Author: Tom B. Stone, a.k.a. Nola Thacker, a.k.a. D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Cam De Leon (U.S. Cover), ???? (Lithuanian Cover)
Summary: Warning: Don’t Read This Book In Your Bunk!
These thirteen chilling stories will send you screaming for cover. From howling heads to shrieking stalkers to larger-than-life lice – read about the unnatural, the bizarre, and – worst of all – the unexplained.
Stay near the campfire. The scariest creatures of all might be right behind you!
As thanks for putting up with my depression last month, I’ve chosen to do recaps focusing on some of my favorite books which means another short break from the chronological order. I just wish I had some commissions to add to this one.
“Tales Too Scary” is special in the Graveyard School series because it’s the only entry that’s an anthology of stories. Unlike the “Tales To Give You Goosebumps” books, this one has a framing story encompassing the first and last chapters, and a features an eclectic grouping of the GS cast including my favorite, Jordie “The Human Computer” Flanders. The situation’s a cross between “Hansel and Gretel” and “1001 Arabian Nights” which of course captured my interest right away.
One of the stories is interesting because it’s told in three parts by three different storytellers.
You wanna believe I began the draft for this last year after I was officially made a recapper by Wing? I couldn’t wait to share this with all of you.
Also, I simply had to include the Lithuanian adaption’s cover artwork because I can’t tell if it’s horrible or amazing.
As a head’s up Wing, there IS a story with bugs, but it doesn’t include spiders.
[Wing: Thanks for the head’s up. I personally adore the Lithuanian cover, though that doesn’t really answer the whole horrible or amazing question, because either, both, whatever, I would still adore it.]
In The Deep, Dark Woods Part I
You’d think after Jeep Holmes survived a rather horrific experience at a certain summer camp that may or may not (IT WAS, IT TOTALLY WAS) have been full of vampires, he’d avoid camping. [Wing: JEEP OH MY GOD IT’S JEEP.] But his dad just HAAAAD to suggest they do a real camping trip out in the woods. Jeep was told he could invite whomever he wanted, but at this point in the summer the only kids who were around are:
- Jaws Bennett, the kid who could eat anything, even roadkill.
- Jordie Flanders, the Human Computer.
- Tyson Walker, soccer enthusiast.
- And Marc Foster with his possibly evil twin sister Terri. Or is Marc the evil twin? He’s still not sure.
So, of course, a bad situation turned worse when Marc fell in an empty stream bank and lost the only map they had, leaving the kids lost in the woods as it started to get dark and cold. Tyson suggested they retrace their footprints (of which there were none), Jordie was trying to analyze the situation like she analyzed everything, Jaws was hungry, and Terri was being, *shudder*, chipper.
“Gimme an L, gimme an O, gimme an S, gimme a T. What’s it spell?” Marc’s twin sister, Terri, sang, “Lost! Lost! Lost!“
While the other kids argued about what to do, no one noticed when Jaws found something on the ground. They all stopped the moment they heard the wrapper being torn open, however. Everyone’s eyes moved to Jaws, who was in the middle of eating a candy bar he found on the forest floor. Jordie quickly snatched the candy bar out of Jaws’s hands, asking what in hell is wrong with him eating candy he picked up off the ground? [Wing: I know I shouldn’t be surprised, because Jaws eats everything, BUT WHAT THE HELL, JAWS?!] Jaws defends himself saying it was wrapped. Jordie analyzes the wrapper but doesn’t recognize the language written on it. It’s not French, nor is it any other language she was familiar with. Jaws demands his candy back before he finds another candy bar a few feet away. The kids are able to stop Jaws from opening this one, and Jordie asks Jaws what he would do if it turned out the candy was poisoned. What would he do if it turned out there was someone out there leaving poisoned candy for kids to find and eat? Tyson asks if she’s for real, completely forgetting they go to Graveyard School.
“Are you serious?” asked Tyson, staring at Jordie.
“The probability exists,” said Jordie.
“Yeah. If you’re named Hansel or Gretel,” Marc retorted.
[Wing: OR GO TO GRAVEYARD SCHOOL, MARC.]
Jeep recognizes the same unknown language on the wrapper when Jaws uncovers a package of hard candies. The kids start to think some camper out there must’ve dropped their supplies, and Terri suggests they can follow the trail to safety. Jeep is worried there’s truly something wrong with the candy, but Jaws doesn’t appear to be suffering from what little he did ingest and they don’t have other options. Jeep still has a rotten sensation in his gut.
Ahead, Tyson cried, “Look! Nuts. A package of nuts!”
Nuts is right, thought Jeep, moving reluctantly forward.
The kids eventually reach a clearing where they discover a small, neat looking house. Along the way they had discovered more small packages of wrapped food, none of which they would allow Jaws to eat which he complained about to no end. Marc tries to stop Terri from running up to the house, asking why anybody would live all the way in the middle of nowhere. Terri reminds Marc they do have an uncle who’s something of a hermit, so maybe this person doesn’t like people too. Jeep wonders if maybe this person’s hiding in the woods because they’re, well, not all there. [Wing: Thaaaanks, Jeep.] Terri and the kids are left to wonder if the person who does live in this suspiciously familiar house may in fact be crazy (their words, not mine). For some reason, looking at the house makes Jaws hungry. Jeep plans to dial 911 the moment they get inside when the front door suddenly bangs open.
A voice from inside the house asks who, or what, is out there when Terri proudly marches up and explains the situation the kids are in. The person inside the house does not seem entirely thrilled by their story.
“Lost?” said the voice. They heard another low chuckle. “Is that the story? Hmmm. Hardly original. And you could hardly be lost if you found your way here, could you?”
The stranger ushers the kids inside from the dark and cold, Jeep asking the others to wait. But before long everyone is inside the small home with their small hostess.
She looked so ordinary. Small and plain, with short, wispy hair of mouse brown, she had a pointed face that was neither young nor old, sharp brown eye, weathered, lined skin, eyebrows as peaked as her pointed roof, and a bow-shaped mouth that turned down slightly at the corners. Faded jeans, old work boots, and a patched sweater contributed to her ordinariness. Had he passed her on the street, Jeep might not have noticed her at all.
The Hostess has a big black pot and something brewing the fire burning in the stone fireplace at the end of the room. She explains to Jaws she’s making a sort of alphabet soup. And for dessert, she’s baking gingerbread. Jaws is glad since they wouldn’t let him eat the candy they found. Jordie pulls out all the dropped sweets they found explaining how they seemed to lead everyone to the woman’s house. The Hostess seems amused before quickly retrieving the candy from Jordie.
“Too much candy will ruin your appetite. Rot your teeth.”
The woman’s own teeth gleamed big and white and even.
Tyson asks if they can use her phone to call for help, but it turns out the Hostess doesn’t have a phone. Or a TV. Or a computer. Anything electrical, the house being lit by the fireplace and a lot of candles. Jordie is shocked this woman doesn’t have anything that would help in an emergency. The Hostess mentions she makes up stories to pass the time and keep herself entertained. After all, the imagination can be a powerful and deadly tool if used properly. Sometimes she likes having company so she can listen to the stories of others. Terri reminds her they’re not exactly company, but a bunch of kids who got lost and are trying to find their parents. Jeep remembers what he learned at Camp Westerra about judging people by appearances, and this woman’s normality betrays the fact there is something definitely sinister about her.
Jeep decides if the woman can’t help them, they should leave, which proves to be a bit difficult because the door won’t open.
Jeep tried again, putting his weight into it this time. The handle refused to turn. In fact, he was sure he felt it tug against him as he turned it, as if it were alive.
He jerked the handle and gave the door a kick.
Something grabbed his thumb and bent it back viciously.
“Owww!” Jeep leaped backward.
“You shouldn’t have kicked it,” said the woman. She smiled.
