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First pages

CHAPTER 1

Esme pulled away from her mother’s kiss. It felt icy-cold on her cheek. She felt as if she had just touched dead fish. Her eyes landed on her mother’s normally lustrous hazel eyes and saw they had turned black and hollow. She had seen eyes like these before…in her mirror only a few weeks ago. When she had almost become one of them.

“Esme? Why are you looking at me like that?” her mother asked in an emotionless voice.

“I’ll be back in a little while. I’m going over to a friend,” Esme replied, her mother’s rancid breath making her squirm.

“Must you go? I’m a bit hungry. I was thinking of having a little bite.” Her mother’s tongue ran over her teeth.

That’s what I’m afraid of, Esme thought, backing away even further from lips that now appeared to be throbbing on either side of her mother’s mouth. “Don’t you have a date tonight,” she asked, wondering how many of her mother’s dates after the divorce had been with living men. What a strange thought? Esme shivered.

“I want you to meet my new boyfriend. He’s a famous doctor.”

At the word, ‘doctor’, Esme froze. Could it be? Nah! And yet, Mom has that strange haunted look. She gazed at her mother’s face, twisted into a sinister white mask. A half smile looked thin and forced.

It can’t be! He wouldn’t dare! That creep! Not my mother!

And yet it would explain a lot of what Esme had seen happening to her Mom these last few weeks. It would explain the vacant eyes that strayed into the darkness of night, the dented cheeks and rigid, skeletal, jaw bones. And oh yes, the long lashing tongue. Is she going out with a doctor or a lizard, Esme wondered, and laughed at how silly she was being. A lizard? But a lizard would be better than the vampire or his creepy friend.

“Esmeralda,” she heard the familiar, hypnotic, voice of the doctor echoing in her brain, but it turned out to be her mother, eyes nailed onto Esme’s throbbing throat. “Come closer, dear, sweet, pleasingly plump, Esmeralda,” her mother coaxed.

“I’ve got to go,” Esme said, shuffling away from the table.

Her mother was blocking the door.

Esme again shivered at the incredible iciness of her mother’s touch, the sallow tone of her complexion, the dullness of her eyes. She stared at her mother’s thin figure, even thinner than it had always been. Esme knew her worst fears, crazy fears, might not be so crazy.

“He’s a wonderful man, an amazing doctor,” her mother said, her eyes still fixed on Esme’s neck as if it was a chocolate covered cherry.

Esme felt another even worse spidery chill as her mother painted a description too close to her memory of the insane so-called ‘doctor’ who had almost turned her school into his very own vampire feeding ground. “Mom, does this doctor have thin white hair surrounding his mostly bald head,” she asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“Yes. He is so cute! He has the wispiest little hairs on his adorable, bald head. I could just hug him to death.”

Or vice versa, Esme thought, still praying she was wrong. “Does he have a roly-poly belly and a funny accent…like in the Dracula movies?”

“Why yes. He’s so funny when he says, “I vant to drink your blood.” It’s a little joke between us.” Her mother tried to smile, but couldn’t even fake it. “He looks like a beardless Santa Claus. Truly adorable. Chubby…like you, dear Esmeralda.”

Esme felt panic building insider her, but there was still hope. “Is his name Dr. Ghoulish?” She held her breath. There had to be a million doctors out there with wispy white hair and European accents. I can hope, can’t I, she thought, clutching at straws, praying it wasn’t the creep she had met in the crypt.

Her mother shook her head. “No, dear, not Ghoulish. No. That’s not at all right.”

Thank goodness! Esme breathed a sigh of relief. Her worst fear had been erased. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t the ruthless king of the vampires, the maniacal blood-sucker who had pretended to be a diet doctor to hide his evil scheme to turn the students in her school into anorexic mush, too-weak-to-fight against him. So many were fooled into becoming his always ready source of fresh, young, blood. They had sacrificed their souls to be thin and popular, she thought, still not believing how far she had gone to be just like them. Those days are over…or are they? Can I ever be sure?

