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I blinked at the Monstro Central School playground: a domed, ant-built cavern so wide that it made the 10A classroom seem like a goblin’s toilet cubicle. Over 100 metres above our heads, a bird-shaped ball of light blazed like a mini-star.

Noticing my gaze, Bruce chortled. ‘Gotta dig the phoenix-in-supernova lighting system. I should wear sunnies under that sucker.’

I squinted around. The Klusk gang hogged the gymnasium equipment while the Viethes reigned over the chair and table section. ‘I thought there were thousands of kids at this school, not hundreds.’

‘There are thousands,’ said the mummy girl. ‘After the Great Riot of 2583, lunch breaks for the different grades were set at different times.’ She turned towards me, her facial bandages revealing only river-brown eyes set in sockets of obsidian black. ‘My name is Scarab.’ She smelt of linen and earth. It was … not unpleasant.

‘Pleased to meet you.’ I shook Scarab’s bandaged hand. ‘I’m PT the, uh … Swamp Boy.’ My hand bones ground together.

‘You better hang with us, grommet,’ said Bruce. His eight strutting legs led the way to a waterless swimming pool, complete with a broken diving board at the deep end. ‘What do you figure, gang? Should we let Swampy join? I vote yo, becoz he ain’t a gob or a hume. And also becoz, zilch offence gang, he’s the only one b’sides me who ain’t a plodding corpse!’

‘I, too, vote yes,’ said Scarab. ‘As Father always says: strength in numbers and safety in strength.’

‘Zorg iz voting yez,’ rasped the zombie. ‘Coz Zcarab iz voting yez.’ His single eyeball darted disturbingly. ‘Zorg iz alzo liking Zwamp Boy. Zwamp iz more weak and dumb than Zorg. And more bad zmelling!’ His teeth rattling with laughter, Zorg thrust his rotting hand towards mine.

My nostrils shrivelled. I gulped, shooed away flies, and shook the zombie’s hand. Scabs crackled.

The bloodied flaps of skin over Zorg’s nose-hole twitched. ‘Zwamp Boy iz having nom-nom smell. Nom-nommm. Almozt like … hooman.’

I forced a chuckle. ‘Must be the human rissoles I had for brekkie.’ I wrenched my hand free.

At the edge of the pool, the Mohawked vampire stepped before me, his scent a subtle mix of hair gel and aluminium. He wore a perfect-fitting black suit and an impossible-to-read expression that was weirdly and disturbingly familiar. ‘Interesting.’ His deep whisper almost dared me to draw nearer. ‘I read swamp monsters were vegetarian.’

‘Not my family.’ I removed my backpack and opened my lunch box, revealing a fish and reed sandwich. ‘We’re omnivorous.’

‘I observe.’ Claret eyes sparkling, the vampire extended his hand. ‘I am Stoker, by the way.’ His nails were beautifully manicured, fingers the colour of ivory, utterly repulsive. A single diamond glistened on his middle finger.

I jammed my lunch box into my pack as an excuse to ignore the vampire’s creepy eyes and hand. ‘Nice ring.’

‘A birth gift from my sire.’ Stoker polished his diamond. ‘After I have sucked a mortal dry of blood, the ring is intended to slice open my wrist. This enables the dying mortal to suck my blood in turn, thus converting them to vampirism.’ His voice carried a hint of mirth. ‘You need not cringe. I do not bite monsters. Furthermore,’ the creature’s tone rose faintly, ‘I am not convinced you even have a neck.’

‘I wasn’t cringing,’ I lied, and promptly changed the subject. ‘Um, why didn’t Doctor Combo punish those goblins in class for making threats and almost starting World War Seven?’

Bruce squatted on the concrete pool edge, dangling his legs. ‘Becoz chalk-pushers are wusses, ’specially ex-humes like Combo. There ain’t a monster alive or carked not wussed out by the gobs. Except us, natch.’ The spider regarded the cracked pool, where a dozen tarantulas hunted mice. ‘Awww. Ain’t my baby rellies the cutest?’

