McMummyby Betsy Byars
The giant pod in Professor Orloff’s greenhouse is giving Mozie some terrifying nightmares . . .
After Mozie loses his father, he longs for someone to look up to. Enter Professor Orloff: a brilliant, mysterious scientist with a greenhouse full of experimental vegetation. When he leaves on a trip, Orloff entrusts Mozie and Mozie’s friend, Batty/b>… See more details below
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The giant pod in Professor Orloff’s greenhouse is giving Mozie some terrifying nightmares . . .
After Mozie loses his father, he longs for someone to look up to. Enter Professor Orloff: a brilliant, mysterious scientist with a greenhouse full of experimental vegetation. When he leaves on a trip, Orloff entrusts Mozie and Mozie’s friend, Batty, with keeping an eye on his wondrous greenhouse. Inside, the two discover something amazing—and frightening: a plant pod big enough to fit a grown-up human. The pod seems to grow larger every day and to Mozie, it seems a little lonely. Soon, Mozie finds he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the strange plant from harm and discover the secrets inside. This sometimes-spooky thriller will provide its readers with as many laughs as goosebumps. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Betsy Byars including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
Betsy Byars (b. 1928) is an award-winning American author of more than fifty children’s and young adult titles, including The Summer of the Swans (1970), which earned her the Newbery Medal. She has also received a National Book Award for The Night Swimmers (1980) and an Edgar Award for Wanted . . . Mud Blossom (1991). Byars began writing in college and submitted stories to magazines while raising four children. Her first novel, Clementine, was published in 1962, and in the decades since, she became one of America’s best-loved authors for young readers, with popular series including Bingo Brown and the Blossom Family stories. Byars and her husband, Ed, are both licensed aircraft pilots and live above their own private hangar on an airstrip in Seneca, South Carolina.
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Read an Excerpt
By Betsy Byars
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Betsy Byars
All rights reserved.
IT WAS HARD TO explain the Mozie look to an adult, but Batty Batson had to try because his mom thought he was just being cruel when he laughed at his sister's piano recital.
"I couldn't help laughing, Mom. I didn't want to. I just couldn't help it."
"Some things are not funny."
"I know. I know ..."
"You don't seem to."
"Well, I do."
"Then why did you laugh?"
He decided to tell the truth. "Mozie's look made me do it," he explained.
"What are you talking about? What look?"
"I'm not sure I can describe it."
"You had better try, young man."
"Oh, sure, if you put it like that." There was something about being called young man that always made Batty get serious.
"Well, we got to the recital, and we were going to be perfect—clap when we were supposed to and sit still when we were supposed to do that."
His mother waited.
"Well, as you know, Linda was the first one. She sat down on the piano bench, and you know how sometimes cushions make a funny noise when somebody sits on them, like Ffffffff—"
Batty started laughing remembering it, but he wisely swallowed his laughter.
"So I didn't look at Mozie, because I did not want to laugh—"
The swallowed laughter came up and burst from him. He glanced up at his mother. He wished he hadn't done that because his mother had a look of her own—his least favorite look.
He made a super effort to get control of himself. It always got the laughter out of his system, when he was with Mozie, to fall down on the ground and throw himself around. He knew his mother wouldn't be as tolerant of that kind of behavior as Mozie was.
Batty had to stop again. This time he got his face under control by looking down at his shoes. Batty glanced up at his mother. He felt his face was in neutral now.
But the knot of laughter was still inside. He could feel it. He knew how volcanoes felt just before they erupted.
"After the cushion went Ffffffff ..."
Once again, he couldn't continue. The pressure of the inner laughter brought tears to his eyes. His shoulders began to shake.
His mother waited. His mother had the patience of a rock. She could outwait eternity.
Finally—at last—Batty got himself under control.
"See, Mom, it's a look Mozie gets on his face when something funny happens. He gets this look on his face like he knows I'm going to laugh, and he knows I know he knows I'm going to laugh, and the worst thing I can possibly do is laugh. And I can't help myself, Mom. I laugh."
His mother looked at him. "So, why did you look at Mozie then? If you knew it was going to make you laugh?"
"I didn't. I didn't. But knowing the look was on his face, even if I couldn't see it, was as bad as seeing it. That's all I can tell you."
"Go to your room."
"Go—to—your—room." When his mom started putting extra spaces between her words, Batty knew it was hopeless.
