Adventures of a cat whis.., p.10
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       Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, p.10
 

          
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  "So all you know is your first name. Your second name could be anything at all?"

  I suppose so.

  "Could it be Van Vreemdeling?"

  "It could, but you are just playing games with my brain. It could be Bunny Booboo just as well."

  "I'm just trying to point out that you can't say you know that you aren't Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling—you just feel you have no reason to believe that you are."

  "That's almost the same thing."

  "Almost, but not quite."

  "Look. I happen to resemble someone who lived around here a long time ago. Why would that make people think I was that person—who is probably dead a long time ago—except that everyone who thinks so is extremely weird—no offense."

  "None taken. And you neglect to mention that this long-ago Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling was also connected with the flying saucers in some way, and was the only person who didn't mind looking at the Wolluf, and in fact got along with him. And also you more than resemble her—you look exactly like that portrait Chicken Nancy has. I am not insisting you are the very same person—though I have a feeling you are—but you have to admit it is more than a casual likeness."

  "Well, that far I am prepared to go."

  "Fine. I just ask you to keep an open mind, is all."

  CHAPTER 40

  Mousetrap Soup

  The bus took us within a block of the bookshop. We spent the day helping Mrs. Gleybner with unpacking boxes, dusting books, feeding the cat, and drinking tea. As evening came on, we set out with a box of cookies from Mrs. Gleybner for Chicken Nancy.

  When we got to Chicken Nancy's little house in the woods, Professor Tag was visiting. They were making mousetrap soup.

  "Hello, girls! Back already?" Chicken Nancy said. "How was your trip? Did you learn anything interesting? Is Harold with you?"

  "Harold is somewhere downriver trying to sell his horrible coracle," I said.

  "The trip was fine," Molly said. "We quit throwing up after a few hours. And we ate eels."

  "We went to Pollepel Island, and stayed overnight, and played klabiash with trolls," I said.

  "We came back on the bus," Molly said. "And we made friends with the Wolluf. His name is Max, and he's meeting us here tonight."

  "Did you say the Wolluf?" Professor Tag asked. "I'll be going now. I just remembered there's a sale on birdseed at Mega-Mart." He grabbed his hat and rushed out the door.

  "When you say the Wolluf is coming here..." Chicken Nancy said.

  "We're meeting him outside," I said. "He'll understand if you stay in the house so you don't have to look at him."

  "Explain to him that I'm an old woman," Chicken Nancy said.

  "It will be fine," Molly said.

  "He's not evil or dangerous, you know," I said.

  "I know," Chicken Nancy said. "But he's painful to look at, and even if you try you can't actually see him."

  "Audrey says he looks like a cute puppy," Molly said. "I can look at him, because I have incredible willpower, but all I see is that intense eye-hurting darkness. And of course there's the feeling of terror, nausea, and being suffocated. But he doesn't do it on purpose."

  "I am glad to know the Wolluf is nice, personally," Chicken Nancy said. "But unless it is absolutely necessary, I will forgo the pleasure of meeting him. Meanwhile, this mousetrap soup is ready. Let's try it out."

  CHAPTER 41

  Cloaks

  We ate mousetrap soup and told Chicken Nancy about the trolls, and what the house on the island was like, and Pirate Pete's. All the while it was getting darker and darker.

  When it was fairly dark but not fully dark, Chicken Nancy went into a closet and brought out two cloaks. They were gray and made of a lumpy and irregular kind of cloth. They were long, and had hoods. We tried them on. They looked to me like cloaks worn by the old Dutch in colonial times, as shown in the wall paintings at the Poughkeepsie post office.

  "You may need them," Chicken Nancy said.

  "It's a mild night," I said.

  "Just the same, take them along," Chicken Nancy said.

  "They look old fashioned," I said. "They are old," Chicken Nancy said. "I got them from my mother. I don't know which cloak, but guess who one of them belonged to."

  "Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling!" Molly said. We folded the cloaks over our arms. "I suppose we should go out and wait for Max," I said.