Her mother said softly, “No, dear, Esmeralda, not Ghoulish. You pronounce it like ‘gosh’. Like gosh, he’s wonderful!”

“Gosh?” The chill Esme felt racing up her back was like the touch of Dr. Ghoulash’s six inch long fingernails. Ghoulash rhymes with gosh!

”Oh gosh no,” Esme groaned. “Not again! The Crypt Creeps are back!”

CHAPTER 2

“Dr. Ghoulash? Mom, please say it isn’t so?” Esme’s hand was gripping the top of the kitchen chair tightly, wishing it was the mad doctor’s stubby neck. “Are you sure it was Ghoulash…like rhymes with ‘gosh’?” Esme asked, her mind refusing to believe this could be happening again.

“Yes, dear, his name is Dr. Ghoulash. He is the most marvelous man, a true genius. His diet will make even you lose weight. Look! It’s working wonders for me.” Mrs. Jones twirled around, as if modeling a fancy dress, but her movements were clumsy. She seemed barely able to complete the pirouette without teetering. When she faced Esme again, her eyes were black pits. “You should start seeing him, Esme. You’ve been putting on all that ugly fat again.”

“I’ve lost a lot of weight, Ma,” Esme said, backing steadily toward the door.

“Oh, but my doctor has a miracle cure,” Esme’s mother said.

“I’ll be right back,” Esme said, her eyes watching for any sudden move as she inched her fingers to the door knob. “I’ve an idea, Ma. Why don’t you stay home tonight? Watch a good movie? Nosh on some chocolate bars? Mmm! You love chocolate.”

“Not any more, Esme, my plump little morsel. I have other cravings now.” Esme’s mother stared at her daughter’s neck and inched forward.

Esme had seen that look on Alexa, Pam and Latisha, the three sinister girls who had made her life miserable with their bullying. “Mom? Mom? MOM! Snap out of it!”

“Esme?” It was as if her mother was seeing her daughter for the first time that evening. “What happened? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Mom, are you alright? Are you back?” Esme looked deep into the bony face. She saw what was left of her mother, her once lustrous red hair, now black and stringy. Her once full lips, now thin, upper lips pulsing rapidly. “Mom, you need help.”

“Esme? Yes, please help me?”

Esme reached for her mother’s hand, but stopped when her mother added with a cruel sneer, “I am so hungry…and you are so juicy.”

Esme wanted to dash out the door. She wanted to run away from this creature that resembled her mother, but was on the edge of becoming something else. Esme knew what it was. She had almost become such a creature herself when she had fallen under the control of the fiendish Dr. Ghoulash. “Mom, concentrate! You can fight it!”

Her mother’s hand reached out and tightened on Esme’s wrist.

“Mom, let go! You’re hurting me!”

Her mother’s eyes cleared again. “Esme, I need help. Help me? I don’t know how long I can hold out. It comes and goes.” Her eyes gazed pitifully into Esme’s face. “Esme, you won’t tell? Promise me, you won’t tell anyone? They’ll put me away…I’ll be lost forever.”

The fear in her mother’s voice bit into Esme’s heart. She thought she saw a flicker of her mother in the pleading eyes. “No, mother, I won’t tell.” Esme knew she was lying, but who could she tell that would be able to help them before it was too late? If it wasn’t too late already?

Her mother sagged into a kitchen chair. “I feel so tired, Esme…tired and thirsty…always very thirsty.”

“Stay here, Ma. I’ll be back soon.”

“I need my Dr. Ghoulash,” her mother said. “He can help. He always helps.”

“Just stay here,” Esme repeated, and eyes watching for any sign her mother might spring into an attack, she inched toward the door. “Please, stay right here? Promise me?”

“You’ll find him for me,” her mother asked.

“I’ll find help.” Esme closed the door carefully. She was afraid if she slammed it the noise would alarm her mother and she would not let her leave. She locked it with her key, praying her mother wouldn’t be able to get out. She had thought of staying to be sure her mother didn’t leave, but knew if the ‘vampire’ fever was raging, there would be no way to stop her. A thirteen year old girl’s strength is no match for the strength of whatever her mother would become once her soul, was lost. Esme relived in recurring nightmares the horrible acts she had almost committed with her surprising strength as she had almost become a…crypt creep!