"I'm going." Batty began walking backward as a pledge of good faith. "But Mom, I promised Mozie I would go with him to Professor Orloff's greenhouse after supper. I always go with him. Mozie has to look after his plants, and he can't go there alone because last time he went he saw this very strange thing on one of the plants—"
"You're not going anywhere. You're staying in your room."
"Mom, I have to go. There're things growing in there, and I don't mean petunias. Mozie can't go by himself. His life genuinely may be in danger."
"I have to at least call and warn him."
"I'll take care of it."
"Mom, he's got to have time to get someone to go with him. There are strange, strange plants in there. Remember that movie? What was the name? You remember, a plant that ate people? You wouldn't let me watch it?"
"Mom, I didn't want to tell you this because I didn't want you to worry, but the thing Mozie saw—the thing that scared him—Mozie saw a kind of pod. I guess you'd call it a pod. Only it wasn't shaped like, you know, beans. It was shaped more like—well, a mummy, you know, kind of little at the top and then getting wider, like for a body.
"Mozie said it was covered with very, very fine hair like Grandma's cheeks."
Even this detail didn't impress his mother. He continued.
"Remember when he came over to the house yesterday? Did you happen to see him? He was waiting on the steps for me to get home from the dentist. Did you see him?"
"Because he came running over to the car and he had a very strange look on his face."
Now his mother spoke. "The look?"
"No, Mom, of course not. This was a look I'd never seen before, and I've known Mozie since first grade. I said, 'What's wrong?' because I knew immediately something had happened. He drew me aside. He said, 'There's a m-mummy pod in the greenhouse.'
"I thought he said McMummy and I go, 'Man, you been eating too many hamburgers.'"
His mother did not look amused at his humor.
"Mozie said, 'I am telling the truth. There is a m-mummy pod on the big plant in the back. Come with me tomorrow. See for yourself.' He said, 'Promise, because I'm not going there alone.'
"I said, 'I promise.' It was an actual promise." He crossed his heart as earnestly as he used to when he was little.
"I know you are very big on keeping promises because when I promised not to eat anything chewy with my new braces and you came in and caught me eating a Snickers bar, I honestly thought you were going to hit me."
His mother looked at him, and he trailed off. For a moment he hoped she was softening. But then she said, "You will go to any lengths, won't you, make up any story, no matter how fantastic, to get out of the house."
"Mom, it's true. I didn't make it up. If I were going to make up something, I would make up something you would believe like homework or going to the library, I wouldn't make up a McMummy pod because there is no such thing."
"Exactly. Now go to your room."
"Mom, can I ask you one thing?"
"Mozie and I are baby-sitting Friday night and I need to tell him if I can't go."
"You can't go."
"Mom, these are jobs! You want me to be a success in life, don't you? You want me to get off the dole, don't you? You—"
"I want you to go to your room. Your father will be in to talk to you when he gets home from Atlanta."
"Your sister's piano recital."
Now Batty went.CHAPTER 2
As the Mummy Turns
MOZIE WALKED UP THE steps to Batty's house. He took a deep breath and rang the bell.
Mozie hoped Batty himself would answer instead of one of his sisters—especially Linda. She would still be mad about the recital and probably wouldn't let him in.
The door opened. It was Mrs. Batson. This was better than Linda but worse than one of the other two sisters.
Mozie cleared his throat. "Could I speak to Batty? I forgot to tell him something."
Mrs. Batson's voice was cold. Mozie remembered that she didn't like Batty to be called Batty. Her husband, Mr. Batson, was also called Batty, so now she had the burden of living with Little Batty and Big Batty, which Mozie knew couldn't be pleasant.
To everybody else in the world they were Mozie Mozer and Batty Batson, but to Mrs. Batson, they were Robert and Howard.
Mozie corrected himself at once. "Could I speak to Robert, please?"
"Isn't he here?" Mozie tensed with alarm. "Mrs. Batson, he and I are going up to Professor Orloff's. I have a job watering his greenhouse and, for reasons I won't go into, Batty has to go with me today. When will he be back? I'll just wait for him unless he's going to be very late—he will be back before dark, won't he?"
"Robert has not gone out, Howard. He is in his room."
"Oh, good. What a relief. I'll go up."
Mrs. Batson seemed to expand so that she filled the whole doorway, making it impossible for Mozie to get in the house. Her voice—though it had been stern enough to start with— got sterner.
