Bobby's teacher took him aside before class to try to calm him down and clean out his hair. "I used to get bullied too," the teacher told Bobby as she brushed his hair.
"By Scotty? He's a big meaniehead!"
"No, no, when I was your age. By other bullies." The teacher smothered a laugh. "You just have to learn to ignore him. Don't give him what he wants."
Class went smoothly for most of the kids, though Adelaide got yelled at by her teacher for reading during class instead of paying attention to the lesson.
During recess, Mark stole over to Kristi as she and Adelaide were playing with Kristi's plush Cthulhu. "Hey, um, Kristi?"
"Mmmm?" Kristi looked at him.
"I overheard some kids talking about Scotty ... no one pays much attention to me so I hear stuff ... and he's telling everyone that he and his buddies are gonna get the 'boy scout' and 'that girl with the squid doll' after school."
"It's not a squid -- oh." Kristi stopped to consider the implications of this. "... thanks for warning me." What am I going to do? I better talk to Mrs. Wilson. Maybe she can help. Mrs. Wilson was Kristi's teacher and her favorite adult in the world.
Mark gave an embarrassed shrug. "''s okay. I was gonna tell Matt too."
Matt was with his twin, Natalie, and Bobby was clinging to her leg when Mark let them know. "We'd better all stick together, then," Matt said, and crossed the playground to talk to Kristi. "Hey, do you want to sit together with us on the bus? So Scotty can't catch us alone."
Kristi blinked in surprise. "Really? You'd do that for me?"
Kristi smoothed down her skirt, flustered and pleased by the novelty of some kid being randomly nice to her. "That sounds like a great idea. Thanks."
Meanwhile, Bobby -- having overheard the gist of the problem from Mark and Natalie -- decided to take matters into his own tiny hands. He snuck up on Scotty in the playground and kicked him the shin. Before Scotty could exact revenge, the teacher on recess duty swept in and carted Bobby off to the principal's office.
Bobby was used to being sent to the principal's office by now; he was always getting in trouble for one thing or another, no matter how much he wanted to do well in school. The principal called Bobby's mother to have him pick him up for being disruptive. When she arrived, the principal explained, "He attacked another boy, ma'am."
"He was mean! He blew snot in my hair," Bobby protested in his ow defense.
His mother turned to the principal, purpling in anger. "Some boy put bodily fluids on my son and I was not informed?"
"Now, Mrs. Leon, I don't think -- " the principal raised a placating hand.
"Obviously you don't! Has this other boy been tested? Do you have any idea what diseases he could have? I demand a Hepatitis B test! How dare you subject my son to this kind of environment!" For a solid half hour, Mrs. Leon delivered a paranoid and overprotective rant on the evils of germs and the failures of the public school system in general, and for that matter the kind of language her son was learning, until at last Bobby interrupted her.
"Mommy mommy I wanted to know! Is BJ a bad word? Because it's only two letters ... "
Mrs. Leon looked blank. "Where did you hear that, baby?"
"From Uncle Clyde ... " Bobby drummed his hands against his knees, thinking hard. "He said ... he said ... ohh ... 'I gotta go to the hoe-house and get me a -- '"
Mrs. Leon turned from purple to white. She grabbed her son's hand. "We have to leave now. Excuse me." She hauled her son from the room, muttering, "You're not allowed to see Uncle Clyde any more, understand?" As soon as they were outside, the principal closed his office door behind them, then locked and bolted it for good measure.
At noon, the kindergartners and pre-schoolers went home, while the older kids ate lunch. Natalie happened to see the teacher on duty loading the toddlers onto the bus to go home; the teacher had Wayne on a tether connected to her wrist to keep him from wandering off. "That's brilliant," Natalie said, marveling. "I need that!"
Kristi cornered Mrs. Wilson during the lunchbreak to talk to her about Scotty. "He's horrible! He's threatening to beat me up. What am I going to do?"
"What happened, dear?"
"Well, he says I broke his retainer."
"... maybe kinda."
Mrs. Wilson raised her eyebrows.
"I stepped on it."
"So it was an accident?"
"Not ... exactly. But he was picking on Bobby! And he's like twice Bobby's size! I had to do something."
Mrs. Wilson sighed. "I know, dear, but you can't go breaking his things."
