Authors: R. L. Stine
“He's a Moon Man. He flies home to the moon every night,” Benjamin said. “That's why we've never seen him in the village.”
“Where do you live?” Emily-Ann asked.
“IÂ â¦ I don't know,” I answered.
They laughed again.
I live? The ghost never told me. Maybe I didn't have a place to live. Maybe he wanted me to freeze to death in the snow.
“Pleaseâ” I begged. I know, I know. I never begged for anything in my life. Other kids begged
for things. But I couldn't help it. I was desperate. “Please. You don't have to believe me. But I need you to help me.”
“Remember that crazy book I read?” Emily-Ann said to Prescott. “It was a story about how they made an enormous cannon and shot three men to the moon. Mr. Dulwich said he read it, too.”
Prescott slapped me on the back. “Okay, Stoogeman. We'll find a big gun and shoot you to the moon.”
“Stop it,” I said. “I told you, I don't live on the moon. I live in Illinois. In the twenty-first century.”
“Do you have a fever?” Benjamin asked. “You could see Dr. Honeycutt in the village.”
I sighed again. “I guess you can't help me. I just thought maybe you could tell me how to get away from here. Maybe get to a big city. Maybeâ¦” My voice trailed off.
I was trapped back in the 1800s. I suddenly thought about Charlie. And Mom. Were they looking for me? Were they worried to death because I had disappeared?
Would I ever see them again?
And what about my Christmas presents? What would Mom do with them if I wasn't there?
I almost had tears in my eyes. I'd never felt so sad in my life.
“I can help you,” Prescott said, breaking into my frightening thoughts.
I blinked. “You can?”
“Time travel,” he said. “That's what you want. Time travel, like in one of those crazy novels.”
I nodded. “Yes. That's it. That's what I need.”
Emily-Ann and Benjamin exchanged glances. Prescott kept his eyes on me. “I can help you with that,” he said. “Meet me right here tonight after dinner.”
That night, I
waited for Prescott on the path behind the school. Even in the heavy overcoat, I hugged myself against the cold blasts of wind that sent swirls of snow flying all around. The pale moon was high in the sky now, and the wintry bare trees rattled and shook as if they were shivering, too.
My teeth were chattering by the time Prescott arrived, tromping over the deep snow in his knee boots. He was followed by Emily-Ann and Benjamin, both wearing tall fur hats, their heads down, bending into the wind. Silvery light washed down over all of us. No other light anywhere.
I felt as if I were walking in a dream, a dream of silver light and purple shadows. I kept waiting for the ghost to appear. I kept thinking he would come and ask me if I'd learned my lesson about the Golden Rule. And I'd say, “Yes, of course, I have. I have learned a lot and I'm ready to go home.”
Maybe that was a lie. But in my daydream, the ghost believed me and instantly took me home.
Daydreams usually don't come true. The ghost was nowhere to be seen. And here I was, shivering in the dark, squinting at the three kids in their black overcoats and fur hats. Desperate for them to help me.
“Do you really know something about time travel?” I asked Prescott.
He nodded. “I do. We're going to take you to the time tunnel, Scroogeman. We're going to send you home.”
My chest suddenly felt tight. My heart began pounding. Should I believe him?
I had to. I had to believe he really knew how to send me back where I belonged.
The other two kids didn't say a word. They kept their heads down. When they raised them, I saw the solemn expressions on their faces.
This was serious stuff. No kidding around.
For a moment, I felt like leaping up in the air and cheering. I had the urge to bump knuckles with all three of my new friends. But, of course, that would only confuse them. No one bumped knuckles in this time. They didn't seem to touch at all.
“Follow me,” Prescott said, his voice just above a whisper.
We started to follow the path. No one spoke. The only sounds were the rattling of the trees, the howls of the swirling winds, and the crunch of our shoes on the snow.
The path cut through a patch of trees and then over a wide, flat clearing. In the distance, I saw a small farmhouse, flickering orange light in one window. It vanished in the darkness as we kept moving.
