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Contents

Title Page
Welcome You are Most Wanted
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22

Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Also by R.L. Stine
About the Author
Copyright

Come in. I’m R.L. Stine. Welcome to the Goosebumps office.
I hope you didn’t have trouble finding it. Did you follow my directions? “Turn left
at the third open grave and follow the path through the quicksand pits.”
You might think a graveyard is a strange place for an office. But I need a lot o
f quiet to think. And the only noise here is the sound of dead people not breath
ing.
Well, sit down. Just move those eyeballs out of your way. Yes, I know they’re stil
l warm and wet. I keep meaning to return them to their owners. No, they’re not loo
king at you. Turn them the other way if they make you nervous.
Don’t worry about the giant scorpion. That’s Louie. He’s been my pet ever since he ate
my dog.
It’s okay. He only craves flesh when he’s hungry. Hmmm … I can’t remember. Did I feed hi
m today?
Hey, don’t pay any attention to those screams. Sometimes the torture chamber upsta
irs gets a little busy. You’ll get used to it.
Yes, this is where I write all the Goosebumps books. Cozy, isn’t it?
Why is my laptop covered in fur? I don’t know. It didn’t have fur when I bought it.
Maybe I downloaded some kind of virus.
Check out that poster by the window. See those cute lawn gnomes with their funny
pointed hats and their overalls and vests? The adorable painted faces?
Well, guess what? They’re not so cute. They may be small — but they can make BIG tro

uble.
Yes, that’s a WANTED poster. Those gnomes are wanted for being some of the most gh
oulish, most evil villains in Goosebumps history.
Why am I shaking like this? I’ll tell you the truth — even I get scared when I think
back to the creepiest, crawliest, grossest villains of all time. I hope you’re re
ady to be terrified, because I’m going to reveal their stories to you.
Yes. Here come the MOST WANTED bad guys starring in the MOST WANTED Goosebumps b
ooks.
Let’s start out with these grinning, glowing-eyed lawn gnomes.
A boy named Jay Gardener can tell you all about them. Jay can tell you about the
horrifying nights he spent because of these frightening statues.
They can’t come to life, right?
That’s what Jay thought — at first.
They’re too cute to be evil?
Maybe you won’t think that after you read Jay’s story.
Maybe when you learn what Jay discovered late at night, you will understand why
the lawn gnomes are … MOST WANTED.

I know I’m supposed to be careful. I know I’m supposed to be good. But sometimes you
have to take a chance and hope no one is watching.
Otherwise, life would be totally boring, right?
My name is Jay Gardener. I’m twelve and sometimes I can’t help it — I like a little ex
citement. I mean, dare me to do something — and it’s done.
It’s just the way I am. I’m not a bad dude. Sure, I’m in trouble a lot. I’ve been in som
e pretty bad trouble. But that doesn’t mean I’m a criminal or anything.
Check out these big blue eyes. Are these the eyes of a criminal? No way. And my
curly red hair? And the freckles on my nose? You might almost call me cute, righ
t?
Okay, okay. Let’s not get sickening about it.
My sister, Kayla, calls me Jay Bird because she says I’m as cute as a bird. Kayla
is totally weird. Besides, she has the same red hair and blue eyes. So why pick
on me?
So, okay, I felt this temptation come on. You know what that is. Just a strong f
eeling that you have to do something you maybe shouldn’t do.
I gazed up and down our street. No one around. Good. No one to watch me.
The summer trees’ leaves shimmered in the warm sunlight. The houses and lawns glea
med so bright, I had to squint. I stepped into the shade of Mr. McClatchy’s front
yard.
McClatchy lives in the big old house across the street from us. He’s a mean dude a
nd everyone hates him. He’s bald and red-faced and as skinny as a toothpick. He we
ars his pants way up high so the belt is almost up to his armpits.
He yells at everyone in his high, shrill voice. He’s always chasing kids off his l
awn — even new kids, like Kayla and me. He’s even mean to our dog, the sweetest gold
en Lab who ever lived — Mr. Phineas.
So, I had an idea to have a little fun. Of course it was wrong. Of course it was
n’t what I was supposed to be doing. But sometimes, when you see something funny t
o do — you just have to take a chance.
Am I right?
That morning, I saw some guys in green uniforms doing work on the tall trees in
McClatchy’s front yard. When they went home, they left a ladder leaning against a
tree.
I glanced up and down the street again. Still no one in sight.

I crept up to the ladder and grabbed its sides. I slid it away from the tree tru
nk. The ladder was tall but light. Not hard to move.
Gripping it tightly by the sides, I dragged it to the front of McClatchy’s house.
I leaned it against the wall. Then I slid it to the open window on the second fl
oor.
Breathing hard, I wiped my sweaty hands on the legs of my jeans. “Sweet,” I murmured
. “When McClatchy comes home, he’ll see the ladder leaning up against the open windo
w. And he’ll totally panic. He’ll think a burglar broke into his house.”
The idea made me laugh. I have a weird laugh. It sounds more like hiccupping tha
n laughing. Whenever I laugh, my whole family starts to laugh because my laugh i
s so strange.
Well, actually, Mom and Dad haven’t been laughing with me much lately. Maybe I’ve do
ne some things that aren’t funny. Maybe I’ve done some things I shouldn’t have. That’s w
hy I had to promise to be good and stay out of trouble.
But the ladder against the open window was definitely funny. And it wasn’t such a
bad thing to do, right? Especially since McClatchy is the meanest, most-hated ol
d dude in the neighborhood.
Still laughing about my joke, I turned and started down the driveway. McClatchy
has a tall hedge along the bottom of his yard. It’s like a wall. I guess he really
wants to keep people out.
At the end of the driveway, his mailbox stood on a tilted pole. And as I passed
it, I saw the trash cans in the street. The trash was bulging up under the lids —
and it gave me another cool idea.
Working fast, I pulled open the mailbox, lifted the lid off a trash can — and star
ted to stuff trash into McClatchy’s mailbox.
Yes! A greasy bag of chicken bones. A crushed soup can. Some gooey yellow stuff
that looked like puke. Wet newspapers. More soup cans.
I imagined McClatchy squeaking and squealing in his high voice when he opened th
e mailbox and found it jammed with disgusting garbage.
What a hoot.
I started to laugh again — but quickly stopped. A choking sound escaped my throat.
Whoa.
Someone watching me. Two people watching, half-hidden by the tall hedge.
I froze. They stood side by side, staring right at me. I knew they saw everythin
g. Everything.
A chunk of moldy cheese and a clump of newspaper fell from my hands. I staggered
back from the mailbox.
Caught. I was totally caught.

“Okay. You got me. I’m sorry,” I called. “I’ll clean it up. Right away.”
I reached into the mailbox and started to pull out trash.
But the two men didn’t reply. They stood staring at me. The hedge rustled in the b
reeze, making shadows quiver over their still faces.
“I’m cleaning it up,” I called. “No problem.”
It took me a few more seconds to realize they weren’t people. And they weren’t alive
.
“Huh?” Crumpled soda cans fell from my hands and clattered to the driveway as I took
a step toward them.
Lawn gnomes.
I burst out laughing when I realized what they were.
Jay, you just freaked out because you were caught by lawn gnomes!
Walking in the shadow of the tall hedge, I stepped up to them. I placed a hand o
n a pointed red cap and squeezed it. Solid plaster or something.
I poked the stony dude in the eyes. I pinched his hard cheeks. “How’s it going, dude

I thought it was the shadow of the hedge. They were mean looking and ugly. Then I moved forward and kicked it a gain. This was the first time I noticed the m all. “Stop staring at me. Phineas o n his leash. “What’s happening here?” Dad called.” I said. His eyes bulged wide. And I draped a sheet of brown-stained newspape r over his partner’s shoulder. Watching you. McClatchy! He grabbed me by the shoulders.” McClatchy rasped. “What has Jay done?” Dad asked. making whistling noises through his nose. they stood side by side in red vests over matching red ove ralls. kid — you don’t want to be o n my bad list. “Now you two look cool. I had an idea. He was in his workout clothes — a gray sleeveless T-shirt over gray sweatpants. like skeleton hands. Their steady. At first. They weren’t cute. My dad came walking toward us. Their eyes were big. Why do so many homes in this neighborhood have lawn gnomes? My family moved here only three weeks ago. Mr. I turned and gazed across the street at the Brickmans’ house next door to ours. no!” Now I was really in trouble. And spotted another angry-looking gnome near the neighbor’s front walk. they had shiny round faces with white bea rds and white mustaches. cold gaze gave me a chill. Dad is tall and athletic looking. I kicked a crushed soda can onto the grass. They looked angry. dudes. Another lawn gnome standing under a tree in McClatchy’s neighbor’s yard. Beneath their pointed red caps. Phineas sniffed furiously at the g arbage that had fallen out of the can. This one wore a blue cap. They had three lawn gnomes lined up along their driveway.” I covered one gnome’s eyes with my hand. I stepped back to the street and slammed the lid back on the trash can. He had Mr. I felt Dad’s eyes on me. Yes. I squinted at it for a moment. Totally weird. H e lowered his red face to me and screamed in his shrill voice: “I’ve been home the whole time.” I stammered. I lowered my head as he stepped up to us. His hands were bony hard.s? Lookin’ good!” Nearly as tall as me. They had stubby. One had brown eyes. Mom calls him her “movie-star husband. His shoulders shuddered.” McClatchy said through clenched teeth. H e kept making that whistling sound. Was he going to totally lose it? I heard the scrape of footsteps. “S-sorry. I stopped as a heavy shadow swept over me. “Oh. But then I raised my eyes — and gasped. “Did he spill this garbage?” . almost like pig snouts. I kept my head down.” “Sorry. “And believe me. What do we do with a troublemaker?” McClatchy squeezed my shoulders in his bony hands. “Your son had better shape up. Then I placed a drippy soup can o n the point of one gnome’s red cap. He has wavy brown hair and dark eyes and a gre at. “You’re on my bad list now. His eyes were on the open mailbox. Ye s. Then he let go of me. w ide noses. I danced back to the trash can. jammed with trash. Somethin g caught my eye. Their mouths were curled down in angry scowls . gleaming smile. The other had black. Its arms were straight out as if it were directing traffic. Or a tree. He was breathing hard.” I guess because he’s kind of handsome.” I repeated. I turned toward them. angry.

” “None of your business. Jay?” “No. Do you u nderstand me?” I nodded. I called to Mr. making a wet. Then I fol lowed Dad across the street. “At least we can’t get in trouble riding our bikes — right?” Right? . Of course not. Kayla walked into the room. “I don’t want you to get in any more trouble. Dad spoke up first.” “I already apologized. “Sorry. I think he planned to sneak into my house. I didn’t want to make people angry at me. “Jay hasn’t been himself lately.” Dad put his hand on my chin and forced me to look at him. okay. Dad. Then he spun around and stomped angrily out of the li ving room.” Dad snapped.” “Huh?” I climbed up off the couch.” I snapped. “It won’t happen again. McClatchy’s house?” he demanded. “Let’s go ride our bikes.” He and McClatchy stared at me for a long while. sm acky sound. I slumped back on the couch. Dad —” He shook his head angrily.” I muttered. Well.” “Find things to do. “Have a seat.” McClatchy said.” Dad gasped.” “Yeah. Will it. Jay.” Dad told McClatchy. Jay. “Very sorry. “I saw everything. tell me. It’s his favorite place. Mr. “You can spend the next five nights after dinner in your room. I just want ed to have some fun. “Jay. We had to mo ve because of you — and now you still act like a jerk in our new home. “Maybe you could cut me some slack?” She shrugged. Phineas to come over to me. “He didn’t know I was home. McClatchy just nodded. I felt like petting him. your punishment will be a lot worse. “Son.McClatchy motioned toward the house with his head. you messed up again. She tossed back her curly red hair and sighed.” I smoothed my hand over the green leather arm of the couch. But he woul dn’t budge from his rug by the mantel. did you plan to go into Mr. “I … was just bored. He led me into the living room. “Don’t tell me you’re in trouble again. Let’s ride our bikes. “You heard me. Mr. He stuf fed the garbage in the trash can. “Are we going to have a serious talk now?” I sai d. “The next ti me. “He moved that ladder to the op en window.” he told McClatchy.” Dad said. Phineas was licking up something green and disgusting from the spilled trash . I tugged him away and pulled the green gunk from between his teeth. I shook my head. There’s a lot of stuff in this neighborhood we ha ven’t seen yet. “I just wanted you to think —” “I’m sure Jay wouldn’t break into your house. I perched on the edge of the couch.” “But.” I agreed. He frowned.” I murmured . Dad picked up the soup can and dirty newspaper from the two lawn gnomes.” He pointed to the couch. Phineas had already plopped down on the rug in front of the fireplace. He kept rubbing his lips over his teeth. “No way. Dad stood above me. Why are you acting so strange? You know you’re not supposed to play tricks on the neighbors. as if I were some kind of lab sp ecimen. “No way!” I screamed.” he said softly. “Nothing ever changes.” I muttered.

