Chapter 1: Boy Meets Bogey 1 Boy Meets Bogey
So, you passed the test and made it to the first chapter—well done. Though I’m guessing the real reason you’re here is because of the video.
You know, the one of me (allegedly) freaking out on the last day of school?
The one that circled the globe faster than the speed of light and went totally viral?
There’s a good chance you may have even helped it go viral by sharing it with your friends so you could laugh even more when you watched it with them. It’s not like I blame you. If I wasn’t the subject, I would’ve done the same thing.
But what if I told you the video was a lie?
What if I said that’s not at all how it happened? That there are things in this world—terrible, dreadful, invisible things—that were 100 percent responsible but couldn’t be captured on film?
Would you believe me?
Or would you roll your eyes and shake your head along with the rest of the minimifidians?
If you haven’t seen the video, don’t bother looking for it now. You’d only be wasting your time.
If you don’t know what a minimifidian is, not to worry: all will be explained.
The absolute true story of what really went down is in the pages that follow. And while there may be times when you’ll find yourself questioning if something so outrageous could’ve actually happened, I’m here to tell you it did.
And I’ve got the blue streak to prove it.
But before we go any further, here’s a few things you should probably know about me:
My name is Maxen (Woodbead) Smith.
I’m twelve and a half years old and completely normal in every way.
Except for the fact that I can see ghosts.
You may have noticed that part of my name is in parentheses. I think of it like a silent surname—kind of like the g
in phlegm or the h
in asthma. Woodbead would’ve been my real last name if my dad hadn’t legally changed his own to Smith.
Unfortunately, what my dad didn’t realize is that while you can change a name to protect your identity, you can’t change a legacy. And as the grandson of Ramhart Woodbead, world-famous ghost hunter/paranormal explorer, who’s widely known as the Indiana Jones of the supernatural world, I’m pretty sure the Woodbead part of me is totally responsible for the ghost-seeing part of me.
I’ve been seeing ghosts since I was a kid. Long before I understood that most people couldn’t see them and hardly anyone believed in them.
You have no idea how much I envied those people.
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, then congratulations—you are far more fortunate than you can possibly realize. Take it from me: seeing ghosts is an awful burden that can lead to public humiliation, terrifying moments, and repeated visits to the principal’s office, where you’re forced to explain the unexplainable.
But before you start thinking that will never happen to you, I have some bad news:
Just because you think you can’t see ghosts doesn’t mean you haven’t already seen one.
You see, not all ghosts are the same. They’re not always transparent, and they don’t always wear raggedy old nightgowns and float around crumbling houses wailing about the horrible things that happened to them. Some ghosts look like completely normal everyday people, and they’re the ones you need to watch out for. Problem is, by the time you’ve identified them, it’s usually too late.
Anyway, as I’ve already mentioned, it was the last day of school, and there were only eleven minutes standing between the end of sixth grade and the beginning of the rest of my life.
My teacher, Ms. Rossi, was at the chalkboard jotting down a list of fun facts about Hawaii—as soon as the final bell rang, she was headed for the Aloha State. Until then, she instructed us to assume a “chill island vibe,” which pretty much translated to Stay in your seats, keep quiet, and don’t even think about starting any nonsense that’ll make me late for my flight.
Sounds easy enough, right? And it was, until the temperature suddenly dropped, and the lights started flickering on and off.
You might think a blast of cold air and flickering lights are no big deal, nothing to get worked up about. But I knew from experience that whenever those fluorescent tubes started buzzing and blinking and my breath fogged up before me, it meant a ghost had just entered the room.
Normally, I’d close my eyes, slump low in my seat, and brace for whatever paranormal prank was headed my way. But when something slammed hard against the back of my chair, I breathed a little easier, figuring it was just Sven—this jerk of a ghost who’d been haunting me forever and was way more annoying than scary.
Years of experience had taught me that the best way to handle Sven was to ignore him. So I yanked my hood up over my head and waited for him to move on. I wasn’t about to let some phantom bully get between me and my goal of finishing the school year “incident”-free.
This would probably be a good time to mention how I’m known for having what my teachers and principal refer to as incidents
I’ve also heard them use the words disturbing episodes
, violent outbursts
, and unsettling behavior.
For the record, none of those incidents
were ever my fault. In every case, a ghost was responsible.
