Table of Contents
From SECURITY BLANKET
There were faces in the quilt, too, and after a while I began to feel the faces were all looking back at me. Suddenly it seemed there were a hundred people in the twins’ room—all of them staring at me—and I could swear those faces were opening their mouths, trying to tell me something. But there was only silence.
I backed away from the quilt until I hit a picture on the wall, and it fell down. I picked up the picture, and when I looked back at the quilt, it was just a quilt again. No faces, just colorful fabric filling the many squares.
I left the twins’ room with a shudder and went into the living room, where the only faces looking at me were those in the smiling family photos on the wall. Then I sat at my piano and played something soothing. It had all been my imagination, I told myself. And I kept telling myself that until I almost believed it.
OTHER BOOKS BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN
Red Rider’s Hood
The Schwa Was Here
The Shadow Club
The Shadow Club Rising
The Dark Side of Nowhere
The Eyes of Kid Midas
Thief of Souls
What Daddy Did
Published by the Penguin Group
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“Monkeys Tonight,” “Black Box,” “Flushie,” “Screaming at the Wall,” “Alexander’s Skull,” “Same Time Next Year”, “Resting Deep,” and “Shadows of a Doubt” first published in the United States of America by Lowell House Juvenile, 1993.
“Riding the Raptor,” “Trash Day,” “An Ear for Music,” “Soul Survivor,” “Security Blanket,” “Growing Pains,” “Connecting Flight,” and “Crystalloid” first published in the United States of America by Lowell House Juvenile, 1995.
Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2007
“Monkeys Tonight,” “Black Box,” “Flushie,” “Screaming at the Wall,” “Alexander’s Skull,” “Same Time Next Year”, “Resting Deep,” and “Shadows of a Doubt” copyright © Neal Shusterman, 1993 “Riding the Raptor,” “Trash Day,” “An Ear for Music,” “Soul Survivor,” “Security Blanket,” “Growing Pains,” “Connecting Flight,” and “Crystalloid”
copyright © Neal Shusterman, 1995
“The River Tour,” “Who Do We Appreciate?,” “Ralphy Sherman’s Root Canal,” “Catching Cold,” and introductions copyright © Neal Shusterman, 2007 All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-17671-9
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Once, when I was doing an author visit, a kid who had read my novel
The Dark Side of Nowhere
stood up and asked me, “Mr. Shusterman? What planet are you from?”
Thinking quickly, I answered, “It hasn’t been discovered by your puny human telescopes.”
I suppose people wonder where I get some of the crazy ideas for my stories. Well, I’m here to officially confirm that I am, like all of you (or at least most of you), from the planet Earth. I do get weird ideas, though, and I’m lucky enough to be able to make my living writing those ideas down. Some of them are scary, others are funny. Some are true-to-life, and others are just plain bizarre. I guess that’s why I don’t like sticking to a single genre—I like writing all sorts of things. I think that’s the only way you grow as a writer.
The stories in this collection are of the creepy/bizarre variety, with some humor thrown in for good measure. They span half my career (I say that because I’m hoping I still have at least another half to go). For those of you who are curious as to how I came up with the stories, I’ve prefaced each one with an explanation of how the story came to be.
I would like to thank Jennifer Bonnell and Eileen Bishop Kreit at Penguin books for letting me creep through the darkness with this collection, as well as Jack Artenstein, who was the first publisher, way back when, to take a chance and publish collections of my short stories.
I hope you enjoy the journey, and if, after reading, you have a hard time getting to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
We have a psychotically impatient ice-cream man in our neighborhood. He comes down the street, playing his happy little tune, my daughters come screaming downstairs in a panic asking for a dollar each. By the time they get out the door, however, the ice-cream man is gone, and all the little kids on the street are crying, because not a single kid got ice cream. I had never seen the guy stop. In fact I had never seen him. I just heard his stupid little song.
One day we decided we were not going to stand for it anymore. We all piled into the car, we chased him down, and we cut him off, blocking traffic. Everyone who saw it applauded. He was forced to sell us ice cream. It was lousy ice cream, but to us, it tasted like victory. So you could say this story was inspired by reality. Sort of.
History tells of a man named Pavlov.
Pavlov was a scientist who did a famous experiment with dogs. Each day he would ring a bell, then feed the dogs, ring a bell, then feed the dogs, over and over, until the dogs knew the bell meant food. Then one day he just rang the bell. The dogs, who were trained to expect the food after the bell, all began to salivate, drooling all over themselves expecting food that didn’t come. They developed a physiological response to the sound of the bell. It’s called
The same can often be said of kids when they hear a certain sound wafting over the treetops in their neighborhood. A pleasant sound. A song. The song is different in every neighborhood, and in every town across the nation, but the song always means the same thing.
Are you listening?
Can you hear it now?
The music is out there, stealing through your window, echoing between closely packed rows of homes. It seems to come from the left, then from the right. It grows louder, then fades, louder and fades, until you’re not sure whether the song is coming or going—and, like Pavlov’s dogs, you’re drooling. You’re scrambling for spare change, begging your parents for a dollar—because a dollar is all it costs to pay the ice-cream man. Just one dollar, and you can have sherbet on a stick in the shape of your favorite cartoon character, with a gum-ball nose. Hurry out that door! The ice-cream man is here!
Like you, Marty Zybeck was a victim of classical conditioning; however, no one had it worse than Marty. He kept his window open, every afternoon when the weather got warm, and kept his sizable ears tuned to that high frequency on which the tune would come.
His particular ice-cream truck played “Pop Goes the Weasel.” It was one of the more annoying ice-cream truck tunes, but for Marty, it was a call to arms.
Whenever he heard it, Marty was prepared. He already had a dollar in his pocket, to give to the Creamy-Cold ice-cream man. The moment he heard the song, he would bound down the stairs and burst out the front door. His ears, like radar dishes, would triangulate the direction of the music, and he would take off, his feet pounding heavily, desperately on the pavement . . . but each day the result was exactly the same. First he would hear the music in front of him. Then he would hear it to his right. Then he would hear it passing on another street behind the row of houses to his left.
He would run until he was out of breath, and practically out of his mind, but the end result was always the same. The music would fade. The Creamy-Cold truck would leave, and he’d be left panting in the street with a dollar and no ice cream.
If only I were a little faster,
he would think—but speed was not one of Marty’s strong points. He came in last in everything. He was, in fact, the very definition of “last.” Not only was his the last name on any school roster, but he was also the last to finish every race, the last to turn in every test, the last to be done with dinner, and the last kid on the school bus. It only seems to follow that no matter how much he tried to get to the Creamy-Cold truck, he would be the last kid in the neighborhood out the door.
“He’s an impatient one, that ice-cream man,” his mother would say. “Never hangs around long.” And then she’d remind Marty that maybe it was best he didn’t have the ice cream anyway, as he tended toward being a husky child. “Well, it’s not a total loss. All that running will do you good!”