Jeep is left stammering and the Hostess sweetly suggests Jordie doesn’t try the door herself. Of course she locked it; the Hostess reasons you always lock the door behind you when you come in, right? They’re out in the middle of the woods at night, who knows what could be out there hiding in the dark? The Hostess checks the inside of the pot, removing the lid and stirring the contents. But not even Jaws said his usual “I’m hungry” as everyone was sure they could hear faint, faraway voices coming from inside the pot.
[Wing: I am in love with the Hostess.]
The Hostess orders the kids to sit down in the myriad of chairs and cushions positioned around the fireplace, and suggests they can pass the time telling nice, scary stories like they do at camp. Sitting in a big, wingback chair with clawed feet, the Hostess says if she likes the stories they kids have to share…
“I just might let you go.”
Terri’s Tale I – “What Big Teeth You Have”
Marc thanks his sister for getting them into this mess, but Terri’s more concerned about not pissing the Hostess off. She asks which of the kids wants to go first.
“Who wants to go first? Who wants to tell the first story?” asked the woman. She cocked her head like a bird and listened to their silence.
“No one? No on wants to find their way home? All it costs is a story. A good story. A scary story. A story that could be true…”
The woman lifts the lid off the pot again, stirring her soup and bringing out more voices. The voices sounded like they were trying to escape when the Hostess lowered the lid again. She reminisces about the stories she’s heard.
“Some people grind bones to bake bread, but fee, fi, fo, fum, that’s not where I’m coming from… Stories are the best ingredient for bread. No, I don’t use bones to bake my bread.” She shook her head. Then she leaned forward. “But it can be arranged. It can be arranged.”
So Terri decided to tell the first story as fast as if their lives depended on it.
Which, of course, it does.
Meet Morton. A seemingly average kid with a not-so-average name. Meet Crunch. A kid even the teachers are scared of, with huge white teeth and an oral fixation. Together, they fight crime. Well, no, not really. Crunch is the school bully, dubbed so by the crunching sound made by the toothpicks he chews on. One day, Crunch decided Morton would be his new best friend and does all kinds of helpful things for him. Like putting gum in his seat and glue in his locker. He cuts Morton’s shoelaces and lets the air out of his bike tires. He even kindly orders pizza and has it sent to Morton’s house in the middle of the night. Then Crunch demands Morton give him his homework every day.
“Take my lunch money,” Morton suggested, “instead.”
“What? You think I’m stupid?”
This is a question bullies like to ask. Even if the answer is yes, almost no one tells them the truth.
Morton said, “Wouldn’t you rather have the money?” and avoided telling the lie.
So Crunch takes the homework and Morton ends up looking like an idiot when his teacher asks how he forgot ALL his homework. Morton tries to work around this by doing two sets of homework, but Crunch assumes the homework he gets might be poorly done on purpose, so he steals both sets. Receiving a zero from his teacher, Morton tries to figure out what to do. He considers fighting Crunch, but thinks it wouldn’t be a fair fight and considers the possibilities springing from a surprise attack on Crunch too gruesome to contemplate. That night, Morton breaks from the pressure and tells his dad about Crunch’s bullying. Dad asks if Morton’s tried reasoning with him, or if he’s talked to any of the teachers at school, but Morton clarifies those aren’t possibilities. When Morton suggests a sneak attack, his dad vehemently says no, because violence isn’t the answer.
“The human tendency to resort to violence in every situation is one I most deplore.”
“I know, Dad, but-“
“Animals aren’t violent, are they? Lions kill for food. Wolf packs only hunt the weak and sick. But people!” His father made a disgusted noise and shook his head.
Morton points out animals do fight each for dominance, but his father corrects him and says most of that is just strutting around for show. Baring teeth and growling instead of actual fighting. Morton’s dad insists the best thing to do is talk to Crunch.
The next day, Morton asks his friend Dave to give him some time with Crunch alone. Dave almost shits himself at the thought of leaving Morton alone with the brute, but quickly amscrays. Morton tries his best to reason with Crunch, but Crunch ain’t no dummy. He hoists Morton up to eye level, and threatens that today’s homework better be 110%. Morton’s all, “Oh well, I tried my best.” And he smiles. He smiles big and wide. The next thing you know, Crunch is barreling down the hallway screaming in fear. Dave asks what the hell did Morton do, and Morton simply replies he used his powers of persuasion. Dave is impressed, and Morton modestly accepts the praise. As they walk to class, Morton stops to check his reflection. Smiling to himself, he’s glad retractable fangs run in his family. Not every monster has them.
(So this calls for a re-read because the “gruesome possibilities” and how “it wouldn’t be a fair fight” between Morton and Crunch was because Morton would’ve literally torn Crunch apart.) [Wing: “Human tendency to … violence” too is a nice touch once you know where this is going. Though I certainly thought it was going to a werewolf or at least giant wolf based on that title. Damn it, Terri.]
Jaws’s Tale I – “Mr. Bones”
Jaws is still feeling hungry when he notices something on a table in the room, something hidden in the dark. The more closely Jaws focuses on the thing, he can make out it’s startling white, and appears it have two empty eye sockets and two rows of sharp, white teeth. The thing on the table is watching Jaws, just like the Hostess. So he decides to tell the next story.
EVERY BONE IN THE HUMAN BODY AND MORE! TRY YOUR LUCK! TEST YOUR SKILL! ASSEMBLE MR. BONES!
Elliot wasn’t sure why he decided to look around in the old toy store, but the skeleton puzzle caught his eye and sure enough, he was buying it for an incredibly low price. Elliot figured there might be a catch because of the low price; there was. He opened the silver and red box at home and dumped out hundreds of tiny plastic bones onto his desk, but that was all. The box came with no instructions or diagrams to help put Mr. Bones together. Elliot went back to the store to ask if he could grab the instructions from another Mr. Bones set, but there were none left. Elliot couldn’t even find a number to call the company that manufactured the toy.
Elliot checked out books on skeletal anatomy from the library to try and aid him in putting Mr. Bones together. He learned a lot of cool and disgusting facts about skeletons and even wrote a paper about the human skeleton for school, but none of it really helped with Mr. Bones. Try as he might, a lot of the bones just wouldn’t connect properly. Bones went in backward, joints bent the wrong way, the ribs stuck out at odd angles. Elliot was starting to think the toy was made before people had a truly accurate idea of the skeletal system, kind of like those puzzles that only had 48 states. [Wing: … so puzzles made before Alaska and Hawaii were states? Not inaccurate, just old, ELLIOT.]
One day Elliot’s little brother Bruce started bugging him while Elliot focused on Mr. Bones. Bruce asked if it was possible for Mr. Bones to come alive. Elliot, ever the cynic, told his brother to get a grip. At that moment, the leg he was working on kicked Elliot in the face. Bruce excitedly thought Mr. Bones was alive before Elliot set him straight. Toys can’t come to life; the movie makers were just coming out with a film about that this year (I believe this was written around the time “Toy Story” was coming out). Bruce remembers the bunny toy came alive in “The Velveteen Rabbit,” but Elliot insists it’s impossible. Besides, even if toys could come to life, Mr. Bones would still be dead since he’s a skeleton. After Elliot gets his fingers pinched between two joints, he decided enough was enough and threw the unfinished skeleton back on the heap of bones.
That night, Elliot woke up to the sound of faint whispering and giggling. He was sure it was coming from Bruce’s room and threatened his little brother to keep it down, yet he wasn’t sure who his brother was talking to. If he was talking to anyone at all.
The next afternoon Elliot came home from school and realized Mr. Bones was gone. Immediately suspecting Bruce took the toy because Bruce was always taking Elliot’s stuff, Elliot charged into his brother’s room. He was shocked to discover Bruce had progressed much further in completing the puzzle than Elliot had done. Elliot demands to know what trick Bruce used when Bruce explains Mr. Bones was simply telling him what to do. Elliot sneers at Bruce for making up stuff, calling Mr. Bones his imaginary friend. Yet Elliot feels uncomfortable at the way the skeleton seems to leer at him and figures Bruce can keep the dumb toy.