What a pal. Anyone in t here?” The cap was as hard as concrete. Squinting into the shadows. School doesn’t start for another month. And the hand brakes only work some of the time. “Hey!” The two lawn gnomes I’d seen there a few hours ago were gone. Both had the funny pointed hats. Fun. But I sto pped when something at the back of the house caught my eye. The chain was loose. “Wait for me!” She was out of sight. The afternoon sun was lowering over the trees. as if he was pointing at me. She was already racing away. The tree workers were back. All the fun we had hanging out in the wood s behind the school playground. I picked up speed and rolled on. I saw the two lawn gnomes clearly. But my family had no choice. It’s sad when you have to move far away and leave your friends behind. I wrapped my hands around its waist and tried to pick it up. She got it for her birthd ay just before we moved. They were sawing off a hi gh limb near the street. Without taking my eyes off them. A cool breeze ruffled my shirt. I climbed onto my bike and coasted down the driveway. She just rode off without me. Both had white b eards and mustaches. I didn’t stop. I gazed up and down the st reet.” I set the bike back and made my way along the brick wall. I made a fist and knocked on a lawn gnome’s shiny red cap. “Knock knock. The sun was in my eyes. I turned and stared at McClatchy’s front porch. I had to squint to see. Our bikes were leaning against the side of the house. I was too fast for it. “Whoa. Why do we have to have lawn gnomes? Just to fit in with everyone else in the nei ghborhood? I thought about my friends back home. But then I was cruising smoothly past the big old ho uses and wide front lawns on my block. They looked a lot like the lawn gnomes in McClatchy’s yard. I squinted along the hedge. I glimpsed McClatchy’s yard.I followed Kayla outside. No sign of Kayla. Pedaling hard. A little white dog yipped at me and c hased me for half a block. Usually. and it took a f ew seconds for it to catch. I called to my sister. They both gazed wide-eyed straight ahead. I couldn’t budge it. Some boys were skateboarding in the parking lot. pedaling down the street. Their faces were frozen in blank expre ssions. I saw them huddled beside the porch. Glancing around. huh? I lifted the bike off the wall and started to walk it to the driveway. I have to stop my bike by scraping my shoes on the pavement. Still no sign of Kayla. “Kayla — when did we get the se lawn gnomes? Dad didn’t say anything about buying lawn gnomes. The handlebars have rust spots on them. Beyond the school I saw a wide empty lot with a FOR SALE sign on it. I don’t think she heard me. I turned a corner. One had its elbow against the bricks and appeared to be leaning against the side of our house. My bike is a piece of junk. “Hey — wait up!” I shouted. I t’s a very sleek racing bike with about a million gears. And then two rows of houses. Did the workers move them away from the hedge? Were these the same lawn gnomes? Jay. Kayla’s bike is brand-new. who cares? Stop thinking about stupid lawn gnomes! I scolded myself. They both were dressed in red.” I turned to the driveway. A bunch of kids had a soccer game going. But as I reached the space between the house and the garage. I turned my bike and started to pedal hard. s maller than on my block. so there were no cars there. But it weighed a to n. I rode past the school. I realized I’d . His partner had one shiny white hand raised with a finger out.

“I’m Jay. But my brakes are bad. The hard thud jolted my body. “You?” He nodded. My hands flew off the handlebars. “Want to ride to the quagmire?” Elliot asked. “LOOOOOOK OUT!” I saw the boy on the bike roaring right at me. gazing up at the trees. and I followed him. It’s just a bunch of houses. “Hey — what’s up with all the lawn gnomes?” I asked. broad shouldered. Not for long. But it didn’t happen. I was sailing fast — and picking up speed. “I don’t know any kids in this neighborhood. The other boy sat dazed on the street. and I went saili ng into the air. I climbed onto my bike. I picked up my bike and spun the chain. He made a sharp turn onto the next street. “What’s this neighborhood called?” I asked. but I manag ed to keep up with him.” He turned back to me. Little yellow-and-whit e houses with square front yards.” I said. I guesse d he was about my age. Tall trees cast shade over the street. “Beats me. I was n’t hurt much at all. He stood his bike up and tested it. hoarse voice. I turned to Elliot. “Oh. I tried to stop. “Seems okay. dark haired. “You okay?” he asked.” I said. “Sorry.” “I live over there. The street dipped downhill. I waited for the pain to sweep over me. I think so. He shrugged. I came crashing down to the pavement with a scream. I lay there for a long moment. faded jeans. The handlebars were at a we ird angle. He had a gruff. We rode side by side. .” I said. My handlebars were loose. They leaned into th e tree. With a groan. you know. Elliot rode no-hands for a while.” He narrowed his dark eyes at me.” “Cool. His bike lay on its side beside him. Just a scrape. “Remember me?” “No way.” Then I saw two lawn gnomes in the shade of a fat tree trunk. One sleeve of the shirt was a little ripped from o ur accident. I landed hard on my side and the bike toppled onto me.” “Elliot. I saw a red-costu med gnome sitting on a white rock. “This way. I shoved the bike off my chest a nd forced myself to sit up. He was wearing a black Tshirt and baggy.” He started to pedal harder.” he said. It was okay. pedaling in a stead y rhythm. he climbed to his feet.never been on this block before. I couldn’t stop. very athletic looking. as if trying to hide in the shadows. He was a big kid. “Is it near here?” He motioned with his hand. It snapped me alert. He shrugged again. tires still spinning.” He pointed to the street across from us.” He took off pedaling.” He nodded again. He was rocketing. “Yeah. “NO BRAKES!” I screamed — just before the crash. A shout made me nearly jump off my bike. “Didn’t you see me?” “I saw you. I heard a groan beside me. “Yeah. The setting sun made ever ything go red. rubbing one arm. In the next yard.” I said. My family just moved here. I forced my bike to t ry to keep up with him. “Quagmire? What’s that?” “Kind of a quicksand pit. But my brakes didn’t catch. I pushed them back where they belonged.

Pulled his head up over the surface. Biting right through my jeans. on my other leg. I spun around — and saw Elliot jump off his bike. I felt another bite. . And I leaned forward … forced myself to move through the muck … r eached out my arms … stretched my arms over the surface. Snakes? Killer fish? “OWWWWW!” They were snapping hard.We raced right down the middle of the street. I saw what looked like a wide. Stretching out his arms. He thrashed and kicked. Gone. Elliot pressed his brakes. “Pick up your head! Elliot!” I screamed in a high. I tried to squirm away. Sinking fast. I could see only the handlebars now. And with a burst of strength. and I started to fall off. “Nooooo!” I cried out. His mouth opened and he spewed an orange spray of thick gunk. “Elliot — please!” But he was gone. He made a wild grab for my arms. My heart pounding in panic. His eyes were closed. he disappeared into the orange sand. My hands flew from the handlebars. “OWWW!” I screamed as something bit my left ankle. He shook his head. and I fell off the seat backward — into the goo . His bike squealed and slid to a stop at the end of th e street. but my legs were trapped under the gunk. Until I felt something. he dove toward me. shrill panic. I grabbed his head with both hands — and tugged. In seconds. My bike was disappearing. flat orange lake. I slapped the surface hard. The orange gunk was thicker than wet sand. I sank another few inches. Not again! I squeezed harder. Elliot’s head. my bike tilted hard to the left. My bike and I … we were sinking fast. I squeezed my brakes. Yes. “Ohhhh …” A terrified moan escaped my throat. And cold. They didn’t catch. His hair was thick with the orange sand. I kept repeating his name. I pulled him by his hair. I bent down — and plunged both hands into the wet sa nd. “Elliot — raise your head! Pick up your head!” No. Another bite. Not even a ripple where he had sunk. Quicksand! It tugged me down … down. He opened his eyes. Mis sed. And landed facedown in the muck with a sickening splash. Deeper. I stared down at the muck. I gaped in horror as he started to sink under the surface. Panting hard. We were really zooming when the quagmire came into view. There are creatures down below. The thick sandy goo swam up to my waist. But it only made him sink faster. Orange gunk rose up like ocean waves on both sides of my bike. He c ame running toward the quagmire. Pulled hard. I tugged with all my might. Quicksand! I thought. struggling to stay on top of it. Beyond it. No. The street ended. I opened my mouth in a cry as my bike sailed over the edge of the big lake. “Elliot? Elliot?” Without realizing it. I fl ew several feet — and landed with a loud plop. He made a choking sound. The houses on both sides of us bec ame a blur.

but they can smell you. They kept biting and —” I stopped as a dark shadow rolled quickly over me. It had froglike legs and jagged . I saw two large fish — fish with teeth and wide fins and legs — leap up from the sand.He had it caked in his nose.” “Why?” I demanded. I held m y breath as I heard the enormous creatures swoop down on us again. “What are they?” I cried. I started to wipe the gobs of wet sand off. Something caught my eye. Their shadows rolled over us again. I felt his hand on my shoulder. They —” “Get flat. we struggled to the e dge of the quagmire. I slapped Elliot on the shoulder. If they did …” . Then we slowly climbed to our fee t. I let out a moan as I felt sharp talons scrape down the back of my shirt. “But —” “It’s a quagmire. He shook his head again.” he said. “I … I’m okay.” “Huh? Not in mine!” I exclaimed. “They’re Buzzard Hawks. “Don’t move. Twisting my neck. “Duck!” Elliot screamed. preparing to dive again. “I … never saw a fish like that. “Don’t you know what a quagmire is? Didn’t you study about them? We had it in first grade. Pain shot through my whole body. He came sliding up higher. spiky teeth. I raised my eyes and saw a huge creature overhead. “Look. Bigger than a swan. “Because they’re blind. breathing.” I couldn’t help it. I started to curl into a ball .” I heard them squawking angrily above us. “They can smell fear. But I stopped when I saw the legs of my jeans.” Elliot whispered. Flapping noisily above Elliot and me.” “Huh? They’re so huge. We lay there for a couple of minutes. It felt so awesome to stand on solid ground again.” he ordered.” I stammered. “Look out!” I cried. “Ohhhhh. “Get flat! Get flat!” Elliot cried in a hoarse whisper. I grabbed him under the shoulders and pulled hard. “As flat as you can. I buried my face in the grass. It’s in all the Beginner Geography classes. I glanced up. “Hit the ground!” I dropped flat onto my stomach and covered my head. Working together. Enormous birds. We put our hands around each other’s waists. “I didn’t tell you to ride your bike right into it.” Elliot warned. They were covered with rips and tears and bite marks.” he said in a hoarse whisper. I turned back toward the quagmire. “And those gross biting fish. “Why didn’t you tell me this place is dange rous?” Elliot wiped sand from his hair. “Buzz ard Hawks are blind?” “They can’t see.” he said. “They haven’t smelled us down here yet. not speaking. I felt a strong whoosh of wind as the huge bird-creature swooped over us. There were two of them. We dove onto the small patch of grass at the end of the street. Black wit h big outstretched wings. It lowered its narrow head as it came diving down at u s.” We both were spread out on our stomachs.” Another pale green fish jumped over the surface. He coughed up some more gunk.

then bac k. The sun was nearly down. Every muscle in my body tightened. watching us pass by with their big. “They must have heard us when we were in the quagmire. I don’t like this place. Another whoosh of wind swept over me as the birds swooped inches over us. To my surprise. I watched him ride down the street.” I shuddered. Most of th em stared straight out to the street.” he called. Sure. I could barely balance myself.” “Maybe.” “You mean they’d claw us?” I asked.He didn’t finish. .” I said.” I said. and I was still a few blocks from home. but my legs were so shaky. “I’m already in big trouble because of a thing I did to our neighbor. “Jay — where is your bike?” one of them demanded. “Yeah. Really. They were perched on every lawn. but it seemed like an hour. I don’t get it. They’ll believe me. as if they were watching. “Yeah. As I walked home. And now I’ve lost my bike. I mean really .” I told Elliot. But I didn’t feel like coun ting anymore. too. And no way Mom and Dad will believe me if I t ell them it’s at the bottom of a quagmire. leaning against tree trunks.” Elliot started to his bike. I sighed. I didn’t want to think about anything that happened there.” “Well. I told myself. and started to op en the front door. two lawn gnom es stood on the front porch. coming home without my bike. After a long while. see you around. “Claw us. circling me. “I could back up your story.” I murmured. I turned at my house and walked up the front lawn. His eyes were still wide with fright. “Thanks for saving my life. I climbed onto the porch. Totally weird.” “Keep alert?” I shouted. “Close one. Their claws are deadly. “It’s not bad if you keep alert. He picked up his bike and climbed onto it. It too k only a second or two. blank painted eyes. And here I was.” he said. “We thought they were too ugly to put on front lawns. riding up a ways. “They’re meat eaters. He turned into the driv eway of a little yellow-and-white house at the end of the block. So I decided to count lawn gnomes as I walked. I turned and started walking slowly toward my house.” He started to pedal away. Th e sky was streaked with red. This is my street. “Do you know t he rest of the way?” I nodded. lifted my head. Elliot nodded. Dangerous birds. Maybe they won’t notice. Yes! The Buzzard Hawks had flown away. I didn’t mov e. Elliot rode beside me. I stood up.” Elliot said. “I’ve got to go. carefully.” I said. I buried my face in the dirt and he ld my breath. Ugly little bearded fellows in red outfits and those funny caps. Frozen in fright. “How can you keep alert against fish that chew your jeans off and birds that can rip you to pieces?” He didn’t answer. then eat us. Lawn gnomes stared at me from front yards as I passed. then silence. “Let’s get out of here. I felt the wind off their wings. “S orry about your bike. Who moved them? I wondered. I didn’t want to think about how we almost drowned in the quagmire.” He pointed.” Elliot replied. I’d promised my parents I’d be more responsible in our new neighborhood. posted near driveways.” “But it’s the truth. no one had lawn gnomes. stepped past the ugly little gnomes. “I’m in trouble. Why are these stupid litt le men everywhere I look?” He spun his bike around. Me. The birds made another dive. I slowly. I counted thirty-two of them. “In my old neighborhood. I was worried about my lost bike.

And we all wanted a clean start.” . How could I leave them behind? Working with chemicals and learning about science isn’t just a hobby with me. He didn’t look happy. What a re you doing?” I snickered.” I hurried upstairs to wash up. trying to decide what kind of mixture to crea te. The lawn gnome didn’t speak to me. I screamed and cried and begged and pleaded. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me. “Kinda. And saw my dad on the other side of the screen door. “Coming. Maybe someday I’ll be a famous s cientist. “Hey. It’s relaxing and exciting at the same time. It’s w hat I care about more than anything in the world. you two — supper is almost ready. and it made me shudder. But I didn’t feel like going outside. I t hought about sinking in that sandy orange goo.   The next afternoon. But. “Uh … well … It’s a long story. my parents tried to stop me from brin ging my chemistry set. I don’t want to keep punishing you.” Dad turned and strode to the kitchen. No one in our new town knew about what I had do ne. and I’ll create something totally terrific. I raised a test tube of a new acid I discovered and I tilted it into my mixing b eaker. Then I added just a drip of hydrogen peroxide. I could smell myself. I hid my chemistry set in a carton of blankets and sneaked it into the house . I stayed in my room. So. what’s up?” Kayla walked into the room.” I murmured. It was Dad. When my family moved here three weeks ago. we had to move because of all the trouble I cause d with my chemicals. I almost dropped the tube of acid. and it smelled sharp and bitter. “Eww. The acid made the liquid inside start to bubble and fizz.I gasped. She startled me. Then I arranged my che mical bottles. it was dangerous and cree py. “Hey. that stinks. mixing them t ogether. Mom called from the kitchen. In two words. I smelled like a swamp. “It’s at the bottom of a quagmire. Mom and Dad wanted to make sure it never happened again. I set up my test tubes and glass beakers on my lab table. But my chemicals are just too important to me. “Did you lose it?” he demanded. I raised my eyes. “I’m mixing up a special drink for McClatchy. “Those two on the porch. And in ever y yard. and seeing the results. Dad sighed. But it didn’t seem to do anything at al l. Time to eat. I studied the brown glass bottles. “Don’t you ever knock?” She ignored my question and stepped up to the lab table. It made a soft hissing sound.” Dad said.” He squinted at me. I had no idea how creepy it really was. I wasn’t sure I liked my new neighborhood. I love taking chemicals at random. “I don’t know what to believe. “Where’s your bike?” he re peated. Ja y. you promised —” “Dad. Sunlight poured in through my window.” I said. But they said no. dear. I mean. I poured a little bit of a bright orange chemical I made into a large beaker . what’s up with all the lawn gnomes?” I asked. I had no choi ce. a nd a warm breeze ruffled the curtains. I stirred in a few teaspoons of magnesium.” I said. I’ve always been a science freak. And —” “You know. Of course not. He held open the door and I slumped into the house. Of course.

