Richard Cober stood paralyzed with fear as he saw Freaky Freddie slowly walking toward him. Freddie was dragging a dirty mop behind him and half of his face grinned, showing his big yellow teeth. Richard imagined himself snatched up like an eagle's prey by Freddie, and taken to some dark dungeon filled with bugs and skeletons.
Richard shuddered at the horribly disfigured left side of Freddie’s face. It looked like a melted tangle of skin and scars. His left ear was absent and replaced by a warped oblong hole. You could count the number of hairs on the side of his head if you used your fingers and toes. To Richard and the other kids, he was a hideous monster from an old black and white horror movie.
Freaky Freddie came closer and closer. Richard started to shake and felt like he was going to pee his pants. He could see the hunger in Freddie's wild eyes as he was now only ten feet away. Suddenly, the door to Mrs. Swayne's room swung open. It almost hit Freddie in the face. Mrs. Swayne came out and stood in front of Freddie. She started talking to him, "Fred, one of the kids was sick in class and had an upset stomach. Do you mind cleaning up the mess?"
Freaky Freddie nodded his head and went slowly into the room giving one last menacing look to Richard. Richard walked as fast as he could, taking extra-large steps along the way. Within seconds, he made it to his first period class, sixth grade mathematics. As he entered the room, it became silent and everyone looked in his direction. Once they realized it was only him, they quickly turned back toward the teacher, who continued with her lesson.
Richard was as timid as a stray cat. Unfortunately, being afraid of everything had caused him to be an outsider. People generally did not even notice he was there and usually left him alone. He actually preferred it that way. It was better than being bullied. Sometimes it made him sad and he wished he had at least one friend to play with. Every once in a while, he would get enough courage to consider making a friend. However, when it came down to doing it, he always chickened out.
Since he kept to himself and did not complain or tell anyone about his fears, nobody tried to help him. His parents just figured he was quiet. They thought since he always seemed happy, he must be ok.
The class bell rang and Richard realized that he did not hear a word the teacher said. He was too busy worrying about Freaky Freddie. As he left the room and started down the hall to his next class, he caught site of Freddie again. Freddie was at the end of the hall and STARING RIGHT AT RICHARD!
Richard froze for a second and then acted as if he needed to tie his shoe. He frantically thought, “What do I do now? I could try to hide behind the other kids. Maybe he will not see me. He would not try to hurt me in front of everyone, would he? I can’t take the chance; I will have to go around.” But, going around meant that he would be late for his next class. Besides, it would look strange and people would wonder why he went the other way. He really had no reason to go that way. He thought again, “I really need to do something. I cannot just sit here tying my shoe all day. I will look weird.”
You can see how Richard’s fear became a big problem for him. He would over think every situation. Whatever choice he made, he would always find something scary about it. It stopped him from doing what he wanted.
Being too afraid to do anything, Richard finally decided that going around was the best choice. He would come up with an excuse if he needed one. He hurried as fast as he could. Luckily, he was only a couple of minutes late and nobody seemed to notice or care when he walked in the room for his next class.
Richard spent the rest of the day worrying about Freddie. To make things worse, the two boys in front of him on the bus were talking about Freddie. Richard overheard their conversation:
Boy #1: “Freaky Freddie must be getting ready to crack again. Did you see how he was searching for his next victim?”
Boy #2: “Yeah. I wonder who it is going to be. Poor Jimmy Madson. I guess we will never see him again. What do you think happened?”
Boy #1: “I heard that Jimmy could not remember his locker combination one day after school. He spent fifteen minutes trying to remember. When he finally did, the bus and everyone had already left. He was all alone in the school. Nobody knows what happened next, but everyone suspects Freaky Freddie.”
Boy #2: “I heard that he takes you to some kind of dungeon under the school. He keeps you locked up in a cage and makes you eat bugs. The bugs lay their eggs inside your body and when they hatch, the babies eat you alive!”
Boy #1: “It makes sense. There are hardly any bugs in this school. If there is a bug in Freddie’s sight, he captures it. Normal people would just squish the bug. But no, he acts like he lets it go outside. He really puts it in his pocket…to feed to his victims!
Richard’s heart was pounding like a freight train. He closed his eyes tight and tried to think of something good. All he could do was think about bugs climbing out of his stomach.
That night, Richard could barely eat or sleep. His mother asked him if everything was ok. Richard was too afraid to say anything, so he just said, “Yes, I’m ok.”
The next few days, he saw Freaky Freddie everywhere. He was in the hallway after every class. He was in the lunchroom. Richard was starting to suspect that Freddie was stalking him. Richard made every attempt to avoid him. Nevertheless, it seemed that the more he tried to hide from Freddie, the more Freddie was there.