Sometime later in the day, Bruce showed Elliot the completed Mr. Bones. Well, as completed as he could be. Bruce reveals the set was missing pieces because the toy store owner had put them into other sets, and poor Mr. Bones was leftovers.
Mr. Bones didn’t look like leftovers now. He didn’t look like your average skeleton either. Bruce had made up for the missing pieces by adding bits from other broken toys: a doll’s hand here, a Tinkertoy foot there. More startling of all was the jack-in-the-box hat on the skull and the clown outfit from another toy. The skeleton looked jolly, as if it were about to tell a joke. The smile, Elliot though, was definitely wider and cockier than it had been earlier in the day.
Elliot can only tell Bruce he did a good job. [Wing: He did a creepy job. Also, I have questions about why the toy store owner did that. Did they go through all the sets and find pieces missing in each one? Were there extra pieces in each set and they combined the pieces into Mr Bones? I’m very confused.]
Later that night, Elliot is awoken by some ruckus in the hallway. Bruce is screaming for help! Elliot runs into the hallway and collides with their family’s cat before getting knocked into Bruce. The cat drops something before dashing away, and Bruce thanks his brother for saving someone’s life. Elliot tells his brother he was only having a bad dream when Bruce picks up Mr. Bones.
Mr. Bones was sitting on Bruce’s knee. He crossed one bony leg over the other and swung his Tinkertoy foot. He grinned widely up at Elliot as Elliot backed away.
“Amazing,” said Mr. Bones in a raspy, high-pitched voice. “Amazing what some jokers will do, isn’t it?”
And Mr. Bones laughed.
Tyson’s Tale – “Don’t Open The Door”
Tyson starts off by mentioning when someone tells you not to do something, it’s the first thing you want to do right? Reverse psychology and all that, kind of. Well, Liza was told not to do something, and because she didn’t listen she may have doomed the world…
Liza ran through the hot jungle, praying they wouldn’t catch her in their jaws, crush her bones, drain her blood. She could still hear them behind them, the buzzing of their wings and the snapping of their jaws. It was late at night, but that was more a disadvantage to her than them. Or was it? Maybe she was confusing the species, mis-remembering what her aunt Imani had told her. Liza knew she couldn’t use the open trail because she’d be open prey. She has to make her way through the dense undergrowth, but knows every little thing she does acts as a tiny beacon to her location.
It’s not like Liza was unfamiliar with the jungle. She’d lived in it all her life ever since Aunt Imani was given custody following the deaths of Liza’s parents. Imani was a famous entomologist, and Liza was shaping up to follow in her footsteps. Her aunt taught Liza everything she knew, and Liza developed a healthy admiration for the hidden beauty of the insect world. Imani often said Liza knew more than most entomologists out there.
She was wearing a T-shirt now that said SGUB IS BUGS SPELLED BACKWARDS. A silly T-shirt her aunt had had made for her, ordered out of a catalog all the way from the United States. It didn’t mean anything. But both Lisa and her aunt had thought it was hilarious.
Liza wondered if she would ever laugh again. If she would live long enough.
The older Liza got, the more responsibility she was given in helping with her aunt’s studies and experiments. Liza’s skills as a recorder and assistant were so well honed Imani boasted she’d be teaching her professors at college. Liza didn’t care about college; smart as she is, why would she need it? Liza was determined to prove how invaluable she was to her aunt. And even then, her aunt felt the human race was running out of time with the way they were ruining the planet.
“We’re wiping out species at an unbelievable rate, unlike anything in the history of the world. Extinction is natural, but not this rapidly. This is unbalanced! Dangerous! Destroy one species and find out the hard way how another species that depends on it adapts. See what new prey it learns to hunt!”
Prey, thought Liza. Now I’m the prey…
[Wing: Aunt Imani’s rant is great.]
Liza tried to keep her wits together as she searched for a place to hide, and she found one. What seemed to be a narrow hole underneath a rock, what might have been the den of a meat-eating animal or some scavenger at some point. Making sure there wasn’t anything poisonous or dangerous hidden inside the hole, Liza squatted inside and tried to do what she could to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. Luckily it began to rain, which would wash away whatever lingering scents she’d left behind. But it doesn’t rain for long, and Liza is left to remember how this all started.
It was the boy with the box. Imani usually got people from the local villages bringing in what they thought were rare, and therefore expensive, specimens to show her. This boy was different. Instead of bringing Imani a live specimen, he’d brought her a dead one. Several dead ones. Inside a small and beautifully carved coffin. Imani demanded to know where the boy found the box, only to be given a glib explanation the boy found it while looking for his dog. After generously paying the boy, Imani and Liza began to analyze the box’s contents. Inscribed on the side were some words which, when translated, warned about opening a door. Liza thinks the warning is about the box, but Imani doesn’t believe so. She thinks the box goes with whatever door the warning is talking about. Imani asks if Liza recognizes any of the species in the box.
Liza had examined the dead insects. “That one is – ugh! some kind of giant head louse. Gross – giant lice. I hope it’s just a single mutation. And that’s a – a mosquito – a dragonfly – no, a mosquito, I didn’t know they grow that size… and that little piggie over there is a -“
Her aunt slammed the box shut before Liza could further explain. Liza asks her aunt if these are new species since she’s never seen variations of that size, but her aunt orders her to forget about it.
Liza wonders if her aunt’s looking for her right now, but is immediately horrified that whatever is out there, whatever’s been let out, might’ve gotten to Imani first. She hopes not.
Imani refused to do any further exploration for the door the box mentioned, but Liza secretly wouldn’t let it go. She used all of the deductive and scientific reasoning she’d gained from her aunt and went about exploring for the door on her own. If Liza was successful and found more examples of the species in the box, she could finally prove to her aunt she didn’t need college. Liza tried to retrace the steps taken by the boy and his dog, figuring out their usual hunting spots used by the people in his village and had hit pay dirt.
Liza found a tunnel hidden in a jungle wall. The spot was given away by a cool breeze Liza felt when the jungle was so hot. The opening was small enough for a child but the footing treacherous, like it would give away at any moment. Using her flashlight, Liza could make out strange symbols carved in the tunnel walls. She walked past small pools of tiny, glowing creatures who’d most likely adapted to live in such darkness and might’ve very well been blind. It made her remember the giant goldfish she’d once seen in a tank at a restaurant; the owner said he was gonna get a bigger tank because of how much the goldfish continued to grow. But there were limits to how big an animal could grow because even the largest animals went extinct because the world was too small to accommodate them. When the tunnel ended at a dirt wall, Liza felt like screaming her head off thinking she’d come all this way for nothing. It was then she noticed what looked like a hole big enough for a small box. Liza realized she was standing right in front of the door, she simply needed to dig. Fool.
Liza just HAD to be so smart and so clever, because there they were behind the door. Somehow they weren’t blind, or colorless. They could see just fine. They could see her.
The insects. The larger-than-life lice, the finch-sized mosquitoes, the fist-sized ticks, ants as big as small cats…
Dollar signs and lifetime fame swam across Liza’s eyes until she realized everything in the cave had become deathly still. Before she knew, something with clicking mandibles began scuttling right towards her. Liza took out her specimen net and snatched the thing up, putting it in a jar. Soon the rest of the cave’s denizens were aware of Liza’s presence so she hurried the fuck out of there, closing the door behind her.
At least, she thought she closed the door behind her.
She figured the thing she snatched was some sort of insect that used poison to liquefy the innards of its prey before sucking them dry. Common behavior in the insect kingdom. She was only slightly bothered by how aggressive the insect was behaving.
And then, in her little camp she’d set up, she woke up to the sound of the insect escaping. Not only was it escaping, it was getting bigger and bigger until it was the size of a rat! The insect lunged at Liza and she only barely dodged in, when she realized she hadn’t closed the door properly, because all the other insects had gotten out and were getting bigger too. Liza’s almost stabbed by a mosquito the size of a bat before she flees into the jungle.