”No I mustn’t think of that! Not ever!” Esme ran through the streets, fighting the urge to cry. She knew once she got to her best friend, Viola’s house, she would break her promise to her mother. She would be willing to break every rule she had always believed in to free her mother from the vampire’s evil control. She swore she would use any trick or weapon she could find to fight and defeat the evil blood-sucker, and free her mother from his powerful clutches.

“How could I have been so wrong about anyone,” she asked, remembering how she had first thought Dr. Ghoulash, (rhymes with ‘gosh’), was so wonderful, a genius who had actually discovered a way to make a fat, seventh grade, girl, lose weight, almost instantly. “Of course, I’d jump at a chance like that,” she mused, shuddering at how she weighed nearly two hundred pounds before blackmailing her bullies into letting her join the Midnight Diet Club.

Esme was almost down to one hundred fifty pounds now, but it was so much harder without the Doctor’s sinister diet. “I was almost beautiful.”

“You were almost a vampire,” her conscience reminded her.

Esme sighed. The all too real image of three, tall, slender girls, Alexa, Latisha and Pam, the bullies that had tormented her mercilessly, flashed across her brain. “I was one of ‘them’.”

To be thin again? It was still tempting. It was so tempting she had to fight it all the time. Even weeks later, Esme found it was difficult to fight the desire to have a perfect body, to be accepted, popular, no matter the risk…no matter the awful price.

As confident as she was becoming, with the help of Viola, Esme still envied the three girls, who had been her heartless enemies. Alexa, the leader, with her model’s body, and snotty look-down-at-your-nose, cruelty. How that girl had tormented her, teased her, hounded her, pushed her around. She, more than any other, had driven Esme to desperate actions.

And what Alexa didn’t do her brutal side-kick, Latisha, would complete with cruel joy. Latisha, black and sinewy, was like a panther. She was a knife with a brutal and violent nature that would make a wild tiger proud. She was the trio’s enforcer, always eager to enjoy the pain of others. I hated her, Esme thought, always fearful Latisha might show up again.

Esme suspected the blood-lust held Latisha in its tight grip more than the others. She had seen it in Latisha’s wild eyes. The picture of those savage eyes appeared in her nightmares frequently, flashbacks to that horrifying time in the crypt. She knew Latisha would not have hesitated in tearing her to pieces if Alexa, or Dr. Ghoulash, gave the order.

Alexa and Latisha had been solid, impenetrable, walls of hate, which is why Esme had focused on the third member of the sinister sisterhood, Pam. Smaller, less slender, weasel-like Pam, was the newest member of the ‘club’. She was ‘the weak link’. She was also the only one of the three who had remained in school after the confrontation in the cemetery. Alexa and Latisha vanished after that showdown, their homes put up for sale. Nobody knew where they were. Esme was just relieved they were gone and the bullying was over at last.

“To think I wanted to be one of those creeps.” Esme sighed, dismayed at how her envy of the ‘three ghouls’, as Vi called them, had blinded her to their true nature. “How close I came.”

The worst part? Esme knew if she didn’t have Vi, to help her fight the ever-present gnawing temptation, she might still someday be turned…but turned into what?

Esme remembered Alan warning, “They’re all vampires.”

At the time she didn’t believe him. They never said what they were…what Ghoulash was. But what else could he have been? If it looks like a vampire, talks like a vampire, reeks like a vampire… seeks blood like a vampire….

Esme was distracted by her swirling thoughts, her memories of what she had almost become. She didn’t notice she made a wrong turn. She was no longer running. She was tired, still recovering from her battle with the devilish Doctor and his fiendish crew. “And how about that ghoul of ghouls, Ignor,” she said aloud, still not realizing she was going the wrong way.

Esme saw the giant’s gaunt face flash before her like a huge neon sign. What is he? He isn’t a vampire…what kind of creep is he?