"What am I supposed to do? Just let him beat up little kids whenever he wants?" Kristi gestured wildly, indicating the relative size differences.
"No, of course not, but you need to let the adults handle it. If you have a problem, talk to Mr. Jacobs."
"But he's drunk!"
"I assure you he is not!"
"Hungover, then. He smells like a drunk."
"He's allowed to be hungover. I'll talk to him, Kristi; I'll see if he can keep Scotty under closer watch."
Kristi gave her favorite teacher a grateful smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Wilson."
As the older kids lined up to board the bus for home, they found the front seat was marked off with "CAUTION - POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS" tape. Mr. Jacobs escorted Scotty on board personally, unsticking the tape to put Scotty in the seat demarcated by it. He gave a stern look to Matt, Kristi, and their friends. "And you lot, no sitting behind him. Or anywhere near him. Got it?" Matt, Kristi, Natalie, Adeleine, and Mark all filed to the back of the bus. Jim, oblivious, played games on his phone for the ride home.
As they were riding, the other kids on the bus handed back two notes: one for Matt and one for Kristi. "Ugh. I bet it's from Scotty." Kristi felt sick just looking at hers.
"Want me to read yours?" Natalie asked. Wordlessly, Kristi handed it to her. Dear Shithead, it began. Natalie stopped reading, tore it to confetti, and let it flutter out the window. "Yeah, it's from Scotty."
Matt read his note, looking increasingly angry the more he read.
Dear Moron:It got worse as it continued, describing incestuous acts in perverse and insulting detail.
You're real brave when you're hiding behind teachers and bus drivers, getting them to do your dirty work for you. Are you willing to face me without any adults to protect you? You and Kristi better meet me outside the haunted house on Maybury hill tonight at midnight, or I'll tell the whole school about what a coward you are. And all those things you do with your sick sister, too.
Natalie noticed how tense her twin was getting. "What's wrong, Matt?" She peered over his shoulder to look at it. She swallowed, then started to cry.
"Don't -- don't let him get to you." Kristi grabbed the note and threw it out the window. "It's just words. He can't hurt us."
The bus got to their stop, and the kids piled off. Bobby and Wayne were waiting at the stop. "Nattie! Mattie!" Bobby cried. He was carrying fistfuls of cookies, his face smeared with chocolate and crumbs. "I brought cookies! Do you want some? What's wrong?"
Wayne pedaled up behind Bobby, riding in his mini-batcar.
"Bobby, what are you doing here?" Natalie wiped the tears from her face, then set to work cleaning cookie detritus from Bobby's. "Shouldn't you be home?"
"I wanted to see you! What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Natalie lied.
Kristi asked Matt, "Was he threatening you?" She wondered now if maybe she should've read the notes after all.
Matt wrestled with his conscience. He knew he had to meet Scotty's dare, for his own sake and especially his sister's. But maybe it'd be safer to keep Kristi out of it. Yet -- she hated it when kids teased her, and if she didn't come, Scotty would be worse than ever. At last, Matt said, "Scotty dared you and me to meet him at the haunted house at midnight, or he'd call us cowards."
"At midnight? We can't go at midnight. My parents would kill me. And you. And Scotty. So at least we wouldn't have to worry about Scotty any more, but we'd still be dead so no. You can't go, Matt."
"You're going to the haunted house?" Bobby asked.
Natalie was horrified. "Don't talk about it in front of the little kids!"
"I have to go," Matt answered Kristi, grim.
"No you don't. Please don't go, Matt," Kristi pleaded. "You have no idea what he's planning. And the stories about that place are awful."
Jim went online with his smartphone, researching the mansion's history. "Wow, yeah. It hasn't been occupied since 1837, when the owner, Mr. Vernon, was executed after his whole family had ... disappeared. He was drawn and quartered."
Matt just shook his head. "I'm going."
"Well ... if you're going ... I won't let you go alone," Kristi said.
"Of course he won't go alone!" Natalie hugged her brother.
Adelaide found her best friend's hand and squeezed. "I'll come too," Adelaide whispered. "If you can talk my parents into letting me sleep over at your place." Kristi squeezed her hand in return, scared and glad for the company nonetheless.