I sat beside the grinning spider. He no longer seemed quite so fearsome. Zorg and Scarab sat on my other side. Only Stoker remained standing, arms folded, as if expecting something to happen.

‘So,’ I asked, ‘what are you guys gobbling for lunch?’

‘Zorg’s zecond fave-rit!’ Zorg dangled a half-chewed rat carcass by the tail. ‘Zorg’z firzt fave-rit iz hooman chopz … which Zorg haz never munched. Coz Zorg’z family can’t be affording hooman chopz.’ Zorg looked ready to sob, except he also looked like his tear ducts had been pecked out by ravens decades ago. ‘Zorg’z pa waz working in rat penz. Getting dizcount ratz!’ The zombie suddenly spoke rapidly. ‘Rat penz run by vampirez. Not gobbinz. Never run by gobbinz! Family Zorg never zeeing gobbinz!’

‘That’s … cool, Zorg.’ I nodded to hide my confusion. ‘I can tell you’re one of those once-you-start-jabbering-you-can’t-stop type of zombies. And you, Scarab?’

‘Mummies do not ingest food.’ Scarab pointed at the bandages covering her mouth. ‘When we are mummified, our internal organs are removed and stored in jars.’ Was that sadness in her voice?

‘It shall be the usual for me.’ Stoker waved a plastic bag filled with dark crimson liquid, a straw protruding. ‘Blood of rat. Yay.’

‘The usual for me too.’ From his XXXL backpack, Bruce produced a hippocow leg wrapped in webbing. His enormous jaws swung impossibly wide.


The leg vanished.

Bruce grinned, cheeks bulging, an ankle bone protruding. ‘Mmm! I’m gonna suck this beef-lollipop until the hippocows come home!’

Stoker pointed across the playground to Greta, who sat cross-legged on a bare patch of earth. ‘The new lass appears lonely.’

‘The newbie appears gobliny, you mean,’ said Bruce. ‘You dig, the kind we ain’t, under zilch circumstances, allowing into our exclusive zilch-gob gang.’

‘Yet observe,’ said Stoker.

All the gang observed a handful of Viethes surround Greta. Their mocking tones carried across the playground. The largest goblin flicked his wrist. A bone blade jutted claw-like from his hand. He edged closer.

‘Blessed Nile, I have witnessed enough.’ Scarab rose and lumbered towards the goblins.

‘Wait for Zorg!’ croaked Zorg.

‘Webbing hell.’

We all trailed in Scarab’s stiff-legged wake.

Glancing up, Friendly Viethe scowled. ‘Back off, Deads. We’re on goblin business.’ His bone blade sliced a deadly warning through the air.

Scarab halted between Greta and Friendly. ‘This is a free playground.’

‘Ya wanna die, mummy chicky?’

‘I am already dead, goblin boy.’

‘Then die again.’

‘NO!’ Zorg screamed.

The goblin drove his arm forward, stabbing Scarab in the stomach.


Yow!’ Friendly bellowed, his hand bone shattered. He staggered in circles.

His followers swayed forward and back, unsure what to do.

I gazed at Scarab with awe. She hadn’t even blinked. ‘That was so cool.’

The mummy turned to Greta. ‘Come, goblin girl. Ingest your repast with us.’

Greta folded her arms. ‘I do not require you to fight my battles.’ She glanced at the murderous goblins closing in, shrugged and dusted her robe. ‘Though I will grant the view is evidently less hideous near the pool.’

We trudged back to our lunches, Friendly screeching at our backs, ‘I won’t forget this, Dead Gang!’

Stoker turned, po-faced. ‘Neither shall we. The sound effect of your bone snapping was quite interesting.’

‘This day we have gained two new members,’ said Scarab.

