MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain

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An autistic child inhabis a world of silence; he neither hears nor speaks. Yet he has a remarkable talent: he can paint pictures. Not ordinary pictures, but works of art so realistic that one can literally reach through the canvas into the world beyond. His world. Impossible? Not in the realm of MindQuakes -- a mysterious zone somewhere between reality and fiction where all things are possible.

A high school girl with more vanity thatn good sense pays the ultimate price when she...

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Overview

An autistic child inhabis a world of silence; he neither hears nor speaks. Yet he has a remarkable talent: he can paint pictures. Not ordinary pictures, but works of art so realistic that one can literally reach through the canvas into the world beyond. His world. Impossible? Not in the realm of MindQuakes -- a mysterious zone somewhere between reality and fiction where all things are possible.

A high school girl with more vanity thatn good sense pays the ultimate price when she subscribes to an unorthodox medical procedure. A brother and sister play a harmless prank on their father's new girlfriend, only it's no prank -- and it definitely isn't harmless! A family is about to receive a terrible shock: their Christmas tree has come to life...and it wants revenge!

By turns terrifying, funny, chilling, offbeat, and weird, each of these stories is an unforgettable glimpse into the world that lies always just beyond the edge of reality.

But beware: Once you enter MindQuakes, there's no turning back.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paintings one can step into, a vengeful Christmas tree that pins Santa to the floor, a hot tub that is home to a hungry Loch Ness monsterthese are some of the unlikely objects featured in Shusterman's candy-box-like collection of 10 mildly supernatural tales, a promising kickoff to the MindQuakes series. Shusterman's (Scorpion Shards) mastery of suspense and satirical wit make the ludicrous fathomable and entice readers into suspending their disbelief. He repeatedly interjects plausible and even poignant moments into otherwise bizarre scenarios. Accompanying his workaholic mason father on one of several eerie visits to his work sites, for example, the son of divorced parents muses that he only gets to see his dad on Sundays: "Instead of making time for me, he just squeezes me into what he's already doing, whether I fit or not." Notches above the many Twilight Zone knockoffs that have found their way into print, this all-too-brief anthology will snare even reluctant readers. Ages 10-up. (May)
From the Publisher
"Notches above the many Twilight Zone knockoffs. Shusterman's mastery of suspense and satirical wit make the ludicrous fathomable and entices readers into suspending their disbelief." -Publishers Weekly

"Shusterman dazzles you with action and excites you with ideas, but underneath it all, his stories are unforgettable because his characters have soul."-Orson Scott Card

"Stories range from the humorous to the poignant and capture the reader's imagination." -Kliatt

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765341884
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Series: Scary Stories Series , #1
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is the author of many novels for young adults, including Unwind, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers, Everlost, and Downsiders, which was nominated for twelve state reading awards.  He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows such as Animorphs and Goosebumps. The father of four children, Neal lives in southern California. Visit him at StoryMan.com.

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Read an Excerpt

YARDWORK

As I step outside, a strange feeling tugs at my spine. Perhaps that's what it feels like when you first step into a nightmare.

Don't be silly, Jeremy, I tell myself, there's nothing to be afraid of.

Today the wind has brought an unpleasant smell sweeping across the neighborhood. It's tinged with a slight scent of fertilizer.

The smell's coming from Mr. Jackson's house. My mom told me all about Mr. Jackson—how he used to live here before I was born. How he spent most of his life in that house; how his beautiful garden had been the envy of the neighborhood.

He had a family, but no one knows what happened to them. They left, he left soon after, and the garden just died.

By the time I was born, the house was an ugly blotch on our neighborhood. People would live there for only a few months before leaving, and then it became completely abandoned. Now it was covered with graffiti and filled with broken, boarded-up windows. It bothered me to have a place like that next door, but like anything, I got used to it.

Then last week, Mr. Jackson just came back, like he'd never left. Since then, I've been watching the house…and watching him. The house hasn't changed—he hasn't had anyone come to fix the windows or paint over the graffiti. All he does is work in his garden. He sure loves that garden.