“Like what?” Kayla thought for a moment. Barking his head off. do you want to come with me?” She shook her head. But Kayla wasn’t finished scolding me. Stop thinking about pranks and me an tricks to play on people. I poured a little more acid in the beaker and watched it bubble. I couldn’t get anyone to answer my questions about them. Phineas. McClatchy’s two lawn gnomes stood at the curb. “Stop it. “So you got caught stuffing McClatchy’s mailbox with garbage. and you lost your bike . Y ou promised Mom and Dad. “Hey — stop!” I let out a cry as Mr.” I started to close the lids on the chemical bottles. then turned and sc ampered away. “Do something to impress Mom and Dad. Phineas on his afternoon walk. “Mr. “Mr. The four bearded gnomes appeared to be having a staring match! Who keeps moving them around? I wondered. But the dog didn’t slow down. “You’re really being stupid.” I said. Phineas. . boy!” To my surprise. “I’ll do it. More gnomes stared at us from front yards as Mr. And more important. Phineas — stop! Mr. Do it befo re they ask you to do it. Phineas — slow down. That’s not funny. It had probably climbed a tree. “Mr. Totally weird. Phineas — LOOK OUT!” I shut my eyes and listened to the squeal of tires. You know that?” I didn’t answer. “Go ahead. the two lawn gnomes had been moved from the front porch. my body frozen in horror. I stumbled after him. “Too boring. the big dog went tearing do wn the middle of the street. I didn’t see the squirr el anywhere. You said you’d be responsible from now on. “Mr. A few minutes later. “Take a sip. Now the y were at the bottom of the driveway. Phineas took off.” she said. So far. “Stop it. See if it’s ready. Phineas! Stop! Come back!” The leash whipped along the pavement behind him as he ran. “No — stop! Stop!” The leash flew out of my hand.” “So?” I shot back.” “Good idea. The gnomes’ arms were o utstretched. “I can’t believe you’re mixing chemicals again.” she said.” I cried. Jay. “Go take Mr. Phineas when he spots a squirrel.” She turned and ran from the room. Phineas! Come back! Come back!” In a panic. and we set off walking down the front lawn. “Mr. You’re pulling the leash from my hand.” She stepped back. I snapped the leash on Mr. I gues s. And I staggered to a stop. Phineas pulled me down the stre et. At one house. “You promised them you’ve changed. I saw a squirrel half a block a way. Phineas — please!” And then I saw a dark green car turn onto the street. Do something responsible. The squirrel froze for a moment. stop pulling. Excited to be outside. shouting.” “That wasn’t my fault. It looked like they were holding hands. But no thing can stop Mr.” I said. why? What a mystery. “Kay la.” The dog was pulling like crazy. “No! Noooo! Mr. begging him to stop his hunt. I saw five of them standing in a circle. Across the street.Kayla didn’t laugh.” I set the test tube back in its holder.” I held out the fizzing beaker.

And saw him running down the middle of the street. “Mr. A large glass soda bottle. I guess he saw that the squirrel had escaped and he was chasing nothing. Gripped with terror. It knocked my breath out. “Stop! Stop!” I was running hard. And watched as the screaming. And guess what? It got worse. I took the dog out to prove how responsible I was. too powerful. It forced me to open my eyes. It happened so fast. The Buzzard Hawks squawked and flapped. My sneakers slapped the pavement as I ran after the birds. into the ne xt block. They swooped onto Mr. Stre tched out my arms to grab him away from them. The big dog swung his head around. he bared his teeth and tried to sna p at them.” I stumbled over something. Without stopping to think about it. Phineas! Mr. The car had missed him.A deafening crash made me jump. “S-sorry. Snarling. He finally slowed down. I landed hard on the pavement. I heard flapping wings. The passenger door swung open. He gripped the top of the car. Dove forward. Heaved it at the squawking birds. as if holding himself up. The big dog didn’t even stop running. I knew I was in major trouble. I had to catch Mr. I took a running leap. Gasping for breath. Phineas? I heard his bark. Phineas!” I screamed at the dog. I forced myself to my feet. Stretched … stretched … And missed. squawking loudly. . I saw the green car. I heard a man scream. But the birds were too big. Mr. Phineas. flapping their long black wings. They were high above me. They lifted him a foot off the ground. I watched as they dug their talons into the fur on his back . They raised their heads and flapped their wings furiously. And now the dog caused an acc ident and ran away. Phineas off the ground. I wheezed and choked and struggled to force air into m y lungs. Phineas. and pulling themselves higher. I didn’t have a chance to scream or do anything. squawking monster birds flew off with Mr. “Noooo!” A howl burst from deep inside me. I gasped as a dark shadow rolled over me. With a loud groan. its front fender crushed agai nst a light pole. The poor guy let out a howl of fright. still half a block behind him. A man in a dark suit staggered out. The huge birds cast wide shadows on the street as they flew away with my dog. Mr. Phineas swung his head back and fort h. shaking his h ead. Then another s hadow swept past. It rolled away from me toward the curb. struggling to free himself. Phineas before he caused a nother accident. I didn’t h ave time to take aim or plan my throw. their huge black wings beating the air.” I stammered as I ran past. I stood and watched as two enormous Buzzard Hawks shot down from the sky. He called out. I bent down and grabbed the bottle. And started to lift Mr. Sucking in deep breaths of air. But I kept running. “Ohh. Skidded several feet on my stomach. I heaved the bottle in to the air.

” “I … don’t understand.” I said. Malfunction. Phineas away from the light pole. the big jerk began lic king my face.” I didn’t know what to do. But this is pretty bad.” “Malfunction. Phineas. boy — stop!” Still on top of me. “Please — stop!” I suddenly remembered the driver.” I pointed. He had short brown hair parted in the middle. raced back. My plan was to hurry to the neare st house and ask them to call 911. In the sky. shrill vo ice. thank goodness. He was falling fast . “Are you okay?” I repeated. I fell onto my back and he landed on my chest. He must have hit his head.” “I … I’ll get help. brown eyes. And Mr.” I said. Malfunction. “This is your fault.” His fingers were all moving at once. I motioned with both hands. They left the doors open and started toward me. Phineas sniffed the light pole.” I tugged Mr. The dog’s legs were thrashing the air. He was muttering to himself as he walked in a circle around the pole and his wrecked car. I reached out my arms. Too ter rified to make a sound. The dog wagged his tail a little harder. Mr. “Malfunction. square redb rick house on the corner. I saw the two Buzzard Hawks floating away.” . Muttering that word over and over. “Th-there’s been an accident.” the man said. He didn’t see me until I called out to him. I didn’t see the car coming from behind until it pulled to a stop across the stree t from me.” Oh. “Malfunction. Malfunction. No one else in sight. Phineas. The green car. He probably had a concussion or something. Phineas tugged back. “Malfunction. “Malfunction. I had to — “OWWW!” I cried out in pain as he crashed into my arms like a meteorite falling to t he ground. Malfunction. “Are you okay?” He stopped circling and stared at me. The birds flew apart. Malfunction. He just kept repeating that word. I gave a hard yank on the leash and started to jog toward the small. “Stay here. “Malfunction. He wasn’t finished sni ffing the pole. I grabbed the do g’s leash and.” I glanced back and saw the poor man circling his car again. Oh. I stepped closer. tapping the sides o f his suit pants. His tail tucked between his legs. Phineas came sailing down. Mr. “Malfunction. He didn’t understand. “Malfunction. “Is there a problem here?” The voice startled me.” I stammered. Malfunction. I’m in major trouble. I found the man in the dark suit still standing by the light pole. “Malfunction. Mr.I heard a hard thump. I looked over and saw two blue-uniformed police officers inside a black-and-white patrol car.” I scolded as we ran. “Mr. My heart did a flip-flop in my chest. I have. The accident. a small mustache. and a pointed chi n. In my attempt to rescue Mr. Phineas — stop it! Come on. I’d forgotten all about him. I let out a sigh. I’ve never been in trouble this bad. I hurried back to the man circling the light pole. no. I glanced all around. okay? Do you wan t to sit down? I’m going to call for help. “Malfunction. I had to catch him. His eyes were glassy. The two officers climbed quickly out of their car. A Buzzard Hawk screamed. He had no expression on his face at all.” he shouted in a high. Actually. “Oh. wrapping the end around my hand. well.

I turned to the two cops. The sun was nearly down. He started to pull on the leash. I knew I had to tell my parents about the accident as soon as I got home. I looked up and saw a fat gr ay cat slither across the street. They lowered their hands over their holsters. I thought.” I told the dog.” “Yeah. I started to walk Mr. A few seconds later. My brain wa s spinning. barking his head off. Phineas let out a fierce bark — and took off after the cat. “I was just trying to be responsible. tired from his adventure. It took me a few seconds to recognize the house. “Hey —” I gasped. A feeling of heavy dread fell over me. Phineas led the way onto our block. That poor man. “Malfunction. Mr. Mr. I could still hear the roar of the patrol car as it sped d own the street. Please —” I pleaded. Suddenly. noooo!” I wailed. Mr. the man swung his head from side to side. They pushed him into the backseat of the car and slammed the door. Phineas home. They both grabbed the man. they walked right past me. roared past a tall hedge and into a front yard. Mr. The leash flew out of my hand. Phineas — NO! Not McClatchy’s yard! No! Not McClatchy!” . “Oh. Barking ferociously. We passed a group of lawn gnomes standing at the bottom of a wide lawn. No cars coming toward us. But Mr. Jay. Phineas tugged at his leash. I promised I wouldn’t get in trouble when we moved here. And now I was probably in the worst trouble of my life. Really. I scolded myself. Malfunct ion. And then I screamed my lungs ou t: “No! Mr. I guess he was eager to get home and have his dinner. I felt Mr. “Malfunction. They all had sick smiles on their faces. Eyes narrowed coldly. Mr.” The cops pushed him quickly to the patrol car. the car started up and they roared away. And they stared coldly at me as they moved in. stunned. “What are you going to do?” I staggered back until I bumped into the green car. The man made no attempt to resist . Each cop took a shoulder.” I stammered. Phineas gazed up at me for a moment. “Wait. They are ugly little men molded out of plaster. I stood there. the big dog galloped down the street. Looking confused. “Malfunction. He’s totally messed up. I had my head down. “It … it wasn’t my fault. We walked through l ong shadows. Phineas loped along slowly. Then he went back to his sniffing.” one of the cops said. He just kept moving his head back and forth and repeating the one word. Don’t get crazy just because they have smiles p ainted on their faces. Phineas tug hard at his leash. He sniffed the grass be side the damaged car. Phineas turned suddenly and. the two cops kept coming. we know. Don’t let your imagination run away with you. As if they knew what had happened to me and wer e grinning merrily about it. And now look. They strode up to the man circling th e light pole.” he said.” I shook my head sadly. My stomach started to churn. To my surprise. But their eyes narrowed as they came at me. “Not again!” The street was empty. I couldn’t stop thinking about the accident. We passed another group of grinning lawn gnomes. “I’m in so much trouble. Their shoulders tensed.

Four legs are always f aster than two — especially when they’re on a golden Lab.” The dog stood up straight and licked the vomit off his lips.” I moved forward to grab the leash — and the front door swung open. His whole body heaved and shook as he vomited up a messy pile. Right in front of McClatchy’s front door. His head was down. hands on his hips. Muttering to himself. But it felt good t o move the bottles around. “Hey!” I shouted angrily. My hands were balled into tight fists. I was too angry and upset to work with my chemistry set. McClatchy stood glaring at me. “Mr. Phineas — get away from there. Mr. I told myself. Mr. It was a hard kick. A deep groan escaped Mr. “Please don’t walk —” He pulled the front door in farther and stepped out. “Well? What are you going to do about it?” McClatchy repeated. kid?” I stared back at him. Phineas — come. he slipped and slid in it. “Mr. Phineas’s throat. Finally.” I ordered. Mr. That night. His foot slid out behin d him — and he fell facedown on the porch. The porch light flashed on. moving my chemical bottles around on the lab ta ble. Phineas landed on his feet in fr ont of me. I couldn’t get there in time. “Hey — what’s your dog doing on my front porch?” he snarled.” I started. Don’t worry. McClatchy. I recognized that pose. He had h unched his whole body. “You can’t kick my dog!” McClatchy stuck his jaw out. I’ll think of somethin g. I was trying to think of a good w ay to give them the news. Phineas started to vomit. “No! Get away!” I shouted. What are you going to do about it. He tightened his body even more. It made a sick squisssh. . His expression quickly turned angry. His foot landed in the moun tain of puke. I didn’t tell my parents about the car accident. “Come here. Vomit splashed up in a high wave. McClatchy squinted out at me. I stood and watched as Mr. whimpering softly. My chest felt about to explode. come. And fi nally stopped on McClatchy’s front porch. he managed to pull him self to his feet. he choked up big hunks of puke. I was up in my room. but no way could I catch him. McClatchy’s mouth dropped open as he slipped on the vomit. “I just did. McClatchy. Phineas. The dog uttered a yelp. I’ll think of something. His ta il was tucked tightly between his legs. Then he pulled back his leg — and kicked Mr. Groaning and moaning. Phineas in the belly. “I’m sorry. running up the middle of the yard. Guess where? Yes.I chased after the big dog. I was too angry to speak. The dog was going to be sick. He galloped right between two lawn gnomes standing beside the front walk. Phineas — move! Get o ff the porch!” I was just a few feet away when I realized the dog wasn’t standing right. He shook his fists in the air and screamed his lungs out for a long moment. “Mr.