  "I will go to bed, and I will lock the dog in with me," Chicken Nancy said. "Have a nice visit with the frightening monster."

  CHAPTER 42

  On a Smooth Stone

  The Wolluf was already there when we came outside.

  "Ah, here you are! And you have cloaks. Good. Now, why don't the two of you sit on this smooth stone. I will walk up and down and caper about while I tell you things you do not know."

  Molly and I sat on the smooth stone. The Wolluf, appearing as a cute puppy to me, and as a horrifying darkness to Molly, walked in circles, hopped up onto a stump at times, and talked to us.

  "You understand, this is about destiny," the Wolluf said. "All this stuff that's been happening to you is mainly about Elizabeth's destiny—maybe a little bit yours, Molly—but mainly Elizabeth's."

  "I know just about everybody thinks I am Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling," I said. "But I don't buy it, mainly because if I were she, I'd know about it. Wouldn't I?"

  "Maybe you would, and maybe you wouldn't," the Wolluf said. "Are you familiar with the concept of alternate planes of existence?"

  "I come from another plane of existence," I said.

  "She comes from another plane of existence," Molly said.

  "So you understand that it's a little as though we were all living on a single floor of a multistory apartment building, only we're completely unaware of the existence of the other floors."

  "I explained all that at the beginning," I said. "What about it?"

  "Well, this about it," the Wolluf said. "In addition to there being simultaneous activity on different planes, have you ever considered that there might also be activity on different temporal planes?"

  "You mean in addition to stuff going on at the same time on different planes of existence, there is stuff going on in the past and future on other planes that are separated from one another by time instead of ... whatever the planes we already know about are separated by?" Molly asked.

  "Right," the Wolluf said. "So if you imagine the planes that are simultaneous as being stacked on top of one another, like the floors in an apartment house—and it is sometimes possible to get a glimpse, or actually shift from one floor to another, as Elizabeth, or Audrey, has done—you can also imagine shifting to the planes that are ahead or behind us in time. You follow?"

  "Sure," Molly said. "There are lots of complete worlds out there we know nothing about, and the inhabitants of which know nothing about us, some in the same time continuum, and some ahead of us or behind us in time."

  "Usually," the Wolluf said.

  "Usually," Molly said.

  "I'm not done yet," the Wolluf said. "Now imagine that in addition to the different floors of the imaginary apartment house, there are cellars, crawlspaces, attics, storage rooms, garages, sheds, secret passages, and hidden staircases."

  "Oh, boy!" Molly said.

  "And they are full of people?" I asked.

  "Some are, some aren't: some are full of other-than-people. Some are in the same time-space continuum as others, some are in different ones, and some are not all one thing or all another."

  "What do you mean by that?"

  "Well, you know that there are parts of Poughkeepsie that are not city, not suburb, not country, not industrial, not wasteland, and maybe not solid land and not water. You might have a little cottage, a place that makes truck tires, a drugstore, a field of corn, a pond, a woods, a swamp, and the police station, all within sight of one another."

  "Yes. So?"

  "So imagine there was an existential plane sort of between this one we are now on and the next one—sort of an unoffic
ial mishmash of a plane, not one thing and not another, not now and not then. Can you imagine something like that?"

  "Yes. Why do you want us to?"

  "Because I want us to go there."

  "Does it have a name? Also, why?"

  "It is called Apokeepsing, and I want us to go there so Elizabeth can maybe meet herself. Anyway, something like that."

  "Are you following this?" I asked Molly.

  "After a fashion," she said. "Are you?"

  "More or less," I said. "I'm not sure it matters. Maybe the Wolluf isn't expressing it clearly, or maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about."

  "But you want to go to this demiplane, mishmash place."

  "Oh, definitely," I said.

  CHAPTER 43

  Take the Cloaks

  "So how do we get to this where-or-whatever-or-whenever-it-is?" I asked.

