Authors: Tony Abbott
The Beast from Beneath the Cafeteria!
The Weird Zone, Book 3
To Debbie O'Hara
Food, Glorious Food!
iz Duffey stepped into the lunch line at W. Reid Elementary just in time to stop a disaster.
Mike Mazur, the new kid, was staring down at the steaming gray lump on his tray.
Slowly he pushed the lump around the tray with his finger. “Man,” he said. “I'm so hungry. But, whoa!” He pushed the thing some more. “I don't know about this â¦”
Finally, he looked over at Liz and whispered. “What exactly
Liz smiled. “You're new here, right?”
“Pretty new,” Mike said.
“Rule number one,” said Liz. “Always read before you feed.” She pointed to the menu taped on the wall behind them.
Mike squinted up at the sheet of paper. “This can't be right.
Hambooger? With spackle sauce?
” He looked back at the gray lump and frowned.
Liz chuckled. “If Miss Lieberman typed the menu, it's probably supposed to be
hamburger with special sauce.
But you never know, because â¦”
Mike stopped listening when he heard the word
He liked the way it sounded. He looked at the lump again and smiled.
If he had been listening to what Liz was saying, he would have learned a thing or two about W. Reid Elementary School.
A place where, if two things could happenâa regular thing and a weird thingâthe weird thing would happen. No contest.
If Mike had been listening to Liz, he would also have heard how Principal Bell always popped up at the oddest moments. And how Miss Lieberman, the assistant principal, was never far behind.
And he would have heard Liz explain that Mr. Sweeney, the janitor, was always angry. And that he didn't like kids. At all.
This was all because their school was in Grover's Mill. And Grover's Mill happened to be the exact center of total intergalactic weirdness.
Finally, if Mike really had been listening, he would have figured out that if the menu said
maybe, just maybe, that's what it really was!
“The Weird Zone,” Liz said. “That's what I call it. And the grown-ups that live here are all
Some of the kids are, too.”
While Liz was busy explaining all this, Mike was busy picking the gray lump off his tray again and looking at it closely.
He lifted it toward his mouth. “Doesn't look so bad.” He smiled. Then his eyes glazed over. “Must feed the stomach,” he droned.
He opened his jaws wide.
âLiz's hand flew up and grabbed Mike's arm in midair. She clutched tight and wouldn't let go.
“Don't do it!” Liz cried.
“Must feed the stomach â¦” Mike repeated, tugging hard against Liz's grip.
A big dollop of green drippy stuff oozed out of the lumpy thing in Mike's hand and splatted on the lunch tray. It hissed when it landed.
“I'm losing the spackle sauce!” Mike yelped.
He tugged harder. Liz had to wrestle him with both hands. The gray lump edged closer to Mike's lips. It was almost there.
“Psss â¦ psss!” Liz whispered something into Mike's ear.
His arm went limp. He dropped the thing back on his tray. “Really?” he said softly.
Liz nodded. “Believe me, my mom used to work here. This is the stuff that killed the dinosaurs.”
Liz pointed to a small trapdoor on the floor just behind the food counter. “Down there in the storage cellar. That's where they keep all the
ingredients. Trust me, this place is weird. With a capital
Mike stared down at the trapdoor. “Thanks,” he said. “You saved my life.”
Liz smiled. “It's okay. You're new here. But I'll tell you something else about this school,” she whispered, pointing to the trapdoor. “My mom said someone has been messing withâ”
The hall door flew open behind them and a dark shadow fell over the lunch line.
“What are you telling this lad, young lady?” a voice boomed.
It was Principal Bell, standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips, staring down at Liz.
He always did that. He loved to stand in doorways with his hands on his hips and stare down at kids. Actually, he was really tall, so he stared down at everybody.
Well, not everybody. He didn't stare down at Miss Leiberman. She was tall, too. And Mr. Bell liked her. His eyes went kind of soft and wimpy and he always stuttered when he saw her.
“Sorry, Principal Bell,” said Liz.
“Move along then,” he said. “I'm sure your classmates would like to sample this fine â¦ fine â¦ fine â¦”
Liz looked up at Mr. Bell. He was gazing over the steaming food to the other side of the counter. His eyes had a soft and wimpy look.
Liz whirled around. She nudged Mike and pointed.
Yep, it was Miss Lieberman. Standing there in a white apron, dangling a
on a fork.
She dropped it on the floor.
Mr. Bell didn't even notice.
Uh-oh, thought Liz. It's gross-out time. “Mike, let's get out of here beforeâ”
The trapdoor suddenly burst open and an incredibly hairy arm slithered across the floor and grabbed Miss Lieberman's foot!
Careful What You Wish For
hhhh!” screamed Miss Lieberman.
“Ahhhh!” screamed Mr. Bell when Miss Lieberman screamed.
“Yecch!” snorted a voice from the cellar.
The incredibly hairy arm, which was attached to an incredibly hairy man, let go of Miss Lieberman's foot. The hairy man pulled himself up into the kitchen.