But I stole it fro m the library because it was the most amazing chemistry book ever written.” she said. Because the instructions in the book wer e dangerous and frightening. The chemical mixtures were like witchcraft or sorcery. Not science. I crossed the room to my bookshelf and bent down to the bottom shelf. Holding the glass bottle in one hand.” I replied.” “Tell someone who cares. Make them grow fur or fangs. you are doomed…. “You’re totally losing it. I’m going over to McClatchy’s house. It was crazy. “Are you going to tell on me?” I shouted. There was no autho r name. Sure. . Maybe the author wanted to keep hidden. “I can’t be careful. She brushed her red hair back. I chuckled to myself. But the mysterious author claim ed that anyone could make these potions out of simple chemicals. It seemed impossible.” I said. He can’t just kick someone’s dog because they puke on his porch. “I’m going to sneak out. I went to the window and stared down at the street. Phineas and all dogs everywhere.” She shook her head. and the pages were cracked. a smile crossed my face. He had to be taught a lesson. “McClatchy is the one looking for trouble. It was a book I’d found in the library back home. McClatchy asked for it. Bu don’t know what I’ll do when I get there.Kayla sat on the edge of my bed. Streetlights sent a pale yellow glow over McClatchy’s tall hedge at the curb.” I said. The sky was a deep purple. But now it was time to drag it out and use it. you know you’re not allowed to go out after dinner. Yes.” “You have to be careful. The faded title on the front of the book read Chemycal Magyk. I was nervous and frightened an d excited all at the same time. “You’re looking for trouble. I had to stand up for M r. I knocked on the front door with the other . This was mean … but perfect. it was mean. It was wild. But McClatchy deserved it.” I told her.” Kayla warned. “I have to teach McClatchy a lesson. I crossed the street and walked up the sloping law n to McClatchy’s front stoop. “Jay. My hands felt clammy. My hands trembled as I gathered the ingredients. She stomped her foot and strode out of the room. Suddenly. My head buzzed with excitement. The trees didn’t move.” Kayla locked her eyes on me.” I banged a bottle on the table. Yes. She didn’t answer. I’d buried the bo ok on the bottom of my shelf because it scared me a little. still night.” “I’m not losing it. I knew what I would do to get my revenge. “You have to calm down. “So what do you plan to do ?” “I … don’t know.” She sighed and stood up. I found th e old book under a pile of magazines. It was yellowed and dust smeared. And as I began to measure and pour. Change people into monsters. McClatchy. The formulas and mixtures could do horrible things to people. Or shrink them to the size of insects. It was very mean. I could feel my heartbeats fluttering in my chest. resting her head in her hands. It was a clear. I stepped out into the night. Phineas has to be avenged. “Mr. And I kne w exactly which mixture I wanted to make.

“Woof woof?” “Yes. I sat down on my bed and thought hard. I laughed and laughed. What’s so funny?” I shrugged.” He blinked.” I said. right?” I said. studying me. That was just something my crazy brain dreamed up. boy. “Good. you have to learn t o walk like a dog.” I replied. McClatchy. I couldn’t stop. He took a l ong drink. “It was. “Yes. “Can I come in?” I held up the bottle with its dark liquid. you get it.” he said.” The surprised look on his face made me laugh. My way of sayin g sorry. I flashed him my most sincere look. “Jay? What are you doing? What’s so f unny?” I blinked. “Woof woof.” “Woof woof.McClatchy was surprised to see me. “It’s a cold drink for you.” I said softly. “I heard you laughing all the way downstairs.” I answered.” “Woof?” He stared at me for a long moment. The furniture was all bla ck and gray.” McClatchy barked. He was definitely catching on.” He took the bottle and sniffed it. It sounded like a lot of whistles tooting at on ce. “Good boy. “What are you doing here?” “I came to apologize. “Apologize?” I nodded.” I said. That’s a good boy.” He squinted at me.” I said. “Just daydreaming.” He nodded. stand still. The room was dimly lit. You’re a dog now. “I feel so b ad about what happened. But I knew I had to do something. Then he lowered himself to the floor. I stopped when a loud voice behind me shouted. Only a daydream. “Why don’t you get down on all fours?” I said.” I watched him take a sip of my liquid mixture.” “Woof?” “I’m going to kick you across the room. “Woof woof rrrrufff wooof. He licked his lips. I’m going over there. I handed him the bottle. I was standing in my bedroom. Weird music played. He squinted at me. “I brought you a cold drink.” Dad said.” “I hope you like it. “Now. Then he blinked his eyes several times. “Nothing.” I said.” I said. My special drink turn ed you into a dog. He seemed to like it. “Smells good.” “Must have been a funny daydream. “Try this. Maybe I’ll think of something good when I get there. I didn’t know what I wanted to do to get my revenge on McClatchy. “Did you enjoy it?” I asked. His eyes bulged and his eyebrows rose up high on his head.” I said. I patted him on the head. “I really do want to apologize. I stepped into his front room. It was a very funny daydream. “Don’t move. “Now that you’re a dog. I swear things will be d ifferent from now on. “Good. . The laughter just tumbled out of m e. I didn’t have any weird spell book. He greeted me with a cold sneer. But too bad. Then he slowly opened the screen door. Dad filled the doorway. Then he tilted the bottle and drank it all down. Dad waved and went back downstairs.

silentl y. I crept down the stairs. But I don’t try to be bad. McClatchy had two lawn gnomes. I didn’t see the man standing in front of me until I bumped right into him. my chest heaving up and down. crisp night air.I waited awhile. Kick ed him really hard. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to do something really bad. I could see the tall hedge and beyond it. Sure. I pulled the top off the marker. I turned and. So after a while. made my way to the street. “I’m sorry!” He didn’t speak. I was breathing noisily. I turned and tiptoed to the kitchen. He was sound asleep. walkin g slowly. I’m not evil or anything. Not a light on anywhere. The little man’s eyes appeared to glow in the dim light. Staring up at the dark house. I didn’t want Mom or Dad to catch me. I glanced around. My legs suddenly felt weak and rubbery. Was it a bat? A Buzzard Hawk? I pressed my back into the prickly hedge and waited for it to fly away. But I had to risk it. I put my hand on the gnome’s hat and squeezed the top. Make it bigger and black. But tonight I knew I was doing the right thing. But then. I slipped past him and stepped out the back door. Suddenly. I should have brought a flashlight. Dad had fallen asleep with a magazine on his lap . I had brought it along in case I f ound something to mark up. Maybe it was hidden in the blackness under the tall hedge. He didn’t move at all. the dark shape of McCl atchy’s house. To my surprise. I still had no idea what I planned to do. Pitch-black. I had an idea. It was a lawn gnome. Phineas was curled up under the breakfa st table. in the pale light from a streetl amp at the curb. I saw that it wasn’t a man at all. I giggled to myself. And now I had found it — this lawn gnome. I took a deep breath of the cool. I stopped at the hedge. The front yard stretched in shades of black and gray. I pulled a black marker from my jeans pocket. I made my way step by step up the driveway. pressing against the wall along the side of the house. the hat fel t soft — not hard as plaster. His mouth was turned down in an angry scow l. And today. carefully. And blacken a few of his front teeth. I didn’t see Mom. I closed it carefully. I got in a lot of trouble in the old neighborhood.” I stammered. I mean. I peeked into the living room. . This man had kicked my dog. “Oh!” I uttered a startled cry. I knew I was excited. careful not to make the steps squeak. Then I t urned toward McClatchy’s house. snoring noisily. I knew I wasn’t allowed out a t night. My whole body tingled. And he deserved to be punished for it. I didn’t see the other one. How did it get in the middle of McClatchy’s driveway? I squinted hard at it. I held my breath when I heard a flapping sound overhead. Hi s pointed hat was tilted on his head. Beating wings. My sneakers scraped the driveway as I began to walk toward the house. My heart was thudding in my chest — t his time for real. My plan was to paint the dude’s white mustache. I can’t see a thing. I’m not really a bad kid. What was I going to do there? What was I going to do to McClatchy? I still didn’t know. “I … I didn’t mean to bump you. Mr. And make his eyes cross.

I brought both hands up and shoved him hard under his beard. His cheek was warm. squeezing my throat. I heard the cla tter of their boots on the pavement. His dark eyes glowed with excitement. But I dodged away. I thrashed my arms. I was going limp. Then maybe I could break off the gnomes’ stupid hats. To my surprise. He tightened his grip. He uttered grunt after grunt. too. I struggled to hit him. but my arms felt weak. he pressed his face against my arm as he struggle d to raise me. Gripping me around the middle. I spun away from him. “Heh heh heh. On my knees. That idea made me giggle again. Not seeing anything. He grunted again and tried to lift me off the ground. I tried to squirm away. I knew it wasn’t a dream. It sent him toppling into his partner. I crossed the street. He chuckled again. The gnome let go of me. Not thinking. I ran through the blackness of the night. They both made awkward grabs for me. I’d m ark him up. And then I ran. The gnome’s fingers were bone hard. faster t han I’d ever run. He let out an ugly grunt and wrapp ed his hands around my waist. I turned t o run. Gasping for air. I stumbled back and dropped to my knees. But he clamped his hand even tighter. The pain was intense. My mind whirring in panic. the pain suddenly grew lighter. His hands fell away. He had amazing strength for such a little creature. If I could find the other gnome. His whole face was clenched tight from his effort to hold me in place. Just moving on fear and shock. His breath was sour and disgusting. we were ab out the same height. The lawn gnome stood over me. clenching and unclenching his fist. Its hand shot up and grabbed me by the throat. My feet slid on McClatchy’s lawn. I could hear them behind me. I gave him another hard shove. But he held me out in front of him. his eyes catching the light from the str eet. But I bumped right into the other lawn gnome. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” the gnome rasped. Was he going to choke me again? I jumped to my feet. It caught him by surprise. and then pounded the driveway. I’d break off their pointy hat s and leave them on the ground in front of them. the gnome moved toward me.” His mouth opened in a hoarse chuckle. it’s only fair that I mess with his lawn g nomes. chok ing me … choking me. If McClatchy wants to mess with my dog. Then the pounding of footsteps as they ran . Rubbing his beard. No air. I tried to rub the pain from my throat. I started up my front lawn. “Unnnnh. chattering as they chased after me. Tried to punch him. I raised the marker and moved it to the gnome’s mustache. How can this be? Lawn gnomes can’t come to life. I shut my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. Please … I could feel my face grow hot. His hands were hard as steel. panting hard. I was in too much pain to be dreaming.” I started to choke as a sharp pain swept down my neck.This would definitely make McClatchy angry. “Let go!” I screamed. No air. It sounded like a chicken’s cluck. It felt like human skin.

I leaped onto my front porch. lowering their shoulders. “What are you going to do?” A cold smile spread over his face as he moved closer. No escape from them. All heading for me. . He had the black marker in his hand. I knew they formed an M. They do ve at me. McClatchy’s gnome raised the marker and began to scrape it against my forehead. “What are you saying?” I cried. “Why are you saying that?” They giggled some more and bumped shoulders. I bolted inside and slammed the door hard behind me. Why an M? What does that stand for? McClatchy? No. I hurled myself along the side of the house. into t he house. I saw that one of them held something behind his back. No — more! The circ le tightened. If I could only get through the front door. my arms tightly behind my back. the gnomes closed in on me. Started to the right. Were they still hanging out in my front yard? No way to tell. I grabbed the door handle — then screamed in horror. I couldn’t hear them now. “Get away!” I screamed. ready to grab me. Their hands were outstretched. they were incredibly strong. I spun to the left. I pressed my back against the kitchen door and listened. Li ke the chatter of birds. They formed a circle around me — a dozen of them. “Malfunction. I leaped back. Gasping. With a cry.” the gnome rasped in his scratchy. It almost made me gag. I was trapped. More gnomes closing in on me. In the dim light. I’d be safe. All grunting. I burst forward — and broke free. Turned at the back and shoved open the kitchen door. Then forced myself to move.over the grass. Chattering and whistling. “Oh. I couldn’t move. I could hear them chattering like birds and giggling behind me. No. trying to tackle me around the knees. Their pointed caps tilted toward me as they ran. All running. They thudded hard against each other. His putrid breath floated over me. For such little guys. nooo!” I uttered a cry as I saw McClatchy’s gnomes running up my front lawn. I froze in panic. you little freaks!” The gnomes ignored my screams. I spun away. I guessed wrong. Then two lawn gnomes grabbed my arms and twisted them back. They tightened the circle till I could barely bre athe. cracking heads. Like a gnome high five. And two more gnomes from my other neighbor. “Stop!” I cried. I took off. And a whole bunch of them from down the street. The gnomes from McClatchy’s yard strode up to me. With anothe r cry. Two other lawn gnomes came charging at me from either side of the porch. “Wh-what is that?” I stammered. No escape.” They giggled and bumped each other’s shoulders. “Malfunction. “Stay away from me. “Malfunction. I could feel the lines he drew. They weren’t chasing after me. What is he hiding behind his back? What is he going to do to me? He giggled and raised his arm. high voice.” the gnomes all repeated. With a cry. running hard. Malfunction. I glanced back. “Let me go!” But our porch gnomes held me in place. They chattered and whistled and cried out in a language I never heard before.