Like that time when it looked like I swiped the substitute’s wig from his head and flung it across the room like a Frisbee—it was a ghost, not me. I was actually trying to keep that from happening, not that anyone believed me.
Sure, it made me a legend among my classmates. But while they were doubled over in hysterics, I got suspended.
While they went to summer camp, I was sentenced to summer school.
To make matters worse, my dad cut off my internet access.
Do you really think I’d risk all that just to get a few laughs?
According to the principal, who likes to keep track of these things, I’ve been averaging three or four incidents
per year. And while I’ll spare you the details, the point is, in every one of those cases I was actually trying to stop something way worse from happening.
Some of those times I was successful, which of course no one noticed, and why would they, when they were completely unaware of the danger that lurked right there beside them?
And other times… not so much.
In the end, it was just another unfortunate consequence of being the only person in all of Boring Elementary (the actual name of my school, named after the actual name of my town) who could see ghosts.
When Sven slammed my chair a second time, I didn’t so much as flinch.
It wasn’t until he let out the longest, loudest, most disgusting burp I’d ever heard in my life that I knew something was up.
You see, Sven was part of a small category of ghosts I call Loopers. And the thing with Loopers is, well, they loop
. They’re not into improv, and they never wander off script. They just repeat the same scene over and over until they eventually crash, only to reboot and start up again. And let’s just say that disgusting burps weren’t part of Sven’s loop.
At first I figured it must be some other ghost. Considering how ghosts like to feed off things like big emotions and high energy, most schools are pretty much teeming with them. But that theory failed the second I was hit by a smell so awful, so foul, it can only be described as the scent of some dead, decaying thing left to rot in the sun.
My first reaction was to pull the cord on my hoodie and block it all out. But all I succeeded in doing was to leave a small opening for me to see through and a place for my nose to stick out. As for the smell, it grew worse with each inhale.
I was in the process of freeing myself when this… thing
… this hideous beast
with an enormous head and elongated snout, landed on top of my desk and proceeded to pull what looked like a tiny fish skeleton out the side of its mouth.
If you’d asked me just one day before if monsters were real, I would’ve laughed in your face. Like most people, the only monsters I’d ever seen were in the super-scary, late-night movies I usually regretted watching. But one look at this horrible thing and I knew straightaway there was no other word to explain it.
For one thing, ghosts come in only two forms—they’re either humans or pets who’ve passed on.
For another, ghosts don’t eat—and yet, according to the drops of water trailing between the newly vacant aquarium and my desk, that thing, that monster
had devoured our class goldfish like it was some kind of delicacy. And yet despite the horrible scene unfolding before me, my classmates continued scrolling on their screens as Ms. Rossi sketched a bright yellow hibiscus (the Aloha State flower) onto the chalkboard. Everyone acted so oblivious that I was starting to doubt my own eyes when the monster suddenly lunged forward and took a hard swipe at my face. I reeled back in fright, only to lose my balance and crash on the floor.
Last thing I remember before I went down was the sight of that repulsive creature looming above, its creep-show eyes gleaming as it licked a drop of my blood from its claw.
By the time I came to, my classmates were practically falling out of their seats to get a better view as Ms. Rossi knelt beside me and said, “Max? You okay?”
I groaned in response. The tip of my nose was pure agony, but my teacher seemed more concerned with checking for signs of head injury.
“Open your eyes wide,” she instructed. “Now follow my finger.” She traced a lazy loop before me. “How’s your vision—is it blurry? Any nausea? Do you remember what happened?”
That last question made me jolt upright in panic only to find that dreadful humpbacked freak still camped out beside me. The monster was sickening, grotesque, and as I watched it sharpen its claw along a row of rotting black teeth, I knew it was just a matter of time before it turned that sharp, gleaming blade against me again.
“You should see the nurse.” Ms. Rossi helped me to my feet. “I’ll write you a hall pass.”
If I really did have a head injury, taking time to write a hall pass seemed risky. But with escape within reach, I was in no position to argue.
I’d made it halfway to the door when Jasmine Skink whined, “Why does he
get to leave early?” And just like that, my dream of a speedy exit was over.
One week before, a ballot had been passed all around, and after the votes were counted, I was designated Class Weirdo (not an official category), while Jasmine was given the title of Cutest Smile. Honestly, I had no way of knowing if that was true, seeing as how every time Jasmine looked my way, she wore a scowl on her face.