How far did we walk? I can't tell you. My brain was spinning with thoughts about time travel and returning home.
We came to a snow-covered rail fence and stopped. “Climb over,” Prescott instructed me. “This is Morgan's farm. The time-travel tunnel is here. But no one ever dares go near it. Everyone in the village is afraid.”
My heart started to pound even harder. I knew I was close now.
I gripped the top rail and hoisted myself over the fence. The other three followed. As we started to walk again, a long, low building came into view, black against the gray-black sky. The building clung to the ground like a tunnel, and I knew this was it. This was my way home.
I was breathing hard as we stepped up to one end of the long building. I could see a wooden doorway with crisscross slats in the center of the wall.
“This is the tunnel through time,” Prescott said in a whisper. I could barely hear him above the rush of the wind.
“Good luck,” Emily-Ann murmured. Benjamin remained silent. He hung back as if he were afraid to come too close.
“You need to take a running start,” Prescott instructed me. “Lower your head and run full speed. I'll swing the door open. Don't stop. Run as hard as you can.”
I nodded. “I will,” I said, my voice trembling. “Thank you. Thank you all for bringing me here.”
Prescott placed a hand on my shoulder. “We wanted to send you where you belong,” he said. “Now go. Go fast.”
He strode to the wide wooden door and signaled for me to run.
I took a deep, shuddering breath. Lowered my head. And forced my legs to move. The door swung open and I ran into the blackness of the tunnel. Ran faster than I'd ever run in my life.
As I stormed
into the building, I was hit by a blast of hot air. The ground was soft. My shoes slid in soft mud. I struggled to keep my balance as I roared forward.
It was darker than the night in here. I couldn't see a thing. A sharp aroma greeted me, heavy and sour. I heard soft cries, animal bleats.
My shoes pounded the soft goo. I heard a splashâand lurched forward. My hands shot up as I lost my balance. My sneakers slapped the mud but couldn't catch hold. I fell hard, fell face forward.
My body hit the soft, wet ground. My head burrowed into the mud. And I slidÂ â¦ slidÂ â¦ suddenly aware of the putrid odorÂ â¦ the foul odor of the air, of the mud, a powerful smell that made me choke and gag.
Stunned, I raised my head from the muck. Animal grunts and squeals surrounded me. I struggled to my feet. My clothes were covered in thick mud. The mud caked my face and my hair.
I had landed on my hands. They throbbed and ached as I rubbed the mud off them on the front of my overcoat.
A flickering light behind me made me spin around. I was gasping for air. But I inhaled the sick smell with each breath. My whole body shook. Where was I?
The orange-yellow light grew brighter as a man approached. He was big and broad and stern faced, carrying a flaming torch. He wore a gray flannel shirt under a huge pair of overalls. His bulging belly bounced with each step.
He didn't take his gaze off me as he stepped carefully through the mud and around the deep puddles. Finally, he stopped and held the torch high, studying me in its circle of light.
“What are you doing in my pigpen?” he demanded in a booming voice.
I gasped. “Pigpen?”
He looked me up and down. “You're covered in slops. You're going to smell for a year!”
Suddenly, in the light from the torch, I could see the enormous hogs lined up on both sides of me. About two dozen fat pigs all staring at me, honking and bleating.
The smellÂ â¦
Yes. The smell. The thick muck stuck to my clothes, my face, my hair. I pulled a soft, rotted corncob from under my collar.
My stomach lurched. I was about to puke. I forced it down.
“The other kidsâ¦,” I choked out. “They told me to run in here andâ”
He spun around. “Other kids? I didn't see any other kids out there.”
“The three kids from school,” I said. “They brought me here. They saidâ”
I didn't finish my sentence. I dodged the big farmer and ran to the pigpen door, my sneakers slapping up mud. I burst outside, shouting, “Hey! Where are you? Hey!”
No one there.
The frozen air hit me and made me gasp. The moon had disappeared behind clouds. I squinted into the total darkness.
I knew what they had done. It didn't take long to figure it out.
The joke was on me. I was so desperate to escape, I had fallen for it.