And now it’s morning, and Liza’s still hiding in her hole when she’s found by Imani. Imani realizes what Liza did, but tells her they have to warn everyone about what’s coming. There’s enough food in the jungle to keep the giant insects busy for a while. And then, well…
“We’ll adapt. Or…” Her aunt shrugged. “Extinction is forever.”
[Wing: I LOVE IMANI SO DAMN MUCH OH MY GOD.]
Jaw’s Tale II – “Sweet Dreams”
Jaws yawns and say he’s sleepy. The Hostess responds she can arrange for all of them to take a very, very long nap. And suddenly Jaws isn’t so sleepy.
Mac told his neighbor if she heard a burglar, she should call the police. But the slightly odd woman was sure whatever she heard was not a burglar, because what burglar would be out tonight in THIS weather? Maybe it was a ghost, the woman thought. Mac agreed she had at least one sensible point. They were smack dab in the middle of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and the snow was falling so hard there’s no way anyone would’ve been caught dead outside. Sure, it was an old building, a brownstone converted into an apartment complex, so maybe the sound the woman heard was a rat. Or God knows what. The building needed more than a few repairs. [Wing: Not sure the apartments would have phones at this point in the spread of telephones.]
Luckily for Mac, he was a retired police officer who now worked for the city paper as a crime reporter. He wouldn’t have to worry about being late to work with the weather outside. Stocked with enough food and warm blankets, Mac had everything he needed to focus on his writing. After wishing his neighbor a good night Mac went back to completing his latest article, but he wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he heard a noise too. It sounded as if someone had entered the building, but it didn’t sound like anyone Mac knew. As a trained police officer, his hearing was keen enough to have recognized the differences between his neighbors and the sounds their footsteps made. Mac hadn’t the faintest idea who could’ve been coming into the building; maybe the woman heard a ghost after all.
Even though he felt sleepy, Mac decided to investigate and found himself looking at a dapper yet funny looking man brushing snow off his clothes. The man acknowledged Mac and told him to come along as he headed down the hall, past the woman’s apartment. Mac found himself looking into an elegantly furnished apartment, where three other men were seated at a large gaming table. The curtains were drawn and the room was lit by candles and an oil lamp; a heavy, pungent scent wafted through the apartment. Mac was confused by how big the apartment seemed, before figuring the one next to it had to be REALLY small. The men addressed the snow-covered stranger as Johann and joked they expected he wouldn’t get far in this weather. Johann asked Mac if he would be joining them for a round of their game, to which Mac obliged.
Mac was unfamiliar with the game but seemed to get the hang of it in-between servings of some tasty punch. Johann and the other three chatted and played on while Mac felt himself getting sleepier. The men allowed him to take a nap on the fancy looking couch while they played their game, and soon Mac drifted off to sleep…
And woke up to an empty room. No, not just empty, abandoned. Mac was sure he must still be dreaming, recalling his evening with odd Johann and his friends when he felt something on top of his chest. A rat! No, not a rat, a beard! HIS beard!
Mac shot off the couch and ran to the nearest window, horrified to see the reflection of an old man staring back at him. He looked out the window and could see it was still snowing, so he couldn’t have slept for that long. Could he? Mac rushed outside and was overwhelmed by what seemed to be giant engines of metal careening down the street in the snow. All around him men and women were dressed in colorful, puffed up clothing. Mac grabbed a woman, surprisingly dressed in trousers, and asked her the day and year. Why, it’s January 9th, 1996, and they’re in the middle of the Great Blizzard of ’96! Isn’t it great? The woman suddenly gets a good look at Mac and asks if he should get out of the cold before she puts something in his hand. It’s a metal coin with a woman’s face engraved on it, alongside the name “Susan B. Anthony.” Turning around to see how derelict the apartment was, Mac realizes the woman must’ve thought he was begging when he reads a sign near the front door.
“Johann Schmidt Building. Historic Landmark Renovation Project. Built by eccentric chemist and inventor Johann Schmidt shortly before his death in 1821, it was one of the many elegant townhouses in a thriving new neighborhood and is one of the last of this era to survive. Thought by some to be haunted by the ghost of Schmidt and his cronies, it was also the scene of the mysterious disappearance of a former police officer during the Great Blizzard of 1888 who is thought to have gone out and gotten lost in the storm – and who some believe haunts the building still.”
[Wing: Oooh, a Rip Van Winkle story. I like it.]
Jeep’s Tale I – “One Step Faster”
Jordie is surprised by Jaws’s story and congratulates him. The Hostess is all applause and roses as Jeep realizes how sleepy he’s feeling. How late is it, anyway? And the way the smoke from the pot seems to be blown back into the room might be making everyone sleepier. Jeep struggles to stay awake as a tells a story about a camp, not like Camp Westerra, but a camp that had monsters all its own… [Wing: So exactly like Camp Westerra then.]
Lance Kerrigan may have been young, but he was fast. A natural runner. All you had to do was look at him to know he was a winner. He was one of the fastest runners around, and at this elite camp in the mountains where the best of the best were sent to train, he may have been the fastest.
Of course, Lance was also a complete douchebag. But what were a few personality issues when you were a winner?
Lance was practicing with the rest of his campmates, running on the forest trail that went through the mountainside. Well, Lance was running, and according to him, everyone else was struggling to keep up with him, including his semi-friend Roger. Lance ran on without the rest of the campers, having barely acknowledged the warnings the counselors gave about some of the animals that lived in the forest, like bears, an occasional wolf, maybe an unlikely mountain lion. What did any of that have to do with future Olympic gold medalist and cereal spokesman Lance Kerrigan?
“He sure can run,” Roger gasped to another teammate who had come up alongside him as he slowed down.
The teammate shook his head. “Yeah. And he sure can run his mouth, too!”
Lance was so busy imagining his future as a winner he didn’t bother to look behind him as he ran, assuming nothing could possibly be keeping up with him. So imagine his surprise when he heard footsteps running behind him. Thinking it was Roger, Lance gave credit where it was due. But the further Lance run, he began to notice something odd about this footsteps. When Lance increased his pace, so did the person behind him. Intrigued, he did what he usually never did and looked behind him, only to find nothing.
Believing he imagined the footsteps, Lance continued as the trail went up the mountain. Now he was starting to sweat as the footsteps returned, and whoever it was behind him, it definitely wasn’t Roger. For the first time, Lance stopped to see there really is no one behind him. Taking a moment to drink from his water bottle, Lance resumes his running after momentarily considering heading back. But winners don’t turn back, do they? Yet as he ran, Lance strained to hear for the second set of footsteps.
Down below, Roger and the others noticed it was getting late and were expecting Lance to head past them with some humble words of encouragement. What none of them knew was Lance was dealing with a serious problem, trying to figure out if the thing behind him was a mountain lion, bear, or wolf. The others had reached the turn to head back to camp, but no one had run into Lance yet, not that they wanted too as they ran down the mountain. Lance was going higher and higher, and suddenly remembered some advice from the coach.
“Stick together. You aren’t used to this part of the world. It’s good running country. People have been training here for centuries, ancient people and modern ones. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stick together.”
“Bears and lions and ghosts,” someone had said to general laughter.
But the coach hadn’t laughed.
Lance wishes he hadn’t remembered that now when he turned back, and now he really wishes he hadn’t when he finally sees what’s been chasing him. It was ghastly. It shimmered like it wasn’t really there. It shrieked at Lance to keep running faster or it would get him. Terrified, Lance Kerrigan ran for his life. Down below, Roger and the others could see the tiny form of Lance running high up on the mountain. And for a brief moment, Roger was sure he saw someone behind Lance.
No one ever saw Lance Kerrigan again.
On certain days, people who’ve run on those trails have felt a ghostly chill at the back of their neck, have heard the sound of desperate footsteps being chased by something. And sometimes, just sometimes, they’ll hear the ragged, strained voice of Lance Kerrigan crying “I’m running as fast as I can.”
