Authors: B. A. Frade,Stacia Deutsch
“Sam!” I dashed into the living room at full speed. “You gotta come with me! I have to show youâ”
“Shhhâ¦” She put a finger to her lips. “To my surprise, this is actually interesting. Do you know why the full moon is linked to lycanthropy?” She translated the scientific word: “That means transforming into a werewolf.”
I didn't have time for this. “Sam,” I breathed her name through bared teeth. I didn't want to freak out Riley. “I need to show you something.”
Sam was on a roll, and I couldn't get her away. She turned her phone screen to me so I could see the website. “It's confusing. Some say it's because of the radiant energy a full moon creates.”
“I thought you didn't believe in werewolves,” I said. “Has Riley convinced you?”
“Of course not,” Sam told me. “But there was a study in Australia that shows that more people go to the emergency room on a full moon and more people are in violent fights. Something about the moon makes people aggressive.” She set the phone down. “And that's science.”
“Sam, the zombie part is next!” Riley pointed to the screen. “I love this part. This kid found a book in her locker and thenâ”
“That's nice, Riley,” I cut her off. “Sam!” I tipped my head toward the bathroom, “Can I have one minute, please?”
“Okay,” she said, reluctantly getting off the couch. “I'm not sure I can find anything scientific about zombies anyway. Dead people who eat brains? Yeah, right. That's too far a stretch. How would they even do research?”
We went into the bathroom. I shut the door.
I wasn't sure how to start, so I just went for it. “Cassie is building an animal cage in the basement.”
“And I'm building a spaceship in the backyard,” Sam joked with a smirk. “That's my Emmaâ¦ always working on the next great story. Are you going to write it up and submit to that other fiction journal you told me about?”
“No, seriously,” I told her. “It's not a story plot. I saw it.” I used my hands and arms to indicate how huge the metal bars were.
“I think this whole full-moon thing is getting to you, Emma,” Sam told me. She shook her head and gave me a pathetic look. “No more scary videos for you. Maybe we should skip the midnight walk tomorrow. It might freak you out.” I couldn't tell if she was kidding.
“You want evidence?” I asked, my voice rising. “I can prove it. Come with me to the basement right now!”
Sam let out a heavy breath. “When we don't find anything, do you promise to relax and enjoy the weekend?” She pinned me with a hard stare. “I am worried you might be jealous of the cousins.” Explaining, she said, “I mean, I am trying to include you, but you seem to have a problem with Cassie. Why don't you like her?”
“What? Me? Jealous?” I shook my head. “That's not it at all.” I opened the bathroom door and peeked out. Riley was still watching the movie. She was on the edge of her seat. “I don't have a problem with Cassie. She has a problem with me. She even told me she did.”
“I know my cousin. She'd never do something so mean.” Sam clearly didn't believe me.
“Don't just brush this away as if it's nothing,” I said, leading her to the basement door. “There is something very strange about Cassie.”
“She's from the city,” Sam said, brushing me off again. “Strange to us is normal there.”
“It's more than that,” I said. The basement door was closed. I grabbed the knob and turned.
“Huh?” I tried again. I switched hands. Still locked.
“Sam, look!” I stepped aside and asked her to try. She did. The knob wouldn't budge. “This door didn't used to have a lock!” I pointed at the doorknob. “It's been replaced.” I bent down to investigate. “Looks brand-new to me.” My hands were shaking. “If that doesn't prove that Cassie is hiding something, nothing will! It's all the scientific evidence you need.”
“Maybe my mom changed the knob,” Sam said. “I don't know that she didn't.”
I knew for sure there hadn't been a lock when I was shut in down there. But if Sam didn't believe this was a new knob, she'd never buy that Cassie left me in the basement alone.
“Let's call your mom,” I demanded. “She said we could call anytime. Now's good. Ask her if she changed the knob.”
“I'm not going to bug her,” Sam told me. “You're being ridiculous. It might just be stuck.”
To prove it wasn't, I pulled hard. “It's locked.”