Now, as I step outside, I can hear him back there. I can hear the skitch…brummp, skitch…brummp of his little trowel digging up the dirt and throwing it over his shoulder. I know he's planting more flowers. Until Mr. Jackson came back, there weren't any flowers in that garden. Nothing grew there but ugly weeds that got filled with torn rags, Kleenex, and candy wrappers. Whatever the wind brought to our neighborhood got snagged in the thick weeds of that abandoned backyard and stayed there.

Until last week, that is. That's when Mr. Jackson showed up and began hacking those weeds, putting them into trash bags, and hauling them out to the curb. The weeds are all gone now, and bit by bit that wasteland of a yard is filling with flowers.

"Jeremy, don't go bothering the man," my mom had told me. But what she really means is "Stay away from him, Jeremy, because he's not quite right. Leave him to his business, and maybe when his business is done he'll leave forever and they'll tear that ugly house down."

But Mom's asleep on the couch now, so she doesn't have to know, and I can't resist the curiosity itching at my brain. It's a few minutes after dark. A night chill has set in, and the sun is long gone, leaving a ribbon of blue on the horizon that's fading fast. I stand at the edge of our property, peering at the upstairs windows of the old house, nervously running my fingers through my hair. Boards have covered most of those windows for years now, and thick spiderwebs fill the space between the boards.

Taking a deep breath, I cross over, through the gaping hole in the old wooden fence, into the world of Mr. Jackson. Here that dark and earthy fertilizer smell is stronger. There are no lights on in the house. I don't think Mr. Jackson has had the electricity turned back on.

He's back there all right, doing his yardwork—I can see his shadow now as I make my way down the side of the house toward the backyard. I can see that shadow on hands and knees in the dirt.

Skitch…brummp, skitch…brummp.

Holding on to a rusty old drainpipe snaking down the edge of the house, I round the corner to see him in the light of the half moon. He's setting a fresh row of flowers in the growing garden. I can't tell what they are, because all I can see is black and white.

"Are those zinnias you're planting?" I ask, remembering that my mom liked to grow zinnias.

He doesn't look up at me. I figure he's too deaf to hear me—and good thing too. I've got no business here. I can just go back home, turn on the TV, and forget Mr. Jackson; no one would be the wiser. But then he speaks in a soft whisper of a voice that sounds filled with gravel and wrapped in cotton.

"Marigolds," he says. "Man-in-the-moon marigolds, they are."

Skitch…brummp. He plants one more, then finally turns to look at me. I don't see his eyes, just dark shadows where they should be.

"You the Harrison boy?" he asks.

I nod, then say "Yes," figuring he can't see my nod in the dark.

"I see you lookin' out your window at me," he says. "Am I putting on a good show for you here?"

"It's not like that," I try to explain. "I've just been wondering why you're…I mean, look at the house. What's so important about the yard when the house looks like hell?"

"How would you know what hell looks like?" he asks me. Skitch…brummp. Dirt flies over his shoulder, and in goes another marigold.

By now I'm feeling all tongue-twisted and bone cold, and fear is clawing at my gut. I grip that cold drainpipe as if it can give me some comfort, and it comes loose in my hands.

Yelping, I fall to the ground, right into the bed of flowers.

"I'm sorry," I stammer, scrambling to my feet, wishing I was anywhere else in the world. When I look down, I shudder at the sight of the imprint I made in the flowers. The way the moon's casting shadows tonight, I can see the shape of my whole body, as if I'm still lying down.

I figure the old man is going to have a fit and start scooping out my brains with his planting trowel, or bury his little hand rake in the side of my neck, but he doesn't. Instead he just looks down at the crushed flowers.

"Those're no good anymore," he says calmly. "I gotta put in all new ones now."

He looks at me, and now I can see his eyes. They are ancient, the lids almost closing over them in tired sags of skin.

"I don't need you here," he tells me in that gravel-cotton voice. "I can do this myself. I don't need you."