Ever since I accidentally threw up on her at her fourth-grade birthday party when a ghost tried to serve me its own severed bloody ear instead of a vanilla cupcake, she’d had it out for me. Even after my dad made me spend my hard-earned allowance to replace her vomit-splattered dress, she still made it her mission to terrorize me as much as any ghost ever had.
Seriously, it was so bad that if you’d asked me back then to make a list of my Top Five Terrifying Things, it would’ve gone something like this:
MAX’S LIST OF TOP FIVE TERRIFYING THINGS
- 1. Ghosts
- 2. Jasmine Skink
- 3. My dad when I try to talk to him about seeing ghosts
- 4. Public speaking
- 5. Spiders (the hairy kind)
Which is why I found it pretty hilarious when the monster spread a set of undersized wings I hadn’t noticed before and soared clumsily through the air, only to land on Jasmine’s head.
Was it possible the monster wasn’t entirely bad?
“He’s totally faking,” Jasmine sneered, and she flicked an irritated hand through her hair, totally unaware of the monster making her bangs stand on end. “He’ll do anything for attention. He’s completely pathetic.”
For a fraction of a second, I could’ve sworn I saw Jasmine’s eyes glow yellow, her tongue flicker blue. But as soon as my teacher spoke up, she was normal again.
“Jasmine, that’s enough.” Ms. Rossi’s chill island vibe was long gone. But it wasn’t enough to keep Jasmine from purposely sticking her foot in my path.
“Faker,” she hissed, quietly enough for Ms. Rossi to miss, but still loud enough for her friends to join in.
She was baiting me, but I wasn’t biting. Nothing she could do would keep me from getting the heck out of that classroom.
Or at least that was what I thought until I caught sight of Churro, the class hamster, crawling from Jasmine’s arm to her shoulder.
This is the part where things got tricky. And despite what you may have heard—despite the jam-packed file in the principal’s office detailing my “problematic” history at Boring Elementary—I’m not the sort of kid who goes looking for trouble. If anything, trouble goes looking for me. Unfortunately, on that day, I walked right into its trap.
Normally, if I saw something like that, I’d just mind my own business and pretend not to notice that Jasmine had nicked the hamster from his habitat without asking permission.
But when I saw how the monster’s gleaming red eyes tracked Churro’s every move—the way its long, spiky tongue quivered in anticipation of yet another class pet to make a meal of—well, clearly something had to be done. Thing was, none of my options were good.
If I made a grab for Churro, Jasmine would make a huge scene, thereby wrecking my chance to finish the school year incident-free
If I kept going, our beloved class hamster would meet the same fate as our beloved class fish—which, despite no one noticing its absence, didn’t make it any less tragic.
I gulped, torn between two possible futures.
One where I’d be an accomplice to a hamster murder but could possibly start junior high with a clean slate.
The other where I’d be voted Class Weirdo for the rest of my life.
Before me, Ms. Rossi impatiently waved the hall pass.
Beside me, the monster’s tongue rolled toward its prey, as Jasmine, oblivious to everything but me, whined, “Tell Max to stop staring! He’s giving me the creeps
The girl with a hideous monster on her head said I
was giving her
the creeps. If the situation weren’t so urgent, I would’ve laughed. But with Churro just one flick of the tongue away from annihilation, I knew I could never live with myself if I didn’t at least try to save him.
My arm shot out before me.
My fingers made a grab for Churro’s warm, furry belly.
But just as I lifted the squirming hamster to safety, the beast leaped forward, seized hold of my arm, and lobbed Churro clear across the room in a way that made it look like I was responsible.
The room broke into chaos.
People were shouting. Jasmine was crying. And with Churro already on the decline, there was no time to waste.
Some of the comments left on the video swear it’s a fake—claiming it’s humanly impossible to cross a room in less than a blink. All I can say is adrenaline spiked with horror is a powerful thing, and by the time I reached the other side with a trembling hamster cupped in my hand, I grinned like a superhero. Until I noticed Ms. Rossi standing over me, hands on hips, a murky splotch of red rising to her cheeks, and I realized I was the only one celebrating.
“Max, hand over Churro. Now!
” Her jaw clenched. Her eyes blazed in a way that would normally scare me. But after years of saving my teachers and classmates from countless catastrophes unknown to them, their lack of appreciation was really wearing thin.
