An entire floor of St. Phobics Hospital for Really Scared Children has been set aside just for readers of this book. If you are about to begin reading, then you may wish to take a minute first and reserve yourself a bed there. St. Phobics Hospital is located right on the Strip in Las Vegas, one of the brightest places on earth. You may not understand why that's important now, but somewhere in chapter 18 you will. As you read, you may begin to understand myctophobia (mic-to-fo-be-a), or the fear of darkness. However, do not expect this book to help you with arachibutyrophobia (a-rak-i-something-be-a), the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. There is no peanut butter in this book. Elliot's family is out of peanut butter and probably won't buy any for another month. Nor does this book deal in any way with zemmiphobia (just show the word to your teacher and she'll pronounce it for you), the fear of the great mole rat, although most readers will agree that great mole rats are pretty freaky.
If you can't get yourself to St. Phobics Hospital, then there are things you can do at home to protect yourself. First, get every lamp, flashlight, and lantern you can find, and drag them into your bedroom. Next, turn them all on. Not bright enough? Before we go any further, it is very important, no matter how afraid you are of the dark, that you never, ever light a fire in your bedroom to try to make it brighter. A fire won't give you that much more light, and it will probably burn your house down. A much better idea is to go to a baseball field and ask the owners if you can borrow all of their field lights for your bedroom. You'll need them until you're certain there is nothing in the dark that is going to try to kill you. At least that's what Elliot wishes he had done.
Chapter 1: Where Elliot is Hunted
Deep inside, even past his intestines and kidneys and all that yucky stuff, eleven-year-old Elliot Penster wondered if there was something different about him. Like, maybe he was really a magical half-breed or a young wizard. Usually in these stories, when a kid wonders about things like that, it's because he's right; that's who he is.
But that's not who Elliot is. He can wonder about it until his face turns purple, but it won't matter. The fact is he's just a regular kid.
A kid who happens to be king of the Brownies.
The story of how Elliot became king of the Brownies is pretty good. Some people think it should be in a book or something. The book could be called Elliot and the Goblin War, and it would probably be terrific. As a strange coincidence, a book with exactly that title does exist. Maybe it was sitting on the shelf right beside this book. But if you haven't read it, don't worry. Neither has Elliot.
All that's important to know is that he did become the Brownie king. And although it would be nice to tell you more about that now, Elliot happens to be in a bit of trouble, which requires your immediate attention.
For Elliot is being chased. Hunted may be a better word, because the hunter is sly and tricky and finally has Elliot square in her sights. She watched for him all week, the way a hungry lion waits in the brush for the antelope to pass by. It stops at the edge of the water hole for a drink. The lion creeps forward, and BAMMO! The antelope is captured.
Now, don't worry. That didn't happen to Elliot, mostly because he never drinks from strange water holes, and there are no lions in his small town of Sprite's Hollow. But something was waiting for him to pass by. The hunter searched everywhere for him at school, sort of like the way your little brother searches your room when he knows you've got candy hidden in there. She looked for him beneath the slide on the playground and under his desk in the classroom. Rumor is she even went into the boys bathroom to search for him. She found Elliot's twin brothers in there, shooting spit wads onto the ceiling, but no Elliot.
Then, just when Elliot thought it was safe to come out of hiding and hurry home, the hunter spotted him. He only made it halfway home before she threw her weapon of choice, an old jump rope, around his legs and toppled him to the ground. Elliot rolled onto his back and looked into the leering face of the scariest thing ever to cross his path-Goblins included. She was the curse of the entire fifth-grade class, the plague of Sprite's Hollow, and if the entire planet ever imploded inside a black hole, he knew that somehow she'd have caused it. The hunter, whose real name was Cambria Dawn Wortson, had found him at last.
She leaned over him with her hands on her hips. "Elliot, we have to talk."
"Later. For once, my sister isn't cooking tonight, so this might be my only chance to eat real food all month."
"Always thinking about yourself. Did you ever think that my grade is going to be ruined if we don't do our project?"
He hadn't. Elliot tried very hard never to think about anything related to Cambria Dawn Wortson. Everyone except her mother called her Cami. Elliot preferred his own nickname for her: Toadface. He had called her that once at lunch. She dumped her tray on his head and convinced the lunch lady it was an accident. Now he called her Cami too. Seemed like a good compromise.
She leaned even further over him, and he wondered how she kept her balance. In a bossy voice, she said, "Science fair projects are due next week. You didn't ask to be my partner, and I definitely didn't ask to be yours, but we're stuck with each other, so let's make the best of it, okay?"
As proof that the entire will of the universe was now focused on the single purpose of destroying Elliot's life, Cami had been assigned as his science project partner. Elliot thought back to when he had nearly been scared to death by the Goblins. If he'd known then that he would have to do a whole science project with Cami, he might have let the Goblins finish the job.
Not really. But he definitely would've moved to a different country.
"Elliot, are you listening to me?"
He was now. The way Cami pronounced his name, the last part rhymed with "Scott." Whatever. Her name rhymed with "Fanny." Almost.
"I said, are you listening?"
"Sure." He began loosening the rope around his legs. "We have to do our science project."
She huffed. Being a toadface, it was no surprise her breath smelled like a toad's. Although to be fair, he'd never really smelled toad breath before, so it was really just his best guess.
"So do you have any ideas?" she asked.
Anti-girl spray? Probably best not to suggest that, so he shrugged. Something fast and easy. That was all he cared about. Cami plunked down beside him and pulled a notebook out from her backpack. A pink pen was lodged in the middle of it, and she opened the notebook to that page, showing him a bunch of writing that was so girly. The dots over her i's were tiny hearts, for Pete's sake.
"Then we'll have to use my idea," she said. "I read on the Internet about a potion we can make that might turn things invisible."
Elliot snorted. That was close to the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. The actual stupidest thing was when Tubs Lawless, a boy who used to bully Elliot, had forgotten his own name. Cami gave Elliot a dirty look, then continued.
"Anyway, my mom got us all the stuff, and I've already mixed it together, but she doesn't want to store it at our house in case it blows up. I figure your house already blew up once, so if it happens again it's probably not as big a deal. Okay?"
"Do I have to do anything but store it?"