Authors: R. L. Stine
Tags: #Children's Books.3-5
“Joke?” Mr. McCall growled. “You’re the joke. You and your sour tomatoes. And
those stupid lawn ornaments! Now leave before I really lose control!”
Mr. McCall stomped up to his front door. Then he spun around and said, “I
don’t want my son hanging around with Joe anymore! Your son probably wrecked
your tomatoes. Just as he wrecked my melons!”
He disappeared into the house, slamming the door so hard, the porch shook.
That night I tossed and turned in bed for hours. Faces painted on melons.
Whispering lawn gnomes. I couldn’t think of anything else.
It was way after midnight, but I couldn’t sleep. The gnomes with their
leering smiles danced before my closed eyes.
Those grinning faces. Laughing. Laughing at me.
Suddenly the room felt hot and stuffy. I kicked off the thin sheet that
covered my legs. Still too hot.
I jumped out of bed and headed for my window. I threw it wide open. Warm, wet
air rushed in.
I rested my arms on the windowsill and peered out into the darkness. It was a
foggy night. A thick gray mist swirled over the front yard. Despite the heat, I
felt a chill down my back. I had never seen it this foggy before.
The fog shifted slightly. The angel slowly came into view as the fog moved
away. Then the seal. The skunks. The swans. A flash of pink—the flamingos.
And there stood the deer.
The gnomes were gone.
“Mom! Dad!” I cried. Racing to their bedroom. “Wake up! Wake up! The gnomes
Mom bolted straight up. “What? What’s wrong?”
Dad didn’t budge.
“It’s the gnomes!” I shouted, shaking Dad’s shoulder. “Wake up!”
My father opened one eye and squinted up at me. “What time is it?” he
“Get up, Dad!” I pleaded.
Mom groaned as she snapped on the light next to her bed. “Joe. It’s so late.
Why did you wake us up?”
“They’re—they’re gone!” I stammered. “They disappeared. I’m not kidding.
I’m really not.”
My parents glanced at each other. Then they glared at me. “Enough!” Mom
cried. “We’re tired of your jokes. And it’s the middle of the night! Get to
“Right now!” Dad added sternly. “We’ve had just about enough of this nonsense. We’re going to have a serious talk about
this. In the morning.”
“But—but—but—” I stammered.
“Go!” Dad shouted.
I backed out of the room slowly, stumbling over someone’s slipper.
I should have realized that they wouldn’t believe me. But someone had to
believe me. Someone had to.
I raced down the dark hall to Mindy’s room. As I neared her bed, I could hear
the whistling sounds she always makes when she lies on her back. She was fast
I stared down at her for a moment. Should I wake her? Would
I patted her on the cheek. “Mindy. Wake up,” I whispered.
I called her name again. A little louder.
Her eyes fluttered open. “Joe?” she asked drowsily.
“Get up. Quick!” I whispered. “You have to see this!”
“Have to see what?” she groaned.
“The gnomes. The gnomes have disappeared!” I exclaimed. “I think they ran
away! Please, get up. Please.”
“The gnomes?” she mumbled.
“Come on, Mindy. Get up,” I pleaded. “It’s an emergency!”
Mindy’s eyes shot wide open. “Emergency? What? What emergency?”
“It’s the gnomes. They’ve really disappeared. You have to come outside with
the emergency?” she screeched. “Are you crazy? I’m not going
anywhere with you. You’ve totally lost it, Joe. Totally.”
“Quit bugging me. I’m going back to sleep.”
Then she closed her eyes and pulled the sheet over her head.
I stood in her dark, silent room.
No one would believe me. No one would come with me. What should I do now?
I imagined the gnomes ripping up every last vegetable in our garden. Yanking
out the yams and smashing the squash. And for dessert, chomping on the rest of
Mr. McCall’s casabas!
I knew I had to do something. Fast!
I ran from Mindy’s room and raced down the stairs. I jerked the front door
open and sprinted outside.
Outside into the murky fog.
Swallowed up inside the thick blanket of mist.
So dark and foggy. I could barely see. I felt as if I were moving through a
dark dream. A nightmare of grays and blacks. All shadows. Nothing but shadows.