Esme stopped walking, staring at the darkening sky where she thought she had seen the monster’s face again. “It isn’t real. It isn’t. Won’t these nightmares ever stop?”

“Not as long as your mother is in danger,” a voice reminded her.

Esme wished she could turn around, go home, and forget everything, but knew she couldn’t, not as long as her Mom needed her. “Where the heck is Viola’s house? I should be there by now?”

CHAPTER 3

“Where am I?” Esme was staring at a tall, familiar-looking, black, wrought iron fence. Tall medieval spear points topping each twelve foot post sent shivers through her brain. “Oh no! It can’t be!”

Esme walked a few paces closer. She rubbed her eyes and then gaped in disbelief at the hanging metal sign that read,

 

Welcome to the No Return Cemetery

Please Wait Your Turn to Enter

 

“Wait my turn? I don’t want to be here again!” Esmed turned and began to walk hurriedly away from the tall fence. Her pace picked up as she moved further and further….

 

“How did I get back here?” Esme felt her skin prickling. She was staring at the hated fence again. “But I was heading away?” She was out of breath. “This was his lair, the Midnight Diet Club headquarters.” Is the doctor still here? Please no!

Esme reluctantly reached for the gate. She had to find out if the monster of her nightmares had actually returned to the scene of his crimes? Isn’t that what happens on T.V. all the time?

She remembered walking through this towering gate the first time she met Dr. Ghoulash. She had been following Pam, the weak link, to learn their secret. On the playground, behind the handball courts she had overheard them discussing the secret club that had made them thin and popular. She had made up her mind that no matter the risk she would learn the truth about this club and become one of them.

“Poor, fat, ugly, Esme,” she heard their ghostly voices echo in the graveyard’s lonely wind. “Did you really believe you could become one of us?”

Esme shuddered, still able to visualize the scene inside the cemetery as if they were all still here. She saw again, the strange, hunched-over creatures chasing after filthy rats among the headstones. It was only later that she realized these stooped over scavengers were girls becoming vampire trainees, food for the doctor. She remembered how these beautiful girls had become bent-over creatures, scurrying in and out of the maze of tombstones, chasing after the hairy rats. At first she had thought the creatures covered in black robes and capes were children playing at some silly game…tag in the cemetery might be fun…fun for warped children. Then she almost became one of them…one of them…a crypt creep!

“Rats? I was chasing rats! I hate you, Dr. Ghoulash. I hate you!” Just the mention of his name sent tremors shooting through her body. “I thought you were nice. I was ready to do anything for you. It just shows how wrong I can be…how wrong we can all be.”

Esme peered through the gate, trying to spot the gray building that had been the headquarters of the mad doctor’s Midnight Diet Club.

The mist rising from the floor of the cemetery made it impossible to see past the first few rows of headstones. The mist, thick, and smelling of mold, made it impossible to see what Esme knew she had to see for herself before she would ever feel safe again. She had to disprove her suspicion that the doctor and his terrifying bodyguard, Ignor Amos, had returned to the scene of the crime.

Esme pushed against the gate.

It opened easily.

Her heart was pounding, head throbbing, eyes searching. She ran her tongue along her lips looking for the tell-tale eruptions on either side. Thank goodness, no fangs. Not even the quivering bumps in her gums that had announced her imminent ‘transformation’. “I’m cured. It can’t happen again.”

“Bang!”

The cemetery gate slammed shut behind her.

Esme jumped at the sound. Her hand reached back for the gate. “I’ve got to get out of here!”

But an inner voice was luring her forward. The tombstones were on either side of her.

Something rushed by, low to the ground, inches from her sneakers.

Esme stifled her scream, staring after the rushing shadow, fearing the ‘club’ members had returned. She searched for them in the dark, fearing they were sharpening their fangs for an Esme ‘dinner’.

Esme breathed a huge sigh of relief to see it was just a rat. “Welcome rat. At least you’re not one of them.”

The emaciated rat rose on its hind legs, gnashed its teeth, and then ran off.

