Authors: R. L. Stine
The girls had hair down to their shoulders, tied back in colored ribbons. They all wore long skirts, gray or black, that came down to their heavy leather shoes.
Everyone talked quietly, like they were afraid to make any noise. The loudest sound was the clump of their heavy shoes on the wooden floor.
“I don't want to go to this weirdo school. I want to go to my own school,” I told the ghost.
“Your mean nature has brought you here, Scrooge,” the ghost said. His robe shimmered in the flickering torchlight. “Let us see how you enjoy being in a school where everyone treats you the way you treat others.”
“âMean nature'?” I cried. “Who says I'm mean? Tell me. Who said it? I'll punch out his lights.”
He didn't reply.
“Take me home!” I demanded. “I don't belong here.” I grabbed for his arm, but my hand went right through the sleeve of his robe. “You can't do this to me. I'm not going to move until you take me home. Do you hear me?”
“Good luck in your new school, Scroogeman,” he said softly. “You'll need it.”
Then he vanished in an explosion of cold air.
And I was left standing there in that dark hall, in my jeans and blue polo shirt, the only kid not dressed in gray or black. The only guy in the school with short hair. The only guy here who didn't know anyone at all.
“I DON'T BELONG HERE!”
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
Would anyone care?
A tall, skinny boy in a wrinkled gray shirt tucked into his overalls stepped beside me. He swept back the straight brown hair that had fallen over his forehead. He had little round brown eyes and a long nose that came down almost to his lips.
He looked a lot like a bird. If I'd been back home, I'd have offered him a worm. Ha-ha.
He squinted at me for a long moment. “Are you the new boy?”
I nodded. “I guess.”
“You're Scroogeman?” he asked, still studying me.
I nodded again. “I guess.”
“I'm Benjamin Cooke,” he said. “Mr. Dulwich asked me to watch for you.”
“Who is Mr. Dulwich?” I asked.
“Our teacher,” he said. He squeezed the sleeve of my polo shirt. “Your shirt is the color of the sky,” he said softly.
“So what?” I said.
“Did your mother dye it that color when she wove it for you?” he asked.
I started to tell him my mom bought it at Walmart. But another boy walked up to us. He was big and red-faced and blond and bounced as he walked. He had a black tie knotted at the stiff white collar of his white dress shirt. He grinned at me. “New boy?”
“Watch out for Prescott,” Benjamin whispered in my ear. He took a step back.
“Yeah. I'm new,” I said. “You're Prescott?”
“We don't like new kids,” he said. “I already don't like
. Why are you wearing a circus costume?”
“Why are you wearing
?” I said, pointing to his heavy brown suit jacket and vest. “Do you have a monkey at home waiting to get his suit back?”
I thought it was pretty funny, but Benjamin and Prescott didn't laugh. Prescott's face turned red and he clenched his fists. “No one makes a monkey out of me,” he said through gritted teeth.
I decided I'd better not get him steamed. It was my first day, after all. “I was making a joke,” I said.
made a joke,” Prescott said. “I'm staring at it.”
Benjamin laughed at that one. I decided to play it cool. I didn't say anything about
Some kids had gathered across the hall to watch us. I spotted a very hot-looking girl with long, wavy blond hair down the back of her gray dress. I flashed her a thumbs-up. She turned her head away.
?” Prescott asked. I realized he was staring down at my sneakers. “Why are you wearing
on your feet? Are you an elf who lives in the forest?”
“Those are Air Jordans,” I said.
He scowled at me. “Elf Jordans? You think you're a forest elf?”
Jordans,” I repeated.
“What kind of cobbler would make shoes out of cloth?” Prescott asked Benjamin.
Benjamin shrugged. “Maybe a
They both thought that was a riot. They tossed back their heads and laughed.
“That's not funny,” I said. “These sneakers cost my mom a lot of money.”
“I'll show you what's funny,” Prescott said, winking at Benjamin. “Let me test those elf shoes.”
He raised his big boot and tromped his heel down as hard as he could on the top of my right sneaker.