"Howard, I want to say something to you."
"Yes, of course, but make it—" He was about to add "snappy," but, fortunately for him, she interrupted.
"Howard, I want you to stop giving Robert looks."
Mozie was so stunned he couldn't answer for a moment. He had never actually given Batty a look, and certainly not at his sister's piano recital. Once he glanced at Batty in assembly when the Suzuki violins had gotten off to a bad start on "Mississippi Hotdog," but it wasn't a look. The fact that Batty laughed didn't make it a look.
Mrs. Batson waited a reasonable length of time for him to recover and then asked, "Did you hear me?"
"I don't give him looks. He thinks I give him looks, b-but I don't. I really don't even have a look, if you want the truth. I couldn't even give him a look if I wanted to. I mean, this is my look, Mrs. Batson. My face just looks like I'm giving a look, even though I don't have a look to give. I m-mean, I can't—"
The only time Mozie ever stuttered was when he was trying to explain something to Batty's mom—or when he saw a mummy pod.
Mrs. Batson interrupted. "I do not have time to listen to foolishness."
"It's not foolishness—it's the truth," he began. Then, because the situation was so desperate, he decided to beg.
"Mrs. Batson, please, please, Robert's got to go to the greenhouse with me. He's got to!"
"Robert only has to do one thing this evening, and that's stay in his room. His behavior at the recital was inexcusable."
"Mrs. Batson, I can't go out to the greenhouse by myself. I didn't want to mention this, but yesterday when I was there—remember Batty was at the dentist?—well, yesterday, I saw this sort of pod. It was shaped like a mummy, and, um, I know you're going to think I'm being foolish, imagining things even, but the pod seemed to move, to turn in my direction like, well, radar."
"I'm really, honestly scared, Mrs. Batty—I m-mean Mrs. Batson."
He closed his eyes, trying for self-control.
"I mean, once you've seen a mummy pod, and it sort of turns in your direction, you don't ever want to see it happen again. If Batty's there, he can stop me from—"
"I'm not going to listen to any more of this talk about a mummy pod. You boys have gone too far this time. Good-bye, Howard."
"Mrs. Batson, please! Just let me say one more thing."
She waited in a silence so cold it seemed to chill the air.
"Mrs. Batson, I know you are a person of honor because Ba—Robert has told me that many, many times, and you would—I am sure—always want Robert to keep his word—his promise."
He swallowed, and the sound was like a word out of a guttural foreign language.
"Now," he continued, "I think I see a way that Robert could keep his solemn word to me as well as be punished. That way, Mrs. Batson, would be for you to let him go with me this afternoon and start his punishment tomorrow—"
"The punishment has already started. Good-bye, Howard."
She closed the door.
Mozie stood for a moment without moving. Then he walked quickly to the side of the house and looked up at Batty's window.
Batty's face was there, pulled into an expression of concern. He opened the window and leaned out. "I'm grounded. You heard her."
"Batty, I'm really scared to go back to the greenhouse by myself."
"I'm scared for you."
"You're not as scared as I am."
There was a long silence as they looked at each other.
Mozie felt that the distance between him and Batty was more than one story of a house. Batty was miles away, up in an unreachable place that might as well have been the moon.
"If only you hadn't given me the look," Batty said.
Batty shook his head with real regret. "If only I hadn't thought you were giving me the look."
"Yes. Good-bye, Batty."CHAPTER 3
MOZIE OPENED THE FRONT door and stepped into the hall. He glanced at himself in the mirror.
His expression was, as usual, pleasant. The expression was built-in. He had an elf face. Everything turned up—his nose, the corners of his mouth, his eyes.
What would it take to make his face look pitiful? he wondered. Here he was facing a pod- shaped mummy—alone! And he was powerless against this pod! And yet he looked as if he was going to pull on a pointed hat and help St. Nick.
In the living room a voice said, "I'm going to say my philosophy of life for you, if you don't mind hearing it again."
Miss Tri-County Tech was practicing her philosophy of life in the living room as Mozie's mother fitted her dress.
Mozie's mother made a living sewing beautiful dresses for pageants. She didn't make dresses for Miss South Carolina and Mrs. America. She was on a lower level of pageantry. She sewed for Miss County Fairground and Miss Goober and Junior Miss Buncombe County.
"Oh, did I stick you? Sorry."
