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Adventures of a cat whis.., p.11
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       Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, p.11

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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"Very dangerous?"

  "And very evil. It is believed he does bad things to people."

  "What sort?"

  "All sorts. Male, female, young, old, human, otherwise—he makes no distinctions."

  "I meant what sort of bad things."

  "Oh, very bad. Bad as can be."

  CHAPTER 46

  Neither Here nor There

  "Take a look. There he goes now," the Wolluf said.

  We saw a man who was all angles. It was as though none of his knees or elbows, ankles or wrists, worked in the usual way. He was dressed all in black, with a black high hat, and he was walking like a double-jointed crab, bent over, with the aid of a crooked stick. He had pale gray skin, long, straight gray hair, a wiggly pointed nose and little dark pinpoint eyes. Baas Kwaadwillig looked over his shoulder, fixed us with a pinpoint gaze that made me think of stale shredded wheat and moldy prunes, and went into the Temple of the Mystic Brotherhood.

  "What do you think of Baas Kwaadwillig?" the Wolluf asked.

  "He looks as bad as can be," I said. "Are we going to ask him for permission to enter the temple?"

  "Possibly not at this time," the Wolluf said. "It might be better to look around and get better acquainted with our surroundings first."

  "Let's take a walk," Molly said.

  Walking around Apokeepsing, a city on an interstitial existential plane that was, and was not, identical to Poughkeepsie in some places, and not in others, was stranger and more confusing than if it had been a completely different place. We kept having the experience, over and over, of being completely comfortable and sure of where we were and then finding something unexpected and completely different. For example, imagine you are walking along a street you have walked along a hundred times—you know every house, every tree and bush. Then, you turn a corner you have turned a hundred times and there is a small volcano, with smoke and gasses issuing forth, and looking like it might erupt at any moment.

  "Actually, the term for this is fumarole, although a small volcano is what it is," the Wolluf said. "Usually if there is one there are more, and often a big one, in the neighborhood, so we will watch our step."

  We found ourselves on the road that would have led to Spookhuizen and Chicken Nancy's house if we were in Poughkeepsie.

  "I'd like to see if there's a Spookhuizen here," I said.

  "Yes, good idea. Let's go," Molly said.

  Then we met someone we knew! It was Jack! He was leading his horse.

  "Jack!" Molly and I said.

  Jack looked at us uncomprehendingly. It was obvious he didn't recognize us but assumed we knew him. He was friendly. "My mother told me to take this horse and trade it for something of value," he said.

  It was also obvious that this Jack was a bit more simple-minded than the one we knew on the Poughkeepsie plane.

  "Your name is Jack, right?" Molly asked.

  "Close enough. It's Jake. I am going to the farmer to trade the horse."

  "Your horse, Diablo? Don't you love him? Why would you want to trade him?"

  "This horse is named Duivel, and he's just a horse. I'd rather have something valuable—besides, my mother told me to trade him. I don't know anything about a horse named Diablo. Would you like to come along?"

  "We wouldn't miss it for the world," I said.

  CHAPTER 47

  Jake and the Bean Soup

  We were on a road that corresponded to the road we knew in Poughkeepsie that led to the old stone barn, and Jake was heading in that direction.

  "I'm really curious to see if there's a Spookhuizen here too," Molly said.

  "So am I," I said.

  It was to the old stone barn that Jake meant to go. It was a working farm in this version of reality. The farmer was big and fat, with a broad-brimmed hat, square-toed boots, a fringe of gray whiskers ... and scales. He was like a human, and like a lizard. He was sitting on a bench in front of the old stone barn, sharpening a scythe.

  Molly and I peered at the land behind the barn. There was no Spookhuizen—nothing but cultivated fields of beans or something.

  "You want to swap for this horse?" Jake asked the farmer.

  "It all depends, lad," the farmer said. "What did ye expect to get for horse?"

  "Well, something of value, of course," Jake said. "Gold, for example."

  "Eish! Not gold, that's certain," the farmer said. "He's not much, is horse. Not worth beans."

