“Oh, wow!” Jeffrey Becker shouted to his friends as he stepped outside. It was two weeks before Christmas. But this wasn’t just another gray, go-to-school December Monday. Overnight, the whole world had turned sparkling white. The trees, the houses, the cars, the streets—everything was covered with deep snow. And, best of all, there was so much snow that school was closed!
“Oh, wow,” he said again. Steam came out of his mouth. The snow was still falling fast. Fat flakes stuck to his brown hair.
“Give up, Jeffrey!” called Benjamin Hyde. “You’re about to become a snowman!”
Jeffrey laughed as he saw his friends scoop up handfuls of snow. There was no getting out of it. He was about to be zapped with snowballs from every direction.
“You guys couldn’t hit an elephant with a watermelon,” Jeffrey teased.
“We don’t want to hit an elephant. We want to hit you,” Kenny Thompsen said with a laugh. He threw a snowball that hit Jeffrey right in the chest.
“Missed me!” Jeffrey shouted.
“No way!” Kenny said in disbelief.
Melissa McKane used her very best pitcher’s windup. Her snowball tagged Jeffrey on the arm.
“Missed!” Jeffrey shouted.
“I did not!” Melissa shouted back.
Jeffrey stepped off his front steps. All at once, Ben and Melissa and Kenny and Ricky Reyes threw snowballs. Every one of them hit Jeffrey.
“Sorry. You lose, guys,” Jeffrey said. He unzipped his jacket. Underneath he was wearing a down vest. “This is a special ‘snowball-proof’ vest.”
They all groaned and blasted more snowballs at Jeffrey. Finally, he was laughing so hard he had to give up. He backed away fast and almost crashed into a snow wall.
“Hey, who made this?” Jeffrey asked.
“I did,” Melissa said proudly. She was Jeffrey’s next-door neighbor. “I got up early and started a fort in your yard.”
“Yeah. Because it’s been scientifically proven that you have the best yard,” Ben added. Ben was Jeffrey’s best friend. Almost everything he said was scientific. He wanted to be a scientist when he grew up.
“But the fort’s not done yet,” Ricky Reyes said.
For a moment, Jeffrey looked at the wall of hard-packed snow. It was in the perfect position. It stretched between two huge, snow-covered bushes. But it was only two feet high.
“It’s got to be higher. It’s got to be higher than anything we’ve built before,” Jeffrey said. Melissa agreed, and she snapped into action.
“Ricky,” she said, “you and I will make the snow blocks. Kenny and Ben can put them into place.”
The wall grew. After a while, it stopped being a wall and became a high-jump hurdle. They took turns leaping over the top headfirst. Jeffrey rolled in the soft, cold snow on the other side.
Finally, the wall was four feet high. Melissa declared that it was now done.
“Hey, slimeballs!” a kid shouted from down the street. Jeffrey recognized the mean voice and the nasty laugh. And that ugly yellow and green knit cap. It could only be one person: Melissa’s older brother, Gary.
Gary and a bunch of his fifth-grade buddies came into Jeffrey’s yard. They had ice skates hanging over their shoulders.
“Neat fort,” Gary said. “How long did it take to make it?” As he spoke, he chipped away at the wall with the toe of his boot.
“Get away from our fort, Gary!” Melissa shouted. “You’re wrecking it!”
“Ooops,” Gary said. He kicked at the top of the wall. A big chunk of snow broke off.
“Why don’t you just crawl back into your hole,” Jeffrey said to Gary. “Because it’s a long time until Groundhog Day.”
“How’d you like a mouth full of snow, slime-ball?” Gary answered.
Thwappp! Gary pushed a wet snowball right into Jeffrey’s face.
“Perfecto,” said one of Gary’s friends. They gave each other high-fives.
But then something excellent happened. Splat! A snowball suddenly hit Gary on the back of his head so hard it knocked his cap off. Gary turned around. “Who threw that?” Gary asked. But there was no one there—no one he could see.
Only Jeffrey could see the boy standing behind Gary. The boy was wearing an old-fashioned red-plaid wool coat and a brown leather hat with ear flaps that were pulled down. The boy’s name was Max. Max was a ghost.
“Great shot!” Jeffrey said. He gave Max the thumbs-up sign.
