Authors: R. L. Stine
Mr. Dulwich said something, but my thoughts were too loud. I couldn't hear him. He squeezed the sleeve of my overcoat. “Young man, I asked you a question. What is
“Rick. Rick Scroogeman,” I said. “Remember? I'm the new kid. I arrived yesterday?”
He took the attendance book from my hand, and his finger rolled down the list of his students. He took his time, reading carefully.
Finally. He raised his eyes to me. “I'm afraid you aren't in my class, either, Mr. Scroogeman.”
“Butâbutâbutâ” I sputtered like a motorboat. The heavy feeling in my stomach spread to my whole body.
“You should check Mr. Harrison's class,” he said, closing the book. “Perhaps since you are newâ”
“No,” I said. “I'm not in another class. I'm in
He shrugged. “Sorry. You're not here.”
where am I
?” I cried.
“Nowhere,” he said softly.
And as he said that word, he faded away.
The word lingered in my mind. And repeated.
Nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere.
Mr. Dulwich vanished slowly, and the classroom faded with him. His desk shimmered and then was gone. The color seeped from the walls until I was surrounded by gray. Solid gray everywhere I turned. The little Christmas tree was the last thing I saw.
And then there I stood, like I was suspended in space, in a solid, silent world of grayÂ â¦ no shadesÂ â¦ all the same grayÂ â¦ until I didn't know if I was seeing or not. Didn't know if my eyes were open or closed.
Then, when someone grabbed my shoulder, I opened my mouth and screamed.
I spun around.
And cut off my scream as I saw a short, pudgy man in a black-and-white-checkered suit beside me. He had a funny face. I mean, the kind of face that makes you laugh. A big pink lightbulb of a nose and round black owl eyes, and a tiny red mouth shaped like a heart.
He had ringlets of curly orange hair falling from beneath a tall, shiny black top hat. He wore a red bow tie and had a matching red flower in the lapel of his checkered jacket. The flower looked like the kind that squirts water.
“Are you ready to come with me, Scroogeman?” he said. He had a high voice and kind of sang the words instead of speaking them.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I demanded.
His round cheeks turned red. So did his bulby nose. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” he said in his odd singsong.
For a moment, he disappeared into the gray. Then he came back in full color.
“You're the Ghost of Christmas Presents?” I said. “Did you bring me my Christmas presents?”
He flickered again and nearly disappeared.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas
,” he said. “I shall take you to your familyâif you have learned the lessons of the past.”
My heart skipped a beat. “You'll take me to my family? Really?” I cried happily. “Oh yes. I learned a lot. I learned a lot of lessons from the past.”
Okay, I was lying. You know it, and I know it. But
didn't have to know itâdid he?
He stared hard at me, so hard his big bulby nose twitched. “And what lessons have you learned, Scroogeman?”
Think fast. Think fast.
“I learned to be a good guy and always be nice to people and to think about other people's feelings, not just my own.”
The ghost crossed his arms in front of him. “I thought you were a better liar than that,” he said.
“Oh, I am. I am,” I replied. “Just give me a chance.”
“What did you
learn?” the ghost asked.
“Not to go running into a pigpen at night?”
He gripped my shoulder again. His grip wasn't gentle. He tightened his fingers until I flinched. “Ow.”
“I'm taking you to your family, Scroogeman,” he said. “You have much to learn in the present day.”
“IÂ â¦ I get to go back to Mom and Charlie?” I asked.
He didn't reply. He stared straight forward. We started to drop.
I gasped. We were falling fast, falling straight down through the solid gray. The cold air came up to meet us. It was like falling through clouds.
That was a dream I had a lot. Just falling straight down through clouds. FallingÂ â¦ fallingÂ â¦ and never landing.
The ghost's top hat flew off his head. His hand dug into my shoulder. We plunged down, then started to slow. Colors swirled up in the gray, bright flashes of green and blue and red. So bright, I shut my eyes.