  "I wouldn't trade him for beans," Jake said.

  "Would thou trade horse for soup?" the farmer asked.

  "Soup?"

  "Aye, soup."

  "What kind of soup?"

  "Bean soup."

  "I would not," Jake said.

  "Not if it were magic bean soup?" the farmer asked.

  "It's magic?"

  "Aye, magic."

  "Really magic?"

  "This be the most magical bean soup ever was." The farmer reached into his overalls and pulled out a can. The label had a picture of a bean on it, and the lettering read Farmer Grey's Magic Bean Soup. Kosher. "It be kosher," he said.

  "How many cans of this kosher magic bean soup would you trade for this fine horse?" Jake asked.

  "One can for one horse," the farmer said.

  "Only one?"

  "It be magic," the farmer said.

  Jake thought for a while. "Deal!" he said. He and the farmer spat on their palms and shook hands.

  "By the way," Jake said to the farmer, "what kind 196 of magic does this bean soup do?"

  "What do I look like to you?" the farmer asked. "A magician? I'm a farmer. Ask me about crops or something, and I'll tell you. It's magic, and that's all I know about it. Now be on your way already—I have to go make with the scythe."

  "Great trading," the Wolluf said.

  "I know," Jake said.

  CHAPTER 48

  Like Mother, Like Son

  "What are you going to do with your magic bean soup?" I asked Jake.

  "I will take it to my mother, of course," Jake said. "She will be pleased with me for making such a clever trade. Would you like to come along? Mommy will be happy to meet you."

  "Oh, we are definitely coming along," Molly said. "I want to know how this story turns out."

  The way to Jake's house was familiar. It was the same as the way to Chicken Nancy's house in the woods. Realizing where we were headed, we wondered if Chicken Nancy was Jake's mother in this semiplane. She was not. The woman who came out of the little house—which looked just like it did on the Poughkeepsie plane—was little and round, with a round head with her hair in a round bun on top, a round nose, and little round fingers on her little round hands. She had boots on, so we couldn't see if she had little round feet and little round toes, but it was a safe assumption.

  "So! You're back from trading the horse already! What did you get for him? And hello, strangers. Welcome to our little home."

  "I got this can of magic bean soup, Mommy," Jake said.

  "What? You ninny! You fool! Come here and bend down so I can give you a slap on the noggin!"

  Jake bent over, and his mother slapped him on the head. "You're a dolt! You traded a horse like that for a can of magic bean soup?"

  "It was a good trade, Mommy!" Jake said. "My friends here said it was."

  "I don't know who your friends are or where they came from," Jake's mother said. "But that horse was worth two cans of magic bean soup if he was worth a single bean! The farmer saw you coming, you nitwit!" She slapped him again.

  "Mommy! You're embarrassing me in front of these people!" Jake shouted.

  "Of course—where are my manners?" Jake's mommy said. "People I never saw before in my life, would you care to join us for some magic bean soup?"

  "Only if you will share the cold fishcake sandwiches we brought with us," the Wolluf said.

  "It will be a feast," Jake's mother said. "And I have leftover coffee from this morning."

  "Yum," we all said.

  The bean soup did not taste very magical. It did no
t even taste very beany. Jake's mother had to water it down so it would go around. It didn't seem to me that it would have been any better full strength. However, it was hot, and we were hungry. Not every meal has to be a banquet.

  While we were munching and slurping, I noticed that I felt sort of giddy and woozy.

  "I'm a little dizzy," Molly said.

  "The room is wiggling," Jake said.

  "This soup is laughing at me," Jake's mother said.

  "I think we're high," the Wolluf said.

  "Oh, look!" Jake's mother said. "It's our neighbor, Mr. Boonstengel!"

  A small giant had entered the room. He looked exactly like Harold, our giant from back home in regular Poughkeepsie.

  "Hello, everybody," the giant said.

  "This will not mean anything to you, but you look exactly like a giant we know named Harold," I said.

  "Well, it means hardly anything to me, but my name is Harold, and you do know me," Mr. Boonstengel said.