“Hey, Daddy-o, like, there’s a fungus among us,” Max said to Jeffrey. He was holding his nose and pointing at Gary. “Why don’t you tell this cat to make like the snow and flake off?”
Jeffrey just smiled at his ghost friend. No one else could see or hear Max, so Jeffrey didn’t say anything else. He knew his friends would think he was talking to himself. But it was great to know that Max was there. Max always made funny things happen.
“You’ll be sorry you threw that snowball, slime-ball,” Gary said to Jeffrey. He raised his arm to throw another snowball.
“Big mistake, Gar,” Jeffrey said, shaking his head. “Haven’t you heard? This is a rare ‘echo’ snowfall. It only happens once every twenty-two years.”
“So what?” Gary said. He threw another snowball at Jeffrey, but Jeffrey ducked. Meanwhile, Max had sneaked up right behind Gary. He zapped Gary with a snowball that knocked his cap off again.
“See what I mean about the echo?” Jeffrey said. “You throw one at me—the echo throws it back!”
Instantly, Gary and his friends started to throw snowballs as fast as they could. So did Jeffrey, Ben, Kenny, Melissa, and Ricky. Jeffrey’s friends ducked behind the wall of their fort where Gary’s snowballs couldn’t hit them.
The battle raged on for several minutes. But Gary and his friends finally had to give up. They couldn’t figure out who was dumping snow down their necks and putting icicles in their boots. Of course it was Max—Jeffrey’s invisible friend. Finally, Gary and his friends took off.
“Run, chickens, run!” Ricky Reyes yelled.
“We won!” Kenny shouted. “This is excellent! We really won!”
Thanks to Max, Jeffrey thought happily to himself. But he didn’t say it out loud. He had practically given up trying to convince his friends that he knew a ghost. And Max was no help, either. Every time Jeffrey wanted to introduce them, Max would completely disappear—just like now.
Still, it didn’t matter if no one knew about Max. Max was a great friend. And this was a great snowstorm. With Max around, it was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Melissa found Gary’s ugly yellow and green striped cap on the ground. She put it on a stick, and they planted the stick like a victory flag in the wall of the fort. Then they all went into Jeffrey’s house to thaw out and celebrate. Inside, it smelled of hot chocolate and warm cookies.
“Who’s interested in an art project?” Mrs. Becker asked when everyone was out of their wet snow clothes.
“Uh-oh,” Jeffrey told his friends. “The last ‘art’ project Mom thought of was painting the basement steps.”
“This is different,” Jeffrey’s mother said with a smile. “I made some cutout gingerbread cookies. I wondered if your friends wanted to decorate them?”
“Great idea, Mrs. Becker,” said Ben.
In the kitchen, Jeffrey’s mother put one cookie for each kid on a piece of waxed paper. There were three kinds to choose from: gingerbread men, gingerbread women, and, for some reason, gingerbread crocodiles. Next, Mrs. Becker brought out a large bowl of icing. Then she handed out little bottles of food coloring and jars of sprinkles. Finally, she put aprons on each of the kids and then got out of the way.
“I’m going to turn this guy into one cool robot,” Ricky Reyes said. He put gold candy eyes on his cookie.
“You already have about two hundred toy robots, don’t you?” asked Jeffrey.
“Yeah, but I haven’t eaten one since I was a baby,” Ricky said with a laugh.
When they were done with all of the icing and the sprinkles, they put the cookies aside until after lunch. But when they came back, all of the cookie decorations had been changed.
“What’s going on?” Melissa said. She had put a pink-icing ballet tutu on her gingerbread cookie. But now it had lots of chocolate sprinkles on it. Her ballerina looked like it had hairy arms and legs like a gorilla.
“And look at my doctor!” Ben said. Ben had given his cookie a white-icing doctor’s gown and mask. But now it was covered with red food coloring. It looked like blood.
“Jeffrey,” asked Mrs. Becker, “how could this happen?”
Jeffrey immediately knew that the answer was one word: Max! But Jeffrey couldn’t tell the truth because no one would believe him.
“I don’t know, Mom,” Jeffrey said. “It must be a weird time warp caused by the snowstorm. Somehow I think we made Halloween cookies by mistake!”
Copyright © 2011 by Megan & H. William Stine. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.