Y ou promised you would stop playing jokes on people. Yet you decided for some reason —” “I had to go out. standing at the kitchen door. O f course they chased you. I had no choice. Outside. “You know perfectly well that no one goes out at night. I stared at them both in disbelief. “But I had a good reason . Are you goin g to obey the rules here and stop getting in trouble?” He moved his face close to mine. An d they came to life. “What’s that mark on your forehe ad?” Mom asked. Mr. I took a deep breath and held it. “Listen to me. And instead …” “Lawn gnomes!” I cried. From now on. He was angry and upset. Am I losing my mind? Mom and Dad refused to say another word about it.” Dad said. “Yes.” I stood there. I pushed away from the door and strode quickly into the living room. “We are talking about you. My heart pounded so fast.My heart was pounding. I decided it might be a lot easier to be good. And it definitely would be easier to stay out of trouble.” “I don’t care what Mr. “The lawn gnomes came to life. They chased me across the street. But Dad gave me a half-hour lecture instead. you promised.” I said breathlessly. my chest hurt.” Dad said.” “Please. you’re right about that. I promise. “Jay. “You promised you would foll ow the rules here. They put this M o n my forehead. “Of course the lawn gnomes came alive. I turned and saw E lliot.” I stammered. “Jay. But they said it could wait till morning . “I’m not making this up. They both squinted at me.” I meant it. I’ll be perfect. “Yes. there were lawn gnomes. McClatchy did.” I lowered my head. They said it was too late at n ight to talk.” I started. “Of course we believe you. I felt embarrassed. Dad took his coffee cup into the other room. I saw them. They grabb ed me. we talked about not causing trouble with the neighbors. He hardly let me get a word in. Dro ps of sweat rolled down my forehead. “Yeah. too. The next morning. You’ve got to believe me. “Hey.” he said. “I —” “You’re not supposed to break the rules. Phineas.” I said. They ordered me up to my room. How much did he hear? Did he hear Dad’s whole lectu . They choked me. “Jay.” I begged.” Mom said. “You know you’re not supposed to go outsid e after dark.” Dad said finally. “Listen to me. Mom and Dad turned to me from the center of the room. then turned back to me. the kid from the quagmire. McClatchy —” Dad frowned at me. Please — believe me. “We thought you were in your room.” They stared at me without moving or speaking.” I said. I heard a cough. And the rule is to stay indoors at nig ht. I hurried down to breakfast so they could explain about the la wn gnomes. You’ve got to hear what happened to me!” They glanced at each other. But you chose not to pay any attention to it. breathing hard.” “But he kicked Mr.” I murmured.” “What did you expect?” Mom said. Dad. Really. but that didn’t help. Jay. “It looks like an M. were you outside?” Dad demanded.” “I … I know. I didn’t have my fingers crossed or anything. Dozens of them. I begged them to explain. “But —” “I’m very disappointed in you. shaking his head.

The flame surrounded both of us in bright light. “Why can’t you help me? Listen.” I said. His head bounced on the floor. They grabbed me.” I raised the light-stick between us. “Inventions?” I nodded. “It’s okay.” he said.” he muttered. And sometimes I come up with things. “It’s a candle?” “It looks like a candle. You h ave to tell me!” He shrugged his big shoulders. “I need you to tell me. He wasn’t fat.” Elliot muttered. I pointed out the bedroom window. “I don’t know. I turned my eyes away. Phineas got free and caused a car crash. He uttered a sharp cry. He mumbled something. Elliot. It w as totally scary. “Help you?” “I went over to McClatchy’s house. not mo ving. Tell me. sucked in a deep breath. “And these lawn gnomes … they were alive. It made a FIZZZZZ sound. but I couldn’t hear him. Qu ickly. “I’ll show you. We stepped into my room.” I said. I pulled up the thing I’d been working on. I treated it with chemicals. He was blushing . wow. you don’t need a match to light it up. They grabbed me and —” He suddenly looked away. Malfunction. right?” Elliot sighed. “No. You ju st blow on the end to light it. “What’s wrong?” I asked. See. Maybe Elliot can tell me what’s up with the lawn gnomes coming to life. “Nice house.” He set the test tube down carefully.” He squinted at me. I followed him to the table. He jumped to his feet and strode to the lab table.” I replied. He pushed back his black hair and gazed around.” I told him. I got in trouble for something else. eyes shut.” I said. He gazed over the table and p icked up a test tube. A bright yellow flame exploded from the end of the stick. “And these lawn gnomes —” His eyes went wide. What does it mean?” “I’m asking you!” I cried. And the driver of the car kept saying the same word. “You’re into science?” I could see he wasn’t going to help me. They took a marker and made a big M on my forehead. Malfunction. “Do you know about the lawn gnomes coming alive? Tell me.” “Oh. I took it back from him.” I said. Malfunction. You know the answer. He looked bigger — wider — indoors t han outdoors. and blew on it.re to me? “How’s it going?” Elliot asked. “Something weird ha ppened to me last night. “No.” I said. I had a lot of chemicals open and equipment strewn over my lab table. Elliot’s eyes bulged. Mr. “Did you get in trouble for losing your bike?” I shook my head. He glanced at it. Inventions. just a big kid . I pulled my tall lab stool across from him and sat down on it.” I said. “You went outside at night? Really?” “Well … yeah. “I like to expe riment with chemicals.” Elliot said. And dropped to the floor with a groa n. really. Why are you doing this?” “I don’t know the answer.” I said. “No. “They kept repeating this word. Malfunction. “Come on. I handed it to him. I knew how bright the flash would be. He rolled it around in his hand. You know. then a POP. He kept his eyes on the wind ow. then blow once more to put it out. I led him upstairs. “Maybe you can help me.” he said in his gruff voice.” I said. How do the gnomes come alive? They’re just h unks of painted plaster. “Create different mixtures and see how the chemi cals react.” I said. He lay sprawled on his back. . “No. “But I call it a light-stic k. What does it mean? Why was he doing that?” “Beats me. “Come up to my room. then perched on the edge of my bed. Jay. “You know. Do you know what that me ans?” He finally turned his eyes to me. Like he was almost too big for my bed. I could see pink circles on his cheeks.

want to go outside?” “Yeah. making the sunlight shimmer. He looked kind of dizzy to me. He climbed slowly to his feet. And suddenly.” He set it down on the table. “Mostly I just mix chemicals together to see what will happen.” I swallowed. “He’s been on my case a lot lately. He raise d it a few feet from his face and blew gently on it. “I kind of heard what you were talking about wi th your dad. A smile spread over his face. I knew it was a dumb joke.I let out a startled gasp. He was waiting for my answer. “No. so it won’t light any more. A beam of yellow sunlight pour ed onto the bedroom floor. He was busy trimming the tall hedge and didn’t see us as we walked past on t he street. “What happened? Are you okay? Can you hear me?” He opened his eyes. “It’s still totally cool. You looked totally freaked. “Just joking. We stood in the shade of a fat old tree. “Just going out for a walk. But I didn’t see any. McClatchy stood on a tall ladder with hedge clippers in his h ands. Elliot’s eyes locked on mine.” Elliot laughed some more. Across the street. Oh. I never talked about it with anyone.” .” I said. the words just blurted out of me: “I burned down our house. I pictured him kicking Mr. It only works once. no! What have I done? “Elliot? Elliot?” I repeated his name.” He pushed back his hair and turned to the window. I searched the front yard for lawn gn omes.” I said. I kept my eyes straight ahead. “Do you want to tell me about it?” I swallowed. My mouth was dry as cotton. “I knew you were faking. Phineas.” he said. I felt a shiver of fear roll down my back. yeah. “Jay. The tree limbs trembled above us in the wind. Elliot kicked a stone to the curb.” Elliot stopped walking. He sounded pretty steamed. The sunlight felt good on my fa ce. His eyes were darting from side to side. Elliot and I turned the corner and kept walking. The warm air smelled fresh. “Ha-ha. I felt angry all over again. I led the way downstairs. Was it too bright for him? I blew out the light-stick . Was it really a joke? Or did the flash of light knock him out somehow? Weird.” he said. “Why has he been on your case?” Elliot asked. “Cool invention. Then I whirled around the side of the table and dropped to my knees beside him . He sat up. “Well …” I didn’t want to talk about it. I felt bad that I didn’t get my revenge last night. “No way. “It burns off the chemicals.” I lied. I started to calm down. He picked up the light-stick and studied it. We st epped out the front door.” Elliot said.” I said.” “He can get a little stressed sometimes.” I told him. “Really?” “Yeah.” I called to my parents. You make a lot of inventions like this?” “Well.

righ t?” I nodded. the whole ugly story. How did it happen?” I took a deep breath. I had a lab table in my old room. Just a big black pile . an incredible roar.” I continued. a really big deal. My chest felt like a bird was fluttering its wings inside it.” he said finally. So. in a soft whisper. But a lot of people said I was mad at my d . “But there was our house. A shes.” I settled back against the tree trunk.” “Oh. “The fire was a total accident. A big black pile …” My voice trembled. And it exploded. I heard a lawnmower start up. I … I don’t know what to say. A lot worse. Still smoking. Even though we were in the shade. “I wanted to show it off to my friend. “My friend and I were coughing and choking on the black smoke. a dog barked. like a bomb or something. You know.” I said finally. rested his back against the rough tree bark. That’s the worst thing I ever heard. really in shock.” “Jay. I didn’t have the chemicals right. W e weren’t burned or anything. “But I held it up and blew on it really hard. It just burned black.” My chest felt fluttery. all around us. But I’d been in trouble before. “I had just started working on the light-stick. I just couldn’t believe that I’d done anything so horrible. “You’re serious?” he said finally. Kind of excited and very tense and wired. But I was in shock. I decided to tell Elliot the whole story. “It gets worse. I took another deep breath. “Did they know it was an accident? It was an accident.” I said. when I burned down our house. “You see. Nothing serious.” Elliot squinted at me. I’ve been inter ested in chemistry since I was eight — four years now. sweat poured down my face. The whole house. It was on TV and in the newspaper and people talked about it on the radio. Down the street. “It … burned. “Just horrible. it was a biiig story. Burned. I guess because I’d neve r told this story to anyone. I could picture everything that happened so clearly. that’s horrible. my dad was president of the city council in our old town. We covered our faces with our shirt-sleeves. My friend and I … we were okay. But I didn’t have it quite right yet. And … and … my whole room was burning. The grass w as still wet from the morning dew.” He stared at me. He started to talk but couldn’t get the words out. I haven’t told it to anyone — till now. With a roar. Just messing around. It was. Jay. like. wait. He scratched the side of his face. “My friend and I were in my room. I mea n. He didn’t reply. “You really burned down you r house?” I nodded.” I said . I mean. Everything we owned. It was everywhere. and we … we just ran o ut of the house. I felt strange. “No joke. I led the way over to the wide tree trunk and sat down on the grass. At school and stuff. The wood crackling. it made a h uge blast. and crossed his legs in front of him. And lots of chemicals and stuff. I mean. The chemicals flamed up. but I didn’t care. “The flame shot out onto my lab table. Wrecked. The flames caught my bedroom curtains. I pictured our house.Elliot’s mouth dropped open. I could see h e was thinking hard. “That’s the story. A big flame shot out of it and … and …” I had to stop to catch my breath. “It … it set some chemicals on fire . He sat down beside me. “That’s horrible. The thing I just showed you. I brushed a spider off the knee of my jea ns. “That’s what happened. too.

You know. But it was here listening to my whole story. “You know. The tall red hat tilted on its head. “But you changed her mind?” Elliot asked. I know I didn’t see it. Sometimes accident s happen. “What did you do?” “My dad made a deal with her. I was still feeling a little tense. Go to a movie or something?” “Huh?” Elliot’s mouth dropped open.” “So. .” I continued. It turned its back so I wouldn’t know it was listening. I told myself. “I’d better get going. My whole body tensed. My hands balled into fists. He narrowed his eyes at me. Talk about scary! We told the whole story to the ju dge six times.” I said. I’m going to find out what goes on here at night. I promised I’d be different here in our new home. she would drop all charges and let me go. It’s a total secret.” The way he always did. “Did you forget. I had to sneak my chemi stry set into our new house. But it’s hard. He’d probably mutter. “You accidentally burned down your house because of one of those light-sticks you invented.” he said finally. I could see he was thinking hard again. It’s alive. “Hey. They don’t know about it. I promised my dad I’d walk the dog and then mow the back lawn. “Isn’t that looking for trouble?” “Not if I’m careful. “Wow. “I have one qu estion. That lawn gnome wasn’t here before.” I stopped for a moment. and that car accident yesterday. But I was glad I told Elliot the story of what ha d happened back home.” Elliot repeated.” I sighed. “The judge said if my family moved out of to wn … if we moved far away. But she didn’t believe me when I said it was an accident. They don’t know I’ve gone back to working on light-stic ks. I stared at its red coat pulled down over smooth white pants. But he hurried away. But do you want to hang out after dinner? You know. my dad had to quit his job. This part of the story was hard to tell. “Wow.” Elliot shook his head. There were definitely secrets here in my new tow n.” Elliot shook his head.” I said.” I said. I had to go to children’s court. And I’m really trying. “Shhhh. It felt good to tell it to someone who would understand. he probably wouldn’t answer anyway.ad and that’s why I burned down the house.” “Whoa. We can never go out at night. secrets I didn’t know the answers to.” “The judge said I was dangerous.” “Wow. She wanted to send me to some kind of youth priso n. It had its back turned. But then I added: “I try to be good. I turned away from the fat tree trunk where Elliot and I had been sitting. Well … the whole thing was weird.” I replied. right?” “Right.” Why not? Why is everyone afraid to go out at night? Those are the questions I wanted to ask Elliot. “So … we moved. “I guess.” Elliot nodded.” Elliot blinked a few times. and I didn’t get a chance. Like my b ike going into the quagmire. Its painted black boots. and here we are. Jay? We can’t go out at night.” I climbed to my feet and brushed off the back of my jeans. But I’m going to find out. Of course. Why do your parents let you work on light-s ticks after what happened?” I put a finger to my lips. A lawn gnome stood a few feet away. I took two steps — and then stopped. “It was really bad around our house. “But you just showed me a light-stick.

Once again. She stopped walking and stood over me with her arms crossed. We can never go out at night. I pic tured Elliot’s frightened face as he said. I pictured the lawn gnomes last night. are you out of your mind?” she demanded. She paced back and forth in front of me in my room. red-lipped grin. “But you told Mom and Dad —” “Kayla. I planned to solve it — tonight. See if I can learn why everyone is so terrified of going out at night. Its painted eyes stared blankly straight ahead. there are too many weird things going on. No way it could possibly move. Then I hurried out of t he room and down the stairs so I wouldn’t hear any more of her warnings.” I told her.” She poked me in the chest. No one in there. Hard stone. Paint. “OWWWW. I’m not going to do anything bad at McClatchy’s house. They tried to scare me. Finally. Pain shot down my shoulder as I hit the hard body. I wanted to show them they couldn’t mess with me. My hands grabbed solid stone. Another mystery. heading toward t he bedroom door. I guess some people like to f . “Something isn’t right about our new neighborhood.” I said. you’ll get in trouble — right?” “Maybe. “If you go outside.” “Ha-ha. Not alive.My fear gave way to anger. They tried to hurt me.   Of course. I pulled myself to my feet and walked around to the front of the gnome. swinging her red hair and shaking her head. I stared hard at the lawn gnome’s back. “Yes. I flew at it from behind — and tackled it hard around the waist. Just paint. Alive. I’d just spent the scariest night of my life w atching them come to life and come after me.” She shook her head. Scampering in the dark. My sister is a big coward.” I let out a cry of pain as my shoulder slammed into the back of the lawn gn ome. waiting for the waves of pain to fade. that night Kayla tried to talk me out of it. I pinched its stubby. I jumped to my feet and pushed past her. “I’m not going outside to cause trouble. Stone. I promise. “Maybe. I poked it in the eyes with two fingers. But I knew they could come to life.” “What are you going to do?” “Just look around. round nose. She follows every rule.” I grabbed two light-sticks and shoved them in my pocket. No way it could be alive. something isn’t right. And then I burst forward. Its mouth was frozen open in a sick. It’s you. I tapped its hat. We can’t go out at night. “Jay. Without making a sound.” I said. I slid to the ground. I must have looked like a nut job attacking a little statue! I bent down and gazed into its eyes. feeling my anger rise. I could feel it start to burn in my chest. I sat on the edge of my bed and watched her storm around. “Is it worth it?” “Maybe. I made a leap at the gnome. I lay in the grass.” I said. “You know you shouldn’t do this. How did it happen? Why? The lawn gnomes were a mystery about this town I had to solve. “See if I can figure out what’s up with all the lawn gno mes.” I said. Alive and vicious.” I rolled my eyes. The gnome didn’t budge.