Or rather, I had fallen
A pigpen. Not a time tunnel. A filthy smelly pigpen.
Had they taught me a lesson with their mean joke? I was too cold and mud-caked and putrid smelling to think about it.
Torchlight washed over me. I turned to find the farmer standing behind me. “You'd better go home, son,” he said. “Where do you live?”
I shook my head sadly. “Nowhere,” I said. “I don't live anywhere. Can IÂ â¦ Can I come in your house and take a bath?”
He squinted at me. “Afraid not. I can't let you in my house. You smell too bad. But you can sleep here in the pigpen tonight, if you like.”
Suddenly, the pigs all started honking and bleating. As if they didn't want me, either.
Luckily, the farmer
took pity on me and changed his mind. He let me sleep on a wood cot in his back room. I scrubbed myself at his pump in the kitchen. His wife was kind enough to lend me a nightshirt as she washed my clothes.
Lying on the hard cot, shivering under the thin blanket they had given me, I couldn't get to sleep. I peered out the tiny back window, up at the pale moon as it slid in and out of the clouds.
I knew why the Ghost of Christmas Past had brought me back to this awful place. To learn about the Golden Rule and all that junk about why it's better to be a nice boy.
But all I could think about was revenge.
I thought of scheme after scheme. But I decided none of them would work. It would be seriously impossible to get revenge on Prescott, Benjamin, and Emily-Ann. Because they lived here and knew everyone at school and knew the village. And I didn't know anything about anything. I didn't even have a place to live.
“But maybe I can at least get them in a little trouble at school,” I told myself. I decided I'd tell Mr. Dulwich that the three of them kidnapped me and threw me into a pigpen because I'm the new kid. At least, he would give them a strong lecture about that.
The next morning, I thanked the farmer and his wife. I raced to school, my open coat flapping behind me, my sneakers crunching on the hardened snow.
The red morning sun reflected off the snow. The wind had stopped swirling. The bare trees stood perfectly still.
I was breathing hard as I reached the school building. The front hall was empty. I realized I was early. I stopped and caught my breath before going into Mr. Dulwich's classroom.
He was at the back of the room, leaning over a small Christmas tree. I saw that he was attaching slender white candles to the branches. His black suit jacket was unbuttoned. His pointy collar stuck up from his shirt. His eyeglasses glistened from the sunlight pouring in through the window.
He turned as I stepped into the room. “Mr. Dulwichâ?” I started.
He cleared his throat. “Can I help you, young man?”
“IÂ â¦ I need to report three students,” I said. I took a few steps closer. I hadn't expected to feel this tense. “They grabbed me last night andÂ â¦ and forced me to spend the night in a pigpen.”
true. Maybe I made it sound a little worse than it was. Why should I tell him they had tricked me?
Mr. Dulwich set down a candle and pushed the glasses up on his nose. “Three students? From my class? Why did they do that to you?”
“They didn't like me, I guess,” I replied. “They said they didn't like new kids.”
He nodded. “Can you tell me their names?”
“Yes,” I said. “Prescott, Benjamin, and Emily-Ann.”
His eyebrows went up. “Please repeat those names, young man.”
So I repeated them.
“I believe you've made a mistake,” he said. “Perhaps you are in the wrong classroom?”
“No way,” I replied. “I was here yesterday. They were here, too, andâ”
Mr. Dulwich shook his head. “No. Not here. I am afraid I have no students named Prescott, Benjamin, or Emily-Ann.”
“Of course you
do,” I insisted. “They sat near the front andâ”
Mr. Dulwich took long strides to his desk. His heavy shoes made the floorboards squeak. He shoved aside some papers on his desk and raised a black notebook.
I stepped up to the desk. “Is that your class list?”
He nodded and shoved the open book toward me. “This is my attendance book. You can see with your own eyes,” he said. “There are no students in my class named Prescott, Benjamin, or Emily-Ann.”
I let my eyes run down the list. He was telling the truth.
I suddenly had a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had to force myself to breathe.
What is going down here?