A Scary Scene in a Scary Movieby Matt Blackstone
Rene, an obsessive-compulsive fourteen year old, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle when the time adds up to thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7 + 4 + 2 = 13), or washes his body parts in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will break a bone, contract a… See more details below
Rene, an obsessive-compulsive fourteen year old, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle when the time adds up to thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7 + 4 + 2 = 13), or washes his body parts in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will break a bone, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie. Rene’s new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but that’s not as easy as Gio makes it sound.
An odd portrayal of a 14-year-old boy coming to terms with obsessive-compulsive disorder and loneliness.
Rene Fowler is obsessed with the number 13, washes his hands routinely and secretly dons a Batman cape. He's desperate for friendship, which he finds in the guise of a smooth-talking, Bob Dylan–esque cool kid named Gio. Somehow a genuine friendship develops, and the two devise a half-baked scheme to escape Rene's crazy, gambling-addicted dad by taking a bus to New York City. Blackstone's debut is strange in every way—from the hyperbolic horror-movie marketing on the cover to the schizoid universe that is Rene's mind and the language that Blackstone uses to characterize him. Readers will cringe in confused discomfort when Rene breaks into his school wearing a superhero costume and even more when he develops a peculiar relationship with his seemingly troubled English teacher. Many of his thoughts are so far out that readers will be wondering if he's suffering from a more serious ailment than OCD, such as Asperger syndrome. Interestingly enough, Gio is the only character that teen readers will connect with in the novel. His easygoing, go-with-the-flow, straightforward disposition and voice are the sole linear elements that drive the plot forward.
A bizarre first effort that will engage few readers, if any.(Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie
By Matt Blackstone
First Farrar Straus GirouxCopyright © 2011 Matt Blackstone
All rights reserved.
Legs are my favorite part. I never snap them off with a single bite. I nibble on them slowly as I work my way up. I crunch bony ankles, gnaw on slender calves. Knees are a delicacy; canine teeth are ideal for chipping cartilage. Thighs — oh sweet, sweet thighs — must be savored, eaten like a sacred drumstick. Thick and long and often hairy, a torso is best swallowed whole. The neck is delicious, but fragile: one bite and all I have left is a tiny head resting on my fingertips.
Animal crackers. They're a great snack, but they aren't great company. Real animals make better pets. Dogs are a man's best friend, but I am allergic to dogs. I am allergic to cats, guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils, parrots, sheep, horses, and goats. So I chose bugs.
This summer, the last one before high school, I kidnapped fireflies on weekends and caterpillars on weekdays. I kept the fireflies in a jar until they went to sleep — permanently. I placed the caterpillars in the bathtub, where I tucked them in at night by covering their bodies with tissues.
Finding a bathtub full of caterpillars was a red flag for my mom.
"I've made an appointment for you to see the school psychologist," she said. "Several appointments."
If I don't like talking to people I know, why would I talk to strangers?
I have a Batman cape that I wear when I'm anxious. My mom says I shouldn't wear it to those meetings.
She thinks I'm nuts. She's had her suspicions ever since I was a kid, when I washed my hands until they were red and raw, talked to myself in public, ran away from anything numbered thirteen, smelled my hands more than forty times per day, ate my animal crackers in a specific order, and made creepy smiley faces out of napkins — even when I didn't want to.
I still do all those things — they are still part of my daily missions — because if I don't, I might die of AIDS, or someone close to me might die of a heart attack, or some stranger outside of my small town in Southern New Jersey might get blown up in a bus — and it'd be all my fault and I'd never live it down and I'd bury myself in my room for years and years and years until my Batman cape worked its magic or I became a superhero who didn't have to worry away death and cleanliness and guilt that never goes away, no matter how hard you scrub.
I don't tell my mom these things because I don't want to upset her. It's not like she has the time to deal with me anyway. She works two jobs: one as a hotel receptionist, the other as a part-time nurse. She doesn't get home till around 10:00 p.m. Sometimes, she doesn't come home at all.
