Read an Excerpt
By A. B. Saddlewick, Sarah Horne
Michael O'Mara Books LimitedCopyright © 2012 Working Partners Limited
All rights reserved.
Maud Montague's pet rat had escaped again. "No, Quentin!" she hissed.
Her rat was scuttling along the top of the back seat of the school bus, heading straight for Warren, the werewolf from the year above. Warren had his head back, snoozing, with his tongue lolling from one side of his mouth.
"Quentin, come back right now!" called out Maud, as loudly as she dared.
Quentin turned back to her, brushing the wolf's stubby black nose with his tail as he did so.
"RaCHOO!" Warren woke up with a noise that was part sneeze, part roar.
Quentin squeaked and launched himself off Warren's shoulder and into Maud's pocket.
"Grrroar! What did you wake me up for?" Warren asked Billy Bones, the skeleton who was sitting next to him.
"It wasn't me," said Billy.
"Well, why are you grinning then?" asked Warren.
"I can't stop," said Billy. "Skeletons always grin."
Warren snarled. "How convenient."
The brakes screeched, throwing everyone out of their seats, and the bus skidded to a halt at the side of the road. The driver honked the horn in three long blasts. Maud picked herself off the floor, checked Quentin was okay, and peered through the dirty windows. A limousine with the number plate W1CK3D zoomed past. Who on earth could be in such a hurry?
"Has anyone seen my left arm?" said Zombie Zak.
"It's here," said the driver, fishing under the pedals.
The bus spluttered back into life and jolted away again.
"I wonder who that was," Maud muttered.
When they reached the school, Maud was shocked to see the big black car parked in front. Surely none of her teachers could afford a vehicle like that?
One of the back doors opened, revealing an interior of spotless cream leather. A girl wearing buckled shoes and a ragged black dress emerged. Maud couldn't believe it. It was her classmate Poisonous Penelope!
Penelope was a witch with a pointed hat and purple hair who usually took the bus with everyone else. What was she doing in such a fancy car?
"See you later," said Penelope to the driver.
Maud couldn't see his face under the brim of his hat, but his hand emerged from the window to wave goodbye, and Maud noticed a large gold ring on his index finger.
Penelope slammed the door and the car turned around and tore off down the driveway, throwing tiny chips of gravel into the air. A group of younger pupils scattered, getting out of the way just in time.
Maud ran up to Penelope as she climbed the school's stone steps.
"That's a fancy car, isn't it?" asked Maud. "You didn't cast a spell on the lottery numbers, did you?"
"It's my uncle Peregrine's car," said Penelope, sneering at Maud. "Well, one of his cars."
"How many does he have?" asked Maud.
"Enough to fill the humongous driveway of his ginormous house," said Penelope. "I'm staying with him while my parents are on holiday in Salem. So I won't have to go on that smelly bus again for a couple of weeks."
"It's only smelly when Zombie Zak forgets his after-grave spray," said Maud. "I don't know why you're being so snooty."
"Because Uncle Peregrine owns hundreds of hotels and has pots of cash," said Penelope as she strode through the school's arched doorway. "But I wouldn't expect a scruffbag like you to understand."
Maud hung back in the entrance hall as a crowd of admirers gathered around the witch. Penelope was hard work at the best of times. This was going to make her totally impossible.
* * *
"Gather round, my little monsters," said Professor Gool.
The science teacher smoothed down the twin tufts of white hair on his head, but they sprang right back up again. He fished a notebook out of his lab coat and beckoned the pupils around the desk at the front of the classroom.
"You too, Montague," he said.
Maud was peering out of the narrow window to see if she could spot her vampire best friend, Paprika. He often flew to school in bat form, but he was late today. Maud was surprised. He'd been really looking forward to this lesson on bringing the dead back to life.
Maud walked over to the front desk and stood next to Wilf. He was a werewolf, Warren's younger brother, and her second best friend. Professor Gool whipped a sheet away to reveal a pair of metal clips wired to a generator.
"Wow! Monstrous!" said Wilf.
"Me first," said Frank Stein, a hulking pupil with green skin and metal bolts sticking out of his neck. "It's just like the one we have at home."
"I'm afraid not," said Professor Gool. "I really can't demonstrate this on pupils anymore. Health and safety regulations."
All the students groaned.
"It's not my decision," said the teacher. "If it was up to me, you could run electricity through yourselves until your little eyeballs sizzled and popped out. It certainly did me no harm when I was your age."
"You'd better demonstrate on a dead frog then," said Penelope. "I've got a couple in my lunch box for spells."
"I can't even do that anymore," said Professor Gool. "Animal rights."
Penelope rolled her eyes.
"I'm going to have to demonstrate on this," he said, dragging a suit of armour out from under the desk. "It doesn't have any feelings." He held up the electrode clips. "Now, who can tell me where these go?"
Frank Stein pointed to the bolts on either side of his neck.
"That's right," said Professor Gool.