  "You're our Harold?"

  "I wouldn't say I was yours, but I know what you mean, and yes, I am the giant you took the boat ride with."

  "How come you are here on this interstitial existential quasi plane?" I asked.

  "I live here most of the time," Harold Boonstengel said. "I have a small Christmas tree farm just up the path. What have you been doing, eating magic bean soup? You all look sort of high."

  "Yes. What is it with this stuff?" Molly asked.

  "It makes you high—like Chef Chow's Hot and Spicy Oil," Boonstengel the giant said.

  "Do people eat it because it makes them high?" I asked. "I find it sort of unpleasant."

  "I don't know why people eat it," the giant said. "But it wears off pretty fast."

  "Whoop!" Jake's mother shouted.

  "Why did she whoop?" Molly asked me.

  "Whoop!" I said. Something had poked my bottom, which surprised me, causing me to whoop.

  "Whoop!" Molly said. "Something just poked my bottom. What goes on here?"

  "It's my pet, Sparky," Harold said. "He's a golden gooser."

  We looked down and saw an animal about the size of a large duck, and resembling a fireplug. It had a lustrous coat like a golden retriever.

  "Sparky gooses people?"

  "He's a golden gooser," Harold said.

  "I am the Wolluf," the Wolluf said. "And if this creature gooses me, I will consider it a mark of disrespect."

  "I think Sparky knows enough not to goose the Wolluf," Boonstengel said.

  "Let us hope so," the Wolluf said. "Now I think we should depart."

  "I was hoping you'd say that," Jake's mother said. "We have work to do around here and can't spend the day chatting with total strangers."

  We thanked Jake and his mother for the unsatisfying and intoxicating magic bean soup, and left them, and Harold Boonstengel the giant, in the little house.

  CHAPTER 49

  Three Little Kids

  "Once the strangeness wears off, this mixed-up plane really isn't any more interesting than the regular Poughkeepsie one," Molly said.

  "I agree," the Wolluf said. "Generally, one place is like another—it's what happens and what you observe that make the difference, wherever you are."

  "And the idea of being here is because certain things can happen here, and be observed?" I asked.

  "Perfectly right," the Wolluf said. "If I wanted to choose a plane of existence on the basis of having a pleasant excursion, I would have picked one with a lot of very good bakeries and restaurants."

  "Are there such planes?" Molly asked.

  "Certainly."

  "Too bad this isn't one, specially if magic bean soup is any indication of the quality of the local cookery," I said.

  We were just about to turn the corner onto the road that led back to the equivalent of downtown Poughkeepsie when three little kids appeared. They were all exactly the same height, wearing blue smocks, and barefooted. They had curly blond hair and faces like frogs.

  "Attend us, strangers," the kids said in unison.

  "Attend them," the Wolluf said. "This may be one of those things."

  "You are in peril," the three little kids said all at once. I noticed the three little kids' feet were suspended two or three inches above the ground.

  "What sort of peril?" the Wolluf asked.

  "Beware!" the three little kids said. "Beware! Beware!"

  "Is there something in particular we should beware of?" Molly asked.

  "Beware the birdheads!" the three little kids said. "And keep with you the magic bag."

  "Birdheads?"

  "Magic bag?"

  The three little kids produced a bag like a pillowcase. The bag was tied with cord.

  "This bag is magic. Keep it with you always. It will lead you to your destiny."

  "What is in the bag?"

  "Never open the bag!" the three little kids said. "Never open the bag! Open the bag and you are doomed!" They handed us the bag. It contained something soft and moderately heavy.

  "Do not lose the magic bag or leave it unattended in any way," the three little kids said, and then floated up into the treetops. "And beware the birdheads!" Then they were gone.

  "We've got a magic bag," I said.

  "Do we know what birdheads are?" Molly asked.

  "Not a clue. What do you suppose is in the bag?"

  "Let's open it and have a look."

  "Think we'll be doomed if we do?"

  "I don't believe in doomed. We'll just have a fast look."

  "What do you think? Should we look?" I asked the Wolluf.