"Follow my example and work hard, Rene," she always tells me. That's my name. Rene. It's a boy's name and a girl's name, which is great if you're getting a sex change. (I'm not.)
"Time is money," my mom says. "Work hard for what you want."
I know what I want. I've worked hard for it my entire life, but it still hasn't happened. Not even for a day.
I want every one and every thing to leave me the hell alone.CHAPTER 2
There are malls in my town, three of them, where kids who have friends like to shop, compare clothing labels, and talk about sports. And college. And college sports.
There are baseball diamonds in my town, five of them, where kids play catch for so long the only lights they see are fireflies, but they keep playing because they like being coordinated and popular and talking about driving permits and the new girl at school and the guidance counselor who says "education is the key to success" each and every time he opens his mouth, which is funny, but they agree with him, so it isn't really all that funny.
There are high schools in my town, two of them, where kids whose brains don't give them orders get excellent grades and do all their homework on time. I am not one of those kids, but I go to one of those high schools.
A couple weeks into school, the teachers already gave tons of homework.
"I was invisible when you handed that out," I tell my English teacher, Mr. Head.
I don't know why he doesn't believe me.
Sometimes I try to do homework, but, seriously, why should I read this stupid story about two old guys hunting in the woods? It's long, it's boring, and I'm tired. If time is money, I want my money back.
Not that I've ever had any money, except for my allowance, which comes only when my dad writes to me. So once every four years, I get paid. And only in $2 bills that arrive in an orange envelope. Leave it to Phil — that's what I've called him ever since he left my mom and me when I was eight — to pay me in outdated, overrated bills.
Along with the $2 bills, there's always a note that reads, "I'm not a monster." It's an inside joke. The first time Phil took me to the zoo, I was scared of the animals, especially the apes. When I saw the hairy orangutan rattling its cage, I jumped up and down, yelling, "Look, Daddy, it's a monster!"
I love inside jokes because I like jokes and because it's more comfortable being on the inside than it is on the outside. The $2 bills are also an inside joke because six years ago, the year he left us, my dad drove my mom and me to Monticello, which is a fancy name for Thomas Jefferson's old white house. On our way out, Phil slipped a security guard a $50 bill in exchange for twenty-five $2 bills.
"That's what I call highway robbery," he told me. "'Cause in thirty years, when these babies collect interest, he'll be kicking himself in the wiener. You hang on to these bills, you hear?"
Phil has a way with words because he is a writer, a good writer, but has never been published. I want to be a writer, too, because I want to be better than him. I need to be a better, more successful writer than Phil.
Until then, I keep Phil's $2 bills in a frame above my bed. My mom says it's healthy to keep souvenirs of Phil and show them to my friends.
The problem is that I don't have many friends. The ones I do have, my mom dismisses as either invisible or inappropriate. I thought we had finally agreed on one, though: Mr. Head, my English teacher.
If you're wondering how I know that Mr. Head and I are friends, it's because every morning Mr. Head says to my class, "Good morning, my friends."
"Teachers don't count, Rene," my mom informed me one night as she tucked me into bed. That's right, she still tucks me in. I mean, it's not like I need a night-light or anything juvenile like that, just a tuck. Especially since school started.
I'm a freshman. I use hair spray, hair gel, and hair mousse. And Old Spice deodorant, fresh scent. I can quote from all the Batman movies. I am very organized and very clean. I use soap instead of hand sanitizer because I heard that hand sanitizer gets you high and kills brain cells. Because I need to hang on to all the brain cells I have left, I use soap. Lots of it.