He attached the electrodes to either side of the helmet and turned the generator up a notch. It started to rattle up and down.
"Now," said Professor Gool. "Watch what happens as I increase the power."
He turned the dial, and the generator gave out a high-pitched whistle. The armour shook violently.
On the other side of the classroom, Maud noticed that Penelope was wiggling her fingers and muttering under her breath.
"Sir, Penelope's casting a spell," said Maud.
"Shush," said the teacher. "I'm trying to concentrate."
Professor Gool was focusing on the dial and didn't see the electrodes unhook themselves from the helmet and float down magically towards Wilf's hairy paws.
"Now we increase the power further," said the teacher, cranking up the dial.
"Owwwwwwwww! Hoooooooooooooowl!" Wilf sprang into the air, and his fur stood on end as the clips touched his paws.
Professor Gool stared at the lifeless suit of armour. "Oh dear, that didn't work. I'll try a bit more."
"Wait, Sir!" said Maud.
Professor Gool yanked the dial up again. Wilf yelped as if his tail was trapped in a car door. Smoke billowed out of his ears, and the classroom started to smell faintly like a barbecue.
"SIR!" shouted Maud.
Finally, the teacher noticed the frizzling werewolf and shut the power off.
Penelope burst into a loud cackle, while everyone else crowded around Wilf anxiously.
"I'm fine," said Wilf, though his hair was still standing on end, making him look like a giant, fluffy teddy.
"Let's try again," said Professor Gool. "And this time, cut out the silly pranks."
Maud frowned at Penelope, then checked the window again. There was no sign of Paprika, but she did notice a blue car pulling up in the driveway. Very strange. The only vehicles Maud had ever seen in the car park were the spluttering school bus and the battered old cars the teachers drove. This looked like a perfectly normal car.
A young woman stepped out of the car and pressed a button on her key ring that made the car beep. She was wearing a neat grey suit with flat black shoes, and her brown hair was parted at the side. Unless she had a pair of wings or an extra head tucked somewhere, she looked a lot like an ordinary human. But what would a human be doing at a school for monsters?
* * *
Professor Gool had just finished hooking up the electrodes again when the school's headmistress floated in through the door. The Head was a ghost with large round glasses and her hair tied back in a bun. She was also Maud's great-aunt Ethel – although the other pupils didn't know that.
The Head usually had a calm, stern expression, but today her eyes were wide, her hands were trembling, and she was floating even further off the ground than usual.
"Clear everything away," the Head shouted. She pointed at the suit of armour. "Cover that thing up."
"What in Hades is the matter?" asked Professor Gool.
"There's an inspector here," she said. "A human inspector. If she works out what kind of school this is, we'll be shut down."
Professor Gool gasped and threw the sheet back over the suit of armour.
The Head pointed at Maud. "Montague! Go downstairs and introduce yourself to the Inspector as Head Girl!"
"I didn't know I was Head Girl," said Maud.
"Well, you are now," said the Head. "If anyone around here can pass for normal, it's you."
"Yes," muttered Penelope. "I wonder why that is?"
Maud blushed. She was the only human pupil at Rotwood, and only a few trusted people knew her secret. But Penelope had recently visited her house and was getting suspicious.
"As for the rest of you," shouted the Head, "put on your disguises, quickly! And don't do anything freaky when the Inspector's here. That means no casting spells, no roaring, and absolutely no removing of limbs."
"Miss!" said Billy Bones, sticking his hand up. "I forgot my disguise today. I didn't know I needed it."
"How many times must I tell you not to leave home without it?" said the Head. She glared at Billy's bare white frame and shook her head. "You'd better hide in the cupboard."
Billy got up and skulked towards the cupboard.
"Miss, I've forgotten mine as well," said Invisible Isabel from the back of the class.
"Well, never mind," said the Head. "Somehow I don't think it will be a problem."
"That's so unfair," said Billy Bones.
"Into the cupboard!" screamed the Head, hovering ever higher in the air. Several pupils flinched with fright. Maud had never seen the Head so panicked before. Billy hurried to obey.
"Right," said the Head, floating back down. "Now, you're all pretending to be humans, remember? We can get through this."
Maud wasn't so sure.CHAPTER 2
Maud darted down the torch-lit spiral staircase so fast she made herself dizzy. At the bottom, she turned into Rotwood's huge, dusty entrance hall. The Inspector had already ventured inside and was peering into the gloom.
"Hello?" she said. "Is anyone there?"
"Hi," said Maud, trying to sound as cheerful as she could. "I'm Maud Montague. I'm the Head Girl of Rotwood. Sorry for the delay. We weren't really expecting you."
"I don't know why not," said the Inspector. "I sent a letter."
She wiped one of the walls with her finger and scowled at the dust collected on it. "Let's get on, shall we?" she said, making a note on her clipboard. "I've got another school to see this afternoon."
"Let me show you around," said Maud. "This is the entrance hall. At break you'll find this area teeming with pupils enthusiastically discussing their homework."