Still, aware that anything I said in my defense would only be held against me, I was just about to surrender the hamster when I noticed a new monster curled around Ms. Rossi’s neck, and I instinctively yanked Churro back to protect him.
“Max, this is not a joke.” Her voice was tight, strained, and other than the squeal of my sneakers scrambling across the floor in an attempt to get away, it was the only sound to be heard.
I’d never seen her so mad, but I also knew if she could see what I saw, she’d totally understand. Ms. Rossi’s monster was grotesque, with an oversized skeletal head and large empty eye sockets that were glowing and red. Its neck consisted of long, skinny vertebrae wrapped in a thin veil of flesh, and the body beneath was deceptively spindly, with gaunt, wasted arms that stretched and unspooled as they proceeded to chase me.
I’d just reached the back wall when I realized the situation was even worse than I’d thought. Everywhere I looked, hideous, monstrous creatures—some with horns, some with tails, some of them winged, but all of them with the same evil glowing red eyes—crept free of the shadows and onto my classmates.
Jason, the kid who wore extra-thick glasses, played unsuspecting host to an alien-like monster with long, pointy fingernails that scratched at his eyeballs.
Shannon, the girl who suffered from a permanent skin rash, carried a beast with a forked tongue and sharp teeth that incessantly gnawed at her flesh.
August, the boy who carried an inhaler wherever he went, had a monster twisted around his chest so tight that it was amazing he could take so much as a single breath.
From chin acne to frizzy hair, there seemed to be a monster responsible for putting it there.
Had it always been like this? Were monsters the reason for all their problems?
And if so, did that explain why I was scheduled for braces next year?
I guess I’d gotten so caught up in the sight, I’d failed to notice that the only reason my classmates were silent was because most of them were recording.
In a move I didn’t see coming, Ms. Rossi lunged for the hamster just as her monster sprang free from her neck and aimed straight for my head.
If you’ve seen the video, you probably think you know what happened next, but the video doesn’t look anything like what I experienced.
Just as Ms. Rossi pried Churro from my fingers, her monster, along with all the others, descended on me in a frenzy of gnashing fangs and jagged claws so sharp that all I could do was close my eyes and prepare for the end.
You know how they say that just before you die, your entire life flashes before you? Well, all I saw was an endless stream of ghosts.
Ghosts were the reason I was repeatedly sent to the principal’s office.
It was because of ghosts that I didn’t have any friends and my parents argued so much that my mom left.
And then, just when I was finally getting a handle on them—an army of monsters had taken their place.
Maybe it was a decade’s worth of pent-up frustration that drove me.
Maybe hours of playing video games and watching superhero movies on repeat had finally kicked in.
All I know for sure is that one moment I was spiraling into an abyss, and the next I was back on my feet, landing the sort of solid left hooks and ninja-style airborne kicks I’d only seen in movies as one by one, the monsters fell around me.
My fist cut through the air like a plastic spoon through a soft-serve ice cream, laying waste to a trio of skull-faced monsters.
My right foot thrummed with a life all its own as it kicked out from behind me and took down a snake-bodied beast—as my left leg swung around to the front and demolished a three-headed freak.
After years of being victimized by supernaturals, I’d somehow miraculously transformed from a skinny, somewhat uncoordinated kid into the ultimate monster-destroying machine. And now that the tables were turned, I vowed to rid my life of ghosts, monsters, and whatever other creepy things dared to come near.
What felt like hours of battle turned out to be only one minute and thirty-seven seconds on video. I’d just pulverized a pulpy, skinless freak, and was about to do serious damage to a horned two-legged fiend that towered well above me, when the end-of-day school bell shrilled so loudly it was like an alarm going off in the middle of a dream.
And much like waking from a dream, it took me a few dazed beats to adjust to my surroundings.
A stream of cold sweat slipped down my face as a deep, throbbing pain radiated from my neck to my wrist. My legs felt wobbly, my knees uncertain as the adrenaline that had once fueled me vanished as quickly as the last remaining trace of the monsters.
Wearily, I took in my surroundings, moving from the mess of toppled desks to the overturned chairs to the jeering looks on my classmates’ faces—all of them unaware of the fact that I’d just slayed the heck out of an army of monsters.
For one startled inhale, the class was the quietest it had been all year.
By the time I exhaled, school security had arrived and swiftly escorted me out of the room.