Monster in the Model 3
On most days, Charlie Benjamin was pretty sure he was the loneliest kid on planet Earth. He went to school by himself in his home on a quiet street inside a gated community. Although the houses all looked nearly alike on the outside, there were several different models a buyer could choose from.
The Benjamins lived in a model 3.
"The model 3 is the superior model," Charlie's father frequently told him. He was an exact man with the exacting name of Barrington. "The 1's are obviously prototypes—less said about the 1's, the better. The 2's, however, are what happens when you rework something too quickly. You often take two steps backward to take one step forward. Which brings us to the 3's—the simple, solid, dependable 3's."
The model 3 was Charlie Benjamin's prison.
At thirteen, he was short for his age, with unruly sandy-colored hair, dark brown eyes, and a spray of freckles across his nose and cheeks. His elbows and knees were remarkably unscabbed and he had virtually no bruises, thanks to his well-meaning mother's insistence that he stay inside the house.
"It's an uncertain world," she often told him. "I can protect you in here, but once you step outside . . ." This was always followed by a grave shake of the head, as if the horrors of life outside of the model 3 were too painful to contemplate.
"I know you keep saying that," Charlie said to her one Saturday morning after a particularly grave shake of the head. "But that doesn't make it true. I'm tired of being stuck here all the time. I want to go to regular school."
"Regular school?" his mother replied. "Honey, we have everything a regular school has right here. Books and computers, papers and pencils, tests and grades . . ."
"But no students," Charlie interrupted. "I mean, other than me."
"That's true," his mother agreed pleasantly. She was such a pleasant woman, in fact, that she'd never even blamed her own mother for naming her Olga. "And thank goodness, because no students means no teasing, no bullying, no making fun of you just because you're a little bit different."
Even though Charlie was the first to admit that he was more than a little bit different, protecting him from the abuse of other kids by locking him away in the house seemed a little to him like removing a splinter in his finger by chopping off his hand—it got the job done, but at what cost?
The price is just too high, he thought as he heard the mailman shove the morning mail through a chute in the front door. With a sigh, he walked over to retrieve the usual assortment of bills and catalogs—always for his parents, never for him. And that was when, to his astonishment, he spotted a small blue envelope addressed to "Charlie Benjamin."
"That's me," he gasped.
Almost in a daze, Charlie opened the envelope, to reveal an invitation to a party—and not just any party. It was a sleepover party at the home of some kids who lived just down the street. Charlie didn't know them personally, of course—he didn't know any kids his own age—but clearly someone there had taken pity on the small, strange boy who lived in the model 3.
Charlie read the invitation twice to make sure it really said what he thought it said; then he read it once more for good measure. Once he was satisfied that he wasn't dreaming the whole thing, he showed it to his parents.
"Absolutely not," his father said after glancing at the invitation.
"But why?" Charlie shot back. "I've been good. I've done all my schoolwork—in fact, I just finished the chapter on geography."
"Honey, what your father means," his mother said, "is that we certainly wish you could go, but what if you have one of your nightmares'?"
One of his nightmares.
Even though it had been years since Charlie had had a catastrophic nightmare in public, the thought of it happening again made him absolutely weak with dread. And yet—here was an actual, real opportunity to make a friend.
He couldn't pass it up.
So he begged his parents. He pleaded. He offered to do the dishes for a year and mow the lawn and learn French. He argued that it had been so long since his last unspeakable nightmare that he had surely outgrown them. Finally, he told his parents that going to the sleepover party was the only present he wanted for Christmas and his birthday combined.
For the next two years.
Three, if that's what it took.
After much arguing behind closed doors, his parents finally relented. Which is how, later that night, Charlie found himself skipping up the steps of a stranger's house with an overnight bag slung over his shoulder.
"You know how to get ahold of us if utter disaster occurs?" Charlie's mother asked nervously, following behind him.
"Yes, mom, I know how to use a phone."
"Do you want me to quickly review any of the fu's I've taught you—kung or otherwise?" his father offered.
"I'm not gonna need to fight anyone with kung fu, dad. Nothing's gonna happen, trust me."
"We never should have permitted this," his mother moaned. "And a sleepover no less! What were we thinking?"
"Nothing will go wrong," Charlie said, looking longingly at the other boys inside the house. They were clearly already having a blast. "I won't have any nightmares tonight—trust me."
"Of course we do, son," Mr. Benjamin replied as he handed Charlie a cell phone. "We know nothing will go wrong, but just in case it does, I put our home number on speed dial so you can call quickly if something absolutely catastrophic occurs."
"Thanks, Dad," Charlie said resignedly, taking the phone from him.
"And if you look in your backpack," his mother added, "you'll find earplugs in a little Baggie. You can use them if the other children tease you and call you horrible names."
Excerpted from Nightmare Academy #1: Monster Hunters by Dean Lorey Copyright © 2008 by Dean Lorey. Excerpted by permission.
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