Authors: Tony Abbott
Zombie Surf Commandos from Mars!
The Weird Zone, Book 1
To George Nicholson,
a valiant friend,
for making this so much fun
A Different Kind of Town
The summer sun rose slowly over the town of Grover's Mill. Liz Duffey stepped into the shadow of a giant glazed donut and waited for her two friends.
The thirty-foot pastry clock sitting atop the Double Dunk Donut Den chimed the hour.
“Ah,” Liz sighed to herself. “Another day in â”
A stream of smoke rose in the sky.
“ â The Weird Zone!”
Liz gazed over at the giant pancake pan perched on the roof of Usher's House of Pancakes, otherwise known as U-HOP. The pancake pan hissed the hour, every hour on the hour.
Yes, thought Liz, the place was pretty weird. But the people were even weirder. She had a name for them, too:
Just about everybody who lived in Grover's Mill was a Zoner â except her, of course. And her friends.
Well, most of them.
“Hmmm,” she mumbled to herself. “Ten A.M. I wonder how long it'll be before the first really weird thing happens.”
“Spit on Mars!” a voice cried out.
“No,” Liz suddenly snapped back. “Spitting is disgusting. Besides, Mars is way too far. Wait, who said that?”
“I did!” said the voice.
Liz whirled around to see a quivering newspaper with legs. She pulled the paper down.
Behind it was the face of Jeff Ryan, normally round and smiling. But now his expression was one of total shock.
“Spit on Mars,”
he repeated. “What â¦ what could it mean?”
Liz bit her lip and glared at the boy. She'd known Jeff since they were in first grade together. He was best friends with her best friend's brother. He was okay, she thought, but â¦ well, Jeff was in real danger of becoming a Zoner!
He stood there, brushing back the zip haircut spiking up from his forehead. He silently mouthed the words he was reading. His forehead got more and more wrinkled.
Liz took pity on him. “You know, Jeff, they always spell everything wrong in the
Grover's Mill Gazette.
Read to me and I will translate.”
Jeff brightened and began. “Exports at the Wells Lavatory discoed around stringy spit on the sour face of Mars a few dogs ago.” He looked at Liz.
She thought for a second. “Experts at the Welles Observatory discovered a strange spot on the surface of Mars a few days ago?”
Jeff nodded. “Ah, a spot on Mars.” He read some more. “No one can seem to explain it.”
“I can explain it, Jeff,” said Liz. “It's The Weird Zone. It's Double Dunk Weirdness Time.” She pointed over at the Baits Motel, a huge fish-shaped building across from Dr. Orloff's X-Rays Ð¯ Us Medical Clinic. “I mean, the whole place ought to be called Weirdo's Mill!”
The two kids began to walk up Main Street toward the beach.
“So you think it's strange?” asked Jeff.
Liz sighed. “Listen, Jeff, the first step in battling The Zone is seeing the weirdness. If you don't, you could become one of them!” She narrowed her eyes and scanned the people on the street. “Zoners!” she hissed. “Ugh!”
Jeff followed her stare. He ran his hand over his zip cut. “But aren't other towns pretty much like ours?”
“I hope not!” Liz gasped, her eyes glazing over like that big donut. “But if I ever get away, I'll let you know.”
Jeff nodded. “Sean Vickers has been away for almost the whole summer. When he comes back, maybe he can tell us what it's like. Hey, when
he coming back, anyway?”
“Never, if I can help it!” called a voice from behind both of them. They turned to see a girl in a W. Reid Elementary T-shirt and pink sunglasses. She had a beach towel tucked under her arm.
It was Holly Vickers, Liz's best friend since kindergarten. They did everything together.
Holly smiled really big at both of them. “My goofy brother Sean is at some goofy camp. I think it's called Camp Goofy.”
Liz laughed. Holly always made her laugh.
“Hey, wait a second,” said Jeff. “Sean's okay. In fact, I think he's pretty great.”
“Yeah, I think he's great, too,” said Holly. “Especially when he's at camp!”
Liz laughed again as Holly pushed up her funny glasses and winked. “Come on, guys,” Liz said finally. “Let's hit the lake before it dries up.”
Jeff smiled at both of them. “I've got a feeling that today is going to be very fun.”
Liz wondered whether to tell Jeff that it only
be very fun, but it would
be very strange. “Just keep your eyes open for the next weird thing to happen.”
Then, as if to say â here I am! â the next weird thing did happen.
As the kids passed an alley on their way to the beach â a ten-foot-tall green slimy blob of gunk slid out and oozed toward them!
Thick red liquid was dripping from its teeth.
Yes! The blob of gunk had teeth! And two enormous black eyeballs glaring down at the kids. Yes! It had eyeballs!
Liz grabbed Jeff by his shirt and pulled him out of the way, but Holly was too far ahead. “Holly!” she cried out. “Run!”
The oozy blob had her in its â its â ooze!
Say, Ooze That Blob, Anyway?
Holly flung her arms wildly! She cried out!
She tried to pull away, but the thing wouldn't let her go!
It was horrible. It was disgusting. In a matter of seconds, Holly was totally swallowed up by the creature.
She screamed out a feeble last word â “Dad!”
