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From the Grave
By Cynthia Reeg
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2016 Cynthia Reeg
All rights reserved.
Monster Rule #9: A monster's appearance should incite fear and significant revulsion to scare the socks off mere humans.
Moanday morning, with all its determined drear, crept up on me with silent, somber feet. It settled heavy on my broad shoulders while I waited for the Odd Monsters Out bus to arrive. Bony skeleton trees clattered in the Uggarland wind. The swirling gust stirred up a powerful aroma of decay and dread. A scent I should have relished.
I shuffled my bucket-sized feet in my freshly polished boots. Even Uggarland's gray gloom couldn't quite calm me. I sensed trouble.
Last night when I'd peeked out my cobwebbed window to spy on the demons, I'd seen a bat flying upside down. A bad omen for sure. I had a keen sense for trouble — perhaps because I seemed to be in it so often or perhaps because a bit of Granny Bubbie's witchy magic coursed through my misfit hide.
I'd heard the Demon Hours descend, louder and more terrifying than ever. That was when all wickedness ran amok in Uggarland. The wild ones — the untamed monsters who were unable to control their antisocial ways — had free roam. Their howls and growls still echoed in my ears.
"Trouble," I muttered, as a whirl of wheels pulled my eyes to the corner. A small bus sped past the Godzilla Heights subdivision sign and screeched to a stop in front of my house. Tramping up the steps, I took a quick glance in the bus window to make sure my hair was still neat. I slammed my itchy right hand against the door and shuffled inside.
"Morning, Frank," said Mr. Aldolfo, our werewolf bus driver. He also doubled as the school janitor. Of course, he was a misfit like the rest of us on the crowded bus. His pink skin grew absolutely no fur — not even when the two half moons joined into one each month. As I passed, he adjusted the cap and gloves he wore to hide his smooth skin. I sighed, tugging on my long sleeves. They helped cover my abnormal blue skin. Perhaps I should invest in gloves as well.
"Hey, Mr. Adolfo," I mumbled back.
A grinning gargoyle head popped up from behind the first seat back, followed by an even goofier grinning head. Sharp beak-like noses and bulging eyes were mirrored in the two heads attached to one disjointed body. Fifth graders Stan and Dan waved their gangly arms in the air.
"Frank! Frank!" they echoed. "We've got a new joke."
I rubbed a neck bolt. Monsters shouldn't be telling jokes. Humor was not a desired monster quality. Neither was a crisp button-down shirt and shiny shoes — as my pap had loudly reminded me again this morning.
"Do you know what pants ghosts like to wear?" asked Dan.
Not even waiting for a reply from me, Stan answered the question. "Boo jeans!" The twins collapsed in the seat, rocking with laughter. "Get it? Boo jeans!"
"Oh, I get it." Both my neck bolts throbbed. "I just hope the two of you don't 'get it' for telling jokes like that."
"No worries," said Dan.
"Our jokes are so bad they're good," said Stan.
"No, he means, they're so good they're bad," said Dan.
"No, no. I'm right," said Stan.
"No! I'm right," said Dan. And with that their two fists started flying at each other's head.
"Settle it down, boys," said Mr. Aldolfo with a low growl. "No playtime antics on the bus." As if to drive home his warning, he slammed his foot down on the gas pedal. The bus lurched forward.
I grabbed a seatback on either side of the aisle to steady myself. "Ooops!" I cried, clomping down on Georgina's long, green, spiky tail.
"Ouch!" Georgina gurgled in surprise and sprayed me with a gush of water.
I tried to dodge, but due to my Frankenstein bulk and the small space, I totally failed. The spray splashed down the front of my neat ensemble.
"Sorry," said Georgina, pulling in her tail and wiping up her wet snout. "You startled me." Georgina, a dragon, could only spray a hefty dose of water — not a flick of fire. Not too scary of a weapon when going on a Scare Patrol to route out humans. But I suppose she might intimidate creatures who feared water would wash away their monsterliness. I'd had my hands in sudsy water way too many times to believe that old tale.
