Authors: R. L. Stine
I was back in the right year. Back where I belonged.
And as my new mom yammered on about something she was happy about, I instantly realized what I was happy about. I was happy that I could escape from this house and go home.
I just wait till they're asleep. I run out of this tacky falling-apart house. I find someone who will lend me a phone. I call my real mom and she comes and gets me.
How easy is that?
It wouldn't take long before I was home with Mom and Charlie, in time to celebrate my birthday and Christmas, and eat till I burst, and enjoy all my presents (and Charlie's, too).
Ashley poked me in the ribs, jarring me from my happy thoughts. “Go ahead, Scroogeman. We're waiting for you.”
I gazed around the table. “What?”
“We're waiting,” she said. “What are you thankful for?”
“Wellâ¦” I thought hard.
What was the right answer?
“I'm just thankful to be able to enjoy Christmas Eve dinner with my wonderful family,” I said.
That brought smiles to all of their faces. Score one for Rick Scroogeman.
“Scroogeman is right,” Ashley said. “People have to care about each other. Whether they're rich or as poor as our family. People have to love each other and stick together.”
“Yes. Stick together,” I said. “I'm all about that, Ashley. For sure. I'm all over that, you know. Sticking together is totally my thing.”
Of course, I was thinking of only one thingâescape.
I'm thankful to be getting out of this dump, and I'm thankful never to have a plum and a few grapes for dinner again. Good-bye and good luck.
Ashley helped her parents clear the dinner table. There wasn't much to clear. I mean, there hadn't been any food on the table.
I stood up and stretched. I wondered how early my new mom and dad go to bed. I planned to escape this place as soon as they were asleep.
“Let's go, Scroogeman. Come on. Before it gets dark.” Ashley tugged my hand. “Get your coat.”
“Huh? Where are we going?” I asked.
She jerked my arm. “Don't act dumb. You know where we're going. To build our Christmas Eve snowmen.” She pulled on a ragged gray hoodie and dragged me to the front door.
I guessed that building snowmen was another family tradition I didn't know about. I pulled on a coat I found in the front closet and followed Ashley outside.
It was a cold, windy evening. A red sun was lowering behind the trees. I saw a row of tiny houses, all very close together, lined up across the street behind small, square front yards. This was definitely a poor neighborhood. But all the houses had Christmas lights and decorations in their front windows.
I shivered. The snow in the front yard was at least a foot deep and very crusty. Good for packing.
I couldn't resist. I grabbed up a big handful of snow and molded it into a snowball. Then I cried out, “Think fast!” and smashed it into Ashley's face. I held it there, rubbing it over her cheeks and eyes.
Ha-ha. She sputtered and spit and started to choke. It was a riot. She was totally surprised.
I backed up quickly. I knew she'd try to pay me back.
But no. She wiped the icy snow off her face, then pulled her hoodie tighter over her hair. “Don't mess around, Scroogeman,” she snapped. “It's going to be dark soon.”
She pointed to a spot near the curb. “You build one and I'll build one,” she said. “We need two of them to be on guard.”
I stared at her. “On guard? On guard for
?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “You'll see,” she said.
My snowman was
bigger than Ashley's. And smoother and more round. We built them facing each other at the bottom of the yard.
We both used chunks of coal for their eyes. I used my finger to dig a big, angry scowl on my snowman's face. Ashley placed an orange-and-black wool cap on her snowman's head.
It was kind of fun. A little babyish, maybe. And I kept thinking about how I was going to run away and call my mom and never see this neighborhood again.
“What city is this?” I asked Ashley as we headed back to the house. “Where are we exactly?”
She gave me a shove. “Don't ask stupid questions.”
“No. Really,” I said.
But she tossed her hoodie into the closet and disappeared into her room.
Mom greeted me in the living room. “I'm sorry this wasn't a great Christmas Eve, Scroogeman,” she said. I thought I saw tears in her eyes. “Ashley was right. The only good thing about the holiday this year is that we're all here together.”