The hairy man was Mr. Sweeney, the janitor.
“Yecch!” he said again. “You kids! You've been raiding my storage cellar again, haven't you?” He shook his finger at Liz and Mike.
Mike looked at Liz. Liz looked at Mike. They both made faces. “Us?” they mumbled.
“Pah!” Mr. Sweeney snorted. “Such a mess down there! Every day it's worse and worse. Oh, why must I have kids in my school?”
Mr. Sweeney always called W. Reid
“But, excuse me,” began Principal Bell, “everyone knows it's
âMr. Sweeney flung a ripped-open bag of potatoes onto the floor.
The potatoes were
rotten. A really bad stink filled the kitchen just as Liz's best friend Holly Vickers jumped into the lunch line.
“Pee-yew!” cried Holly, looking at the sack of potatoes. “Didn't we have that yesterday? Guess I'm skipping lunch again.” She made a face and ran from the kitchen straight into the cafeteria.
“Good advice!” breathed Liz. “Come on, Mike. I've got a couple of apples in my backpack.”
Liz pushed open the swinging door andâ
The air exploded in a bright white light!
“Ahhh!” cried Liz, staggering back and nearly knocking Mike and his tray to the floor.
“Yearbook photo!” screeched a voice.
When Liz could see again, she made out the shape of a tiny woman with frizzy gray hair. There was a little black camera where the woman's face should be.
“Mrs. Carbonese!” gasped Liz, blinking. “You, uh, scared me!” Mrs. Carbonese was Liz's teacher. It was her job to take pictures for the W. Reid yearbook. It was called
The Reider's Digest.
“See you in assembly!” Mrs. Carbonese said. “And don't forget the writing contest, dear.” Then she scuttled off to surprise some other students.
Mike squinted into the screaming crowd. He turned to Liz. “Your mom used to work here?”
“Yeah,” said Liz, blinking and stumbling her way across the room, “but she escaped. She opened up a restaurant on Main Street called Duffey's Diner. She started with regular food. Now she's changing to health food. Cauliflower steak, broccoli soup, stuff like that.”
“Oh, cauliflower steak.” Mike made a face. “Interesting. Does your dad work there, too?”
Liz spotted Holly Vickers' dark wavy hair and headed for it. “My dad's a paleontologist who digs up bones for museums. He works at the old dinosaur graveyard outside of town.”
“Cool!” said Mike, as they reached the table.
Liz sat between Holly and her brother Sean and across the table from Jeff Ryan.
“Hey, guys,” said Mike. He set his tray down on the table next to Jeff and lifted his hand to Sean. “How's it going?”
Sean grinned and slapped Mike's hand. “Excellent, since I saw you five minutes ago.”
Jeff looked over at Mike's tray. “Whoa! You actually ordered the hambooger!”
“And he's not eating it,” said Liz sternly. She pulled two shiny green apples out of her backpack and gave one to Mike.
“Thanks,” said Mike. “But apples don't do it for me anymore. After being shrunk to the size of a nickel, I'm only interested in one thingâto eat and stay big.”
“That's two things,” said Liz. “Which reminds me, I'm starting a list right now. I'm calling itâStuff That Needs to Change.” She pulled a pad out of her backpack and started to write. “Number One. No More Weird Lunches.”
“I totally agree,” said Sean, pulling a blue candy eyeball from his lunch bag and popping it in his mouth. His father, Todd Vickers, was a horror movie director. He had lots of movie props. Some of them were edible.
“Number Two,” said Liz. “No Horror Stuff.”
“You and Mr. Bell,” said Holly. “Mrs. Carbonese, too. They're trying to ban scary books from school. That's what the assembly is all about.”
Sean turned to his sister. “But do they know Dad's coming in to film some school scenes for his next horror movie?”
“Sean!” cried Holly. “It's a surprise!”
Liz curled her lip at her friends then looked at Mike. “Zoners? Yes, I think so.”
Mike laughed. “You know, it's all how you look at it. I don't think this place is as weird as you guys think it is. I mean, show me weird!”
Sean grinned. His teeth were blue.
“Oh, gross!” Then Liz put down her pen and stared out into the hall. “Uh â¦ guys?”
Everyone at the table turned to the door.
It was Principal Bell.
He was standing in the doorway. He was holding the American flag in his hands. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, like little rivers.
“Mike,” whispered Liz. “You wanted weird? Your wish has just been granted.”
Mr. Bell staggered into the cafeteria, holding up the flag. “I â¦ I â¦ I â¦ can't â¦!”
He pointed out the door and wept.
There, in a little grassy circle in the center of the parking lot, stood the flagpole.
Except that it wasn't a flagpole anymore.
It was aâflag pretzel! The long silver pole was twisted into a horrible knot.
“Whoa!” muttered Jeff. “Who would do that?”
“Oh, my school!” sobbed Mr. Bell. Miss Lieberman came running from nowhere to comfort him. They stumbled back to the kitchen together.
Liz snapped her fingers. “You know, guys, a lot of strange things have been going on here.”