My freshly messed-up attire totally rattled my neat freak brain. But I clenched my big blue fists, took a deep barrel-chested breath, and replied, "My bad." We misfits all knew what it meant to unintentionally mess things up.
I scooted in my now squishy shoes, past several more rows jammed with abnormal students of all ages. Our Odd Monsters Only class was a mishmash of grade levels. Age didn't matter — only oddness. With a huff, I plopped down beside my best friend, Oliver.
"Here," he said, handing me a large pile of mummy wrappings heaped at his side. "Use these to dry off. At least they're good for that."
With a fistful of Oliver's loose linens, I mopped up as best I could. I pushed down the window to let the murky air help dry my damp clothes. I frowned. There wasn't much crispness left in my button- down shirt.
"Sorry," I said. "Your wrappings are going to be soggy now too."
Oliver shrugged. "Hang them out the window to dry, until I have to put them back on."
I nodded and let a loose end stream out the window. Before I realized what was happening, the pile of wrappings at Oliver's side quickly unraveled. It flapped wildly outside the bus.
Luckily, the very end caught on the window ledge.
"Whoa!" I cried, reaching out with my long arm just in time to grab hold before it sailed away. "That was close." I reeled the strip back up into a neat ball.
"Oh, I wouldn't have minded if it all blew away," said Oliver. "Much easier to move without them."
"I know, but you'd be in dungeon detention for sure if you showed up half-wrapped." I tucked the damp roll of wrappings at his side, remembering a time long ago when a very young Oliver, free of most of his wraps, had leaped and ran and danced circles around me. A tightly bound Oliver — on the other claw — usually staggered behind me. He could hardly keep up, even when I took slow steps.
"At least I'll have more time to read in detention." Oliver pulled out a book.
"Hey, you don't happen to have one on bats, do you? I saw a bat flying upside down last night. That's got to mean trouble."
In a flash, Oliver closed up the book in his hand and pulled out another tattered manuscript from his backpack.
His unwrapped, wrinkled brown finger skimmed down the page. The low rumble of voices from the other eccentric students on our bus seemed to echo the word: Trouble.
"Maybe its antennae were just damaged." Oliver pointed to the bold print.
I shook my head. "No. I think it's a message from my granny."
"Ah, your granny is gone, Frank. Remember?"
"I'm not crazy, Oliver. I was there when she crashed her broom into the tree." I blinked, still feeling Granny Bubbie's final grip on my right hand four years ago. "But she sometimes used bats to send messages."
"Upside down bats?" Oliver said, carefully closing the book. "Well you knew her best, I guess."
"Yeah." I sniffled and rubbed my itchy right hand across my large nose. My palm burned like a poison nettlewart rash had sprouted there, but I suspected magic. Granny Bubbie's magic from the grave.
The bus rumbled on. I pulled my forbidden comb out, smoothed down my wind blown hair, then slipped the comb into my pocket. "This morning, Pap laid into me again about shaping up. Looking more like a monster."
Oliver shrugged. "That's pretty typical for Moandays, isn't it? Start the week out right and keep it that way, they say. No more misfit stuff, or else."
"But Pap said he heard something big is coming down. About us."
"They're always saying that, but we manage to keep on keeping on." Oliver gathered up his loose wrappings. "You're gonna worry yourself to death."
"Only if I'm lucky," I muttered. Our special O.M.O. bus skidded to a stop in front of Fiendful Fiends Academy. The weathered engraving above the school drawbridge boasted, "Shaping monster minds for millonions."
We all climbed out. I stopped in mid-step. My neck bolts throbbed. I stiffened.
Trouble! Without a doubt. I motioned to Oliver and all the others from our bus. As misfits, we were used to being on the lookout for trouble. Being on the alert. Taking silent steps.
A moat circled the outer wall in a ring of moldy green. It oozed with a more than ample stench and unknown inhabitants. In a monster huddle, we crept toward the school.
"Wait," I hissed.
Crossing the drawbridge, I took two muffled steps and peeked inside the ancient stone archway.