“Doesn't mean anything,” Sam said.
“Yes,” I countered. “It
that Cassie is hiding a giant monster cage!”
“I'm hiding a what?”
I turned around to find Cassie standing behind me. She was wearing a flowered apron over her black wear. It looked like she'd taken a job at a hipster coffee shop.
“I just came to tell you dinner's ready,” Cassie said, leaving my accusation hanging in the air between us. Her voice was now the one she used for when Sam was around. It was upbeat and joyful. “I made pizza and salad.” She put her arm around Sam. “Hungry, coz?”
“Starving,” Sam said, wrapping her own arm over Cassie's shoulder. “Is Riley's movie over?”
“Just ended,” Cassie said. She bumped me out of the way as she passed. I knew it was intentional.
Sam locked eyes with Cassie. “Sorry I missed the ending.”
“I'm sure Riley will tell you all about it at dinner,” Cassie said with a giggle. A GIGGLE! I had no idea she could even smile. “She loves the werewolf part, but the zombie section has this crazy twist.”
Sam and Cassie began to walk toward the kitchen. I stayed by the basement door and tried the knob one last time.
“Are you coming, Emma?” Cassie waved to me in a casual, fake-friendly way. “You don't want your pizza to get cold.”
The rest of the night went just like that. Cassie was super sweet and helpful, like a normal babysitter. Or a loving cousin. I was pretty certain that was because the four of us were together. She didn't have a chance to try to chase me away.
We had a delicious dinner and then made cookies together. They were peanut butter with chocolate kisses on top.
I was on edge.
I kept waiting for something to happen. For Cassie to grow fangs. Or to excuse herself and run off to the basement. Or to suggest we go out and look for Bigfoot. That would explain the cage. But she didn't do any of that.
She was so normal, everything was fine for hours, and that's what made it all the more absurd when I started screaming.
I saw the monster at the back door before anyone else. There was a small window in the door, and his shadow filled the glass. The shadow was tall, thin, and limping with hands outstretched. The doorknob rattled as something banged into the door. Sam's mom must have left the door partially open when she rushed out of the house. It creaked and slowly slipped open.â¦
“Zombie!” I screamed, pointing at the stiffly lumbering figure. “Run away!” To create a distraction, I grabbed a bowl of oranges off the counter and began tossing them at the shadowy form. Why I thought pelting a zombie with oranges was a good idea, I'll never know, but my adrenaline was on fire, and the oranges were the only weapons available.
I didn't even come close to hitting him. I can't throw under ordinary circumstances, and this was anything but ordinary.
“Don't let him catch you,” I warned the others as I tossed the last fruit over my shoulder and ran from the room.
Acting entirely on impulse, I fled through the house and out the front door. I was standing barefoot on the lawn when I realized Sam and her cousins were standing on the front porch, laughing so hard they were crying. And behind them was the zombie. Otherwise known as Sam's next-door neighbor Duke.
My face flushed. I was so embarrassed.
“Where are your crutches?” I asked Duke, trying to pretend the whole thing hadn't just happened. I gave him an “I was jokingâwasn't that funny?” smile as I passed back into the house.
“I couldn't use them and hold the box,” he said. Then I saw that he was carrying a box of donuts in his “outstretched” arms.
“Makes sense.” I took the box from him. “Thanks.”
Sam asked, “What's the occasion?”
“I saw your cousins pull up and thought it might be nice to give them a welcome present.”
The box was from a pretty famous local donut place. It had been on national TV once.
“Now you've got them, so bye.” Duke scooted past me, out onto the lawn. “Gotta go.”
“Thanks,” Cassie called after him. Since we'd already had cookies, she added, “I'll serve them with breakfast.”
Duke stared at the ground and muttered something like “You'rewelcome” as one word, then disappeared into his own house.
I felt completely ridiculous. Of course it had been Duke and not a monster. It made sense that he would come over and do something sweet. Because I knew something that Sam didn't. Duke had a huge, giant, enormous crush on her. He'd sworn me to secrecy, and I pinkie-promised not to tell her.