  "Be here at dawn," the Wolluf said. "Bring the cloaks—you'll definitely need those. Give the old lady my regards, and tell her you don't know how long you'll be gone." Then he vanished.

  We tried not to make any noise going to bed, but Chicken Nancy heard us. "Wolluf gone?" she called from her bedroom.

  "Gone for now," we called back to her. "He'll be back at dawn. We're going somewhere with him and we don't know how long we'll be gone."

  "Take the cloaks with you," Chicken Nancy called. "And there are lunches for you and the Wolluf in paper bags on the sideboard. Have a nice time."

  "Do you think she knows where we're going?" I asked Molly.

  "I think she knows what the Wolluf eats for lunch," Molly said.

  "Do you think she's really afraid to see him?"

  "I don't know. Maybe they were boyfriend and girlfriend, or boy monster and girl witch, in 1850, and broke up on bad terms," Molly said. "Maybe they are secretly in cahoots and are cooperating to arrange our destiny. I do know that I have the feeling everybody around here knows more about what's going to happen to us than we do."

  "I have the same feeling," I said. "It's as though we are characters in a story somebody else is writing."

  CHAPTER 44

  A Sinking Feeling

  When we stumbled outside at the crack of dawn, the Wolluf was waiting for us.

  "Is that lunch?" the Wolluf asked. "What did she pack for us?"

  "I think it's cold fishcake sandwiches," I said.

  "My favorite! She makes the best fishcakes of anyone," the Wolluf said.

  Molly and I looked at each other. Why would the Wolluf know a thing like that?

  "Now let's get started," the Wolluf said. "Stand over here, side by side."

  We stood on a little bare patch of ground. The Wolluf scurried around, bringing pebbles and twigs and carefully arranging them on the ground in some complicated pattern. While he did this, he sang a song under his breath.

  "...to Honky-Tonky Town.

  It's underneath the ground,

  where all the fun is found.

  There are singing waiters,

  syncin' syncopaters,

  and a jazz pianna played by Mr. Brown.

  "All right, now start walking around each other, counterclockwise, and when I tell you, stamp your feet hard.

  "...he plays it all by ear—

  the music that you hear

  will make you stay a year.

  "Now stamp your feet as you walk! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!

  "He's even got the monkey

  dancin' with the donkey

  down in Honky-Tonky Town."

  It is next to impossible to describe what it feels like to be swallowed up by the earth—in fact, it is not next to impossible; it is impossible. It is even impossible to contemplate it while it is happening. The best I can do is say we were swallowed up by the earth. Swallowed up and spat out again. It was too unexpected to be scary, and happened too fast for us to know if it was uncomfortable—but I know it wasn't comfortable. All I can tell for sure is that one moment we were sort of circling each other counterclockwise and stamping our feet in the woods outside Chicken Nancy's house, and in another moment we were doing the same thing, only going clockwise, someplace else.

  "You may stop now, girls," the Wolluf said. "We have arrived."

  CHAPTER 45

  But Where?

  It was the Wolluf talking, but the cute puppy was nowhere to be seen. Molly was not seeing the uncomfortable-making brilliant darkness. The only person near us who was not us had to be the Wolluf—besides, the bulky man wearing clunky boots, baggy trousers, and a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck was speaking in the Wolluf's voice. He had very pale skin, yellow eyes, pointy teeth, long hair, and whiskers all over his face—he was handsome in a scary way.

  "You changed," I said.

  "I do that—especially during a full moon. And so have you," the Wolluf said. "Have a look at yourself."

  My hand, holding the bags of lunch, was covered with lovely soft orangey fur. When I pushed my sleeve up, I saw that my arm was furry too, and stripey with alternating reddish and yellowish stripes. My cheeks felt fuzzy.

  "How do I look?" I asked Molly.

  "Much more pussycat-ish," Molly said. "It's a good look for you. How about me? Anything different?"

  I looked Molly over. "You still look like you, only maybe a foot taller, and you sort of remind me of Chicken Nancy now—something about the look in your eyes."