"See anything?" whispered seventh-grader Vanya, creeping behind me in her shiny white, knee-high boots. Her forbidden flowery perfume tickled my nostrils.
"Shhh," I hissed, glancing back into her single Ogre eye. Her sparkly eye shadow nearly blinded me. After one last look into the courtyard, I finally allowed myself to exhale. It was just the usual jumble of monster students scurrying into school.
An eighth grade slobapottamus dragged her mud-encrusted backpack along the uneven courtyard stones, bump, bump, bumping it behind her. A cloud of dirt swirled in her wake. A third grade gremlin's tattered trousers revealed patches of green, scaly skin. His boots trailed blobs of slime. Two fifth grade vampires sported blood-splattered shirts and spiky hair. Their frayed capes flapped about them. All were in fine monster form — unlike us.
"First gong must have rung," I said, patting the hidden comb in my pocket. Mr. Aldolfo must have mistimed the bus route again. After all, he was a misfit too.
"We'd better try to sneak in before Principal Snaggle makes his rounds," said Georgina with a gurgle. I ducked in case she sprayed me by mistake again.
"Ms. Hagmire will hang us from the ceiling if we cause her more trouble with Snaggle," said Vanya, covering her sparkly tiara with the hood of her cape.
"Here," said Oliver. "Can you help wrap me up quick? You'd better untuck your shirt and mess yourself up a bit more."
"Yeah," whispered Stan, "lucky for you Georgina doused you good already."
"Yeah," echoed Dan.
"Lucky me." With a grunt of protest, I grabbed an end of Oliver's unwound mummy wrappings and spun it about his head. "You should've done this on the bus."
"Sorry. Sort of forgot."
"Or just didn't want to remember is more like it," I muttered, wishing all the while that my best friend could have the freedom he longed for.
And that's when I heard it.
I dropped the tangled strip and jerked back from the archway. Or at least I tried to pull back.
Not in time.
A claw dug into my shoulder.
"Monster Gordon," said Principal Snaggle through clenched teeth. He loomed over me. The tips of his furry sabertooth ears almost touched the arch of crumbling stone. "You seem to have overlooked several dress code requirements. Again." His saber-shaped teeth were so close to my neck I could almost feel their razor edge.
I shrugged my shoulders. For the past eleven years, I'd managed to do a fairly good job of pretending that none of the uproar about my differences mattered. But now the sweat pooled beneath my arms. I clenched my toes in my squishy boots to stop from shaking. I rolled my eyes to signal the others to run for it.
But they stood motionless, frozen like iced yuckledrops.
I had no choice — not if I wanted to give the others a second escape chance. So with a quivering hand, I slipped my forbidden comb from my pocket. There was no pretending then. I knew I sealed my doom. I took a practiced swipe and smoothed down my wet black hair. I tried to speak in the deepest voice a sixth grade Frankenstein could, but my words sounded more like a first grade goblin's squeak.
"I've got a reputation to maintain," I said loudly.
With that, the rest of my straggling classmates finally took their cue and scurried into school. That much of my impromptu plan had worked at least.
"Enough!" shouted Principal Snaggle. With one strong swipe of his claw, he spun me around like I was no more than one of Oliver's flimsy wraps. He held me by my stiffly starched shirt collar and forced me down to the water's edge. My head dangled precariously over the moat. I hardly dared to breath for fear of falling into the murky water. Who knew what lurked there? And what was even worse, monsters — except for swamp monsters — didn't know how to swim.
"Frankenstein Frightface Gordon, you are a nuisance as well as a misfit. A decidedly undesirable combination." Principal Snaggle bent me still lower. My face nearly touched the slimy moat scum. I flung my arms behind me, scrambling for a hold but clutching only air.
"Look," he demanded, raking his free claw through the moat water. A fresh batch of piranhas popped up like overheated beezle bugs bouncing from my Granny Bubbie's frying pan. He speared two with a furry paw then spun me around. I clutched at the splintered bridge boards.