I like things my way. For example, even though we're only a month into school, my routine is as permanent as permanent marker: I like to eat cereal — Lucky Charms for good luck — before the bus picks me up for school, where I bubble in the magical code of abacadaba so perfectly within the lines on Scantron tests that I never finish, worry about my safety instead of taking notes, wash my hands four times before I eat my sandwich of chunky peanut butter and strawberry jelly on wheat bread alone in a packed, screaming lunchroom until next period, when I refuse to change and therefore fail gym and sit in the bleachers until the bell grants me permission to walk home seven-eighths of a mile to my house, where I savor my second bowl of Lucky Charms while watching cartoons and convincing myself that I'll do my vocabulary homework after I complete my mission to comb the streets for good luck coins and perfect rubber bands to fix around my wrist until it gets dark or I get hungry enough to wash my hands four times and eat a microwavable meal while beating myself in chess and checking the window for Mom's headlights, so I can tell her how well I'm doing in school so that she'll tuck me in and I can fall asleep as I plan which cereal I'll eat in the morning.
If I do any one of these things wrong or even slightly out of order, I might break my neck or my arm or hopefully just my ankle; Phil might reappear; a terrorist might blow up my house; Mr. Head might quit; and/or I might never ever make a single friend, which would be doomsday because there's this one freakishly tall classmate named Giovanni who I would like to make my friend. I nicknamed him "Giovanni the Giant" until I learned his last name is Caperna, which obviously sounds like a superhero name, the Caped Crusader, and even though I'm the only one who wears a cape, not him, I nicknamed him "Giovanni the Caped Crusader." I really admire Giovanni the Caped Crusader because he, unlike me, is a social butterfly. Since most people like being social and everybody likes butterflies, I think I'm the only person at school that Giovanni hasn't talked to — and he's only been at my school for four days! He's a transfer student, which means he should feel lonely and isolated in a new school, but even the principal, who doesn't like anybody, likes Giovanni. One time in the hallway, he said to Giovanni, "Nice hair, young man. I used to have hair like that, but that was many moons ago." Then he sighed. I sighed, too.
Giovanni's puffy, curly hair adds two more inches to his height. Everything about Giovanni is cool. He's not jock-cool or rocker-cool; more like wise, old man–cool, even though, like me, he's fourteen. I know that because on the first day of school, he wore a T-shirt that read, "Being fourteen rocks."
I'm no expert or anything — I've only been fourteen for the last thirty-seven days — but I think Giovanni might be wrong.
Take this stupid homework assignment, the one I've been reading for the last two hours, about two old guys hunting in the woods.
Two old guys hunting in the woods. Need I say more?
* * *
The answer to that question is "No." I learned that when Mr. Head, my tall, big-boned English teacher, got mad, I mean firecracker mad, at me during yesterday's class. It wasn't even that big of a deal, but leave it to Mr. Head to make a mountain out of an anthill. Or an anthill out of a mole. You know what I'm trying to say. Anyway, I was trying to listen to him because we're friends, and plus he's an English teacher and I hoped he could help me become a better writer — maybe teach me how to put my thoughts down on paper — but he was droning on about how he wants to teach us Romeo and Juliet but doesn't trust us enough. I wouldn't trust us if I were him either. My classmates, other than me of course, don't pay attention to him. I mean, they weren't even looking at Mr. Head while he shouted, "Enough! Listen up! Hold up! Eyes up here! Eyes on speaker! Hand up if you hear me! Trees up! Nerds up!" He kept picking new expressions to see if we'd magically respond.
We didn't. So he got louder. "Yo, everybody! Let me see your ready position! Close your mouths! Be quiet! I'll wait! That's right: I'll wait for you to be quiet! I'll wait all day and all night — well, not all night because I do have a life, but I'll definitely wait all day. I'll wait all day long. I'll wait till the cows come home ..."
Some kid in the back row mooed. At least he was listening.
Mr. Head sat down at the front of the room. He breathed hard, stared at his shoelaces, picked his nails, clenched and unclenched his fists.
Since I didn't have anyone to talk to, I walked over to him, making sure not to step on any of the lines on the floor so that something scary wouldn't happen to me or my mom or anyone that might become my friend. I don't know what got into me. I guess I was so bored that I tuned out the voice inside my head that shouts DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID! whenever I'm around other humans.