Esme stood still. There were no vampire trainees chasing it around the maze-like aisles. But she could still see them, the once beautiful girls, grown incredibly thin, hunched-over, scurrying after the hairy rodents. She saw again the vampire novitiates’ ravenous eyes and gnashing teeth. I won’t forget that sight soon, Esme thought, as she took cautious steps forward, deeper into the world of the dead. Deeper and deeper. The smell of mold and decay was growing stronger.

Another sound.

Another rat?

The scurrying sounds seemed to be everywhere, but for once Esme was happy to see the sounds were made by real rats. Living, breathing, blood-bearing rodents were racing around the silent graves. She took that as a good sign. It meant there weren’t any vampires here.

“Rats are better than crypt creeps any day,” Esme thought aloud, following the twisting path toward the gray building she knew was waiting for her.

Caution. Fear. Sweaty hands and searching eyes, as Esme tip-toed among the tombstones, on-guard for hidden enemy, checking every corner for an ambush, ready to scream, poised to run. Deeper and deeper.

Esme stopped walking. She was facing the gray building, his ‘club house’, his crypt. She recognized its reddish clay curved roof tiles and the fierce-looking gargoyle peering down from its peaked roof. She recognized the large G carved into the triangular stone block over the doors. She recognized it because her body was instantly alive with goose-bumps.

“This is where it all happened,” Esme said aloud. “This is where the Midnight Diet Club met.”

She could again see the wraith-like black clothed girls silhouetted in the windows. How innocent their faces had all looked when she met them. They were all strikingly beautiful, long hair, dark eyes and silvery, perfect, acne-free faces. And when they first saw Esme, their thin, black lips had morphed into narrow smiles. The sight of food makes people smile. It is the only thing that can make vampires lips look like they are smiling.

The building was eerily silent.

No movement anywhere.

Even the gargoyle seemed resigned to being stone, dead, unfeeling, concrete.

Esme reached for the door handle of the crypt and pulled.

A voice shouted, “Don’t do it!”

CHAPTER 4

Most girls alone in a cemetery—not that most girls would ever go into a cemetery alone at night, or day, for that matter-- having someone sneak up on them, and rasp in their ear, would have jumped a mile…or at least out of her jumper, and run right out of the gate, but Esme had experienced things most girls never fortunately experience. So when that voice suddenly hit her ear loud as a gunshot, Esme whirled around, fists raised, teeth bared, prepared to face whatever demonic creature had dared confront her in this deadly place. “Who are you,” she demanded of the creature invisible in the shadows.

“I can’t believe you’re actually back here,” Alan Harker whispered, stepping from behind a nearby monument. “Haven’t you learned your lesson from last time? Are you dense? Are you crazy? Are you loco?”

Esme breathed a huge sigh of relief and lowered her fists. She could hardly believe it. Alan, fat and dripping sweat, was actually standing here in this awful cemetery with her! Wow! Now that is friendship…or is it? Strange as it may seem, she felt angry. “Are you spying on me? Are you following me? Are you?”

Alan looked around, clearly nervous. “Don’t try and get out of it by attacking me. What the heck are you doing back here? You were almost killed last time! We all were.”

Esme was about to rip into Alan when she heard a noise coming from inside the crypt. “Shhh,” she ordered.

“Don’t shush me,” Alan replied.

“Shhhhhhh,” Esme hissed again.

“You sound like an angry teapot,” Alan said.

“Alan, shut up!” Esme pointed to the front of the building. “Listen!”

Alan’s eyes grew wide. “Sssomeone here,” he stammered.

The cold of the cemetery made Alan’s breath hitting her ear seem very warm. “Stop talking into my ear. Stop talking, period!”

Alan’s face drooped, but he became silent.

Esme signaled him to stay where he was while she scooted to the window.

Alan followed her anyway. He had no intention of staying anywhere in this cemetery alone.

Esme dropped to her knees.

Alan did too.

Esme led the way. They inched forward in the dirt, on hands and knees. Once they reached the gray cement block building, Esme ducked below the dust covered window pane.