Then Freddie started walking toward Richard when he saw him. Freddie had never done that before. He usually stayed against the wall, waiting for all the kids to pass by. Richard was sure Freddie had chosen him for his next victim.
Richard became more suspicious when Freddie came to his science class. He could see Freddie talking to his teacher and both of them looking at Richard and smiling to each other. Now, Mr. Ray, his science teacher was in on it. He must be Freddie’s accomplice. “Of course,” Richard thought. “Mr. Ray has all those bugs he feeds the snake and lizard. He is helping Freddie. They get kids and do weird science experiments on them.”
Richard had even worse nightmares that night. He dreamt that he was a cockroach scurrying along the cold tile floors at his school. He frantically dodged foot after foot in the school hallway. He finally made it into a dark closet. Just when he felt safe, the door opened and a giant Freaky Freddie reached down and grabbed him. Richard wiggled and squirmed, trying to get away.
Freddie raised him up over his open mouth. Richard dangled over the gaping cavern and fell…
Just as he felt himself land onto Freddie’s tongue, Richard woke up. He curled up into a ball, uncontrollably shaking. He could still feel the bumps of Freddie’s tongue on his back. His body still felt hard like the shell of a cockroach.
Eventually, Richard calmed down and realized it was all a bad dream. He just lay there, hiding under the covers, too afraid to come out.
Richard's mother finally came into his room and saw him hiding under the covers. “What's wrong?” she said. Richard slowly peeled back the covers stuck his head out. “I'm not feeling too well today,” he moaned. His mother touched his fore head and said, “You don't feel very hot.”
“Yeah. I don't know. I just don't feel good,” said Richard. His mom wrinkled up her nose turned her head sideways and said, “Well, I guess if you're not feeling good you better stay home. Anything you want to eat for breakfast?”
Richard answered, “No, not really. My stomach feels kind of yucky. I think I'll stay in bed mom.”
“Okay,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything.” Then she left the room. Richard crawled back under the covers. He didn't dare go back to sleep because he didn't want to get more bad nightmares. All he could do was think about Freaky Freddie. He just laid there under the covers thinking about how he could get out of going to school.
He thought of all kinds of excuses. He knew he could only tell his mom he was sick. Before long, she would start making him go to the doctor. Richard thought, “I could run away from home.” Still, he didn't want really want to do that either. Another thought was, “Maybe I'll just tell my parents that the school is no good and I need a better school. Maybe I'll tell them I'm allergic to the school and every time I go there I feel like throwing up. But I'm okay at home.” He kept thinking.
He spent the rest of the day looking at National Geographic magazine sand sifting through a large collection of Pokémon cards. The day seemed to take forever. He was so bored.
Finally, it came time for dinner. His mom called from downstairs, “Richard. Dinner’s ready!” Richard slowly got out of bed still dressed in his pajamas. He walked down to the kitchen and sat at the dinner table. He was hungry since he had not eaten all day. Being so scared made his stomach upset.
His mom cooked his favorite foods, macaroni and cheese with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Richard's dad said, “How you doing Richard? I heard that you weren't feeling good today. Richard nodded his head in agreement. His dad continued, “Mom said you seem to be doing a lot better now. At least now you can eat.”
“Yeah, I'm feeling a little bit better. I don't know. I might need one more day off school,” answered Richard.
“Well,” said his dad assertively. “I think you are ok to get to school today. It’s not good to miss too many days. You don’t want to get behind on your work, do you?”
Richard lowered his head in sadness. He did not feel much like finishing his breakfast after that. He just stared at his cereal bowl, stirring the corn flakes around and around until it became a soggy mush. His stomach felt like it had rocks and slime in it. Desperately hoping he would throw up, so his mom would let him stay home, Richard slowly got ready for school.
The wooziness in his stomach grew with each minute they got closer to school. When they finally arrived, Richard begged his mom to let him stay home. He was in a sheer panic and started hyperventilating. “Mom,” he took a breath. “I,” another breath, “can’t,” breath, “no…I…please…”
“Richard,” said his mother with a worried look on her face. “What are you so afraid of?”
Richard was too embarrassed to talk. He knew his mom would not believe him.
“Richard!” said his mother again sternly. “Answer me!”
Richard finally decided and angry mother was a worse fate than dealing with the embarrassment of telling her. He finally spoke, “Freaky Freddie.” Once the words left his mouth, it was as if a great weight lifted from his chest. At the same time, he felt the python like grip of fear tightening in his belly.
“Who is Freaky Freddie?” questioned his father.