I inched forward slowly, moving as if I were underwater. The grass felt so
wet against my bare feet. But I couldn’t even see my own feet through the thick carpet of fog.
Like a dream. Like a heavy, dark dream. So many shifting shadows. So silent.
I pushed on into the haze. I had lost all sense of direction. Was I heading
toward the street?
“Ohhh!” I cried out when something grabbed my ankle.
Frantically, I shook my leg. Tried to break free.
But it held on.
And pulled me down.
Down into the whirling darkness.
No. Not a snake. The garden hose. The garden hose that I had forgotten to
roll up after watering the lawn that night.
Get a grip, Joe. I told myself. You have to calm down.
I pulled myself up and staggered forward. Squinting hard. Trying to see my
way. Shadowy figures seemed to reach for me, bend toward me.
I wanted to turn back. And go inside. And climb into my nice, dry bed.
Yes. That’s what I should do, I decided.
I turned slowly.
And heard a shuffling sound. The soft thud of footsteps. Nearby.
I listened closely.
And heard the sounds again. Footsteps as light as the mist.
I was breathing hard now. My heart pounding. My bare feet chilled and wet.
The dampness creeping up my legs. My entire body shuddered.
I heard a raspy cackle. A gnome?
I tried to turn. Tried to see it in the billowing blackness.
But it grabbed me from behind. Hard around the waist.
And with a dry, evil laugh, it threw me to the ground!
As I hit the wet ground, I heard the low, evil laugh again.
And recognized it.
“Scared you big time!” he muttered. He helped me to my feet. Even in the fog,
I could see the big grin on his face.
“Moose—what are you
out here?” I managed to cry.
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept hearing weird sounds. I was staring out into the
fog—and I saw you. What are you doing out here, Joe? Causing more trouble?”
I wiped wet blades of grass from my hands. “I haven’t been causing the
trouble,” I told him. “You’ve got to believe me. Look—the two lawn gnomes—they’re gone.”
I pointed to the deer. Moose could see that the gnomes weren’t standing in
He stared for a long time. “This is a trick—right?”
“No. It’s for real. I’ve got to find them.”
Moose frowned at me. “What did you do, hide the ugly little creeps? Where are
they? Come on, tell me!”
“I didn’t hide them,” I insisted.
“Tell me,” he repeated, leaning over me, bringing his face an inch from mine.
“Or suffer the Ten Tortures!”
Moose shoved his huge hands hard against my chest. I fell back and landed in
the wet grass again. He thumped down on my stomach and pinned my arms to the
“Tell me!” Moose insisted. “Tell me where they are!” Then he bounced up and
down on top of me.
“Stop!” I gasped. “Stop!”
He stopped because lights flashed on in both of our houses.
“Oh, wow,” I whispered. “We’re in major trouble now.”
I heard my front door bang open. A second later, Moose’s door opened, too.
We froze. “Keep quiet,” I whispered. “Maybe they won’t see us.”
“Who’s out here?” my father called.
“What’s going on, Jeffrey?” I heard Mr. McCall shout. “What’s all the noise
“I don’t know,” my dad replied. “I thought maybe Joe…” His voice trailed
We’re safe, I thought. We’re hidden by the fog.
Then I heard a low click. The long, thin beam of a flashlight swept across
the yard. It settled on Moose and me.
“Joe!” Dad screamed. “What are you doing out there? Why didn’t you answer
“Moose!” Mr. McCall shouted in a deep, angry voice. “Get in here. Move it!”
Moose climbed up and raced into his house.
I hoisted myself up from the grass for the second time that night and slowly
made my way inside.
Dad crossed his arms tightly across his chest. “You woke us up twice tonight!
And you’re outside in the middle of the night again! What’s wrong with you?”
“Listen, Dad, I only went outside because the gnomes are missing! Check,” I
begged. “You’ll see!”
My father glared at me with narrowed eyes. “These gnome stories are getting
out of hand!” he snapped. “I’ve had it! Now go upstairs. Before I ground you for
the entire summer!”