Well, I don't need a second invitation to leave. I step back, stumbling over the broken drainpipe, and tear out of the yard, through the hole in the wooden fence and back onto my own property where the moon doesn't seem to shine quite as coldly.

• • •

I can't sleep that night, because I hear him through my closed window. Only now do I realize that he doesn't sleep—he works all through the night in that garden. What is it about that garden? I wonder as I lay awake. Why is it so important to him?

When the sun comes up in the morning, I drag myself out of bed and peer out the window. In the light of day, the garden doesn't look quite so creepy. In fact, it looks kind of pretty and peaceful. Rows of flowers of all different colors surround a single open patch of dirt. I wonder what he's going to put there.

Downstairs, I force myself to drink Mom's coffee so that I can stay awake. "I think Mr. Jackson's going to put a fountain in the middle of his garden," I tell my mom as she tosses a couple of waffles on my plate. "What do you think?"

"His business is his business," Mom says. But what she really means is "I don't want you to go sticking your nose in that garden." Mom's always been a mind-your-own kind of person.

"Lock the door when you leave," she tells me, like she always does when she heads off for work. Like if she didn't I'd leave the door wide open.

As I eat, I can hear the rattle of a wheelbarrow next door. Mr. Jackson's busy with his endless yardwork. I'm about to leave for school, but before I do, I get an idea. You see, I'm not quite as mind-your-own as Mom is.

In a couple of minutes, I leave the house, but instead of turning right and heading toward school, I turn left and slip through the hole in the wooden fence.

Mr. Jackson is where I knew I'd find him, in the corner of the yard, turning up the earth for a new batch of flowers and tossing the bigger stones into the wheelbarrow. He wears a long-sleeved shirt, buttoned all the way to the top, even though the day is hot. His hands are covered with dirt and they're just as leathery and wrinkled as the skin on his face.

"I…I thought you might like some breakfast," I tell him. I hold the plate toward him. "Waffles. I didn't know if you liked syrup, so I put it in a little cup on the side, see?"

Still across the yard, he stands there looking at me like he's looking through a wall. Then he slowly makes his way toward me, careful not to trample his flowers with his heavy work boots. His feet drag as he moves, as if he's got no muscles in them—as if he's pulling his legs up from the seat of his pants like one of those marionettes. He reaches out and takes the plate and cup from me.

"Thank you," he says simply, then puts the waffles down on a cinder block and reaches into his pocket, handing me a wad of crumpled dollar bills.

I shake my head, not wanting to take the money, and, for that matter, not wanting to touch that dirty, puffy hand. "No," I tell him, "no, you don't have to pay me—the waffles are my treat—to make up for messing up your flowers last night." When I look down, I see that he's already replanted the area.

He shakes his head slowly. "I'm not paying you," he tells me. "I'm asking you to do something for me." He clears his throat. It crackles like eggshells breaking. "I was wrong," he says. "Last night I was wrong. I do need someone to help me. You understand?"

I shrug. "Sure. What do you want me to do?"

"Flowers from the nursery. Lots of flowers."

"What kind?"

He thinks about that for a moment, then smiles, revealing just a sparse scattering of rotten teeth. I have to cast my eyes down because I can't look at that terrible mouth.

"Any kind you like," he tells me. "Pick your favorites…and buy a shovel," he says before I go, "a bigger shovel."

• • •

After school, I head right out to the nursery with the old wagon I used when I was a little kid. I don't know much about flowers, but I pick out a few trays of really nice ones for Mr. Jackson's garden. Then I pull it all home in the rusty old wagon and present it to Mr. Jackson.

"Help me plant them," he says.

I look at my watch. Mom won't be home for another hour. I've got no homework, so I figure, Sure, why not. No good deed goes unrewarded, right? Anyway, I head for the patch of dirt in the middle of the yard that definitely needs some color when Mr. Jackson shouts: "No!"

It nearly makes me jump out of my skin. Then he quickly changes his tone. "No, not there."

"Oh, right," I say. "I forgot about the fountain. It is going to be a fountain, right?"