I moved to the side of Mr. Head. He was a dead animal, limp and defeated. I smelled my left hand, because that's what I do when I'm nervous, which is about six to eight hours per day, depending on whether it's a weekend or weekday. Since it was a weekday, I'd already smelled my left hand thirty-two times. (The smell of my own skin reminds me that I'm a perfectly normal human being. But you can never be too sure. Of anything.)
I put my hand on Mr. Head's large, sweaty shoulder, and in my most sympathetic tone — the one my mom uses when she talks about Phil — I said, "I feel bad, Mr. Head. I don't want you to waste your time or anything."
"Look at this," he said, smacking his hands on his lap. "At my life. At this room. At this class. Need I say more, Rene?"
"Yes," I said. Recalling my mom's advice about Phil, I told Mr. Head, "Expressing your feelings can be therapeutic."
That's when Mr. Head hung his head and let out a low, guttural moan — the sound Phil used to make after coming home from work. He said it's "the sound of a man staring down a dead-end career all the way to the grave." Mr. Head, the second dying man I'd met, rose from his chair.
He pivoted like a slow ballerina until he had his back to the class.
Then he banged his head against the chalkboard. The heavy thud silenced the class as Mr. Head kept right on banging his forehead. Again. And again. And again.
* * *
That afternoon, Mr. Head had hall duty. Despite the white chalk and the growing red welt on his forehead, he sat ramrod straight in his chair, his chin up. I could tell he was trying not to cry because I've seen that look on my mom's face every time she talks about Phil. I didn't want to be the guy to push Mr. Head over the edge.
Giovanni wasn't as prudent. He walked over to Mr. Head and said, "Hey, brother man, I heard what happened. But it's not your fault. So don't even worry about it."
"I — thank you, Gio," Mr. Head said, as if he and Giovanni were best pals.
"Don't sweat it, brother man," Giovanni said. "Kids these days can be pretty nasty. Hey, you're not pondering a career change, are you?"
"Don't do anything drastic, Mr. Head. God knows I've been down that bumpy road of self-doubt before. Tell you what, sleep on it for a few days and then play it by ear."
"I wasn't going to —"
"You know what, Mr. Head," Gio said, bending down. "You're good money, Mr. Head. You're b'noodles. You're something special. You remember that."
A pride bordering on admiration welled up on Mr. Head's wide face.
Giovanni must have sensed it, too, because he nudged him in the arm. "Hey, bottom line, nobody's perfect," Giovanni said, pointing at a large jagged chip on his front tooth. "But when you got a gift like you do, you gotta believe in yourself. And if someone gets in your way, you say, 'Get off my biscuit' and get on with your life."
Mr. Head's lower lip quivered as he stood up to shake Giovanni's hand. Even standing, Mr. Head was at least six inches shorter than Giovanni.
"You have no idea how much that means to me, Gio," said Mr. Head. "You truly do have insight, sir, you truly do."
Giovanni shrugged. "I only speak the truth."
Hearing the bell, Giovanni elbowed Mr. Head in the arm and said, "Give 'em hell, you hear?"
Mr. Head raised his arms to hug Giovanni, but Giovanni had already blended into a sea of students lugging their textbooks to fourth period class.
Phil once said he'll always remember the first time he heard Bob Dylan's music: "Mind-blowing. An automatic epiphany. Inspirational." Before today, I hated the word "inspirational," and I certainly didn't believe in epiphanies, let alone automatic ones. Even I know nothing is automatic, except for superheroes, and that inspiration is as real as the tooth fairy. Besides, Bob Dylan? Come on, Bob Dylan's not even his real name. It's Robert Zimmerman. How inspirational is that?
But last night, after my mom tucked me in and told me it wasn't my fault that Mr. Head exploded in class or that Phil left her when I was still young, I put on my Batman cape, got down on my knees, and prayed that I would someday be friends with Giovanni.
Or at least walk near him.
Excerpted from A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone. Copyright © 2011 Matt Blackstone. Excerpted by permission of First Farrar Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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