Read an Excerpt
It was the day after the Fourth of July. The sun was warm, the air was breezy, and time was moving slowly, just the way Wally liked it. No clock telling him to get up, no bell ringing for class--just twelve hours stretching out before him, with only a wisp of leftover firework smoke in his nostrils.
But Wally Hatford had come to a decision. Since he was ninety-nine percent sure that the Malloy girls would be moving back to Ohio when summer was over, he didn't want any guilt feelings hanging around once they were gone. So he was going to be super-nice to them.
Well, maybe not super-nice. Maybe not even nice, exactly. But he would probably be polite. Okay, maybe not polite polite, but he certainly wasn't going to do anything to make them mad. Especially Caroline.
Wally had just finished reading the first book on his summer reading list, A Ghost's Revenge, and it was one of the creepiest, scariest stories he had ever read.
The book said that each person has a ghostly self that shadows him all the time, whether he knows it or not. When the person dies, the ghost takes over, but even when the person is alive, that ghostly self can make its presence known if it gets mad enough. Sometimes it even latches on to that person's enemy and haunts him for a while. Forever, even!
In the story, a man cheated his neighbor, and after a time the neighbor moved away, but the neighbor's ghost didn't. It hung around to get even. Everything the man tried to do went wrong. His vegetables wouldn't grow, his car broke down, his dog got sick, and his roof caught fire.
This worried Wally a lot.
It was only a story, of course. Wally knew that. But if the Malloy girls moved back to Ohio, where they used to live, Wally did not want their ghostly selves, if they had any, hanging around him. If they moved away, he did not want one of those ghostly selves--especially Caroline's--trying to settle a score with the boy who maybe hadn't treated her as well as he could have. It was only a piece of nonsense, but it didn't stop Wally from dreaming that he heard a scritch, scratch, scritch in the cellar. Then a soft thump, thumpity, thump on the stairs. Then a creak, crickety, creak of the floorboards in his bedroom, and then an icy hand. . . .
"Yipe!" Wally said aloud, suddenly snapping to attention as his twin brothers came out on the porch.
"What's the matter with you? Got ants in your pants?" said Jake as he flopped down on the glider and Josh took a wicker chair. Wally had been sitting on the floor, leaning against a post.
"Something like that," said Wally, giving his head a shake.
If Mom and Dad knew all the tricks he and his brothers had played on those Malloy girls, Wally thought . . . ! Of course, the girls had played their share of pranks too, but the truth was, the boys had started it. And though Wally had usually gone along reluctantly, he had definitely been involved. He had most certainly done things he shouldn't have. A ghostly presence would remember that. Wally didn't care if their vegetables didn't grow, but he didn't want their car to break down or their roof to catch fire, just because he hadn't been nicer to Caroline Malloy.
Jake stretched his long legs out in front of him and pulled a sheet of paper from his jeans pocket. After unfolding it section by section, he pointed to the print at the top of the page. "Listen, Wally," he said. "You want to be in on something? If Josh and I put out a neighborhood newspaper, that counts as three books on our summer reading list. You want to help out?"
By now, Wally had learned that whenever Jake had an idea, alarm bells should go off right, left, and every which way from Sunday. Still, a newspaper might be fun. . . .
"Just any kind of newspaper?" he asked.
"It has to be three issues of a newspaper about historical stuff in Buckman. That shouldn't be too hard," Jake answered.
It did sound sort of interesting. "So what would I get to be?" asked Wally. "Manager? Photographer? What?"
"We thought maybe you could be the spell checker. You know . . . go over the stuff we write," Josh explained.
"Forget it," said Wally, and settled back against the post again. If there was a least attractive job to do, it was always Wally who got to do it.
Jake pulled a Three Musketeers bar out of his pocket and held it out toward Wally. "You'd be good at it," he said.
Wally knew he was a good speller. Whenever he came across a new word, it lit up in his brain like a neon sign. But he didn't like the idea of Jake and Josh having all the fun; he wanted to be something more than spell checker.
"No deal," he said.
"We'll have a great time," said Josh.
"So, have a blast," Wally told him.
Jake held the candy bar a little closer. "Okay, you can be spell checker and distributor. How about that?"
"What does the distributor do?" asked Wally.
"Sees that the newspaper gets around," said Jake.
"You mean, take it door to door," said Wally.
"Well, that, too," said Jake. The candy bar came closer still. Wally guessed it was an old one left over from last Halloween. Tucked away in a sock drawer, maybe.
"You'd also get your name on the masthead along with ours," said Josh.
That was more like it. Wally reached for the candy bar, unwrapped it, and took a bite. It tasted like old socks too!
"The only problem," said Josh, "is that even with you and Peter helping out, it's still going to be a lot of work. We're wondering if maybe we should ask the Malloys to go in on it with us."
Wally closed his eyes. Hadn't they gotten in enough trouble with Eddie, Beth, and Caroline over the past year? Why did they have to go looking for disaster? "Are you nuts?" he asked.
From the Hardcover edition.