Jordie’s Tale II – “One More Step Faster”
Jordie immediately picks up where that story ended, returning to the camp many years later and focusing on someone a tiny bit less of a walking rectum.
Her name was Rebecca, but everyone called her Becca. Her heroes were Wilma Rudolph and Rebecca Lobo because she wanted to be an athlete like them. She also admired Michael Jordan and Babe Didrikson because they tried out lots of sports. Becca was the fastest runner around, and also a city girl, which is why she was reluctant to go to camp. Like her heroes, she didn’t want to settle for one sport which is another reason why she had reservations about a training camp for track stars. She finally relented so long as she was allowed to bring her beloved dog and companion, Lobo (which was Spanish for “wolf,” appropriate because he was a wolfish mixed breed), with her. She found Lobo when he was a stray, raised him and fattened him up some, and now they were inseparable. [Wing: I love Rebecca and Lobo already; wolf-dog hybrids often have some issues, though.]
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a problem with bringing Lobo to the camp. Turns out the coach already had several dogs with him at the camp, and even herded sheep. Lobo wasn’t really interested in the other dogs; border collies who helped their master with his sheep. At the very least the border collies guarded the camp for any intruders, not that anything bad had ever happened… aside from Lance Kerrigan’s disappearance.
Becca had a little trouble getting used to sleeping out in the country because the nights were so quiet compared to city life. None of her bunkmates had this problem because they lived in small towns, but Becca got along great with them. And she was starting to like running on the mountain trails, so much so she started going out earlier and staying out later than her bunkmates. She always told them where she was going, of course. Lobo stuck to Becca’s side and went running with her on the forest and mountain trails, just like he did back home in the city. They went everywhere together, but back home the only flattery Lobo would accept came from the butcher who’d always have a bone for him. And since they were alone on the mountain trails, it meant Becca was free to talk to Lobo without getting odd looks from small-minded peons.
On the last day at camp, Becca and Lobo ran harder and went higher and farther than they ever had before. Becca was well prepared though; she had her trusty flashlight and she was familiar with the trails. But then Lobo deviated from the trail to hunt after something in the forest brush like he sometimes did, and Becca’s flashlight began to flicker. As it got darker and colder Becca slowed down, wanting to avoid breaking a leg or ankle by tripping over something in the dark. She could still hear Lobo, and knew it would be a matter of time before he reappeared like always.
Except he didn’t.
There definitely was something behind her, and she just HAD to remember that story about the ghost of Lance Kerrigan at the worst possible moment. Whoever was running behind her seemed to know the trail well; they didn’t stumble or pause like Becca. Becca steadily becomes frightened, wishing to get out of the forest when she spots the opening back into the wide trail. But the thing running behind her followed her onto the trail, and drew up next to her. She shouldn’t have looked, but she did.
Then she wished she hadn’t. For running alongside was a skeleton. It turned to smile at her, and its jaw dropped. She heard the faint rattling of its naked bones, saw the pelvis move as the legs swung back and forth.
“Can’t you run any faster than that?” the skeleton jeered.
“No,” said Becca, and slowed down. She tried not to think about what the voice was coming from.
It was hopeless. The skeleton evenly kept up with Becca, slowing down and speeding up as she did. Dodging did nothing, and Becca finally demanded to know what the skeleton wanted when it asked if they were on the right trail. Becca realized they were in unfamiliar territory. The skeleton led her off the path! But she had to keep running out of fear of what the skeleton would do if she stopped.
“What do you want? Who are you?” she demanded.
“Just a lonely creature who wants some company,” said the skeleton, leering at her. “Someone to run with me over these beautiful trails. Someone who can keep up with me. It’s been so long, and I’m sooooo lonely.”
In answer, Becca sped up again. “Go away!” she shouted over her shoulder at the skeleton.
He caught up with her easily. “How rude,” he said mournfully. “How cruel.”
“Go away! Leave me alone!” she shouted again.
“Oh, no,” said the skeleton with awful glee. “We’re together now. Forever!”
Becca ran as fast as she could, but the skeleton followed, mocking her for thinking she could escape him. The skeleton reached out to grab her when something huge and dark lunged out of the bush towards the skeleton. Becca could hear an awful clattering and screaming as she got to her feet and called for Lobo to come to her. As she ran down the trail back to camp with Lobo behind her, she could hear the skeleton screaming and shrieking “No fair!” over and over again. As Lobo ran past Becca, she could see he was carrying something in his mouth.
A leg bone.
Lobo was always fond of bones.
[Wing: Again, I was hoping werewolf and did not get it, but this is still adorable and fun. The cycle of runners behing haunted and stolen away to run forever is nicely creepy.]
Terri’s Tale II – “Homebones”
Terri liked Jordie’s story so much she’s decided to pick up where it ended. [Wing: I love how these three are telling one long story now, really. This is nicely done and not something that I see a lot of in horror short story collections like this.]
Of course Becca’s bunkmates didn’t believe her account of her entanglement with a skeleton that may or may not have been the ghost of Lance Kerrigan. Oh sure a friend of a friend knew something about a certain school where a certain skeleton did 360 flips on a neon skateboard over an old graveyard, but this is reality, people! They wouldn’t believe her even as she showed them the leg bone Lobo brought back with him. The other girls believed it was really an old cow or deer bone or something, but Becca knew better. She also wouldn’t let Lobo chew on it, knowing where it’d been.
“I think Lobo is pulling your leg,” said Janet, and then she and Alicia and the others went off into whoops of laughter. “Pulling your leg! Get it?”
The girls finally told Becca to ditch the bone and get to sleep since they were all heading home in the morning.
In the middle of the night, Becca woke up, still not used to the alarming silence of the country and the way it magnified Alicia’s obnoxious snoring. She was just about to fall back asleep when she heard a noise she believed was the wind, until she realized it was getting closer.
Something shuffled through the leaves outside the cabin.
A raccoon, thought Becca. Some wild animal.
The sound came again, mournful and low. This time she heard a word in it.
She yanked the covers over her head. And heard it again.
“Re-bec-ca… Re-bec-ca… Re…”
Becca tried to block out the sound, but none of the other girls seemed to hear it. Becca tried to wake up Lobo as the shuffling sound got closer to the cabin door, before it was replaced by the slow, tinny sound of a doorknob being turned. It was trying to get inside! Becca couldn’t see in the dark, but she could imagine the thing getting inside. Thankfully, the cabin door was locked.
But the window wasn’t.
Becca could see the screen behind the window slowing being pulled upwards, and all she could do was whimper in bed before she managed to awaken Lobo, who went back to sleep just as quickly.
Lobo stirred and whimpered too. The raising of the screen halted. Becca froze.
And listened to someone listening to her.
Becca fumbled out of bed as fast as she could, getting tangled in her sheets as she floundered into the cabin closet. She searched through her bag for a weapon and pulled out the leg bone while she heard the thing outside search for her. Unfortunately, she dropped the bone and gave away her hiding spot. Just then, the closet door was yanked open and Becca was horrified to see the skeleton had returned, using a tree branch for a cane. Seeing his missing leg bone, the skeleton snatched it from Becca and hobbled off into the night.
Hey, at least he said, “Thank you.”
Terri’s Tale III – “Row Your Boat”
Marc was impressed by Terri’s ending, so their Hostess wanted her to spin another tale.
It’s hard not to read this story and wish it would actually happen to a certain orange troll doll in the White House.
Stop if you’ve heard this one before. Rich white man has money and power, but rich white man wants ALL the money and ALL the power, even when he has everything a rich white man could own. It’s hard to fault this rich white man, because so far his fellow human beings had proved him right when it came to the doctrine “There’s nothing money can’t buy.” So maybe what happened wasn’t exactly his fault… [Wing: Riiiiiight.]
