#1 THE HEADLESS PAPERBOY
When October Williams moved from Philadelphia to
New Salem, Maine, he never expected to be chased by the ghost of the Headless
At least not on his first day here.
He suddenly wished he'd never gotten the bright
idea to go exploring on his bike before his mom finished cooking
But what else was there to do in a little town like
He never wanted to move to New Salem in the first
place. He'd told his mom that over and over. Now, with the headless ghost
pedaling after him, he knew more than ever he was right.
His legs pumped harder and he picked up speed. But
the road leading out of town was rough, rocky, and full of ruts. His bike
thumped and bounced, jarring his teeth and rattling his bones.
Dusk was invading the town. He'd lost track of time
and his mother had told him to make sure he got back in half an hour, before
it got dark. It was a strange town, after all, she had told him. He might
get lost. This wasn't Philly where he knew every alley for blocks and played
street hockey with his friends until after sundown.
Sweat trickled down his dark face. His breath staggered
out in hot gasps.
He gripped the handlebars tighter, knuckles going
white. He forced his legs to pedal harder. He didn't know for sure how close
the headless ghost was, and he didn't dare look back to find out. He could
hear the squeak-squeaking of pedals turning behind him. Faster and
It was catching up!
The urge to scream almost overcame him, but October
knew that wouldn't help.
All around him dead leaves swirled, kicked up by
his spinning tires. A damp, decayed odor hung in the air. Shadows stretched
across the rutted road, as if grasping for him. To either side rose a forest
of birch, oak and maple, their leaves splashed with blazing orange, red and
yellow. Thick pines and spruce rose between them. Every so often a dirt trail
branched off into the woods.
Mom should have never moved to this stupid
He had to convince her she'd made a mistake. A huge
mistake. Maybe she would listen now, especially if she knew he had been chased
by a headless ghost! Or maybe she would think he was crazy or making it up
just so he could move back home and live near his dad. That's what she always
The ghost was catching up. Panic rose in his mind.
What could he do? If it were Philly he could swerve into an
That gave him an idea.
Ahead, he spotted a trail leading into the forest.
But where did it come out? In town? Or would it just get him trapped in the
woods with no way to escape the horrible thing following him?
The squeaking grew louder. The clattering of loose
wheels on the ghost's bike sounded like bones rattling.
He yanked the handlebars sharply right. His bike
sailed onto the dirt path. It left the road and hit the hard-packed ground
with a teeth-jarring thud and he almost lost control and came out his
Barely managing to hold on, he breathed a sigh of
relief. If he had fallen the ghost would have caught him for sure.
The forest rose around him, gloomy and eerie in
the dying daylight. Leaves crackled as he rode over them. Shadows puddled
in gloomy dark pools.
Ears strained, he tried to catch the sound of the
thing's clackety wheels and squeaky pedals.
Maybe he had lost the ghost!
No way. A ghost wouldn't just give up, would it?
And it had to be a ghost because any kid without a head couldn't be alive,
He wasn't positive, because, well, he'd never seen
a ghost before. He wouldn't have even believed they existed if it wasn't
for the fact one was chasing him.
Why does he want you?
He shivered. That was obvious, wasn't it? The ghost
didn't have a head. That's what he wanted: October's head.
He shivered again.
Gulping, he chanced a glance backward.
A bleat of terror escaped his lips.
The ghost-it was right behind him! Thumping and
thudding right along over the rough trail. How could it have caught up to
him so fast on such an old bike? The thing was all rusty and looked at least
thirty years old, with one of those weird banana seats made out of sparkling
blue plastic, and flaring handlebars.
He gasped, shuddering as he got his first clear
look at the ghost. It wore a dirty New Salem School jacket that hung open
in the front, worn jeans, and old blue sneakers. October spotted a dirty
T-shirt stained with blood at the collar where the neck should have been.
Except there was no neck, just a bony jutting stump.
The spook suddenly drew back an arm and hurled
something. It sailed towards October, twirling and fluttering in the air,
bursting into flames as it drew closer. It shrieked past him, just missing
His head twisted forward. The object had landed
in a patch of old leaves and now he saw what it was-a burning bundled
As his eyes widened in shock, the paper exploded
in a spray of sparks, vanishing.
October had no time to think about it.
The front wheel of his bike hit a bulging root that
jutted across the trail and he and the bike were suddenly
With all his strength he struggled to hold the
handlebars steady and keep from flying off the bike. His heart thumped like
a dribbled basketball.
I'm gonna crash!
The bike slammed back onto the trail. The front
end skidded right, left, right again. Every bone in his body shuddered with
the impact, but somehow he managed to stay on the bike and keep it arrowing
Ahead the trail widened. With a burst of relief
he saw it led back onto the old road. He pumped the pedals as hard as he
could, panting, sweat pouring down his dark face. He couldn't let up. If
He'd grown kind of attached to his head. He didn't
want to give it up.
October jerked up on the handlebars and the front
tire lifted to meet the pavement. The bike landed lighter this time and his
speed increased the moment he hit the blacktop.
It lay only a few dozen yards ahead of him. This
was the bridge leading into New Salem. If he could just make it across that
he'd be in town. Surely the ghost wouldn't follow him there.
He didn't dare look back to find out. He hit the
bridge at full speed.
It was an old, wide wooden bridge and the boards
thumped beneath his tires. Dust and leaves spewed up. He whizzed across it
in record time and didn't stop pedaling until he reached an alley on the
waterfront-most of New Salem was waterfront-and swerved into it.
He leaped from his bike, letting it clatter to the
ground. He pressed himself against the brick wall of a building, not bothering
to look into the gloom and shadows behind him. Instead, he concentrated on
peeking around the corner to see if the ghost had followed.
The street was empty.
"Yes!" he almost shouted, balling his fist and shaking
it. He'd escaped! He'd escaped the Headless Paperboy!
Slumping against the wall, he rested, sucking in
deep breaths. He never wanted to come that close to losing his head
His heart began to slow.
A buoy clanged in the distance and he
Waves sloshed against the docks across the
Then a hand touched his shoulder!