Not for long
, I thought.
I said good night and made my way down the short back hall to my room. I dropped down on my bed. “Ouch!” I should have looked first. There was no mattress on the bed. The sheet and blanket were spread over a hard board.
How could anyone sleep on a board?
Something brushed my ankle. I heard a scraping sound under the bed.
Oh, wow. There were mice in the room! Was I really expected to sleep on a hard board with mice scampering around me all night?
The Ghost of Christmas Present said this family could teach me a lot. But I sure wasn't learning anything I wanted to learn. Was I missing the point? Was I supposed to be learning something about the meaning of Christmas?
I don't think so.
I sat there on the edge of the hard bed, tapping my foot on the floor. Waiting. Just waiting.
I thought about Mom and Charlie back in my real home. I knew they must be terribly worried about me. Mom must be out of her mind. They were having the worst Christmas ever.
But not for long. “I'm coming home,” I murmured to myself. “I'll be home soon.”
I waited until I heard my new dad turn off all the lights. The house was completely dark now. I heard the creaking floorboards as he and my new mom went into their bedroom.
Then I waited some moreÂ â¦ waited for them to fall asleep.
The house was silent now. Gusts of wind rattled my bedroom window. I could see a pale sliver of a moon low in the sky.
Something brushed past my ankle. I kicked at it. Missed. Heard it squeak and scuttle away.
I stood up and stretched. Then I crept out of my room on tiptoe, trying to step lightly so the bare wooden floors wouldn't creak.
I moved quickly through the darkness. I kept peering back, afraid someone might be following me. But no. The others were in their rooms. I grabbed my coat from the closet, carefully, silently slid open the front door, and stepped outside.
“You lose, Ghost of Christmas Present,” I muttered out loud. “I'm outta here, you clown.”
I zipped my jacket. Lowered my head against the swirling wind. Tucked my hands in the pockets. Then I began to walk quickly over the hard, crunchy snow toward the street.
I'd gone about four steps when someone slid in front of me. Someone big, blocking my way.
No. Wait. Not someone. Not a human.
I stopped. And under the pale yellow moonlight, I stared at the big creature. Stared into the scowling face of my snowman.
I uttered a
startled gasp. Then I dodged to the right.
To my shock, the snowman slid over the snow and blocked me again.
I lowered my head and tried to swerve around it. But it moved quickly, silently gliding over the snow, staying close, pushing its big bulk in front of me.
And as I gaped in horror at the moving snowman, its coal eyes lit up. The eyes appeared to flame, first yellow-orange and then an angry blazing red.
“Nooooo!” A howl escaped my throat. This was
I couldn't take my eyes off the glowing coals. I forced myself to look away. Spun to the right. Maybe I could escape through the backyard instead of the front.
I stumbled forward. My boots slid on the crusty surfaceâand I toppled right into
the other snowman
. Ashley's snowman with the orange-and-black wool cap on its head. Its eyes were glowing red, too.
I'm living in a horror movie.
My first thought.
They had me trapped here, one big snowman bumping up against my front, the other behind me, sliding from side to side, waiting for me to make a move.
Suddenly, my fear was replaced by anger. I felt all my muscles tighten.
Why were these big snow creatures trying to keep me from returning to my family?
I opened my mouth in a furious scream. And screeched at both of them: “Get back! Get back or I'll destroy you. I'll knock your heads off. Get
They didn't move. Remained in place, blocking my escape.
I could feel the rage swell in my chest. “Get
!” I screamed again. I pulled my arm back and shot my fist as hard as I could into my snowman's frozen head.
I expected the head to topple off the body. But it didn't budge. The punch didn't even make the snowman slide back an inch.
Breathing hard, I tried to pull my arm away. But my fist was stuckÂ â¦ stuck in the snowman's tightly packed face.
“Nooooo!” I uttered a howl and pulled again. Jerked my whole body around, trying to twist myself free. But my hand was stuck tight in the icy head.