A thin voice inside Esme’s head whined, “You’ll be sorry.”

Esme peered through the hazy glass. She wished there weren’t so many spider webs criss-crossing the window. She quickly searched for the spider owners of the corpse-encrusted webs.

“What’s that?” Alan froze.

A flicker of light flared inside the large chamber.

Alan trembled. “Did you see that? Someone’s inside.”

“Shh,” Esme repeated, her eyes glued to the window, Alan’s head almost touching her hair.

There was no sound, no movement.

Esme heard Alan breathing hard next to her. He was wheezing. He sounds like he swallowed a whistle, she thought. “Shhh. Alan. Stop breathing.”

Alan held his breath.

Esme was about to crawl away when she heard a strange grinding noise. Her entire body tensed at the sound.

“What’s that noise,” Alan whispered, his heart pounding incredibly fast, his hand reaching for Esme who jerked her hand away.

“How do I know? Shhh,” Esme hissed.

The grinding noise continued.

Esme gasped, finally recognizing the sound of stone against stone. Her eyes grew wide and her hand reached for Alan’s hand.

Alan looked down at their hands in surprise. Even terrified at being here with her, he felt glad he had followed Esme, glad Viola, Esme’s best friend, had called him when Esme hadn’t shown up at her house as she had said she was going to do. “What is that noise, Esme,” Alan asked in a whisper.

“He’s pushing the lid off his coffin, I think.”

“Oh.” Alan’s knees were knocking so hard against each other they were noisier than the stone lid being scraped across the rim of the large coffin.

CHAPTER 5

The grinding sound was unmistakable to Esme. It seemed incredibly slow, the moving of the massive, heavy, stone lid over the rough surfaced edge of the coffin seemed to take forever. She had to see if it was him, the creepiest of the creeps.

“Can we go now,” Alan asked, wondering if Esme was reverting to her ghoulish former self. He was alarmed to see she was raptly staring into the window, as if hypnotized. All he wanted to do was run out of the cemetery and get back into his safe, little, house, but he couldn’t leave her…not alone. “Come on, Esme, we really should get the hell out of here. Remember?”

“Shh,” Esme replied, her eyes peering at the coffin through the dusty window. The lid was almost off. She could see it teetering on a corner of the coffin. “It’s opening,” she whispered, describing the horrifying scene as if she were giving a play by play of a sporting event. “A pair of gigantic, hairy, hands is pushing against the lid.”

“Gigantic, hairy hands? Please, Esme, let’s go now?” Alan was pulling on her, but she wasn’t moving.

“I sat on that coffin,” Esme whispered. “I sat on that creep’s coffin!”

“Was it doing that,” Alan asked. “Please, can we go?” He looked anxiously around the building, not sure of what he was looking for, but grateful nothing seemed to be moving nearby. A loud crash from inside made him jump. “What was that?”

“The lid fell.”

“The lid of the coffin?”

“Oh my gosh!” Esme let the words escape.

“Oh my gosh what? What?” Alan felt like he was going to pass out, but not in front of Esme. No way!

Esme didn’t reply. She was too busy staring at a familiar scene. Rising slowly out of the coffin, his nearly eight foot tall body draped in a black suit and cape, his face hard-jawed and sharp angled, was Ignor Amos, the obedient and horrifying henchman of Dr. Ghoulash, the vampire king. “I wonder if he’s here too,” Esme said.

“Who? Who?” Alan was wheezing louder.

“It’s time to go,” Esme said, backing away from the window, as Ignor’s massive head slowly turned her way, his eyes opening, clearing, aiming at the window.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Alan hissed. “Let’s get the heck out of here before something awful happens.”

“Are you nuts? It already has,” Esme said, rushing ahead toward the gates. “I can’t believe he’s in there. I can’t believe the Crypt Creeps are back!”

“Who,” Alan asked again, checking behind him to be certain they weren’t being chased.

“Dr. Ghoulash, the vampire. Who else did you think I was talking about?” Esme pulled at the gate, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Dr. Who?”