I'd figured it out after Sam told me that he broke his foot when he fell out of the tree outside her window. She thought he'd gone up because it was a big oak, perfect for climbing. But I have a better imagination.
Like a writer doing research for a book, I confronted him outside the boys' bathroom at school, and he admitted the truth: Duke wanted to ask Sam to the school dance, but he didn't want to ring the doorbell and have her parents answer. He said he didn't like talking on the phone. He was too shy to ask at school. Poor awkward Duke. He tried to reach her window to have a private conversation and ended up in the emergency room instead.
And now, as he'd tried yet again to make contact, I'd started shrieking at him as if he'd risen from the dead.
Of course, Duke
scared me first.
“EMMA!” Sam had been laughing outside, but now she was laughing so hard I thought she might choke. “You've got to calm down.” She gasped for air, while holding her belly. “No more scary movies for you!”
I tried. But I couldn't calm down. It was like my whole being was wrapped around a firecracker, ready to burst into flames at any second. Duke Garcia was a victim of my paranoia.
We all played a board game after dinner, then went into the living room to set out our sleeping bags and watch the moon documentary.
“Did you know when the moon is full, the sun, the moon, and the earth are in a perfectly straight line?” Sam asked. “And the average time between full moons is 29.53 days?” She turned the TV to the correct channel and stepped back. “I was going to do a moon trivia contest tomorrow but decided on the nature walk instead.”
“Smart move,” Cassie said. “I'm no moon expert.”
“I have a book,” Riley said. “Mom and Dad got it for me.” She frowned. “They made me read it, but I forget stuff.” Riley had changed into the cutest pajamas. They were pink and frilly. Not like toddler cute but sophisticated and fashionable. There was a matching bathrobe and slippers. Riley had swept back her hair to look like a movie star settling in for the night.
“I forget stuff too,” I said, supporting her. “I bet if we did trivia about fashion you'd win.”
Riley smiled at me, then twirled. “I'm going to be a model, a fashion designer, a makeup artist, and a hair stylist when I grow up.”
“Is that all?” I chuckled.
“I might also want to be a veterinarian, but I haven't decided on that.” Then she asked, “Want me to help you pick an outfit for tomorrow, Emma?”
I knew she meant that the outfit that had been rescued from cleaning Mrs. L's floors needed help. Baggy sweatpants paired with Mom's old college T-shirt weren't going to win anything at a beauty pageant. “I didn't bring much,” I told her. “But you could do my hair if you want.”
Riley's eyes lit up. She turned to Sam. “Can I do yours too? We can dress up for the moon celebration!”
“I'd love it!” Sam cheered. “That will make tomorrow even more special.”
“How about you, Cass?” Riley was really excited. “You too? Please?”
“Rileyâ¦” Cassie started, but then stopped. For a flash, I was sure she was about to reveal her true self, but she bounced out of it. “That sounds like a great idea.”
I was on guard; she couldn't keep this nice act up forever. I'd be there when she snapped, and then Sam would believe me!
Her cousin was keeping some major secret. I just had to prove it. Scientifically. With evidence. No problem. It was going to happen.
I snuggled down into my sleeping bag. It was warm and cozy. I could easily fall asleep before the movie ended.
Sam pressed play.
Space-themed music started when Riley popped up out of her own sleeping bag. “I forgot to brush my teeth,” she said. “Mom made me promise to brush them every night.” She skipped toward the stairs. “And no midnight snacks!” She laughed.
Sam paused the movie while we waited for Riley to come back from Sam's room, where all our bags were stashed.
“Riley, where are you?” Cassie called up the stairs after a few minutes had passed.
“Boo!” Riley popped up from behind the couch, which made us all jump. “Gotcha!”
It was a small scare, but I jumped at least a foot off the floor. Had the whole thing with Duke not just happened, I might have pelted oranges at Riley instead. I was so on edge, thinking something was going to drop at any second. No matter how much I told myself to keep calm, I couldn't. My heart was stuck in my throat, and my legs were twitching.