  "I might," the Wolluf said. "But I am the Wolluf. I think the bag has to do with your destiny, not mine—so it's really up to you."

  The three little kids appeared again, just over our heads. "Never open the bag!" they shouted in unison. "What's in that bag will spell your doom! Seriously!"

  Then they were gone.

  Then they were back again. "And remember about the birdheads too. Good luck."

  Then they were gone.

  We stood around for a while, waiting to see if they would come back. When it looked like they were done admonishing us, and not returning, we headed for downtown again.

  CHAPTER 50

  Birdheads

  We found out what birdheads were. They were proctors, which was the name for cops in Apokeepsing. They wore black tailcoats and top hats, carried policemen's nightsticks, and of course had heads like birds, with beaks and feathers.

  "Pull over, please," the first birdhead said.

  "Pull over? We're walking. What do you mean, 'pull over'?"

  "Just come to a stop, and answer our questions," the second birdhead said. "What's in the bag?"

  "We don't know. It's supposed to be a magic bag. Some little kids gave it to us."

  "Open the bag, please."

  "We're not supposed to open it. It's a magic bag. The little kids said we'd be in trouble if we opened it."

  "You'll be in trouble if you don't open it," the birdheads said.

  "Better do what they say," the Wolluf said. "They are the law."

  I undid the cord, opened the bag, and found myself looking into the eyes of Harold Boonstengel's pet.

  "Where did you get the golden gooser?" the birdheads asked.

  "As we told you, some little kids gave it to us. We 207 didn't know it was the golden gooser in the bag."

  "And you didn't steal it, I suppose?" one of the birdheads asked.

  "No. Not stole. Never stole."

  "And it comes as a complete surprise that one Harold Boonstengel, a local giant, reported his golden gooser missing not ten minutes ago?" the other birdhead asked.

  "No. I mean, yes. I mean, we didn't know. We didn't take it."

  "I told you not to do it," the Wolluf said. "I told you crime never pays."

  "What?"

  "Of course, we know you had nothing to do with it, Mr. Wolluf," the birdheads said. "But the girl and the pussycat are under arrest."

  "I'm a girl
too," I said.

  "The girl and the alleged girl, who is obviously a pussycat," the birdheads said. "We're taking you in."

  "Clap the darbies on them," one of the birdheads said to the other, producing a pair of ugly-looking iron handcuffs.

  "Are those the darbies?" I asked.

  "There will be no need for those," the Wolluf said. "I guarantee they will come along quietly—and I will come with you myself."

  "Well, seeing as how it's you that says it," the birdhead said. "We will accept your word, Mr. Wolluf, that these desperate criminal girls will not try anything funny while we march them off to gaol."

  "By 'gaol' you mean jail?" Molly asked.

  "That's where we take people who take things," the birdhead said.

  CHAPTER 51

  Marched

  The birdhead proctors marched us through the streets to the gaol. A few citizens noticed us but didn't show any particular interest. One thing that interested me was seeing myself, or someone just about identical to me, coming the other way. I only saw her for a moment, before she turned a corner. The gaol was the building we knew as Susie's Chop Suey, a Chinese restaurant, on the Poughkeepsie plane. There they handed us over to the town gaoler, Moon Stoats. Moon Stoats was spectacularly ugly and evil-looking. He was short and fat and squat and brawny, with big bulging muscles and a face like an insane owl's.

  "Wrongdoers!" Moon Stoats said. "If you try to escape or make noise, or just for no reason at all, I will torture you horribly, whip you, kick you, freeze you, fry you, squash you under a big stone, or pinch you without mercy. Here is your cell. You will await trial. I hope the court decides to hang you. I am also the town hangman, so I get extra for stringing you up." He locked Molly and me in, and went away, laughing like a maniac and rubbing his hands.

  "He's unpleasant," Molly said.

  "I have to agree," I said.

  The Wolluf was not locked in. "I will go and find out what will happen to you. Do not worry about Moon Stoats—he's a monster and behaves like that with everyone. Don't think it is anything about you personally."

 
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