“He, he, he is going to make me eat bugs,” said Richard in a shaky voice. “He is the janitor at school and he puts kids in a dungeon below school. The bugs lay their eggs inside you! Then he…”
“Hold on!” said his father waving his hands back and forth above his head. “Who is filling your head with this nonsense? Look. No one is going to make you eat bugs and there is no dungeon below the school.”
“Oh Richard,” sighed his mother. “Your father is right. No one is going to hurt you at that school. It is just silly stories that kids are telling you.”
“But mom,” complained Richard. “That’s what happened to Jimmy Madson! You know he disappeared and no one knows where he went!”
“The Madsons?” said his mother with a smile. “They moved because his company moved them back to California.” Then she took a deep breath and put her arm around Richard’s shoulder. “There is nothing to be afraid of. I promise you will be safe. Ok?”
Richard shook his head, “No mom! I can’t! I just…”
“That’s enough!” argued his father. “You are going to school and that is it!”
Richard was afraid he would say that. Once his father said those words, he knew there was nothing more to be done. Richard just put his face into his hands and quietly replied, “Yes, sir.”
His father then got up, gave Richard a couple of encouraging pats on the back, and left for work.
Richard kept thinking about all the horrible things Freaky Freddie would do to him. He did not even notice when the bus arrived at school. It was as if no time had passed. He decided to stay hidden among the crowds of kids making their way to class.
Then, as he turned the corner, Freaky Freddie stepped away from the wall. HE WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF RICHARD!
Richard was so afraid, he couldn’t move or speak. He just stood there frozen. Freaky Freddie looked down at him and put his cold hand on the back of Richard’s neck. Freddie said with an evil smile, “Come with me.”
Richard was too afraid to do anything as he was ushered into an unfamiliar hallway. The walls were grey, without paint and dimly lit. Richard nearly fainted as he heard the echo of the steel door as it slammed behind him. He thought, “This is it. That’s what my parents get for not believing me. So many things I wanted to do in my life. Now I will never get to do them.”
At the end of the hallway was a large room filled with all kinds of tools, wires, pipes and cleaning products. Richard thought this must be where Freddie prepared his victims. He must use the wires to tie them down. The pipes must be for the bugs. Freddie motioned to the only chair in the room and asked Richard to sit down.
Freddie then spoke, “You must be wondering why I brought you here.”
Richard replied with tears streaming down his cheeks, “I know. Just get it over with.” Then he started sobbing.
Freddie took a step back and laughed. Then he said, “Richard. I am not going to hurt you. I know there have been many stories about me going around school. Freaky Freddie they call me. I am a murderer, I eat bugs, and I kidnap children. Once they even said I was a genetic experiment gone wrong.” Then he breathed a big sigh as Richard slightly lifted his head.
Richard could see that Freddie was actually sad. Yet, he thought it was all a trick. Just one more way Freddie could mess with your mind to torture you.
Freddie could see that Richard was still scared. He began talking again, “Richard, I have never hurt another being in my life. I can’t even kill a bug. I catch them and let them go outside.”
Richard’s fear got the best of him and he burst out, “Liar! You keep the bugs to feed to the children you kidnap!”
Freddie stared at the ground. Then he stood up tall. Richard could see the true anger in Freddie’s eyes. The true Freddie was about to come out. Then Freddie did something completely shocking to Richard. He cried.
As rivers of tears flowed from Freddie’s eyes, he spoke with a shaky voice, “I am so tired of it! I burned my face while saving a stupid cat! You would think that people would think of me as a hero! But no, everyone is afraid of me because of my scarred face!”
Then Freddie sat down on the floor and continued crying. Then Richard did something crazy. He got up, walked over to Freddie and gave him a hug. Richard knew what it was like when others ignored and made fun of him. He realized that all the stories about Freddie were just that, stories.
Freddie gave Richard a big smile as he hugged him back. Freddie said, “You are the first person to overcome their fear of me. You know, maybe you and I could become friends?”
Richard smiled back and said, “I am sure we could.” Then he put out his hand for Freddie and they shook on it.
All the kids in the hallway stopped and stared at Richard and Freddie as they exited the janitor’s hallway. They could not believe that Richard was actually talking to Freddie and smiling. Richard tried to convince the other kids that Freddie was actually nice. Some believed him and some did not.
Those that did not, were afraid of Richard. They assumed that he was now Freddie’s evil partner. Richard did not mind, because it was those kids who teased him before. Now they left him alone. The other kids saw him as a hero for being so brave.
Freddie and Richard stayed friends after that. Being friends with Freddie had its advantages. Freddie knew all the secret passages that could get Richard to class faster. He also taught Richard how to fix things and told him many exciting firefighter stories. Richard learned the true meaning of how not to judge a book by its cover and found out that friends come from the most surprising situations.
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