"Extreme overachievers these," said Principal Snaggle. He dangled the piranhas before me. With fins flapping, they lunged toward my not-so-tiny nose. Their chiseled teeth tapped out a hunger-crazed tune I didn't care to hear.
"Look at their resolve." Principal Snaggle held the piranhas even closer. "Fish out of water. Yet resolute in reaching their goal. So should you be."
I tried to dig my heels in and push away. If only my boots had been properly mucked up, I might have succeeded. Instead, I slipped and pushed myself back closer toward the edge and to my fishy demise.
"Are you ready," asked Snaggle with a snarl, "to head to class and learn to be a true monster? Before something unfortunate occurs here."
Three larger piranhas leaped from the water below. Their sharp teeth snapped at the back of my neck. I tried to dodge but lost more ground, drawing another inch closer to my watery grave.
"You wouldn't really let that happen," I cried, digging my neatly trimmed nails into the rickety bridge. My fingers were quickly losing their grip. "I mean, what would you tell my parents?"
Principal Snaggle's lips curled up. "The truth, of course. 'Your son had an accident at school.' And you can guess what they would say, 'It's probably for the best.'"
I gulped. Had I disobeyed Mam and Pap one time too many, flaunting my odd attire and blue skin? What had Principal Snaggle said the last time he'd reprimanded me — "Blue skin like yours. It's unnatural. Bright as a Moratorium morning sky. Skin like that can't belong to a monster — only a mutant. Monsters are shaggy and scary. Gruesome and green. Browns and oranges and in-between. Not blue!"
The tips of Principal Snaggles' long whiskers brushed across my chin. I shuddered.
"Monsters do not have combed hair." He shuffled his large paw across my head. "Monsters pride themselves on an adequate disarray to alarm a human opponent." Principal Snaggle jerked me from the moat's edge and ripped my damp but mostly still tidy shirt in the process. He scooped up a pawful of scum as he released me and splashed the pungent green slime all over me. "And monsters should smell more like a stinkapotamus fart — not a bubble bath factory!"
"Ahhh. No! No!" I fell back onto the drawbridge, splinters gouging into my behind.
Principal Snaggle shook his head. "It's only Moanday and already I've had my fill of you, Gordon! If you want to make it to Frightday, there will be no more waywardness. Do you understand?"
I pushed myself up, not daring to look into Principal Snaggle's yellow eyes. I had to fight the desire to brush myself off and pat down my hair. Instead, I kept my big blue hands clenched at my sides and my blue eyes glued on my not-so-shiny-anymore boots.
That's when a familiar clip-clop of hooves sounded in my ear. "Wow, Principal Snaggle, sir, that was awesome! An example like that should be in our Monster Tactics Manual."
I groaned. No need to look behind me to know whose voice that was.
"I could rough him up some more before I take him back to class if you want." Malcolm huffed bad breath down my neck. His overpowering troll aroma — similar to an overflowing outhouse mixed with amplified B.O. — always nearly slayed me. I turned my head even farther away.
His grimy brown claw grabbed hold of my slime-drenched shirt collar. I didn't need to see his warty orange face to know it wore a triumphant smirk.
"Monster Gordon is not here for your own amusement, McNastee. He'll receive more than his fair share of harassment from his teacher. Just drag him back to class." Principal Snaggle flicked his long tail and turned to leave.
"Sir?" Malcolm's usually taunting voice sounded almost simpering. I tried to twist around, but he held me tight.
"What now, McNastee?" Principal Snaggle growled. "I've a school to run. No time to be swapping horror stories with a seventh grade troll."
"No, sir. Principal Snaggle, sir. I have ... I mean your secretary gave me this bulletin for you. She said it was important."
Malcolm finally let go of his death grip on me. He reached inside his black leather vest and handed the principal a piece of paper.
Principal Snaggle fanned the paper in Malcolm's face. "This feels decidedly damp. Were you carrying this bulletin stuffed under your sweaty armpit?"
I cringed. My revulsion for this comely monster feature was chalked up as another misfit trait.
Excerpted from From the Grave by Cynthia Reeg. Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Reeg. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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