walked through the ghost as if he were made of air. The ghost didn't seem to mind.
I'm the only one who can see him
, I realized.
No way I could report him to the police.
“Wh-why did you do this to me?” I stammered. “Why did you bring me so far back in the past?”
He lowered his hood close to my face. I could still see only darkness inside. “Because I knew you wouldn't like it,” he whispered.
The answer sent a chill down my back. “ButÂ â¦ in the movie, the Ghost of Christmas Past makes Scrooge revisit his childhood,” I said.
“This isn't a movie,” he snapped. “You have many lessons to learn, Scroogeman. You need to learn how to treat the people you know. Have you ever heard of the Golden Rule?”
“Sure,” I said. “Do it to others before they do it to you.”
He remained silent for a long time. “Okay,” he said finally. The gray hood bobbed up and down. “Okay. That's the Golden Rule. I have brought you back in time to a place where they practice
“Good,” I said. My head was spinning. I didn't really know how to reply.
“âDo it to others before they do it to you,'” the ghost repeated. “Let's see how you like that, Scroogeman.”
The long robe swirled around him as he turned away from me. He floated into the street as a horse and carriage clattered by.
“Hey, wait!” I called. “Where are you going? You can't just leave me here. Where are you going?”
He turned, and again I saw the empty blackness inside the hood. “Time for you to start school, Scroogeman. Follow me.”
Everything went black.
When I could see again, we were standing in a dimly lit hall. Torches along the wooden wall provided a flickering light. Christmas wreaths were hung at the windows. Weird-looking, old-fashioned-type kids carrying leather book bags by their straps strode past us.
“This is your new school, Scroogeman,” the Ghost of Christmas Past said. “The Bleak Academy.”
I stared at the kids walking past. Some of the boys must have been farmers. They wore dark denim overalls to school. Flannel shirts and bib overalls with straps like suspenders.