“Dad, I’m begging you. I’ve never been so serious in my life. Please look,” I
pleaded. “Please. Please. Please!” And then I added, “I’ll never ask you for
anything else again.”
I guess that’s what convinced him.
“Okay,” he said, sighing wearily. “But if this is another joke…”
My father stepped over to the living room window and peered out into the
“Please let the gnomes still be gone!”
I prayed silently.
Dad see that I’m telling the truth. Please…”
“Joe, you’re right!” my father declared. “The gnomes
He believed me! Finally! I jumped up and shot a fist into the air. “Yes!” I
Dad wiped at the moist glass pane with his pajama sleeve and squinted out
the window again.
“See, Dad! See!” I cried happily. “I was telling the truth. I wasn’t joking.”
“Hmmm. Deer-lilah’s not there, either,” he said softly.
“What?” I gasped, feeling my stomach churn. “No. The deer is there! I saw
“Hold on a minute,” Dad murmured. “Ahhh. There she is. She was hidden in the
fog. And the gnomes! There they are! They’re right there, too. They were hidden
in the fog. See?”
I stared out the window. Two pointy hats broke through the mist. The two
gnomes stood dark and still, in their places beside the deer.
“Noooooo!” I moaned. “I know they weren’t there. I’m not playing tricks, Dad.
“Fog can do funny things,” Dad said. “One time I was driving through a real
pea soup of a fog. I spotted something strange through the windshield. It was
shiny and round and it sort of hovered in the air.
A flying saucer! I couldn’t believe it!”
Dad patted me on the back. “Well, my UFO turned out to be a silver balloon
tied to a parking meter. Now, Joe. Back to this gnome problem.” Dad’s face
turned stern. “I don’t want to hear any more crazy stories. They’re only lawn
ornaments. Nothing more. Okay? Not another word. Promise?”
What choice did I have? “Promise,” I muttered.
Then I dragged myself up the stairs to bed.
What a horrible day—and night. My father thinks I’m a liar. Our tomatoes
are ruined. And Moose isn’t allowed to hang out with me anymore.
could possibly go wrong?
I woke up the following morning with a heavy feeling in my stomach. As if I
had swallowed a bowl of cement.
All I could think about were the gnomes.
Those horrible gnomes. They were destroying my summer. They were destroying
Forget about them, Joe, I told myself. Just forget about them.
Anyway, today had to be better than yesterday. It sure couldn’t be worse.
I peered out my bedroom window. All traces of the fog had been burned away by
a bright yellow sun. Buster slept peacefully in the grass, his long white rope
snaking through the garden.
I glanced over at the McCalls’ house. Maybe Moose is outside helping his dad
in the garden, I thought.
I leaned farther out the window to get a better look.
“Oh, noooo!” I moaned. “No!”
Globs of white paint splattered over Mr. McCall’s red Jeep!
The roof. The hood. The windows. The whole Jeep covered in paint.
This meant major trouble, I knew.
I pulled on a pair of jeans and yesterday’s T-shirt and hurried outside. I
found Moose in his driveway, his jaw clenched, shaking his head as he circled
“Unbelievable, huh?” he said, turning to me. “When my dad saw this, he had a
“Why didn’t he park in the garage?” I asked. Mr. McCall always parks the Jeep
in their two-car garage.
Moose shrugged. “Mom’s been cleaning out the basement and attic for a yard
sale. She stuck about a million boxes of junk in the garage. So Dad had to park
in the driveway last night.”
Moose patted the roof of the Jeep. “The paint is still sticky. Touch it.”
I touched it. Sticky.
“My dad is steaming!” Moose declared. “At first he thought your dad did it.
You know. Because of the tomatoes. But Mom told him that that was ridiculous. So
he called the police. He said he won’t rest until whoever did it is thrown in
?” I asked. My mouth suddenly felt as dry as cotton.
“Moose, once the police start to check things out, they’re going to blame you
“Blame us? Are you nuts? Why would they blame us?” he demanded.
“Because we were both outside last night!” I said. “And everybody knows it.”
Moose’s dark brown eyes flickered with fear. “You’re right,” he said. “What
are we going to do?”