Mr. Dolarman (little on the nose there, aren’t we Terri?) has to get to an important business meeting on the other side of the country. But on this night of all nights a storm, one of the worst storms of the century, is raging. None of Dolarman’s power or wealth can make his personal pilot or any other pilot suicidal enough to fly in this weather. Hearing “No” for the first time in his life, Dolarman reacts as you’d expect and fires the entire plane crew on the spot. He snarls at his personal driver James to get the lead out. Fearing for his job, and more importantly his life, James drives Dolarman’s private limo as fast as he can, faster than he feels comfortable doing so. In-between Dolarman’s demands of “Faster” and “Faster,” James prays a police car will pull up beside him and tell him to stop. But absolutely no one seems to be out on this stormy night, because James knows no one in their right mind would be driving in this rain. Even the faraway houses he drives by are dark and silent, like the whole world is in hiding.
In the middle of the woods, James finally has an excuse to slow down when he notices the gas tank is almost empty. But there doesn’t seem to be a station nearby, and the bridge up ahead is closed. At that moment, James notices a light in the distance and discerns the outline of a house nearby. As James says he’ll venture out and see if he can get fuel for the car, out of nowhere comes a little old man in a yellow raincoat and holding a flashlight. The surprise arrival causes James to scream, but Dolarman has no time for screaming and orders the old man to tell him where the nearest bridge is. The old man explains the only open road is forty miles back. Dolarman exclaims there’s no time and questions if there’s a ferry or boat nearby. The old man mentions his family used to run a ferry service many years ago, but just as with the pilot, the man says it’s too dangerous to travel on a night like this. Even with a boat, the river’s too wild.
“Nooo… Ah, no, no boat that would make that river tonight. No man could of his own accord take the oars upon such a night and such a river.” He glanced over his shoulder toward the river. “She claims those who don’t respect her. Many a man, woman, and child has been lost trying to defy her. She won’t be beaten, and she must be respected. I’ve known her to take a man’s own son, just a foolish boy who snuck his boat out one night… Oh, no, no, no…”
Ignoring all the obvious foreshadowing, Dolarman insists James find the man’s boat and row him across the river. James says no. Dolarman fires him. Dolarman offers to pay the man to row him across the river but the man refuses because he won’t have Dolarman’s death on his hands should it come to that. Practically telling everyone to fuck off, Dolarman marches out of the limo with his briefcase and goes to find the boat. James, compassionate but stupid guy that he is, tries to stop Dolarman, but the old man tells him it won’t help.
Dolarman trudges through the rain, wind, and mud, screaming to the earth, the sky, and the storm that he won’t be beaten. Luck seems to be on his side, because he does find a pier near the river and there IS a boat. Dolarman signals the rower and offers him a hefty sum if he can make it to the other side of the river. Satisfied that he once again got his way, Dolarman settles into the unsteady little boat and orders the rower to move his ass. Through the light from his flashlight, Dolarman can see the oarsman is a young boy in a yellow raincoat similar to the old man’s, but Dolarman has no time to notice things like details. All he cares about is that meeting. The oarsman isn’t rowing the boat fast enough for Dolarman until finally, he demands the boy hand over the oars. The boy, shocked at hearing this, asks Dolarman to repeat himself. Dolarman reaches his breaking point and nearly pushes the boy out of the boat grabbing for the oars. The boy obliges… by disappearing. That gets Dolarman’s attention. As well as the fact he can’t let go of the oars now that he has them. Dolarman’s kicking and thrashing and screaming in frustration, but soon he’s screaming from fear when he sees the boulder coming towards him.
Screaming and rowing for his life.
For all eternity…
Back at the car, James is roused from an uncomfortable sleep when he hears someone calling up from the path he watched Dolarman head down. A boy in a yellow raincoat runs past the limo’s headlights calling for his father. The old man dashes from the house, holding a lantern he quickly discards so he can pick the boy up in his arms.
“Son!” he cried. “Son, I knew you’d be back. I knew if I waited…!”
The lantern fell to the ground and went out as the old man scooped the young boy up in his arms. As the lantern flickered out, the hoods of both father and son fell back, and James saw that the old man was not so very old at all, and that he and the boy were as alike as two peas in a pod.
Then the lantern went out and the two figures vanished as if they had never been.
(I love that the story makes it clear this is all Dolarman’s doing, and that the father wasn’t willing to sacrifice someone else to get his son back, no matter how much of an ass that person may be. Poor James though.)
[Wing: This is a surprisingly sweet story for the collection, and I, too, am delighted that the father wouldn’t sacrifice anyone to get his son back.]
Jeep’s Tale II – “Last Plane Out”
The Hostess wanted more, so Jeep obliged.
Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Johnson had spent years living in the little village. They were scientists, you see, and this village and the area that surrounded it had some of the most fascinating flora and fauna to study. There were plants and animals and rock formations unlike any on Earth. The village was also extremely difficult to reach, almost impossible during the winter and spring due to the mountains and fissures that surrounded it. In fact, the Johnsons had lived there for so long it was all their children, Jack and Mary Anne, knew. Jack was two when his parents arrived, and Mary Anne had been born in the village.
Jack and Mary Anne’s upbringing was not an ordinary one, but it was plenty interesting. They didn’t have to go to school; they learned everything and anything they needed to know from their parents and the other adults in the village. They didn’t have a bedtime nor did they ever have to get up at a certain time, they got along well with the other kids, and they were allowed to do as they pleased so long as they didn’t get hurt or try to hurt anyone else. The only real rule?
Don’t get killed.
They didn’t really care about the outside world, and all the Johnson children knew of it was from the books their parents rarely got whenever they received mail. Their only contact with the outside world was a radio, which was still pretty difficult. Mary Anne hated that radio because the noises it would broadcast terrified her. Her brother would tease her while their dad fiddled with the dials, much to her chagrin.
“Don’t!” Mary Anne would plead. “It sounds like people screaming. Like they’re trapped somewhere out there, trying to get through!”
Her father tried to assure Mary Anne it was okay, but the static noises bothered her, like they were voices speaking in some terrible, unknown language. She tried not to talk about it because of Jack’s teasing, though.
Unfortunately, war were declared. It reached the country the village was hidden in, and sure enough, even the villagers were talking about it. But they were talking about it because they simply didn’t understand what the point of war is. Why would people fight and kill each other? Jack and Mary Anne didn’t understand it as well, while their parents were concerned about how this would affect their research.
For a while, nothing happened, until soldiers started to reach the village. Helicopters hovered in the air, things were dropped into the jungle, and a mountaintop was leveled. [Wing: Hey, I read the Relic, doesn’t this mean an apex predator is on its way to the USA to wipe out some people for awhile? Because I think we could use that.] Mr. Dr. Johnson tried to find out more via his radio but got nothing. Then came the day when a soldier approached Mary Anne and several children she was playing with, and he demanded to know who was in charge. Mary Anne told the soldier she was in charge, showing stupidly amazing fortitude as the man threatened her.
“I am,” she said. “Do you want to play?”
“Don’t get smart with me, little girl!” roared the solider, and, reaching down, he lifted her by the collar of her shirt so that she hung in the air, facing him.
“Put me down, please,” said Mary Anne politely. No one had ever treated her like this or talked to her like this, but the man was a stranger and clearly didn’t know how to behave.
The soldier repeated his question and shook Mary Anne pretty harshly until she considered kicking him in the face, Luckily, Mr. Dr. Johnson arrived and ordered the soldier to let his daughter go.
More soldiers started to set up a base in the jungle and mountains around the village. They even created an airfield, but it felt like nature was against them being there. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the soldiers. They got lost, fell off cliffs or into ravines and rivers, and got caught in rock slides. Of course, the soldiers blamed everyone except themselves, and usually fired their guns in the air to vent stress. Mrs. Dr. Johnson and her husband discussed how the village was no longer safe, and if it wasn’t safe here it’s not safe anywhere. The kids asked where they would go, to which the doctors responded they would have to go home. Their old home, that is.