"Where are the lights?" asked the Inspector. "I can hardly judge the cleanliness of your school if I can't see it." She made another note on her clipboard.
Mr Quasimodo lolloped down the entrance hall towards them, carrying a mop and bucket of dark green water. He was hunched forward, but looked up and growled as he approached.
"This is the caretaker," said Maud. "He's got a bit of a bad back at the moment." She turned to Mr Quasimodo and pointed at the ceiling. "I expect you're about to clean away all those cobwebs, aren't you?"
"Cobwebs good," he replied. "Give place atmosphere."
Maud laughed as if this was a joke, and the caretaker grunted and hobbled away. The Inspector made yet another note.
* * *
"These doors lead to the classrooms," said Maud, as they continued towards the back of the hall. She didn't really know where the dingy doorways at the sides of the entrance hall went, and she hoped the Inspector wouldn't ask to see inside them. She'd heard the detention dungeon was down there somewhere.
"What are these?" asked the Inspector. She pointed to the cabinet where the school's trophies for Monsterball and Swamp Swimming were stored, as well as the certificates for 'Most Frightening Pupil' and 'Mr Quasimodo's Special Award for the Ugliest Pupil'.
"It's the old Halloween display," said Maud, desperately scanning around for something normal to show the Inspector. She spotted a red fire extinguisher that looked fairly new. "Over here is our fire safety equipment."
A bat flapped into the entrance hall, on a collision course with the Inspector. Maud frowned and shooed it away while the woman's back was turned. Paprika had certainly picked a bad moment to show up.
"Why does this say 'not to be used on demons or shapeshifters'?" asked the woman, who was crouching down to examine the fire extinguisher.
"They all say that these days," said Maud. "Health and safety."
The Inspector noted this on her clipboard. "I think I'll speak to your headmistress now."
The Head leapt through the wall behind the Inspector and frantically shook her head.
"I'm afraid she's in a meeting," said Maud, thinking fast.
"But my letter said I'd be arriving today," said the Inspector, flipping over the page on her clipboard.
"It's an emergency meeting," said Maud. This wasn't going well. "I could show you up to my classroom if you'd like."
The Inspector tutted. "Very well."
Maud ushered the Inspector over to the spiral staircase at the side of the hall. Most of the torches had blown out, probably because Paprika had flown past so quickly.
"Don't you find it a little dark?" asked the Inspector.
"You get used to it," said Maud, as she took one of the few lit torches down from the wall. She held it up to light the way ahead.
"They let you carry naked flames?" asked the Inspector, lifting her pen.
"Only me," said Maud. "Since I'm Head Girl."
* * *
Maud led the way up the stairs. When they reached the classroom, she stopped outside and coughed noisily to give everyone a quick warning.
When she opened the door, she was relieved to see all her classmates sitting calmly behind their desks, their bulky hats and scarves covering their faces. Paprika had even managed to transform and settle behind his desk in time.
Professor Gool was holding a biology textbook in front of him. Maud noticed that he'd written "The anatomy of the living dead" on the blackboard behind him. She edged over as the Inspector was looking around and erased the word 'living'.
"The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord," said Professor Gool.
The pupils dutifully wrote down the words he was reading. The cupboard at the back of the classroom began to rattle, and the Inspector spun around. "I think someone might be in there," she said, striding over to it.
Oh no! Billy Bones, thought Maud.
"I expect it's just the wind," Maud said, following at her heels.
The Inspector threw open the cupboard door. Maud winced. Without his disguise, it was clear Billy was a skeleton, not a human. The whole class gasped.
It's all over, Maud thought miserably.
Billy stood perfectly still as Professor Gool walked over and pointed at his skull. "You see? The central nervous system runs down from the skull, seen here, to the backbone."
The moment the Inspector looked down at her clipboard, Billy lifted his thumb bone to his nose hole and waggled his fingers up and down. A few pupils tittered, and the Inspector looked up. Billy flopped his arm back down again.
"Let me show you the hall," said Maud, leading the Inspector out of the room. Billy waved behind her back, which caused the class to giggle once more.
"They seem in very high spirits today," said the Inspector.
"Yes," said Maud. "We do love biology lessons!"
* * *
At the bottom of the stairs, Maud led the Inspector down a narrow passageway to the assembly hall, a cavernous vault with ancient stone pillars and ornate wall carvings.
Mr Fortissimo the music teacher was playing the organ at the far end of the hall, arching his back and jerking from side to side as he slammed his fingers down on the keys. Maud was glad he was facing away from the Inspector, so she couldn't see his monstrous face.
As Mr Fortissimo played, Miss Maria Callous, the choir mistress, was leading her class in a rendition of "Mourning Has Broken". She had bright green hair and a string of squidgy eyeballs around her neck, but Maud thought those could pass for really big pearls from a distance.
Excerpted from School Scare by A. B. Saddlewick, Sarah Horne. Copyright © 2012 Working Partners Limited. Excerpted by permission of Michael O'Mara Books Limited.
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