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A crash of thunder rattled the window panes. Rain drummed on the roof. Outside in the dark, trees creaked in the wind. In the small pool of light from his bedsidelamp, Michael was propped up on his pillow reading The Curse of the Evil Ooze.
"The giant blob of slime oozed slowly toward me, he read silently, "green and bubbling with a horrible smell. I was trapped between two huge fallen stone blocks in the pyramid passageway. I struggled to free myself-but all I could move was my fingers!"
Next to Michael's bed stood his six-foot-tall dirty-sock-eating pet plant, Stanley. Next to the other bed stood Fluffy, his younger brother's clean-sock-eating plant. Norman, the neatness nut and expert pest, was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. Michael was enjoying reading his book without Norman bothering him.
Stanley tapped him on the shoulder with a vine and tried to grab the book with another.
"Don't bother me right now," Michael told his plant in the tone he usually used only on Norman. "I want to read a couple more chapters."
He read on: "The ooze crept closer and closer, getting higher and higher. The smell was so bad I thought I was going to pass out. Closer and closer it came, melting small stones in its path. It was just three inches from my big toe, then two inches, then only one inch, when suddenly . .."
As Michael started to turn the page, the light went out.
"Oh, man!" he groaned. "Right at the best part!"
For a moment, he thought Stanley might have turned off the lamp to get his attention. Or maybe the bulb burned out. But the light in the hall was out, too. This was total darkness.
Heheard Dad exclaim from the living room down the hall, "Of all the dumb times for a power failure! Right in the middle of a play-off game! The street lights are out. It must be the whole neighborhood."
Mom yelled from the living room, "Michael, where did you put the flashlight?"
"I think in here someplace," he called. "I'll look for it!" He put the book aside and slid off the bed. "Oops!" He tripped over one of Stanley's vines and went sprawling on the rug. Although he couldn't see anything, he could smell the dirty socks he had put there for Stanley's late-night dinner. Fortunately, they did not smell anywhere near as bad as the evil ooze.
Mom called, "I'll get the candles from the dining room table. Everybody keep calm. The power company usually gets the electricity back on pretty soon." Michael heard the clunk of something falling over and a crash of breaking glass.
"Oops," said Mom. "I think I just broke the green lamp. Who put that table there?"
"You did," said Dad, "when you rearranged the living room furniture yesterday. Stay put. I'll get the candles. Ooof!" "
"What happened?" asked Mom.
Dad replied, "I'm okay. I just fell over the couch."
Mom called, "Michael! Hurry up and find that flashlight!"
"I'm trying!" he reported.
"Norman?" called Mom. "Help your brother look!"
Norman's muffled voice yelled, "I can't find the door to get out of the bathroom! I thought I was opening the door, but it was the closet. A bunch of towels and rolls of toilet paper fell out all over. They're tripping me!"
"Don't move," Mom called. "I'm coming to get you!" Her voice sounded closer. She was feeling her way along the hall.
Michael fumbled around and found the knob on the drawer on his side of the table between his and Norman's beds. He took the drawer out and put it beside him on his bed to feel around inside it for the flashlight. He heard leaves rustling and skateboard wheels rolling. Both plants' large pots were fastened to skateboards to make them easier to move. They had learned to use their vines to grab onto furniture and pull themselves around.
"Stanley, stop," warned Michael. "Stay where you are." But the wheels kept rolling. Stanley usually did what Michael asked him to, so this must be Fluffy. He reached out and found Stanley near his regular spot. He reached for where he thought Fluffy might be, but he grasped only air.
"Fluffy, stop," he ordered. But Fluffy kept going. Michael gave up. Sometimes Fluffy panicked when he was separated from Norman at night. Once, when Norman was sleeping over at his best friend Bob's, Fluffy had escaped from the house trying to find him. First he nearly got taken by the trash truck. Then he rolled downhill and they had to chase him for blocks.
Now Michael heard Fluffy bumping into walls and furniture. He didn't seem to be getting out of the room.
Michael felt his way back to the drawer on the bed. Like all his drawers, it was a snarledup mess. Michael had been the world's messiest kid, but he had changed his ways. It was part of the deal with Dad and Mom: neatness in exchange for the boys keeping their plants. Now he had to put things away instead of strewing them all over. Often he couldn't remember what he had put where. He touched every object in the drawer, but the flashlight wasn't there. Where else could he have put it?"Stanley, do you know where I put the flashlight?" he asked. Leaves rustled. A vine grabbed him by the arm and yanked him off the bed. The drawer on his lap went flying. He heard small objects hitting the rug. Stanley dragged himself and Michael to Michael's bureau. The plant pulled open a drawer with such force that it fell out, dumping its contents. Michael dropped to his knees and began feeling around. Just as his fingers found the flashlight ... The Mystery of the Plant That Ate Dirty Socks. Copyright � by Nancy McArthur. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.