But he doesn't answer me. He just directs me to a far corner with my trays of plants.

For a few minutes we work quietly, but my mind gets to working overtime. I start wondering about that patch of dirt. Not what's going on top of it, but what's underneath. I start wondering how deep this garden is planted.

"Mr. Jackson, whatever happened to your family?"

He plants three geraniums before answering in his gravelly toothless voice. "People break apart sometimes" is all he says.

I think of my own parents. Once my parents got divorced I saw less and less of my father until I didn't see him at all. Maybe I'll never see him again, I don't know. People break apart. I imagine my own dad fifty years from now, an old man in a garden. No way to find him; no way to talk to him even if I do find him. Just the thought of it makes me plant the flowers faster and faster, trying to drive the thought out of my mind.

"Your family didn't go with you when you left here?" I ask, unable to keep my fool mouth shut.

"Nope. There were just old folks where I went," says Mr. Jackson. "Old folks, nurses, and more old folks."

"Did they treat you okay," I ask, realizing that he must have been in a retirement home.

Mr. Jackson thinks about it. "They cared for me, which is about the best I can say or them." Then he stops planting for a moment. "They cared for me," he says again, "but that wasn't home. This is. You understand?"

I glance over at the bald spot in the center of the yard again. "What's over there, Mr. Jackson? Is there something…under the dirt?"

"Nothing," he tells me. "Nothing but worms."

The light is growing dim now. I listen for the sound of my mother's car. Above us I can see large birds circling. Vultures. I can't remember seeing them in our neighborhood before.

Then I hear Mr. Jackson grunt, and when I look up, something awful has happened. He was digging with his little trowel and somehow slit his right arm, leaving a gash as wide as all outdoors—at least four or five inches.

"That's not good," says Mr. Jackson, in the same calm voice he used when I fell in his flowers last night.

"I'll go call a doctor!" I shout, but as I start to take off, he yells: "No! No doctors."

"But your arm."

"It's my arm and I'll deal with it."

He grabs a dirty rag from his back pocket, and I catch sight of the words stenciled on it. It reads Dade County Convalescent hospital. He slaps the rag over the wound. I can't imagine a rag keeping back the flow of blood, but it does. Still, a dirty rag isn't something you use on an open wound.

"Mr. Jackson, maybe I should-"

"Get on home," he tells me. "Go on, your mother's home, I can hear her."

And he's right. My mother has just driven up.

"But.…" I don't know what to tell him. He holds the rag over his wound, the expression on his face unchanging, as if a tear in his arm is no more dangerous to him than a tear in his shirt. It looks as though the flow of blood has stopped, but to be honest, I never really saw a flow of blood begin.

I leave, thinking all kinds of troubled thoughts. As I head out of the yard I see, sitting on a cinder block, the waffles I brought him that morning, uneaten.

• • •

It's later that night. Mom's asleep on the sofa again, her book open in her lap. I dial the number it took me half an hour to track down and hear it ring once…twice… three times.

"Dade County Convalescent Hospital," answers a tired-sounding woman on the other end.

"I'm calling about a Mr. Isaac Jackson," I say.

A long pause on the other end, and then, "Are you a family member?"

"No. Listen, I think he's not quite right. I mean, he's here, and I think he's still supposed to be with you. I think he kind of…ran away."

"What do you mean he's there?" the woman says, sounding alarmed. "Who is this? Are you from the medical school?"

"I'm just a neighbor, that's all."

"It says right here that Isaac Jackson was transferred to the medical school last week."

I take the number of the medical school, and after we hang up, I try that number. One ring…two rings. The guy who picks up the phone talks to me in between bites of his sandwich.

"Says here we were supposed to get him," he tells me. "But he never showed up. Probably just a clerical error."

By now I'm beginning to get upset. "Well, somebody should come and get him," I say. "I mean, what if he's in trouble?"

And on the other end I hear the creep laugh. "Ha! That's a good one!" he snorts. "No, he's not getting into any trouble anymore. Not unless those med students are playing practical jokes with their cadavers again."

My heart misses a hefty beat.