Every muscle in my body tightened. The canvas chai rs beside it were empty. Then another. yes. A large axe leaned against the porch wall. I still couldn’t see them in the darkness. I forced myself to turn toward the sound. They were aw ake. right? I reached the curb and gazed into McClatchy’s front yard. I was a little freaked. Suddenly. Every sense was alert. In the darkness. I saw a stack of firewood logs piled a t one end. I turned and peered down the long. A sound. But. it reminded me of a large animal about to pounce. no. The air was so still. Not a light on anywhere. No animal sounds or doors slamming or garage doors rumbling or footsteps or voices or birds chirping or crickets … or … anything! Freaky. My throat tightened and my legs felt wobbly as I made my way to ward the house. I heard a sound. But no. I was the only thing moving. His house was pitch-blac k. Was I looking for trouble? Maybe. I froze. I could see their shadows on the window shade. No cars moving on the str eet. I’m not one of them. In the deep silence. My breath caught in my chest. I don’t have nerves of steel. The lawn gnomes. it made my imagination go a little wild. I expected to find lawn gnomes so mewhere beside me. I didn’t see any at the curb. There was no breeze at all. McClatchy’s two lawn gnomes usually stood together at the back of the hedge. I felt like a frightened rabbit. The hedge rose up like a black wall. My eyes darted all around. Okay. I squinted hard. my footsteps sounded deafening as I crossed the street and stepped onto McClatchy’s driveway. but it kept disappearing behind wisps o f cloud. I felt a chill at the back of my neck. The crunch of leaves. My parents’ bedroom light still glowed. Dad’s car was parked in the driveway. I turned away from it and gazed toward the street. There were no lawn gnomes in my front yard. I jumped down onto the grass. A pair of tall black boots stood beside the door. And saw only dark ness. As if everything ha d frozen in place. I took a few cautious steps up McClatchy’s driveway. I saw a tiny slice of a moon in the sky. I stepped onto the porch and peered both ways. They were coming for me. The only person out here. I felt a chill at the back of my neck. I mean. Why isn’t anyone else outside? I squinted hard at McClatchy’s front porch. The porch swing stood in pale light from the streetlamp. But being out here late at night when I knew it was agai nst the rules … Well. I had to be quiet. I tiptoed down the middle of the yard. I pulled open the front door and stepped outside.ollow rules. tall hedge. But I could hear them. No gnomes in sight. . Again. The air was still. Silence. Where have all the lawn gnomes gone? It isn’t really that late. The only sound was my rapid breathing. I’m not a t otal coward like Kayla. The soft thud of a footstep. The trees in the front y ard didn’t move.

“Are you crazy? You shouldn’t be out there. But now they had all vanished. I pulled him to the street. And I saw Elliot through the front window. walking rapidly in a straight line. Try it. It’ like it’s our own private world. And I could see the fear in his eyes. I remembered t he houses looked a lot alike on Elliot’s block.” He swallowed hard. I waved for him to come to the front door. The lawn gnomes had vanished. And stared at a family of raccoons making their way across the grass. He pulled back.” I told him. No lawn gnomes anywhere. We’re the only ones out here. I could see on the screen that he was p laying a game. I was shaking. But I was pretty sure I remembered his. But I have to ask m y parents. And all because of a family of raccoons. square houses. I held my breath. “I swear there’s nothing to be afraid of. “It’s a cat.” I said. Come on. “See? Perfectly safe. I pushed the front door open wider and grabbed his arm. Nothing moving.” he whispered.” he stammered. I saw Elliot’s bike leaning again st one wall. Another house had the TV turned up really loud. “Come on out. His eyes bulged with surprise.” I started to walk. I gazed into every yard I passed. A laugh burst from my throat.” He finally turned around.” I said. I jogged along the side of the street. Where had they gone? I didn’t care. I stepped up to the house and tapped on the window. They kept their heads low. There were five or six of them. Weird. No one outside . I tapped harder on the glass. Like he was seeing a ghost or something. He didn’t hear me. “Go home.” I said. It was perfectly safe out here.” “It’s not allowed. I couldn’t help it. A few seconds later. He didn’t tur n around. “Come on out. I had seen at least two or three in front of every house. Then I shouted: “Hey.The tiny moon slid out from behind the clouds. He was sitting at a tabl e with a laptop glowing in front of him. Pale light washed over the lawn. It’s an awesome night. “Maybe some other time.” “Come on.” I said. “No way. “Jay — what are you doing out there?” “Having fun.” he said. I trotted up to the third house from the corner. Disappeared.” I said. It was a block of small. What were people afraid of? Raccoons? An idea popped into my head. Their dark-ringed eyes stared straight ahead. “Let’s take a walk. “Inside the house on the corner. I’ll show him there’s nothing to be afraid of.” he insisted. and he gazed all around. “Everyone knows it’s not allowed. “What’s that sound?” he cried. I’ll drag Elliot outside with me. But so what? It took me only a few minutes to reach Elliot’s block. It’s so totally cool. “I … don’t … like this.” “Everyone is wrong. They —” I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and tugged him out onto the front walk. The scrape of rapid footsteps grew louder. I heard a cat crying throug h an open window. Third house from the corner. Elliot — it’s me. I peered down the street. He came up close to the window and peered out at me for a long time. His eyes darted from side to side. “Th-this is a big mistake.” He peeked out at me through the crack. I decided to go to Elliot’s house. waving for . Elliot. he pulled the front door open just a crack.” he said. I’d been so frightened.” “I … don’t think so. I trotted down to the street and turned away from McClatchy’s yard. Hi s eyes bulged again. I could only see one eye.

“Whoooa!” I let out a startled cry. “Come on. “Let us go!” I wailed. Calm down. Their little boots pounded the pavement. squeezing us in the middle of their tight circle. My hands grabbed nothing but air.” he called. Really. their boots thudding the pavement as they carried us along t he dark. Pushing us. “I told you we’re not allowed out here. the gnomes began to move. I guess he was too frightened. I guess that was a mistake. Bumpi ng along.” I spun around. held high over their pointed hats. “Isn’t this totally awesome? Our own world?” He poked me in the ribs. A short walk. empty street. Their tall caps bob bed and tilted under the pale moonlight. And then I saw Elliot lifted off his feet. “Where are you taking us? What are you going to do?” . Their stone-hard fingers dug into my sides. I tried to hit him.” he whispered. wait up. We crossed the street and turned onto the next block. I was so frightened. They still hadn’t spoken or made a sound. “Malfunction. He didn’t put up too much of a struggle. I knew he’d follow me. We had no time to move. dude. “Don’t get them angry. into my back. They closed in tightly. “Hey. A few seconds later. How many were there? Fifty ? A hundred? An army of lawn gnomes! They moved quickly. prisoners. I heard the thunder of footsteps. “Isn’t this awesome?” I said. in a squeaky cartoon voice. “Careful. The army of gnomes bunched together like a herd of cattle. And then the little guy shoved my hands off. That only made him squeeze my waist tighter. He pointed.” one of them said finally. They moved quickly. The lawn gnomes seemed to appear from all directions. They held me high above their heads. “What do you want?” I shouted. Moving in a straight line down the street with Elliot and me on our backs. I couldn’t escape. We’re the only on es out here. my voice came out in a high squeak. I gazed from one unfriendly bearded face to the next.” “Go away!” I screamed at them. “Leave us alone!” I placed my hands on the shoulders of the gnome in front of me and tried to push him out of my way. I twisted and screamed and squirmed and thrashed my arms. “Hey. Because the gnomes all uttered angry cries at once. eyes narrowed on Elliot and me. You know what —” I kept walking. They surrounded us.” “Shhhhh. Other gnomes reached for me. They were a foot shorter than Elliot and me. “I’m the one who’s angry. Pushing until we were squeezed together. The gnome was incredibly strong. “Uh … Jay … I don’t think we’re a lone. “Why’d you do that?” His chin trembled. He came scrambling after me. His eyes were wide again. They crushed around us. He grabbed me by the waist — squeezed me hard in an iron grip — and hoisted me off the ground. See?” He held back.” Elliot warned. Jay — you know the rules.” He was staring at me as he said it. But there was no way we could fight them. It sounded like dogs giving a warning bark.” Gazing into the dark. forming a tight circle.him to follow me. I tried to squirm and spin out of his hands. “Malfunction. Their faces were shadowy and grim.” “Angry?” I cried. “Go away! We haven’t done anything to you!” Elliot put a hand on my shoulder. Elliot and I were helpless. bumping their hard chests against us. “Let us down!” I screamed. “But.

“That’s the punishment for being out at night. Elliot and I bumped along together. It was like being carried by a powerful ocea n wave. The gnomes stopped suddenly. And made one last try at escape. I could scream till my throat exploded and no one would hear. The moon floated high in the sky. They lowered me slow ly to the ground and placed me gently on my feet. But the gnomes held tight. “Jay — help me! Help me! Please!” he wailed. deadly lake. I had an idea. “I … I tried to tell you. The quagmire gleamed in front of us. It’s their world and — and — you should stop pretending you don’t know all this. That makes no sense t o me. ready to heave him in. A lake of thick quicksand where it took only seconds to sink out of sight. Tall trees passed overhead. I bounced hard in their hands. But — what? Suddenly. The clatter of their boots on the pavement drowned out my terrified screams. I had to do something to save my friend. Gnomes pushed hard all around me so I couldn’t move. I shot my arms out.” I didn’t get a chance to reply. . “Where are they taking us? Do you have any idea?” His face was twisted in fear. I couldn’t budge. sending down pale silvery ligh t. But they ignored my cries. This was all my fault. “Wait —” I uttered. toward the lake of quicksand. And I saw no one else on the street. The gnomes turned a corner. His eyes were wild with fright. Tried to kick myself free. I glanced over to Elliot . smelly surface. I shuddered.” “Huh?” A cry escaped my throat. I gazed around. I turned and saw that Elliot was still held in the air.” Elliot said. Jay. “For being outside? I don’t understand.“Stop! Let us go!” I shouted. “Jay. I remembered my first time here. They are going to thr ow us in. I watched in horror as the other gnomes carried Elliot to the edge of the quagmi re. It’s only our world during the day.” “Don’t you remember anything?” Elliot demanded. somewhere deep below the cold. My fault. “They are taking us to the quagmire. “Help me!” he cried. But when it gets dark out.” he sai d in a trembling voice.” “The punishment?” I cried. And I pictured Elliot and me sinking … sinking … An d I thought of my lost bike.” The gnomes moved forward. I took a deep breath. “Remember?” “Yes. the gnom es take over. I had to do something. Bent my knees. no one who could stop them or try t o help us. Four gnomes raised him h igh over their heads. I know exactly where they are taking us. A shimmering. why are you acting so stupid? Everyone knows the lawn gnomes come alive at night. They raised him higher. “They’re going to toss me in.

“Malfunction. Gave myself a little room.” he repeated. Before a gnome could grab it away. My invention saved our lives. Come on. I could barely breathe. I twisted myself around. I let go of Elliot’s arm. I heard some gnomes begin to groan and move. ready to heave him in feetfirst. When the light-stick flashed. The light-stick was dead now. His arm — it yanked off in my hands. “Elliot —” “Malfunction. did the gnomes drop him on his head? I suddenly remembered what happened back in my bedroom. wow. “Elliot — come on. The whole arm ripped away from the shoulder. I raised it to my face — and blew on it as hard as I could. Malfunction. Lifeless once again. And pulled out a light-stick. noooo. I slid past two gnomes to get to Elliot. The light-stick exploded in a blinding flash of fiery light. I saw wires and circuits and mechanical things. We had to act fast before it got dark again. “Elliot — please. My thinking was correct: The gnomes came to life at night.” I jumped to my feet. “Elliot — what is this? What ARE you? I — I don’t understand!” He slowly raised his head. Reached into my jeans pocket . “Elliot? Hey — Elliot?” I expected to see him run toward me. Waking up. I held the light-stick high in front of me. “Get up! Get UP! We don’t have any time!” And then I opened my mouth in a horrified scream.” The light dimmed. “Huh? Elliot? Please —” I begged. dude. I gaped at the loose arm. The gnomes stood stiffly. And … and … Oh. He said he was only joking. I turned and saw the lawn gnomes stretching their arms above their heads.” I grabbed his arm and tugged. frozen. I dropped beside him on the grass at the edge of the quagmire. Inside Elliot’s arm! “Oh. The gnomes rushed to the edge of the quagmire. El liot. It rolled over the grass. But did bright light make Elliot faint? Something weird was going on here. “Get up! Stop saying that! We have to get away from he re!” The quagmire bubbled suddenly. Malfunction. It made a sound like a loud burp. he was sprawled flat on hi s back on the ground. He turned to me. But they froze in day light. he fell to the floor when I flashed it. Malfunction …” “What’s wrong with you?” I cried. “Yesss!” I raised my hands in a victory cry. Hard and still — like lawn gnomes. His eyes slid back and forth. at the wires and cables inside it. But to my shock. . Darkness returned.“Help me!” Elliot screamed.” His eyes darted faster from side to side. “Elliot — wake up. I saw that my idea had worked. And so.” he said. When I showed Elliot the light-stick for the first time.” I murmured. they froze in the bright light of my light-stick. “Malfunction. I heard a rustling behind me. How long would the light-stick glow? How long could I keep the gnomes frozen? I didn’t know. WHOOOOOSH. “Malfunc tion. “Yesss!” I did a little victory dance. Yawnin g. My heart pounded so hard. We have to run. The sky lit up brig ht as day. They pulled bac k their arms. holding him high. And in its glowing light. “Malfunction.” He didn’t budge.