It was then that Liz saw a man's tiny head pop out of the slimy green mass.
“Dad!” Holly repeated, jumping up to the head and kissing its cheek. A moment later â
â the sound of Velcro, and out popped Todd Vickers, the not-at-all-famous movie director, writer, producer, special effects person, camera person, and in fact the
person at nearby Humongous Horror Movie Studios.
“Howdy, slime fans!” Mr. Vickers said with a big smile. He patted the oozy costume next to him, then wiped his hand on his pants.
“Meet the star of my latest film. Do you love him, or what?” Mr. Vickers pointed down the street to the sign over the ticket booth at Plan Nine Drive-in. Bloodred letters spelled out â
Blobbo, the Hideous Mutant Brainoid!
Liz nodded. Every time she went to the Drive-in and saw the screen flash with the words
Another Humongous Horror!
she knew that it was going to: (a) be a horror movie about something creepy, (b) be filmed in Grover's Mill in less than a week, (c) have lousy acting and a dumb plot, and (d) have special effects that weren't all that special.
“Cool!” Jeff gasped. He looked over the quivering lump of ooze. “But what's the difference between a brain and a brainoid?”
Mr. Vickers stroked his chin. “I don't know â¦ what?”
Jeff frowned. “I was asking you â¦”
“Oh, never mind that,” Mr. Vickers went on, quickly hiding the brainoid costume under a large black cloth. “Tonight, at the very stroke of eight o'clock, this very night, yes, tonight, just before the movie starts, Blobbo and I are going to give the audience such a total gross-out, skin-crawling scare. Everyone will wish they'd all bought popcorn!”
“Popcorn?” asked Jeff. “Why?”
“For the bags!” Mr. Vickers chuckled loudly.
“Huh?” Liz said.
“To be sick in!” Mr. Vickers laughed again, a little less loudly.
“Dad!” cried Holly. “I have friends here!”
It was true that sometimes Mr. Vickers seemed to forget he was a grown-up.
“Anyway,” he continued, “we're going to fire up the floodlights again. People will pour in from miles away!” He pointed at two floodlights standing like cannons in front of the Drive-in.
Liz remembered last week's movie opening. The night sky had been white with crisscrossing spotlights. They were supposed to attract people from out of town, but it never really worked.
No one came to Grover's Mill unless it was by mistake. But Mr. Vickers always had hope.
“Be there tonight at eight
sharp. You'll be thrilled! You'll be chilled! Hmm. Speaking of chilled, I'd better keep Pudding Boy on ice till tonight.” Mr. Vickers smiled and hugged Holly. Then he pushed the blubbery blob up the street.
“The lake is calling us!” Liz pleaded.
A moment later, the hot sidewalk came to an end. The three friends were at the beach.
To the right was an old shingled beach clubhouse, with a multicolored awning and party lights. To the left was a hot dog stand. Straight ahead was the lake.
Young and old alike were lying on the sand or frolicking happily in the water.
“Ah!” Liz gasped as she took in the scene before her. “Behold the splendor of Lake Lake, chums. Notice the wide sweep of sandy beach, washed by the gentle sudsy lap-lap-lap of surf. Gosh, it's beautiful!”
The giant O of water, surrounded by sand, just sat there like warm milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl.
Holly gave Liz a look, unrolled her towel, and plopped down in the sand. “Lake
I always thought that was a strange name. Did somebody run out of ideas?”
“No,” said Liz, taking a step toward the water. “The lake was named after an old man called Lake.”
Jeff nodded. “Cool. What was his first name?”
Liz shrugged. “Old man.” She watched a few teenagers paddle out on surfboards to the calm center of Lake Lake. Surf's down, she thought.
Farther up the beach another bunch of teenagers was having a cookout. One of them was tapping on a set of bongo drums and groaning a teenage song about kissing and love and stuff.
Liz curled her lip and rolled her eyes. “Yuck.”
“Anybody want a hot dog?” asked Jeff.
“For breakfast?” said Holly.
Both girls shook their heads, so Jeff ran off to the hot dog stand. In a few moments he was back, holding something dripping with gobs of mustard.
Liz leaned back on her towel and closed her eyes. Her nose wrinkled suddenly like a worm when you touch it. She opened her eyes. “What's that gross smell?”
Jeff sniffed his hot dog and shook his head. “Not me.”
“It's him!” Holly gasped, pointing. “He's wearing socks with his sandals! Black ones! Eew!”
Liz stood up and gazed across the sand to see waves of heat rising up from the feet of Mr. Bell, principal of W. Reid Elementary School.
The tall bathing-trunked figure of Principal Bell, so terrifying during the school year, seemed out of place on the sunny beach at Lake Lake.
Holly stood next to Liz and watched Principal Bell walk slowly up to the beach clubhouse. He went into the public rest room.
“Zoner,” whispered Liz. Holly nodded.
But something else was happening, too.
The teenagers who had paddled out on surfboards suddenly came running back from the water. Their faces were pale. They waved their arms.
“Strangers stole our boards!” one of them cried out, pointing toward the very center of Lake Lake.
The lake was rumbling and bubbling up from the depths like water boiling for spaghetti.