When I opened them, I was standing on something solid. A floor in a living room. My eyes took a long time to focus. I saw a green carpet, stained and torn. The walls were covered in a green wallpaper. Some of it was curling off at the top.
Blinking hard, I saw a scrawny Christmas tree behind a low black couch. It had an angel tilted at the top and only a few tree decorations hanging on its skinny branches. A single flame flickered in the fireplace. A
banner hung crookedly over the mantel.
The Ghost of Christmas Present was pushing down his wiry orange hair with both hands. Without his top hat, his hair had blown in all directions during our fall.
I tapped him on one arm. “Whoa. You got it wrong,” I said. “This isn't my house. You've made a big mistake.”
“Ghosts don't make mistakes,” he replied. “I've never heard of a ghost making a mistake.”
“Marley's ghost made a mistake,” I said. “He tried to haunt the wrong house.”
“Who is Marley?” the ghost asked. “Am I supposed to know him?”
“Forget about him,” I said. “I don't live here. Look at this place. It's a dump.”
He pursed his tiny, heart-shaped lips. “This is your home now, Scroogeman. It's very different from
home. I'm hoping it will make you appreciate your
“I do!” I protested. “I
appreciate my old life. Take me to my house. I'll appreciate it. I swear!”
“My hope is that your new family will show you how you are mistaken about Christmas,” the ghost said, fiddling with his red bow tie. “I think they can show you the true meaning of the holiday.”
I tugged at his sleeve. “And if I learn it, can I go back to my family?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “You have a lot to learn before you can ever think of going back.”
Those words sent a chill to the back of my neck.
The ghost turned away from me. He motioned toward the small dining room. “This is your family now, Scroogeman.”
I saw a ragged-looking man and woman and a pale, scrawny girl, who was about eight or nine. They were standing awkwardly at the dining room table.
The woman had scraggly brown hair falling down the sides of her narrow, lined face. Her eyes were red, as if she'd been crying. She wore a long brown housedress under a square white apron. The apron was dotted with brown and yellow stains.
The man was thin and tired looking, too. His back was a little bent. He leaned on a wooden cane. His streaky gray hair was pulled behind his head in a stub of a ponytail. He wore a black sweatshirt over baggy maroon sweatpants.
The girl was kind of cute. She had wavy brown-blond hair and big blue eyes. She wore a blue smiley-face T-shirt pulled down over faded denim jeans, torn at both knees. She kept motioning impatiently to me. She wanted me to come over to them.
But I turned to the ghost. “Pleaseâtake me out of here. It's Christmas Eve. Take me to my real family. Please.”
“Merry Christmas, Scroogeman,” he said. Then he vanished.
I felt a
of cold air. And he was gone.
“Come to the table, Scroogeman,” the woman said. “You're late. You know it's time for Christmas Eve dinner.”
“Come sit down, sonny boy,” the man said. “If you stand there any longer, I'll swat you. I swear I will.”
They acted as if they knew me, as if I really belonged in their family.
I was suddenly starving. My stomach grumbled. I couldn't remember the last time I had a meal.
I crossed the shabby living room to the dining room. “Okay. I'll play along,” I said. “What's for dinner?”
The woman gave me a thin smile. “We are each going to have a juicy ripe plum.”
Was there something
wrong with my hearing?
Did she just say we were going to have a plum for Christmas dinner?
I let out a sigh and walked over to them. “Where should I sit?” I asked.
“Scroogeman, stop acting the clown,” the mother said. “You know where you sit. Why are you acting so strange tonight? Because it's Christmas Eve?”
I took a chance and sat down next to the girl. Her name was Ashley. I figured it out because that's what her parents kept calling her. She kept poking me with one finger and tickling my ribs when the parents weren't looking. Just like a little sister.
Didn't she know I don't belong here?
The table was nearly bare. The four dinner plates didn't match. On each plate, I saw a purple plum.
“Are we having turkey or ham after the plum?” I asked.