That’s when things started to get… weird. Animals began to disappear from the jungle. Slowly at first, until it seemed like they were all gone. A sergeant demanded to know from the doctors how this could’ve happened; Mr. Dr. Johnson doesn’t see how the soldiers could’ve hunted the animals out of existence so quickly. The sergeant argues the animals all disappeared within a day. They just vanished… like the villagers, Mary Anne unfortunately added. The sergeant pondered on that, wondering if the villagers really did take the animals with them to wherever they fled and asking whose side they were on.
“No one’s,” she said. “They don’t believe in war.”
“Don’t believe in war? Don’t believe in war?” The sergeant jumped back as if he was horrified. But maybe that wasn’t so surprising, since blood and death and killing and war were all that he believed in.
But it was true. The villagers had vanished just as the animals did, leaving only the Johnsons and the soldiers behind.
But not for long.
That night, Jack and Mary Anne silently woke up and, under hushed cover of darkness, quickly packed up their belongings with their parents and started their journey home. Jack and Mary Anne were shocked to realize the village truly was empty as their parents led them through the jungle and up the mountainside. They had to hurry when they realized the soldiers were aware of their departure plan. Mary Anne noticed they were heading for the makeshift airfield the soldiers erected, and asked if they would be leaving by plane. Their parents ordered Jack and Mary Anne to keep moving as the soldiers got closer, until they finally emerged onto the rocky field of the airstrip. The Doctors Johnson were relieved beyond reason when they realized their ride had indeed come for them.
Dr. Johnson grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him forward, and they ran through the now pink light of morning, across the flat airfield, toward the vast thing that hovered there.
But Mary Anne stopped. It was like no plane she had ever seen or read about. A huge, flat, silver saucer, it looked out of place. She wasn’t sure she trusted it.
AND ALL THE VILLAGERS AND THE ANIMALS ARE HEADING INTO THE SAUCER AS WELL.
The Johnsons desperately ran to the saucer as they heard the soldiers order them to stop. Jack and his mother managed to make it inside first when it looked like the saucer was about to fly away. Mary Anne was thrown inside by her father as he jumped up and grabbed hold of the stairs before they folded into the ship.
Mary Anne sat and watched as the Earth receded away outside the saucer, as it sailed and rode on the ocean of time and space. She asked her mother where they were going.
“Home. We’re going home.”
[Wing: KNEW IT! This is a great story, and I would like to join that trip off the planet, please.]
Jordie’s Tale II – “Boys of Stone”
Jordie opens her story with mention of someone named “Howard the Coward.” The Hostess grants her permission to continue.
Howie hated his nickname, even though it was accurate. He was a weak person, and like other weak people, he could sense the weakness of those around him. Yet Howie knew how to point out those weaknesses to his advantage. He was a punk, sure enough, saying and doing stuff to get a reaction and then running away so someone else would get blamed for it. He was part of a small group of kids, some rich, some poor, all smart, all rotten. They got into trouble because they liked getting into trouble, but as they got older they went from being annoying to borderline evil and vicious. No one could prove anything, but people steered clear of Howard the Coward and his friends:
- Killer Carl
- Jimbo the Giant
- Aesop, a.k.a. Ace
- Pierce (for his numerous piercings and earrings)
Howie was their leader because of his ability to sense weakness, so he knew how to find the easy targets. They did whatever they felt like doing and had fun doing it. As Ace said, “Nothing succeeds like excess,” and no one had proved them wrong.
It was summer break, so things had slowed down. With nothing to do, Howie focused his energy on their town’s local urban legend, Old Man Stone. The reclusive Mr. Stone lived on a vast estate behind a huge stone wall at the very end of a dead end street. No one had seen Old Man Stone in years, even the kids who delivered his groceries, but they knew he was there. And so did Howie, who began talking about how he was sure the old man had to be a witch. His friends told him only girls could be witches, if witches existed, before Howie told them about warlocks. The others in the group began to mock Howie for being afraid of “The big, bad witch,” calling him by his hated nickname until Howie got pissed enough he ordered Jimbo to hoist him over the wall into the man’s property.
Howie impressed his friends as he scrambled up Jimbo and grabbed onto a low hanging tree branch to get into Old Man Stone’s yard. Once he was on the other side, Howie started tossing pieces of fruit from the many trees that grew in the yard over the wall at his friends. Looking around, he’d found himself in what could’ve been another world. A huge vegetable garden gone to seed and dozens of trees sprouting apples, oranges, pears, plums, peaches, whatever, shimmered before his eyes in the summer heat. Plants and flowers bloomed and flies buzzed around rotted fruits and veggies. Howie regretted not pelting his friends with the rotted fruit before he started to look around the garden some more.
Howie couldn’t see the house just yet, which was fine by him because he didn’t want to deal with Old Man Stone. But as he got closer Howie came across something odd. A hand in the grass! No, wait, it’s a stone hand. Howie’s discovered a statue covered in vines and weeds. But it’s a statue of a… boy, dressed in old-fashioned clothes and holding a freaking slingshot. Yeesh. Howie touches the statue and is shocked by how cold it feels, even in the humidity. Howie tries to remember where the statue is located so he can freak out his friends when he brings them back, until he finally comes across Old Man Stone’s house. For a brief moment, Howie is unnerved by the stillness of the house surrounded by evergreens and choked with ivy. He wonders what the old man would do to him if he caught Howie, but then Howie gets pissed off.
How dare this old man whom he’s never actually met make him feel scared for the things he might hypothetically do if he hypothetically caught Howie? MothaFUCKAH!
Howie wants to do something to Old Man Stone, and he’s found a nice, big rock to use for it as he looks at the huge windows in the old man’s house. But first, he needs to make sure he has an escape route handy. Howie retraces his steps back to the stone wall when he notices something he missed the first time. There’s another statue, this one propped up against the wall and looking right at Howie. Well, it appears to be looking at Howie. The statue’s of another boy, this one dressed in a suit and tie like he was going to church or something. The statue seems really frightened of something, and Howie turns around in time to see Old Man Stone himself.
For such a tiny, frail looking man, Old Man Stone has a powerfully deep voice, and he screams at Howie to stay where he is. Naturally, Howie starts to scramble up the statue and uses the chinks in the wall as footholds to climb over it. By the time he gets back in the alley, Howie can hear Old Man Stone screaming in an unearthly rage, pounding on the other side of the stone wall with all his might. Did the wall actually shake?
Howie recaps with his buddies all about his journey into Old Man Stone’s private forest, and tells them about what they’re gonna do when they drop by later that night…
Armed with flashlights, as well as plenty of rocks to break plenty of windows, Howie and his crew scramble over the wall back into Old Man Stone’s garden. The first order of business for Howie is to scare his friends by showing them the statue on the ground. They all freak out, but Ace especially is unnerved because he thinks, for a moment, the statue moved. As they got closer to Old Man Stone’s house, they find a third statue. This one looks like a boy dressed for Halloween. There’s even a stone bag and stones shaped like candies sprinkled around this statue. Well, at least the man has an eye for detail.
Once the boys find the house, they unleash a storm of rocks and proceed to break several windows. Until…
Then from the darkness much too close by, a voice roared “Boys… boyssssssss!”
Old Man Stone was on the boys so quickly they had to scatter into the darkness of the garden. Howie turns off his flashlight to better conceal himself in the dark, but must turn it back on for a moment to see where he is. He finds the statue sprawled on the ground and figures the fruit orchard, and therefore the stone wall, should be close by. But then he notices the statue is in a different position than it was previously. Howie gets closer to the statue and turns on his flashlight, discovering why the statue’s in a different place.
It’s because this is a different statue.
A statue that looks just like Killer Carl.
Howie places a trembling hand on the Carl statue, horrified to discover the statue feels warm and soft. Like flesh. Like it was just made.