“Let me go! Let me go!” I was screaming wildly. I raised my other fist and slammed it into the snowman's body.
Again, the snowman didn't seem to feel it. I tugged myself backâbut now
were stuck in its icy grip. I pulled and pulled again, leaning as far back as I could, but I couldn't free them.
And now I felt the cold begin to seep up my arms. It was like I was becoming as cold as the snowman. I was gasping for breath, my heart pounding so hard in my chest, it hurt.
I cried out as I felt the other snowman bump up behind me. It bumped me hard and pressed itself against my back.
Like an ice cream sandwich
, I thought. A crazy thought.
The cold tightened my arms, crept over my chest, began to sweep over my whole body.
I'm freezing here
, I thought.
My brainÂ â¦ my brain is freezing, too. So hard toÂ â¦ to breathe. I'm going to freeze to death out here.
With a hard shudder, I shut my eyes as the two icy mountains of snow pressed in on me. TighterÂ â¦ tighterÂ â¦
And then the
cold seeped away. I opened my eyes. The snowman in front of me was changing. The big round head began to sag.
Was it melting?
No. The big snow creature took a step back. It appeared to quake and quiver, vibrating noisily. The smooth white snow suddenly had black spots. And as I stared in surprise, the black spots became a checkered suit. Checkered jacket and pants.
The snowman face melted away, revealing a round pink nose, dark eyes, a heart-shaped mouth underneath. Curly orange hair sprouted on its head.
My mouth hung open. I couldn't breathe. I was staring at the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Behind me, the other snowman stood stiffly in place, its coal eyes alert, as if watching for trouble.
The ghost brushed the last clumps of snow off the front of his suit with both hands, then straightened the flower in his lapel. He gazed at me coldly and shook his head. “I'm disappointed in you, Scroogeman.”
“IâIâIâ” I stood there sputtering. I was speechless. I think my brain was still frozen.
“Ashley told you these snowmen were guards,” the ghost said. “Guards to keep you from escaping. Did you think she was joking?”
“No,” I said. “I just wantedâ”
“You wanted to go home. I know,” the ghost said. “But you were supposed to learn something about love and caring from this family. You were supposed to learn about what's important at holiday time.” He sighed. “Instead, you try to run away.”
“IÂ â¦ I think I'll learn those things better with my real family,” I said. “I miss them a lot.” I wasn't lying to him. I really meant it.
“I'm going to take you back to your neighborhood, Scroogeman,” the ghost said, brushing powdery snow off one shoulder.
“Back to my neighborhood? So I can go home?” I cried.
He shook his head. “You're not ready to go home. I'm taking you to your neighborhood for another lesson. Perhaps this time you will catch on and realize what your bad attitude has cost you.”
“Where?” I demanded. “Where are you taking me?”
“To a party,” he said. “Your friend Lucy Copperfield is having a Christmas Eve party.”
“I love to party,” I said. “I'm a party animal. Ask anyone.”
“I don't think you will love this party, Scroogeman. I think you will find some unhappy surprises tonight.”
Then, without warning, I felt myself lifted off the ground. I gasped and raised both arms as I flew over the shabby little house, over the treetops. I saw the snowman tilt his head up, his coal eyes following me as I soared higher.
The Ghost of Christmas Present flew beside me. The jacket of his checkered suit flapped at his sides like wings. His red hair flew above his head like a pennant.
The wind rushed at us, so powerful and cold, I couldn't breathe. We sailed into heavy clouds. I could no longer see the houses below or the trees or the ground. I was surrounded by swirling, roaring gray, pounded by wind gusts that froze my face.
I shut my eyes and listened to the whistle and roar of our flight.
When I opened them, I was floating low over a snow-covered block of houses. The ghost flew beside me as we slowed and dropped lower. Suddenly, I recognized the house below us. Lucy Copperfield's house.
My heart started to pound. Lucy's house was only a block away from mine. I raised my arms again and tried to push myself forward. I wanted to keep flying, to see my house, to see Mom and Charlie.