My new father scowled at me. “Scroogeman, we are having a plum for dinner, and let's be grateful for that.”
My stomach rumbled again. “That's all? A plum?” I cried. My voice cracked.
“Slice it very thin, and it will go a long way,” my new mom said. “Show him, Ashley.”
Ashley picked up her knife and began cutting her plum into very thin slices. “This looks so juicy,” she said. “I love Christmas Eve dinner.”
“We always have a turkey
a ham,” I said. “And a big layer cake for dessert.”
“In your dreams?” the dad said. He pushed a slice of plum into his mouth and chewed it as if it were a chunk of steak. “Is that what you dream about, Scroogeman?”
The mom sighed. “A tall layer cake. Yes, that's something to dream about. Maybe somedayâ¦” Her voice trailed off.
I sliced my plum the way Ashley did. I took a bite. Mine wasn't quite ripe. But I didn't care. I was so hungry, I planned to eat the pit.
I finished my plum in about ten seconds. When Ashley turned away, I grabbed three or four slices off her plate, and I ate those, too.
“Hey!” she shouted angrily. “MomâScroogeman ate some of my plum.”
“It's Christmas, dear,” the mom scolded. “Be generous.” Mom turned to me. “What else do you dream about?”
“I dream about my Christmas presents,” I said.
“Well, I have a nice present for the two of you,” the dad said. “It isn't anything special. You know how hard it has been for me at the factory. Especially with my bad back.”
He climbed to his feet and crossed the room. He picked up two small items from the top of a cabinet. He handed one to Ashley and one to me. A smile spread over his face. “These were made with love,” he said. “Made with my own two hands.”
I gazed at mine. It was a tiny piece of molded plastic, very smooth, shaped like an old-fashioned whistle, painted blue with smile emojis up and down it. Ashley's was just like mine, only painted green.
I raised my eyes to Dad, who was still smiling. “What are they?” I asked.
“Key chains,” he said. “They let me use the three-D printer at the factory, and I made them. My own design.”
“Love it!” Ashley cried. She jumped up and hugged her dad.
“Yeah. Awesome,” I said. “Thanks. Awesome present.” I tucked it into my jeans pocket.
“Maybe someday you'll have keys to put on them,” the mom said.
I slipped the last plum slice off Ashley's plate and swallowed it before she could try to grab it back. “And that's it for presents?” I said, thinking of the big stack of gifts in the closet back home.
“Christmas is a time of giving,” Mom said, flashing me a sad smile. “We've always taught you that, Scroogeman.”
“But you're not giving us anything else?” I said.
“We gave some of your clothes and some of your old games and books away,” Ashley said. “We gave them away toâ”
?” I cried.
“To those less fortunate than us,” she finished her sentence.
I stared at her. My mouth hung open. Was that the lesson I was supposed to learn about Christmas? To give my stuff away? They had to be joking.
We just had a plum for dinner. And we got plastic key chains for gifts? And they were talking about people
? Are you kidding me?
“Are you ready for our Christmas Eve dessert?” Mom asked. She disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a few seconds later carrying a plate of green grapes.
“My favorite!” Ashley cried, clapping her hands.
What a weirdo.
Mom dropped four grapes on each plate. “Enjoy,” she said.
Dad took his knife and sliced each grape into two halves. Then he ate the halves slowly, holding them up one by one, chewing each one a long time. “Now let's do our annual Christmas tradition,” he said. “Let's go around the table and tell what we are grateful for.”
Excuse me? Was I supposed to be grateful for a plum and four grapes?
Dad started to talk about what he was thankful for. It had something to do with his back being better. I didn't listen. I was staring at something hanging on the kitchen wall. Squinting into the kitchen, I saw the calendar stuck on the side of a cabinet.
And when I saw the year, I had to force myself not to utter a cry. Not to pump my fists in the air and leap onto the table and do a celebration dance.
. The ghost hadn't lied. I really