  "You'd best put your cloak on, Audrey-Elizabeth," the Wolluf said. "And you too, Molly—just so we all look like a group from the same period."

  "Is this what you actually look like?" I asked the Wolluf.

  "It is at present," the Wolluf said. "Same as it is with you. Now take a look around and tell me where you think we are."

  "It's a lot like downtown Poughkeepsie," I said. "Is it Poughkeepsie?"

  "I recognize some buildings," Molly said. "But they look a little different."

  "It smells different too," I said. "I smell woodfires, and coal, and horses—and is that cough drops?"

  "Also, some of the people are unlike the citizens of Poughkeepsie as we have come to know them," Molly said. "For example, there are many of what seem to be lizards, walking upright and wearing old-fashioned clothing, and birdlike people. Also regular humans, or something close to it."

  "So what gives?" I asked the Wolluf. "Where are we, and what is the nature of this place?"

  "Well, as I was explaining to you, this is a sort of quasi-existential plane. It is squished in between the plane on which Poughkeepsie as you know it exists and some other plane of a more stable nature, and has attributes of both, plus qualities of its own. We are neither here nor there, and that goes for time as well as space. Feel free to ask questions."

  "I have a question," I said. "That building with the golden statue of a chicken on top—unless I am mistaken, it is very much like the building I have visited many times as the site of the Panopticon Theatre, a popular movie house. But as I see it now, it has no marquee and no box office, and instead has an ornate set of doors with another golden chicken above them. Can you explain how and why it is different?"

  "Certainly," the Wolluf said. "The building as you have known it contains a movie theater, but a hundred years earlier it was the Temple of the Mystic Brotherhood, a popular secret society or lodge to which many prominent citizens of Poughkeepsie belonged in the early and mid-nineteenth century. The golden chicken is their insignia."

  "So is it a hundred years earlier here?" I asked the Wolluf.

  "In places," the Wolluf said.

  "In places?" I asked.

  "Time is unstable here," the Wolluf said. "The building is as it was a hundred or more years before you knew it in Poughkeepsie, but here in Apokeepsing, it may be much older than that, or it may exist in the future. And the building next to it, which is a Portuguese bakery in your time, might be of a whole different time period, older, newer, not built yet, or long ago collapsed into a heap of dust."

  "And the building next to that, which is designed to look like a gigantic green
pepper. Where does that come from, time-and-space-wise?"

  "I have no idea," the Wolluf said. "And to add to the confusion, since this is an unstable plane, what you are seeing now may be changed, or not here, or mean something else tomorrow."

  "In other words, a mishmash," Molly said.

  "I believe that was how I described it," the Wolluf said.

  "I have done comparatively little television-watching in my young life," Molly said. "Since my early days were off with the dwergs of the mountains, and I didn't have a regular home, really, until I landed at the loony bin—and there, of course, the TV is on all the time—but I am sure I have seen fifty stories with a premise just like this."

  "Well, of course," the Wolluf said. "They love to make those because they can reuse sets and scenery from other shows ... and let's say they have half enough cowboy costumes, and half enough Nazi costumes. They just write a script about a world where there are Nazis and cowboys. It's a cheap device used in movies too. Pretty soon fiction writers will start using it in books."

  "So why did you bring us here?" I asked. "Not that it isn't very interesting."

  "I thought I would show you something in the Temple of the Mystic Brotherhood," the Wolluf said. "They have a sort of museum of antiquities and curiosities there."

  "Okay, let's go in," I said.

  "It's not as easy as that," the Wolluf said. "Only members may enter, and they are really strict about it."

  "But you're the Wolluf. You can do anything, right?"

  "It's true I have powers on the plane we just came from—but here I have them and I don't. It's best not to try to do anything fancy. To enter the temple, we'd need to get permission from Baas Kwaadwillig."

  "Who's that?"

  "Baas Kwaadwillig is the master of the Mystic Brotherhood. He also runs the town—call him the mayor, or the dictator. And he is dangerous and evil."

 
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