“Whooooa.” I let out a howl of pain.
funny!” Prescott exclaimed. He slammed his heel down hard again on the same spot.
“I seeÂ â¦ whatÂ â¦ you're doing,” I choked out as pain shot up my leg, up my entire body. “You'reÂ â¦ giving meÂ â¦ a dance lesson.”
The pain was unbearable. I shut my eyes and started to dance.
Mr. Dulwich was
tall and skinny as a spaghetti noodle. He had straight black hair parted in the middle of his head. And he wore round eyeglasses perched on the end of his long nose.
His shirt collar was stiff and stuck out like wings. It wasn't even attached to his starched white shirt. A black string tie hung down from his neck. His suit was black. The jacket was tight against his waist, and the pants were baggy.
I'm not the one dressed like a clown
, I thought.
Put a red nose on Mr. Dulwich and he could perform in any circus.
He greeted me with a short hello. Then, with a wave of his hand, he sent me to an empty desk-chair at the back of the room. I had to squeeze into it. The chair was pretty small.
I turned and saw the blond girl from the hall sitting next to me. She had awesome blue-gray eyes and a few freckles on her cheeks. She didn't say hello or anything. She was busy arranging black pencils in a wooden pencil box.
“Hey,” I said. “How's it going?”
She finally looked at me. “How's
going?” she asked.
I flashed her my best smile. “How you doing?”
“How am I doing
?” she demanded.
“Just saying hi,” I said. “What's your name?”
She tossed back her hair. “Emily-Ann. May I ask a question? Why are you wearing such funny clothes?”
“Because I come from the future,” I said.
She laughed and turned back to her pencil box.
“We have a new student, class,” Mr. Dulwich announced. He stood at the front of the room, leaning on an enormous globe of the world. “Stand up and introduce yourself,” he said, motioning to me with both hands.
It took a struggle to climb up from the little desk-chair. “IÂ â¦ I'm Rick Scroogeman,” I said.
,” I heard a boy in the front row say. I recognized him. Prescott.
Most everyone laughed. Then they began to chant. “Stoogeman! Stoogeman! Stoogeman!”
Dulwich raised both hands to get them quiet. “And where do you come from, Rick?” he asked.
“Rockford,” I said. “It's a little town in Illinois.”
He squinted at me. “Indian country? You come to us from Indian country?”
“That's why he's wearing moccasins!” Benjamin chimed in.
“He's an Indian from the Stoogeman tribe!” Prescott declared.
And they started to chant again. “Stoogeman! Stoogeman! Stoogeman!”
How annoying is that?
Next to me, Emily-Ann was chanting louder than anyone and laughing. Enjoying it too much.
On an impulse, I grabbed the back of her hair and gave it a tug. You know. Playful. Not too hard.
Her eyes went wide in surprise. Then she opened the lid to her desk, pulled out a small black bottle, and emptied it over my head.
It didn't take me long to realize it was black ink. It oozed down my hair and down both sides of my face.
That stopped the chanting. Everyone turned to stare.
Mr. Dulwich came striding down the aisle and stopped in front of Emily-Ann's desk. “That is no way to greet a new student,” he scolded her.
“But it was an accident!” she cried. “My hand slipped, sir.”
A lot of kids laughed.
I felt like a total jerk, sitting there with black ink running down my hair and face. But I was impressed with Emily-Ann. She was a good liar, maybe as good as me.
“Mr. Scroogeman, you will find some towels in the housekeeping cupboard,” Dulwich said. “Dry yourself as best you can.” He turned to the class. “The rest of you, take out your chapbooks. We shall have some quiet reading.”
“Don't you mean Chap
?” I said.
He frowned at me. “Was that meant to be a joke? I'm sure I don't understand it.”
The other kids were pulling these little books from their desks. The books didn't seem to have covers. Just pages.
I climbed out of the tiny desk-chair and started up the aisle to the classroom door. The ink smelled sour, and I could feel it drying in my hair. I wondered where the boys' room was. Maybe this horrible school didn't even have one.