Howie can hear Old Man Stone laughing, and as he runs he pulls out his rock and screams at the old man to get away when-
Howie can’t bring the rock down on the man’s head. He can’t let it go. He can’t move his arm. All he can do is watch from what seems like miles away as Old Man Stone laughs and talks to himself. They don’t call him Midas Stone for no reason, after all. And hey, it may not be a golden touch, but it works well enough on kids like Howie. From far away Howie can hear Old Man Stone muttering about how he’s got too many boys in his garden with the five new arrivals. The last thing Howie saw was a stampede of boys, one holding a slingshot, one dressed for church, and one dressed for Halloween, fleeing from Old Man Stone’s garden.
He sure taught them a lesson.
[Wing: Look, Stone, you could be making money selling those statues. You don’t have to keep them all!]
Marc’s Tale – “Twins”
The Hostess seems pretty intrigued by the idea of children turned to stone. Marc decides to tell a story about twins, surprising everyone but especially his sister Terri, to stop the Hostess from acting on certain ideas.
It was way, way back in the olden days when you were either a peasant or a king, and people lived in huts or castles, and magic was a more common thing. Some people even believed having twins was magic, maybe even good luck.
On the event of Arthur and Andrew’s birth, their father decided to have a celebration. He was a farmer, but he was also shortsighted and boastful. Even though he and his wife were poor he wanted to have a magnificent shindig. His humble wife tried to argue they could have a meager celebration, but he wouldn’t hear of it. On the night of the party, some foreign travelers stopped at the farm to ask for directions. The farmer could tell these people were rich and considered making some scratch by charging them for directions. Sensing what he was about to try, his wife made him put their sons to bed and gave the travelers the info they needed. She even invited them to join their meal. Touched by her generosity but not having the luxury of time, one of the travelers took a length of gold chain and quickly fashioned two necklaces for Arthur and Andrew. She explained to the farmer’s wife as long as the boys wore those necklaces, all would be well.
As the boys got older their father frequently tried to sell the necklaces, but his wife believed in their protective power and refused to let him do so. One day, the farmer decided to take the family to the market to relax and have fun, even though the wife pointed out they were in the middle of a harvest. Like usual the farmer ignored his wife, and so much could’ve been avoided if he’d listened.
While walking around the market stalls, the farmer asked a merchant how much money he could get for Andrew’s necklace. The moment the necklace was taken off Andrew he ran into the streets and was almost run over by a carriage. His mother shielded the boy as the carriage hit a wall, and she was horrified to discover the occupants of said carriage were none other than the wicked king and queen who ruled the land. The king was all set to have Andrew’s mother executed on the spot for the damages done to his beloved carriage before the queen saw Andrew. The royal couple was unable to have children, which considering how awful they were, was for the best. The queen saw how beautiful Andrew was and demanded his mother hand the boy over if she valued her life. Regretfully, Andrew’s mother allowed the king and queen to take Andrew away. The farmer was all set to scream at his wife before she quickly told him to shut his mouth, and placed Andrew’s necklace around her own neck.
Time passed, and while the farmer was still a fool, he’d been slightly humbled and was more willing to listen to his wife. The boys had completely forgotten about their brother as they got older and became men. Arthur and Andrew grew up to be handsome men, but Arthur was as good and kind as Andrew was evil and spoiled. Andrew’s fake parents let him do whatever he wanted and gave him whatever he wanted, teaching him that’s what it meant to be royal. They decreed anyone who told Andrew the truth of his past would be put to brutal death. When the king and queen died and Andrew became ruler, people were upset because they were getting an even worse king. Andrew was a monster whom even animals feared. He doubled taxes on a bad day, tripled them on a good day.
There came a day the farmer couldn’t pay his taxes and was arrested and sentenced to death. The wife told Arthur to go before King Andrew and plead for his father’s life, reasoning not even someone like Andrew would kill his own dad. She told Arthur all about how Andrew was his brother and gave him Andrew’s old necklace to show to the king. The wife feared this all happened because Andrew’s necklace was removed. Before Arthur left, his mother reminded him to never remove the chain around his neck.
Arthur, reluctantly, traveled to the king’s court and was granted an audience because of how good looking he was. The members of Andrew’s court were all shocked by how much Arthur looked like the king, but if Andrew didn’t see it it’s because he couldn’t comprehend looking similar to a filthy peasant. Arthur gave Andrew the gold necklace and told the king he got it from “Our” mother. The idea of being related to a commoner enraged Andrew and he violently lashed out at Arthur. He screamed at his men to seize Arthur and was prepared to kill him when Andrew saw Arthur’s necklace. Andrew wanted Arthur’s chain for himself, but Arthur explained he promised his mother he would never take it off. Andrew decided to rip the chain off Arthur’s neck with his bare hands.
As the chain snapped in two, Andrew’s head fell off.
[Wing: … well, that was abrupt.]
In The Deep, Dark Woods – Part II
As the Hostess stirred the contents of the pot once more, Tyson was sure he’d almost heard someone or something calling his name from inside. It was so late, and Tyson felt so tired, maybe he could…
Marc kicks Tyson awake and orders him not to fall asleep. The Hostess tells Marc to leave Tyson alone, to just let him sleep. In fact, they could all use a few winks, don’t you think? As the kids felt their eyes begin to close, Terri screamed and Marc lunged for the door. Jordie jumped up, but her legs were numb and she stumbled back. As she did she yanked open one of the curtains, revealing it was dawn. The Hostess screamed at Jordie to close the curtain.
As Jaws yawned and stretched, he accidentally hit Tyson’s leg. Tyson began to stumble and was about to fall towards the fireplace. He was falling into the fire! Tyson grabbed hold of the chain holding the pot and swung away from the fire. Jaws, moving faster than anyone had ever seen him move before, jumped and grabbed Tyson from falling into the flames. As he did, the pot overturned and its contents spilled into the fire. The Hostess shouted and cried in agony as her beautiful fire died and disappeared.
And then so did she.
And so did the house.
Left in an empty clearing, the kids suddenly heard their names being called by familiar voices. Jeep, however, was more worried about what happened to the gingerbread house-DID HE JUST CALL IT A GINGERBREAD HOUSE?
As the kids were given granola and juice while one of their parents contacted the ranger station, Mr. Holmes reveals they followed the smoke from the fire they built. Mr. Holmes asked Jeep how the kids managed to make such a blaze.
“It’s a long story, Dad,” he said. “A long, long story.”
And there you have it, the longest book in the Graveyard School collection and one I am so glad I finally got to share with everyone.
I’m impressed by how dark and morbid the tales were, and they serve as an indicator of how smart the kids truly are. Jordie’s tales had a kind of twisted humor to them, Jaws’s stories were definitely the weakest, and isn’t it interesting how the tales the Foster twins shared both included people who abused others and got punished in the end?
What were your favorite and least favorite tales? My favorite was “Row Your Boat” because of the setting and the happy ending father and son received, while my least favorite is “Sweet Dreams” because of how short it is. But Becca’s by far the best of the main characters.
[Wing: This was delightful! I love when short story collections are framed by a bigger story, and this is a nice change from the fake-out that was Haunting Christmas Tales (part one, part two), which allegedly had a frame story but really did not. I love these kids and their stories a ton.]
Activities Section: Another ad-lib story.
Welcome to Camp POOPING SQUIRREL where WEREWOLVES of all ages, sizes, and ACIDS can come to hike, swim, and DISESTABLISH THE PAY GAP BETWEEN GENDERS. In addition to these activities, at Camp POOPING SQUIRREL there is an award-winning dining hall that serves PLACENTA PIE, SYPHILIS PUDDING, and THE SCREAMING HEAD OF FLORENCE HENDERSON among its specialties.
The counselors are all professionally trained ANAL BLEACHERS who enjoying MOLTING and AD-LIBBING. Every summer, Camp POOPING SQUIRREL delivers a UNDERWHELMING time to WEREWOLVES from all over. [Wing: Werewolves.]