“No, not Dr. Who. Dr. Ghoulash, rhymes with ‘gosh’, the vampire. Remember?” Esme pulled at the gate again. “What’s wrong with this thing? Why doesn’t it open?”

“Let me try,” Alan said, certain he heard something coming toward them from the direction of the crypt. “It won’t open!”

Esme pulled at the gate again. “I know it won’t open!” She spun around. “Did you hear something?”

Alan’s eyes were wide. “Footsteps. Big footsteps!” He pushed Esme aside and tried to lift the bar holding the gate closed. “Uhhh, uhhh,” he grunted, struggling in vain to force the bar up. “Uhhh, uhhh, uhhh,” he tried again, but the bar wasn’t giving in.

Esme searched back toward the crypt. Through the fog that rose from the cemetery floor she could see a tall dark shadow. It began to take on the shape of a man, a very tall man, a very, very, very tall man. “He’s coming,” Esme hissed.

“It won’t move! Is he really that tall or is he wearing a hat?” Alan couldn’t believe the size of the man walking painfully slow in their direction. He gasped at the monster’s hands, now visible, covered with thick dark hair, reaching straight ahead, as if he were sleep-walking…nightmare walking! He remembered seeing this monster before, but had not fully realized how tall Ignor Amos was, how really, really tall! How really, really scary! “He’s coming! He’s going to get us!”

“Let’s try it together, Alan?” Esme urged, beads of sweat evidence of her growing terror as she realized Ignor Amos, Dr. Ghoulash’s stone-faced bodyguard, was advancing toward them.

“He walks like the zombies on T.V.,” Alan said.

“Did you expect him to walk like a fashion model,” Esme shouted back. “Come on. We’ll try together.”

Or die together, Alan thought. He placed his hands on the bar with Esme and said, “One, two, three, push!”

Both teen-agers braced their feet firmly on the ground, terrified of the giant creature headed their way. Adrenaline pumping, hearts pounding, they poured all their strength into raising that thick metal bar.

“I think it’s moving,” Esme groaned. “A little more! Come on! What are you doing?”

“I can’t,” Alan groaned back. “My asthma.” He felt like his lungs were about to explode. He wondered if Esme could hear his wheezing. The giant was coming. “Save yourself! I can’t lift it!”

“Yes, you can,” Esme roared, as she felt the rusted bar cutting into her palms. “We can! Now come on!”

Alan gave it one last push when Esme shouted “three”, and the heavy bar finally jumped free from its bracket and fell heavily to the ground. “We did it,” Alan exclaimed, his lungs aching.

“Not yet,” Esme said, pressing her weight against the gate. “Push!”

Alan’s hands were raw so he lodged his shoulder against the gate. “One, two….”

“I’m counting,” Esme said, “One, two, three! Now shove!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Unlikely heroes, humor and suspense race through Mark’s books: Welcome to Monstrovia; Santa’s Speeding Ticket; The Rockhound Mysteries (Learning Magazine’s Teachers’ Choice Award); and Midnight Diet Club, (1st Prize, YA, Fla. Writers Assoc.). Chief Editor of Critter Capers; The Story Shop; and Holiday Helpings, his stories have won honors in the Writers’ Digest and other competitions. He thanks everyone who reads and enjoys his books.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Esme vs The Crypt Creeps, the sequel to my award-winning, Midnight Diet Club, stands on its own as the battle of an teen girl against a devious, powerful, but wacky, vampire reveals secrets that will shock and surprise readers. I love to combine suspense and humor to hear children ask for more.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
As a child, I was bullied. I witnessed the suffering of victims as a teacher. I wanted to write a suspenseful, funny book, using vampires and an overweight teen-age girl, to help kids see the damage of bullying. I think kids root for Esme and her friends. It is my fun way to put a stake in bullies.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
The wackiness and horror in this story of a girl fighting 'crypt creeps' masks my belief that bullies are society's vampires and the way to fight them is unite against them. Esme's story is one of friendship, love and hope defeating the real horrors kids face everyday, with a strong dash of humor.

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