In my head, I begged my heart to beat normally. I didn't want to draw attention to my nuttiness again.
Cassie and Sam laughed with Riley, so I laughed too.
“That was a good one,” I said. “Yep. You got us.” I added, “Ha-ha,” but worried it sounded hollow.
“Look!” Riley gnashed her little white teeth together. “Aren't they shiny?” I could smell the mint. Her hands were behind her back. “I brought my new best friend her toothbrush too.” She looked at me. “And I found this cool book in your bag.” Riley pulled her hands out and held them in the dim glow of the TV.
It was the journal from school. I could see the leather cover and little metal clasp.
“What?!” I jumped out of my sleeping bag and grabbed it from her.
“Whoa,” Cassie said, coming to Riley's side. “She was just being nice.”
“But I didn't pack this!” I peeled back the cover and looked. The first page still said,
Tales from the Scaremaster
“I peeked inside. Emma wrote a story about us,” Riley told Cassie.
“No. I didn't,” I protested.
“Let's see it.” Cassie held out her hands toward me. “I want to read your story, Emma.”
I did not like the way she said my name. It was slow and even, like “Emmmmmaaaaaa.”
I shoved the book behind my back. “I'm telling you, this isn't my book!”
Sam got up. She circled behind me but didn't try to take the journal. “Isn't that the same notebook you had in class?”
“Yes,” I said. “The librarian gave it to me.”
“Mrs. Frankle?” Sam asked.
“No, the other librarian.”
She looked at me like I was crazy, and honestly, I felt nuts.
“I know,” I said, flustered. “We don't have another librarian. Mr. McCarthy said that too. But she was there at recess and gone after class.” The look on Sam's face said clearly that she didn't trust me. “She gave me this journal.”
yours,” Cassie said.
“No,” I replied. “Yes.” This was hard to explain.
I had picked it and taken it, soâ¦ “I meanâsort of.”
“I didn't mean to make trouble,” Riley said, feeding off the growing tension in the room. “I found the journal next to the toothbrush. It looked like the one in my movie, so I opened it.”
“That's snooping,” I told her, feeling suddenly snappy, responding as if I was being attacked. “I didn't give you permission to go through my things.” The instant the words tumbled out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back.
Then there was something else that made me pause. “Wait. Riley, what do you mean it looks like the book in your movie?”
“Weren't you watching?” Riley put her hands on her hips. I noticed that she, Sam, and Cassie were all standing around me now in a tight circle.
“I didn't see a book,” I said. I mentally reviewed the vampire story and the werewolf interview. I hadn't seen the zombie one. But honestly, I couldn't remember any details. I'd been too distracted by the banging in the basement. “Which story was it in?” I asked.
Riley let out a long, annoyed sigh. “You really should have paid attention,” she said. In that moment, cute little Riley, my newest best friend, turned against me. “It's your own fault you don't know. I'm not telling you anything.” She zipped her lips with her fingers.
“Enough stalling.” Cassie took a menacing step toward me. “Hand over the book, Emma.”
Again, like with the heavy trunk, it was a demand,
not a question. Dinner-making-and-cookie-baking
Cassie was gone, and the creepy, mean one reemerged
with a vengeance. She was bossy again, her eyes flitted from side to side, and that attitude, the one she'd had with the cab driver, oozed out. Back on the driveway, I thought I'd have given in and run away, but after everything that had happened, I felt bolder than that. I geared up for an argument.
“Can't you see?” I flipped around to face Sam. “There's something strange about Cassie.”
Sam stared at me. “You're the one making trouble,” she said. “Give Cassie the book. We all want to hear what you wrote about us.”
“But I didn't write anything!”
They all had their hands on their hips now. They looked so similar, these cousins.
“Fine,” I said, backing down with the sad realization that my instinct to argue didn't last long. “I'll give you the book. But I am telling you, whatever it says is as new to me as it is to you because I DIDN'T WRITE A STORY!”