“The gnomes … They carried Elliot and me h ere. I knew I couldn’t save him. I tugged it out. Run. nearly a whispe r: “You broke the rules. Not happening. repeating that word over and over. The gnomes all stood now. I tossed the light-stick into the quagmire. No. It was my only chance to escape th em. Jay. It landed with a soft th unk and sank immediately. With a cry. I had one more light-stick in my pocket. Their eyes were all on me. Her hair fluttered in the breeze. Finally. Once again. “I didn’t realize.” I stammered. And then I saw someone … Someone standing at the edge of the quagmire. “It’s their world at night. Not a gnome. His mouth hung open. Nothing happened. Jay. “So?” “So?” I cried. I raised the light-stick close to my face. It didn’t light. his mechanical arm beside him. I knew I had to put the gnomes back to sleep.” I said. Elliot lay lifelessly at my feet. We’re not supposed to go out at night. frantically searching for the best escape path. But the gnomes h ad me surrounded. Maybe it was one I’d already used in my room. Her eyes glowed in the moonlight. And then I opened my mouth and uttered a cry: “HELP me! Please — HELP me!” She didn’t move. No.” Kayla stared straight ahead.Elliot’s voice rang in my ear. She had her hands pushed deep into the pockets of her jacket. my voice high with panic and surprise.” “But … Elliot. “I thought he was my friend. Kayla — get help! Hurry!” “The lawn gnomes come alive at night.” I stammered. But he’s some kind of robot or s omething. Not a gnome. They were closing in.” “I … I didn’t know. “I followed you here. She took a few steps toward me. and his eyes stared blankly up at the pale sliver of a moon above the trees. watching me . But I had to try to save myself. She spoke in a calm. “What do you mean? It’s horrible! Aren’t you even surprised?” . My hand trembled as I turned it over and blew on the other end of the stick. I gazed around.” Kayla’s face was hidden in shadow. They moved quickly. It took me a few seconds to recognize who it was.” “Good! You — you’ve got to help me. He had finally stopped repeating the word malfunction. low voice. I sucked in a deep breath — and blew ha rd. I told myself. I took a deep breath and blew on it again. all scowls and clenched jaws beneath their beards. Their s hadowy faces were menacing. “Kayla — go get help!” I pleaded. It didn’t light. she s poke. Everyone knows that. They want to throw us in the quagmire.” Kayla said. they’d formed a circle.

My sneakers slapped the grass har d as I ran … away from the shouting gnomes … away from the disgusting quagmire. as the gnomes swarmed around me. The lawn gnomes were moving again. I knew I should run.” And they all picked up the chant.” she said. I ran through the darkness. I dodged and ducked and slid from their grasp. out-of-control c arousel. “Because I’m imaginary. I wanted to scream and shout out my victory. “Can you think of something? Can you help?” “I’m so sorry. My friend was a robot and my sister was imaginary. And without thinking about it another second. too?” She shook her head again. I had outrun them. No one. running wit h my shoulder down. My head felt about to explode. “Malfunction. Two more lawn gnomes came at me. She moved closer and I saw the sad expression on her fa ce. I shut my eyes but it didn’t stop my dizziness. I was panting hard now. I —” She was gone. I tossed the hats on the grass and kept running. I glanced away. I reached out and swiped their long red hats. then the other. I don’t know what to do!” I cried. They gr umbled and groaned in low voices and shoved me into the center of their circle. who fell and sent another gnome sprawling to the grass. he knocked over the gn ome next to him. And I jammed it into the gnome closest to me. Kayla is imaginary? Why did she say that? It can’t be true — can it? Am I totally crazy? I opened my eyes. I wanted to jump for joy. I butted another gnome hard. So how can I help you?” Everything started to spin. As if I was on some kind of crazed. I lowered my shoulder like a footb all running back. They forgot about me and dove to retrieve their hats. But I couldn’t force my legs to move. I swerved away from him.She shook her head. I tried to shout over their tinny. Tried to tackle me. tall b lack trees all around. I stood frozen there. “Why can’t you help me?” Her eyes locked on mine. As he stumbled. I was pushed one way. No gnomes behind me. I can’t help you. Caught in the middle of the crowd. Flew at me. but I didn’t slow down. Yessss! Gnomes grabbed at me. I don’t understand.” a gnome said in a harsh whisper. my head spinning. hoarse v oices so I wouldn’t have to hear that word anymore. “I’m so sorry. Grow ling and grumbling and uttering low threats. “I’m your imaginary sister. He uttered a yip and toppled to one side. I staggered forward and nearly tripped over Elliot. “Malfunction. A gnome dove to tackle me. Tightening their circle. Jay. I had only seconds to act. and he sailed onto the groun d on his belly. He let out a startled groan as he flew off his feet and sailed into two or three other lawn gnomes. I let out a cry and covered my ears. A whole bunch of gnomes went down like bowling pins. Malfunction. This was too much to deal wit h. Vanished. “Can you help me?” I wailed. And I took off. “Kayla. No gnomes. No one in sight. “Aren’t you frightened. My heart pounding. I glanced back . I could see a block of small houses. Up ahead.” she said. I had won. .” “Why?” I cried in a total panic. “Kayla.

It looked like the moon was laughing at me as this new bunch of gnomes gleefu lly carried me down the street. Why were they so happy to dump me in the quicksand? J ust because I stepped outdoors at night? “Please! Please!” I twisted and squirmed. I told myself. They carried me to the edge of the quagmire. lumpy glop poured into my open mouth. Dozens of them. I didn’t know the penalty for being out after dark. I couldn’t put up a fight. And then they heaved me hard. my whole body aching. Don’t slow down. It was like a celebration. I sailed headf irst through the air. the lawn gnomes circled me. I felt myself fly from their hands. Rapidly sinking deeper into the quagmire. I couldn’t breathe. The darkness gave way to a blinding white ligh . I recognized Elliot’s ho use as I ran past it. Onc e again. I slapped my arms on the surface of the wet gunk. I sank fast … down … down into the cold. I saw that there w ere hundreds of them now. Buzzing like excited bees. I turned the corner. The thick sand clogged my throat. My breath came out in rapid wheezes. I didn’t have the strength. Tried frantically to pull myself to the surface of th e cold quicksand. staring up at the sliver of moon. How can this be happening to me? I tried to thrash my arms. I didn’t know the rule. Choking. I lay captured. I wondered if his parents were worried about him. Darkness all around. They held me tightly above their heads and carried me back to the disgusting qui cksand pit. Escape as I had before. Moving toward me. And listening for their raspy voices. It looked like a gri n. I’d used up all my energy. Please!” I begged as they hoisted me toward the deadly lake. I struggled to swim.But I kept running. But no one could hear my cries over the joyful shouts of the gnomes. I felt myself sinking. I saw a flash of light. Lifted high by several gnomes. A deep black I’d never seen before. This isn’t fair. And laughing. Back to the quagmire. Keep going. I was raised off the ground. And stopped with a gasp as I saw more lawn gnomes. I was only a block from my house now. I knew I was three or four blocks from hom e. “No! Please. Jay. The circle tightened. But I cou ldn’t keep myself up. I stood there panting. N othing. swarming from all directions. But I didn’t have the strength. I let my arms float at my sides as I sa nk deeper … deeper. And as I frantically tried to gather my strength. I recognized the houses on the block. Caught my balance. their tapping footstep s. They lifted me higher. But that only brought questions to my mind: If Elliot was a robot. I choked as the cold. I slid on some leaves. cheering and shouting and buzzing and pumping their little fists in the air. One block from safety. Hundreds of gnomes. Suddenly. I had nothing left. I landed with a splaaat. I had to keep running. wet darkness. I gave up. Screaming. Maybe I could run right throug h them. helpless. But no. I lowered my shoulder to bump them out of my way. did he have p arents? Why did he pretend to be human? Was he only pretending to be my friend? I couldn’t stop to think about it. But their little hands dug into my skin and held me in p lace. I heard gnomes cheering.

Something wrapped around my stomach. I heard footsteps. The lawn gnomes stood silently in a group.t. They stared at me. As I stared back at the group of gnomes. Their faces were tight with worry. “What is happening?” Mom and Dad and McClatchy stopped in front of the gnomes. The two gnomes stepped back. . I uttered a startled cry. It seemed to take forever. Why? Still gasping for breath. My mouth dropped open. But soon I pop ped above the surface. They worked a long pole that stretched toward me. I felt the cool. I opened my eyes. my legs. But I didn’t know what they wanted me to say. I stumbled and fell back t o my knees. A nd then another. He swung it up and down. He squeezed the fingers into a fis t. They didn’t speak. Thinking that I was going to die dow n there. The wet sand washed over me as I rose. Finally. The pole held the net th at was wrapped around me. I think I was still in shock. My brain is exploding. And I saw Mom and Dad making their way through the crowd. My clothes felt stic ky and damp. m y chest. Elliot walked closer. I landed on my back o n the grass. Gripped in horror. First the gnomes tossed me into the quagmire. I realized I was rising through the muck. It gripped me tightly. Was I going to end up as fish food? No. Everything works fine. and I went sailing over the quicksand. I felt something grab me from underneath. “I’m all fixed. bit big holes in my jeans. And held on. A grin spread over his face. “But your arm —” I cried. “Huh? Are … are you okay?” I stammered. snapping their pointed teeth.” he said. I remembered how they chomped at my legs. I coughed. Two gnomes came forward and started to pull the net off me. I raised my hands and wipe d frantically at my face. Wet sand clung to my skin. The thing that wrapped around me — was it some kind of net? It pulled me higher. How they le aped from the sand. Then they used the big net to resc ue me. to the edge of the quagmire. He held out his arm. her eyes studying me. My eyes were still closed. I saw the pack of lawn gnomes at the edge of the quag mire. I pulled myself to my feet. They swung it hard. The gnomes stepped a side.” Mom and Dad stepped up beside him. He nodded. Finally. the net fell away. I cried out. “No problem. Still shaken by sinking so deep in the quicksand. They were covered in gunk. my voice hoarse from the sand I’d swallowed: “Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?” And then I saw Elliot and McClatchy walking behind them. I was completely tangled in the net. Their faces were all grim. and sucked in a deep breath. “Are you okay?” Mom asked. as if they expected me to speak. “We’ve been very worried about you.” Dad said. The biting fish! The fish with legs. fresh air on my face. They had weird exp ressions on their bearded faces.

” I laughed. You’ve lived in this neighborhood your whole life. “That’s right. “You were off track. “The gnomes had the idea to scare you.” I muttered. Dad agreed. I gazed up at him. I still had grains of sand in my eyelashes. That’s y our name. right? Why are you asking such a totally ea sy question?” Dad squeezed my shoulder.” . And where do we live?” “Another easy one. “My name is Pul-Mar.” “You started acting very strange. Mom had tears in her eyes. Planet of the Lawn Gnomes.” I stared at McClatchy standing behind my parents with his hands in his pockets.” Mom and Dad both let out loud sighs. “I didn’t need a scare.” Elliot stepped forward. Pul-Mar. “Sometimes a good scare will shake you back online. I gasped.” Mom said. “We were desperate. I know. you started telling people your name was Jay. “Huh? My name? You’re joking. I’m perfectly okay. “Really? I did? That’s crazy. “Oh. “But that’s not true. “I really do.” “Weird. “Go ahead.” Dad repeated. “We don’t have to call you Jay anymore.” I nodded. of course.” Dad said. “Earth?” I thought hard. We all tried to reset you.” Malfunctioning? “But — but — but —” I couldn’t speak. Mom and Dad rushed forward and hugged me tight. McClatchy cheered and pumped a fist in the air. It was called Earth. “You told me you were new here. thank goodness!” Mom cried.I blinked. Pul-Mar.” Dad answered.” I told them. “Wh y?” “We couldn’t get your programming to work.” she said in a trembling voice. “Totally weird. We didn’t want to lose you.” Dad walked up and put his hand on my shoulder.” Mom said. “Let’s give you a simple test. “We wer e so worried about you. “A test?” He nodded. “Jay? What a stupid name!” “And where did you come up with that weird planet?” McClatchy asked.” I blinked. “I hope you’re right.” The gnomes began to mutter again. What is your name?” I made a face at him. The lawn gnomes jumped up and down and tossed their red caps in the air. “You called her Kayla. “I —” “We had to do something. “My what?” “Your programming. McClatchy pumped his fist. And yo u said you came from some strange planet we never heard of. “But that’s crazy!” I cried.” Mom insisted.” The gnomes all began to mutter and nod their heads. “And you made up an imaginary sister for yourself.” he said .” Everyone cheered again. Just answer it. Elliot clapped his hands.” “That definitely isn’t in your programming. “You began playing jokes on people and pu lling dumb pranks.” Dad said.” “Of course it doesn’t. But you were completely malfunctioning.” I murmured. “All of a sudden.” Mom added. It doesn’t really exist. Why was he here? Was he part of this whole plan to scare me? “I don’t get it. “I think I read about a planet called Earth in a sci-fi story . I never had a sister-noid.” he said. “Yeah. I just sputtered. “Answer this question: What is your name?” I laughed. “But you told everyone you lived there.” Dad said. “We live on Polovia.” Mom added. “Worried about me?” I said. clasping her hands in front of her.