‘I can’t describe my joy,’ Bruce mumbled and spun around to Greta. ‘But I’m confused. Why were those gobs messing with your gob butt? I dig they’re dumb-ass whack-jobs and totally not Monstro’s finest feminists, but–’

‘To relieve you of your ignorance, spider,’ Greta cut in, ‘those mafia thugs are plains goblins. I am a forest goblin. We are different species, as distantly related as humans are to chimpanzees.’

‘That close, huh?’ Bruce whistled. ‘I can’t peep those two-legs apart either. So you’re basically saying all you psycho green-skins are like kissing cousins?’

Greta scowled.

My mind whirled with questions. ‘How come this school has so many goblins?’

‘You mean, how come this city owns so many gobs?’ The giant spider snickered as he settled poolside. ‘The ugly mini bipeds chased off mosta the ex-humes and mini mythic students. But not us. Why? Becoz we’re so BAD-ASS!’

‘The parents of many goblin students work in city administration,’ Scarab answered more seriously. ‘Most students sleep in dorm rooms on school nights, returning to their home quarters on holidays and weekends. We four also share a dorm. Will you be joining us, Swamp Boy?’

‘Nah. I’ll be travelling back to the Great Swamp after school. You know, the swamp where I live.’

‘Blessed Nile, that must be twenty kilometres. When you arrive home, will you not need to turn around immediately to be back here for school tomorrow?’

‘I travel faster than you’d reckon.’ I wriggled my reedy fingers.

‘Do you catch a tengu air-taxi?’ asked Scarab.

‘Nah. I just climb into the sewer tunnels beneath the school and swim home. I’m a natural swimmer, being a swamp monster and all.’

‘Sewer tunnels, eh?’ Bruce backed away. ‘That explains your deodorant malfunction!’

Everyone laughed, except Zorg, who scratched his scabs.

‘So what brought you guys to Monstro Central School?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you have schools in your home quarters?’

‘We are spies,’ said Stoker. ‘We were sent here by our respective parents to discover what the goblins are scheming next. And to spy on each other, naturally.’

I gawked at the deadpan vampire, unsure if he was joking or not.

Stoker sighed. ‘My sire desired that one of her offspring understand the workings of monster society. I drew the short blood-bag.’ He shrugged. ‘At least this institution is underground. Vampires are, after all, poor tanners.’

‘Zorg iz here to get zmart,’ said Zorg. ‘Like Zcarab.’

‘I am not smart, Zorg.’ Scarab sounded more annoyed than when she’d stared down the stab-happy goblin. ‘I am the least intelligent mummy in my family, as I only awoke four years ago. Over 5,000 years elapsed since I entered the long sleep in Ancient Egypt. My parents rightly concluded I had fallen behind in my studies.’

‘I am a spy,’ said Greta, smiling for the first time. ‘I was sent here to learn how to help my brethren subsist. In case you haven’t noticed, there are not many forest goblins left. And evidently, you are a spy too, PT. I have never heard a monster ask so many questions!’

‘O–kay.’ As with Stoker, I had no clue if this metre-tall girl was joking. All I knew for sure was her subtle floral perfume was by far the most pleasant scent I’d inhaled all morning. ‘And you, Bruce?’

The giant spider extracted his hippocow snack, trailing thick saliva. ‘I legged to a primary school in the Mythic Quarter. With my killer kick-butt marks, I scored a scholarship to this so-called educational joint! Great Web, I’m so gnarly mega-brained, they still ain’t figured out I cheated on my tests!’ Bruce fired a web at the snapped diving board and plucked a one-note tune. ‘How ’bout you, Swampy?’

‘I just … had to escape the swamp. My teacher annoyed the bilge out of me. And you know how it is with parents and teenagers.’

‘I’m digging you like a ditch, Swampy.’ Bruce nodded. ‘And zilch offence, but you need the education. You’re the most ignorant monster I’ve peeped since Zorg!’

The zombie bristled. ‘Iz you inzulting Zorg?’


Bruce bared his killer smile of triple-rowed fangs. ‘Saved by the bell monster.’


‘Die, dummy hooman! Dieee!’

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