I was nearly to the front of the room when Prescott stuck his foot out and tripped me. I stumbled into the big globe. Landed on top of it. And the globe and I rolled across the floor.
I finally managed to climb to my feet, and I set the globe back on its wooden stand. The whole class was howling with laughter. Prescott was laughing harder than anyone. He stared at me as if challenging me.
Challenging me to a fight?
I ignored them all and made my way into the narrow, dimly lit hall in search of the cupboard with the towels.
I knew what was going on here. I knew it was payback time for me. That hooded ghost wanted to teach me a lesson. He knew my new classmates would play the same kind of jokes on me that I play on others.
I got it. I'm not stupid.
The question was, what was I going to do about it?
The answer came to me instantly. I was going to tell the truth to these kids. Explain to them who I really am. And ask them to help me get
After school, I
tugged on my heavy overcoat and followed the others outside. I saw Benjamin, Prescott, and Emily-Ann walking together along a narrow path cut into the deep snow. The bare trees rattled in a cold wind. The three kids wore long overcoats buttoned to the collar. Their heavy shoes crunched on the hard snow.
I called to them. “Wait up!”
They turned, shifting the straps of their leather book bags. “It's the Stoogeman,” Prescott said, grinning.
I ran up to them, slipping on the icy ground. “Are you walking home?” I asked.
“We take a shortcut through the woods,” Emily-Ann said.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked.
Prescott rolled his eyes. We were standing in the shadow of a low, flat-roofed shed behind the school. It smelled really bad. I realized it was the school bathroom.
Large blackbirds pecked at the ground all around us. Even though the afternoon sun was still high in the sky, a pale white sliver of a moon appeared low over the bare trees.
“What do you want, Stoogeman?” Benjamin asked. He reached out and mussed up my hair with his hand. Then he turned to Emily-Ann. “Think that ink will ever come out?”
“Probably not,” she said.
“That was a tragic accident,” Prescott said. All three of them burst out laughing.
“Can I have your moccasins?” Benjamin asked, pointing at them. “I've always wanted real Indian moccasins.”
“They're not moccasins, “I said. “They're Air Jordans. Sneakers. I told you.”
“They might fit me,” Benjamin said. “Give them to me.”
“No way,” I said.
“Give them to me and you can be my best friend,” he said. That made the other two laugh.
“Listen, I know what you're doing,” I said. “This is the kind of thing I do to kids back home. But pleaseÂ â¦ you've got to help me.”
“Help you out of your moccasins?” Benjamin said. He grabbed my leg and started to reach for my shoe.
“No. Wait. Please.”
If it came to a fight, I could probably take Benjamin
, I thought.
But Prescott is too big. He'll flatten me.
“I need help,” I said. “You see, I don't belong here.”
Prescott rolled his eyes again. “We've been trying to tell you that.”
“No,” I said. “You don't understand. I don't live here. I come from the future. See how I'm dressed? That's how we dress in the future.”
“Too bad,” Emily-Ann muttered.
“People dress in funny colors in the future?” Prescott asked. “And wear cloth elf shoes?”
I nodded. “You probably don't believe me,” I said, “butâ”
“That's the smartest thing you've said,” Benjamin interrupted. “We don't believe you.”
“How can I convince you?” I said. “I'll tell you some other things we wear. We wear a lot of T-shirts.”
Emily-Ann squinted at me. “Shirts to wear to tea? Why would you wear a special shirt to tea?”
I let out a long sigh. I realized I wasn't getting anywhere with these kids. All three of them stared at me with tight grins on their faces. Of course, they believed I was crazy.
I took a deep breath and tried again. “I really need your help,” I said. “I know it's hard to believe, but I don't live in your time. I live in the twenty-first century.”
“And do you come from up
?” Prescott said. He pointed up to the moon. All three of them laughed.
“That explains why you are so strange,” Emily-Ann said. “You come from the moon. We should have guessed it. And are you going to fly back up to the moon for dinner tonight?”