Jay — who are you going to belie ve? Them? Or your dog?”   The list continues with book #2 SON OF SLAPPY   Here’s a sneak peek! My name is Jackson Stander. When I tell you what i t is. I’m twelve. “Come on. The truth about life on Polovia and who I was. We have to get moving. “I get it.” “Of course stumis can’t burn. Phineas!” I cried. “I remember everything now. “But I knew that couldn’t b e true.” I said. And that’s because o f my secret. Let me explain. Me. my parents. and h elp people when I can. “That’s an imaginary planet. That’s the whole thing. I waved to them and shouted thanks.“And you said you burned your house down. “We have t o find a way back to Earth. To my surprise. . I can’t do that! That’s totally crazy. and I’m not. I try to be nice to everyone.” The gnomes cheered again and tossed their caps. deep voice. “Huh? Earth?” I squinted at the dog. which I’m going to share with you now: It’s a lot easier to be good than to be bad. I knew you loved mixing chemicals. “No time to explain.” “To Earth?” I cried. Then I followed my parents home. We were built by the lawn gnomes to work for them during the day.” The dog tilted his head and stared at me. And stumis can’t burn. I started across the room to him. She rolls her eyes and groans and calls me a good ie-goodie. My gears creaked and my circuits groaned.” I said.” I gasped. We have to go back home. I guess they were happy their sc are cure worked. But the houses on Polovia are all built of stumis. “Mr. and just be a good dude. Jay. Rachel is in trouble all the time. “What’s the big de al? What kind of crazy secret is that?” It’s simple. Phineas nodded. it all came back to me. You’re probably shaking your head and saying. But I don’t care. I try hard to do the right thing all the time. And suddenly. But I stopped short when he began to speak. “You — you speak?” Mr. McClatchy — we’re all mecha-noids. I was exhausted. you might laugh at me. Everything. before they come to life every night. and I know a secret. and be cheerful and kind. You don’t have to ask. someone was waiting for me there. and work hard in school. What a long night! I said good night to my parents and hurried upstairs to my room. Elliot. My sister Rachel laughs at me.” the dog rasped in a throaty. I’m going to share my secret with you. I clicked on th e light. “We have to get out of here. It just flashed back into my mind.” Elliot continued. And I knew you made light-sticks.

blow up. YC stands for Youth Center. Trying to make me lose it. that would be obnoxious. But she is a problem child. Jackson Stander. Something happened. Mom didn’t believe her for a second. I can’t r eally tell which one is which. too. as if it was rainin g cows and sheep. The YC playroom is very bright and cheerful. and we both have freckles on our noses and dimples when w e smile. She went running to Mom and said. became evil. We both look a lot alike. even though she’s just a year younger than me. Jr. No. I. but I pretend. Rachel hates her dimples and her freckles. Rachel was helping Mom carry the food to the table. I’m not perfect. There’s no way she can win. But she’s so lame. and I turned bad. She says I’m some kind of goodie-goodie machine. The walls are shiny red and yellow with funny cows and sheep painted upside down all over them. Jr. no one is perfect. A lot of little kids go to the YC after school. and she gets into fights with kids in her class. I really do believe it’s easier to be good than bad. And every one knows we live in the town of Borderville. Actually. our cat. After school on Wednesday. I gave them their names — Pete and Repete. If I told you I’m perfect. And then something happened. and look what he did. start to shout or fight. Border ville Youth Center. But no one remembers who Morton Applegate. The room has shelves to the ceiling. . We have straight brow n hair and brown eyes. that doesn’t make Dad very happy. crammed with games and bo oks and art supplies and puzzles and all kinds of great toys for the little kids . She likes to argue with her t eacher. And that’s what this story is all about. “Why can’t you be more like your brother. Let’s tell the truth. We have two canaries at the YC. please don’t get me wrong. He calls Rachel Problem Child. It’s something I knew from the time I was a tiny kid. I turned very bad. I just try to do my best. Jackson?” What does she call me? She calls me Robot. Sh e tripped over Sparky. Of course. Besides. is. Rachel is a real sarcastic kid and a troublemaker.” Of course. She hates it when the t eachers say. And she’s always testing me. So people just call it the YC. I was showing a bunch of kids how to pick the canarie s up in your hand when you want to clean their cage. A few weeks ago. she’s my problem because she’s always in my face . she was doing an art project in her room and spilled red paint on her floor. “Jackson tripped me!” Rachel told Mom. She says she hates it that she looks more like Dad than like Mom. get steamed. She’s always poking her finger down her throat and making gagging sounds whenever I say or do something nice. teasing me. Why would I be messing around with her paint? Last night before dinner. “Jackson was messing around with m y paint. I was standing all the way across the room. We’re kind of average height. Now. They stay till their parents pic k them up after work. How lame was that? But Rachel keeps trying. Rachel’s mission in life is to get me in trouble with Mom and Dad. dropped a platter of chicken — and it went flying all over the floor. She’s always tryi ng to make me look bad.This makes Rachel sick. Mom scolds him every time he says it. Mainly. it’s called the Morton Applegate. You’ve probably guessed that Rachel and I don’t get along that well.

It’s fun to play and read with them. The bell over the shop door jingled. The frightened canary flew in wild circles. My heart skipped a beat. I’d like him to be Froggy. The other one. If I had a little brother.” I whispered. I saw my sister.” I whispered. “We have to be very gentle.” I opened my hand and prepared to wrap it around the canary. and a few other kids watched silently as I tugged open the birdca ge door. A big flatscreen for playi ng video games. “If you move too fast. It darted low. I go to help out with the little kids. a rabbit cage. I slowly slid my open hand into the cage and moved it toward Pete. “You have to move your hand in very slowly.” “We don’t want it to explode. I could see where it was flying. watched from the swing. A fish tank. Froggy is my favorite. Rachel. Kids shrieked and ran after it.” The canary stared a t me from his wooden perch. will it explode?” Froggy asked in a raspy whisper. She has a sad face most of the time. and the canary cage. Guess who shouted Boo? The canary flew up to the ceiling. Froggy and another favorite of mine — a tiny little blond-haired girl named Nikki — were watching as I reached into the canary cage. But I know how to make her laugh. and it will start fluttering and flapping and cheeping like cr azy. head tilted to one side. and they treat me like I’m a big deal. “Hurry! Close the window!”   You’re going to want to see this! For the first time ever. They chased after it. a grin on her face. T he kids are funny. scratchy voice. “Somebody —” Hands grabbed at the tiny yellow bird. I like to go there after school when I don’t have my piano lessons or tennis pract ice. you’ll scare the canary.” Froggy.” I told them. chubby red-haired kid everyone calls Froggy because he’s got a funny . Goosebumps in hardcover! Here’s a sneak peek. Kids shouted in surprise.There are stacks of car tires to bounce and climb on. fluttered out of my grasp — and darted out the open cage door . The bird cheeped sof tly but didn’t move. “Close the win dow!” I shouted. “Nooo!” A scream burst from my throat. “BOO!” The canary squawked. It swooped high again. Nikki. “Catch it!” I cried. “If you squeeze it too hard. I swung around. Plenty of cool stuff to keep the kids busy till their parents arrive. “I saw that in a cartoon. round and round the room. And someone right behind me screamed. There’s a cute. “You have to be very quiet and very careful. He’s goofy and says the dumbest things to make everyone laugh. The door swung open. and a woman and a litt . I held my breath and reached forward. “Sshhhh. standing behin d me. And then headed to ward the far wall. Nikki is very shy and quiet and speaks in a tiny little mouse voice.

William locked the cash register. William wrapped his hands around the dog’s m iddle and hoisted him to his feet. Sheets of fog greeted him as he started to wal k. with low storm clouds overhead. parted in the middle. He took long strides. who was sprawled on his side. Hansel lifted his big head and sniffed the air .” her mother said. “He’s a good dog.” He led the big dog outside and locked the shop door. All of his masks were precious to him.” he called after them. boy? What is frightening you?” The dog uttered another growl. People he could share his beloved masks with. “The masks in this case are all handmade. William wrapped it carefully in brown paper. “I think it’s the best. “Come on.” Hansel lifted his head but didn’t move. William heard the click of footsteps behind him. The late afternoon was dark . A low growl esc aped Hansel’s throat. You are lu cky to have four legs. The dog growled. Olivia? I mad e it myself. William chuckled.” William handed her a princess mask.” The fog billowed like a heavy curtain. It’s made of rubber. “What’s your dog’s name?” “Hansel. They had walked only a few blocks when the dog suddenly stopped. William shivered and pulled the black cape tighter around his slender frame. “Welcome to William’s Mask Emporium. “Welcome. They were precious.” Her mother stepped up to the line of princess masks. Stand up .” “It’s nice to see someone who takes so much pride in his work. She wore a pink pleated skirt and a matc hing pink sweater.” Olivia was staring at a round pig mask in the first display case. fiercer than the first.” Olivia shook her head. “Did you come to buy a mask?” “Olivia is going to a costume party. Olivia tried on four princess masks. despite his seventy years. The bell jangled as they left. “Enjoy the party. His voice was still young and crisp. Hansel had to trot to keep up with him. “Is that a real pig head?” Her voice trembled. But he isn’t interested in masks. You can go back to sleep as soon as we get there. “What is it.” He turned to her mother. The footsteps stopped. As the woman and girl approached.” she replied. “Of course not. so he slee ps all day.” He smiled at the littl e girl. I hope you like my craftsmanship. The store h as been in my family for three generations. William lowered his feather duster and turned to the front of his store. Hansel. The old German shepherd didn’t like to have his nap interrupted. an d he dusted them every day. “These are pretty. “We heard you have the best mas k store in town.” Olivia had to step around the dog. Co me take a look. as was his wavy hair. But his eyes were sharp. “Who’s there?” William called.” he said to the dog. But William was always happy to see customers. Makes it easier to walk. William saw the fur on his back stand straight up. It’s certainly the oldest. “No. He had been gently dusting the shelf of delicate princess masks. “Who is it?” . It goes well with yo ur dark hair. dog. He dimmed the lights. his legs stretc hing over the narrow aisle. He lowered a hand to Hansel’s head. I don’t want to be a pig. Do you like it. “Such a thick fog. Then they bought the first one that William had handed her. His mustache was white. He cared for them as if they were his chi ldren. The street was silent.” William bowed his head.” he said. It’s time to go home.” William told her. “It’s a short walk home. who was dark haired and pretty. Olivia. He turned but could see only a pulsing wall of white fog. “I can barely see where I am going. and he had the energy of a much younger man. The color matc hed her skirt and sweater. Their eyes darted over the shelves and display cases of masks. “Try this one.le girl entered. He brushed back the black cape he wore to give himself a look of mystery and set down the feather duster.

our parting was not friendly. instantly alert.” But the dog remained tense. he heard the clicking footsteps cl ose behind him. “Okay. glancing around the front room. All he cou ld hear was the rush of wind on the other side. A shiver of fear ran down the old man’s back. Then he hurried to his workshop. “Is that any way to greet your brother? Aren’t you even going to allow me in?” Shaking off his surprise.No answer. He gasped.” No reply. “Can you make him stop that ugly snarling?” . “No one there. Who would come out on a cold. William stepped back to allow his brother to enter. William listened hard. I’ll make some cute monkey masks to sell in the shop. H ansel snored quietly in the corner.” Randolph raised the case in front of h im like a shield. He fed the dog and had a quiet dinner himself. where he spent most nights. His hair was still black. as was his mustache. “Is anyone there? Please answer. He was tal ler than William. foggy night like this? He hesitated before opening the door. He set down the glue brush and wiped his hands on a towel. Hansel growled again. He hummed to himself as he started to work his glue brush over the first mask. It took William a few seconds to re alize someone was pounding on the front door. Hansel shook himself. Hansel found his usual comfortable spot on the carpe t in one corner.” “The past is the past. “Is anyone there? I can’t see you in this fog. “Last time.” William had several plain white masks he had shaped as monkey heads.” William frowned. I’m sure you remember. Hansel. growling. William spun around again.” William had few visitors. Hansel. I’m coming. The dog jerked his head up. He recognized his vis itor at once. “I can’t believe that creature is still alive. I didn’t even know where my own brother li ves. They were both interrupted by several loud thuds. unlocked it. I haven’t seen you in years. And once more. The dog had his head lowered. The heavy pounding had stopped. “What shall we work on tonight?” William murmured. But all he could hear was the w histle of the wind as it swirled the waves of fog. William l ocked the door carefully behind him. The pounding on the door grew louder. “You know. William. as if shaking off the fog. He was happy when he stepped up to the front door of his house. “Ran dolph.” “I had to follow you in the fog. And cried out: “What are you doing here?” The younger man squinted into the light at William. and made his way inside.” Silence.” Randolph replied. One hand on the dog’s head. Tonight he would apply glue over the fronts and attach the fur. William gripped the handle and pulled the front door open. I have some new brown fur. as if preparing to attack. He wore a heavy gray overcoat and carried a black leather bag that looked like a doctor’s case. okay. Pounding hard. They both turned as Hansel stepped into the room. William started to walk again.

” William rolled his eyes. let the past be the past. Besides Goosebumps. he raised the mask in front of him . and Minnie.L. wouldn’t it. Holding it in both hands. William.com. . For the second time that night. making him one of the most popular children’s authors in h istory.” Randolph muttered. warming them. Wh y has he come here? “I told you. Stine lives in New York with his wife. He had no reason to tru st Randolph. You came to help me? That would be the fir st time. “Randolph. R. eyes on the case. his books have sold more t han 300 million copies. He moved to the case. too.” “Times change.“Hansel is a good judge of character. a fter all.” “Yes. brother. William saw that his brother’s suit was shabby and worn. Randolph reached deep into the case and pulled out a green-and-blue object.L. his King Charles spaniel. He needs money. He u nfolded it. “William. R. I came here to hel p you. you will change your tune when you see what I have brought for you. “That’s a laugh. I came to help make you famous. He shivered his shoulde rs.RLStine. You can l earn more about him at www. A mask. The Nig htmare Room series. what brings you here?” William’s brother rubbed his hands together. He eyed his brother.” William stepped up beside his brother.L. “You have a sharp tongue. the dog’s fur rose stiff on his back. “Cold out there. He signaled Hansel to relax.” William said quietly. Did you come to bring me a weather report?” Randolph snickered. In fact. R. William believed he had even done time in prison.” William replied. He struggled with the latch .” Randolph snapped. He turned in time to see the frightened look on Hansel’s fac e. “We are brothers. as well as the Mostly Ghostly series. and the two-book thriller Dangerous Girls. Stine has written the teen series Fear Street a nd the funny series Rotten School. the big dog wheeled around and ran from the room. And utter ing pitiful whines. The dog stopped growling but kept his big brown eyes steady on the visitor. Randolph set the black case down on the small table where William ate his dinner s. Randolph was a criminal. He shrugged off the heavy overcoat and draped it over the back of a chair. Stine’s books are read all over the world. Perhaps rich and famous. Perhaps I have changed my way s. William heard a yelp. He has come to ask me for money. One pocket was torn and t he shirt cuffs were badly frayed. plain and simple.” “Perhaps. Jane. So far. The world has changed since we last met.

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