"That's okay," Miss Tri-County Tech said. "My philosophy of life is this. Be not what you are, but what you are capable of being. Make every minute count. Spend time with yourself and your other loved ones. You will only pass this way wunst."
"Once," Mrs. Mozer corrected.
"I can never remember not to put a t on once. Once! Once! Once! You will only pass this way ONCE. I wonder why once doesn't have a t on the end of it. It needs one. Doesn't wunst sound better than once? It does to me."
From the hall Mozie interrupted quietly but firmly. "Mom."
"I'm in the middle of a fitting," his mother reminded him.
"I have to talk to you."
"Well, go ahead. I can listen from here."
Mozie was not allowed in the living room while his mother was having a fitting, lest he see one of the beauty contestants in a state of undress. Actually, many of the contestants were not beautiful—some were even ugly—and Mozie was happy to stay out of the way.
Still, he had many conversations with his mother like this, back to the wall, looking up. By now he was familiar with every crack, every stain in the ceiling.
"Mom, I can't go to the greenhouse because Batty's grounded."
"Well, you aren't grounded. You can still go."
"I can't. I can't go by myself. Mom, I didn't want to tell you this because I knew you would either: (1) not believe me or (2) not care."
In the living room Miss Tri-County Tech said, "Remember to make the dress real tight in the waist because I'm going to lose ten pounds by next Saturday."
"We can always take it in," his mother said sensibly, "but if I have to let it out, sometimes the stitch marks show, particularly in satin."
Mozie ground his teeth in frustration. His mother was sensible about everything but him.
"Mozie, are you still there?"
"Yes, I am still here."
"Well, go on with what you were saying."
"I was saying that—well, even when I first started in the greenhouse, I had an uneasy feeling. That was why I always took Batty with me. He was uneasy too. But we didn't know why. It was just all these plants!"
"Mozie, that's what a greenhouse is for—plants. You knew there would be plants there when you agreed to do this."
"Yes, plants! Lettuces and radishes and cherry tomatoes—those kind of plants. These are P! L! A! N! T! S!"
"Don't be dramatic," his mother said.
Miss Tri-County Tech said, "If I win, I'm going to say, 'I owe my success to God and to my country and to my boyfriend Bucky Buckaloo.'"
Mozie said patiently, "Mom."
"Bucky doesn't know I'm going to put him up there with God and country. It's going to blow his mind."
"Mom." Still he was patient.
"Yes, Mozie, I'm listening. Go on about the greenhouse."
Although Mozie could not see his mom's expression, he knew exactly how her face looked when she was disinterested. It would look that way now. He continued anyway.
"Well, always the greenhouse has given me an uneasy feeling, but I didn't say anything because we needed the money."
"I appreciate that," his mother said, then to Miss Tri-County Tech, "put this tissue in your mouth so we don't get lipstick on the front of the dress."
"But yesterday when I was there, I was alone—Batty was at the dentist getting braces—I got this strange feeling ..."
Mozie paused because the feeling came back to him as he stood in his own hallway—a strange feeling of dread and fascination.
He had been deep in the greenhouse at the back, where the largest plants grew. He had been drawn there for some reason he couldn't explain. He had never ventured back there before. Usually he came just inside the door of the greenhouse, where the controls for the sprinkler system were.
The instructions for him were posted there. The writing was in Professor Orloff's thin precise script.
1. Make sure the timer is set for exactly three hours.
2. Open valve X. Put one vial of liquid Vita Grow into valve.
3. Close valve tightly.
4. Turn on sprinkler system. Wait to see it is operational.
5. Exit and lock door.
Each time before he had done exactly as instructed. He would come just inside the door while Batty waited behind him.
"I'll wait outside," Batty would say. "One of us has to be out of reach. Remember that movie with that plant that ate people? What was the name? It was a singing plant, but it ate people between songs. I think of that plant every time I come to the greenhouse."
Mozie could not explain what had drawn him forward this time. He was afraid to venture into the greenhouse and yet he went anyway, as if he couldn't help himself. Like a person sleepwalking, he moved down the aisle of greenery so overgrown that he had to bend to avoid the heavy leaves.
On either side grew tomatoes as big as basketballs. Squash that would take two men to lift drooped on their thick vines. Flowers like trumpets pointed at him as if to blow an alarm. Cucumbers as big as watermelons lay on the ground.
Excerpted from McMummy by Betsy Byars. Copyright © 1993 Betsy Byars. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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