"Cadavers?"

"Yeah," says the guy as I hear him take another bite from his sandwich. "You know, as in corpse. As in stiff. He laughs again. "Yeah, those med students sure are clowns. Those things end up in the darndest places sometimes!"

I slam the phone down as if hanging up can somehow change what I've just heard. I don't believe it. And yet somehow I do. And somehow I understand.

• • •

Outside the clouds hide the moon, and it's as dark as if the moon weren't even there. As I step outside, it takes a few moments for my night vision to kick in. When it does, I find the hole in the wooden fence and cross over into the cold loneliness of Mr. Jackson's world.

I can hear him back there—hear him moaning. I can hear him working with his trowel. Skitch…brummp, skitch…brummp. Slowly I round the corner where the drainpipe once stood, and there, in the center of the yard, is total darkness.

There isn't going to be a fountain there. That bald patch of dirt was not for a fountain at all. It was for a grave.

I peer into the hole, and see, at the bottom of a shallow hole, Mr. Jackson covering himself with dirt. With one hand he weakly slices into the dirt wall and pulls it down around him.

"No time," he whispers to himself. "No time left. No time."

My eyes are full of tears, but I wipe them away.

"When did it happen, Mr. Jackson?" I ask him. And then I force out what I really mean to say. "When did you…die?"

He takes a deep breath, and it comes out like a raspy wheeze. "It'll be two weeks tomorrow," he says.

I swallow hard, choking down my own terror. "And you don't know where your family is, and no one would bury you?"

The only answer is that raspy wheeze.

I reach into the shallow hole and take the trowel away from Mr. Jackson. He begins to panic as I drag him out.

"No!" he says. "No time. No time. Getting too weak."

"Shhh!" I tell him gently. "Shhh. Someone will hear."

And then I look into those empty eyes that can barely stay open at all. I force myself to keep looking, this time refusing to look away from that awful face, trying to see the man he must have once been.

"What do you want me to do?" I ask.

In those ruined eyes I see tears beginning to form.

"Care for me," he says.

But I won't do that. Nurses and hospital workers care for him. But they can't care about him. Not the way I can.

I look at the grave. "It's not deep enough," I tell him. Then I grab the large shovel leaning up against the house, step into the hole, and begin digging, throwing dirt over my shoulder.

The old man tilts his head. I hear it creak and fracture on his slim neck. "You're a good boy, Jeremy," he says with a voice that keeps moving farther and farther back in his throat. "A good boy."

"Rest easy, Mr. Jackson. I'll give you a decent burial; you don't have to worry. I'll take care of everything, I promise…"

Mr. Jackson smiles his awful smile, but somehow that smile doesn't seem awful at all. It seems wonderful and warm and filled with the kind of peace that comes from knowing things are all right. That things are in order.

I watch as Mr. Jackson lets his shoulders relax, his eyes close, and his head sink to the ground, finally giving his spirit over to the death that had been trying to claim his body. In a moment I know that he is gone—truly gone, the way he should have been two weeks ago.

Now I'm alone, as I stand here in the darkness of his backyard garden, digging his grave.

I will bury you, Mr. Jackson. I will bury you in the place where you lived your good years. I will cover your grave with flowers, so it will be our secret, and you can rest, knowing that there was someone in this world willing to see you off into the next.

And I will not be afraid.

Skitch…brummp.

Skitch…Brummp.

Copyright © 2002 by Neal Shusterman

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Table of Contents

Yardwork 1
Caleb's Colors 14
Ralphy Sherman's Jacuzzi of Wonders 30
Number Two 36
The Soul Exchange 40
Damien's Shadow 54
Terrible Tannenbaum 69
Dead Letter 82
Boy on a Stoop 86
Retaining Walls 100
Dark Alley 117
The in Crowd 134
Special Deliverance 158
Mr. Vandermeer's Attic of Shame 164
Pea Soup 190
The Elsewhere Boutique 212
Ralphy Sherman's Bag of Wind 220
Loveless 232
Where They Came From 240
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