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The yggyssey how iggy wo.., p.12
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       The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.12

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  "Give him more nickels!" I said to Seamus. We ate five more sfingi. Each.

  After getting to the point of not being able to think of eating another sfingi, we felt perfectly ready to continue our quest. "Let's ask the little guy where to find the king of the ravens," Seamus said.

  "King of ravens? Ask giant head," the little guy told us.

  "Giant head?"

  The little guy jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I guess giant head, whatever that may be, is in that direction," Big Audrey said. We left the clearing and started through the forest, going the way the little sfingi guy had pointed.

  "I suppose 'giant head' refers to some local with an outsize head," I said.

  "Not exactly," Seamus said. "It refers to a huge head of stupendous size."

  "Why do you think that?" I asked Seamus.

  "Because I can see it through the leaves. Look!"

  "Holy tamales!"

  It was a head as big as a house. Just a head, in the middle of a clearing. Obviously it was some kind of idol, a statue, made of stone. Only it wasn't. It was alive! "What are you looking at?" the head said, in a voice that made the ground shake.

  We stood there, our mouths open.

  "What? You never saw a giant head before?" the giant head asked.

  Viknik got control of himself. "We need to talk to the king of the ravens," he said.

  "The ravens rule this forest," the giant head said, making the ground shake. "And the king of the ravens rules the ravens. It had better be something pretty important for you to talk to the king."


  Head Games

  "We seek the sacred amulet," Viknik said. "We seek the magical turtle."

  "Or bunny," Neddie said under his breath.

  "That's a big feat, and fairly important," the giant head said. "You kids got a corn muffin?"

  "In my leathern bag," Viknik said.

  "You know that to find the sacred amulet you have to cross the quivering bog, and nobody has ever done that?"

  "We know that."

  "And you want to see the king of the ravens, because ravens go everywhere and see everything, and you hope he will give you a hint about how to cross the bog?"


  "All right. I'm going to let you see the king of the ravens," the giant head said. "Tell him the giant head sent you."

  "Which way should we go? How do we find him?"

  "Take the uptown express," the giant head said. "The uptown express?"

  "Go right through there," the giant head said, shifting its eyes. We looked in the direction the giant head was looking and saw a doorway among the trees. Over the doorway were the letters INTER-REALM TRANSIT.

  "Through there?"

  "What did I say?" the giant head said.

  We thanked the giant head and went through the doorway. There was a flight of stairs leading down to a platform, and a train was just pulling in. We got on board. The car wasn't crowded—there were three or four ravens and a couple of trolls, reading the newspaper. We rattled along through a dark tunnel. We sat in our seats and stared at our reflections in the grimy windows and the darkness rushing past.

  "How do we know when to get off?" I asked.

  "I don't know," Seamus said. "It's supposed to be an express. Or we could ask a troll."

  "The trolls don't look friendly."

  "Or ask a raven."

  "Talk to a bird?"

  "Why not?"

  It turned out we didn't have to ask anyone. The train pulled into a station. There was a sign on the wall: king of the ravens. We got off the train and went upstairs. It was another clearing. On a low branch we saw the biggest raven anyone could imagine. He had on a beautiful white cape, with a stand-up collar, all covered with rubies and emeralds. He also had fancy sunglasses. There wasn't any question—this was the king.

  Also in the clearing was a piano—there was a fat guy wearing a derby hat and smoking a cigar, seated at the keyboard. The fat guy was playing, and the king was listening.

  "What can I do for you, babies?" the king said in a soft voice.

  "The giant head said we could come see you," I said.

  "Did you bring a corn muffin?"

  Viknik reached into his bag and brought out the corn muffin. He handed it to the king.

  "Thank ya very much. Now, tell the king your problem," the king said.

  "We need to cross the quivering bog," Seamus said.

  "We need to find the sacred amulet, the magic turtle," Viknik said.

  "Bunny," Neddie whispered.

  "Why do you want to find the magic turtle?" the king asked.

  "We want to liberate the Valley of the Shlerm and get rid of Uncle and his fershlugginer helpers," Viknik said.

  "Don't criticize what you don't understand, son. You never walked in that man's shoes," the king said.

  "But they are oppressing us," Viknik said.

  "Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away," the king said.

  "Will you tell us how to cross the quivering bog and where to find the amulet?" Neddie asked.

  "What you're considering is a big feat," the king said. "Fats, sing them the song."

  Fats sang a song about how somebody's feet were too big, and they looked like a fossil, and their pedal extremities were colossal. He was a great piano player, and we were all tapping our feet, big and small. At the end, we all clapped and shouted, "Yay! Yay! Your feet's too big!"

  "Nice song," Big Audrey said. "Now will you tell us how to cross the quivering bog?"

  "You already know," the king of the ravens said.

  "Beg pardon?"

  "Take the number four train to the end of the line, and start walking," the king said. "Good luck, babies, and thank ya very much ... for the muffin."

  And then he spread his enormous wings and flew off.


  Your feat's Too Big

  An hour later, we were at the edge of the quivering bog.

  "Why is this called a quivering bog, anyway?" I asked.

  "It just looks like some huge meadow to me."

  "I know about quivering bogs," Neddie said. "We studied stuff like this in Miss Magistra's class at Brown-Sparrow. Just walk about ten feet out onto the 'meadow,' then stop and sort of bounce up and down rapidly. Then come back and I will explain it to you."

  "This isn't some kind of trick, is it?" I asked Neddie.

  "It's a trick, but not a dirty trick," he said. "Just do it. It will save explanation."

  I walked about ten feet from where the trees stopped growing. It felt perfectly normal, like walking on a lawn. Then I stopped and bounced up and down. The ground under my feet started to bend and bounce back, like a trampoline, and I could see ripples, like ripples on water, radiating out, maybe ten feet from where I was bouncing. I had stopped bouncing, but the bog hadn't. It was undulating and quivering under my feet. It was weird to see what looked like solid earth behaving like water, and the sensation made me feel a little sick and woozy. I walked, carefully, back to where Neddie and the other kids were standing.

  "That was sort of disgusting," I said. "What's the deal?"

  "Underneath, it's liquified mud and water," Neddie said. "On top is a thin layer—think of a carpet of peat and plant life, sphagnum moss, grasses. The layer is likely to be thicker close to the margins, but as you get out into the middle, it is probably thinner in places—thin enough for you to sink right through."

  "And never be seen again—I get it. So, what would be wrong if we just went around, staying close to the edge, where the carpet is thicker, and crossed it that way? Why isn't that a good idea?"

  "It isn't a good idea because the sacred amulet is right in the middle of the bog," Viknik said. "Ahhh!"

  "Of course, there may be hummocks that are safe to walk on all the way out, and in theory we could step from one to another," Neddie said. "But how are we to know what is solid enough to support our weight, and what isn't?"

  "And t
his is why we went to the king of the ravens," Viknik said. "All the stories say that he can tell you how to cross the quivering bog."

  "Instead of which, he told us bupkis," Big Audrey said.



  "Maybe it can't be done," Neddie said. "The giant head told us that it was a big feat, and the king said the same thing. Maybe it is too big a feat."

  "But he also told us we already knew how to cross the quivering bog," Seamus said.

  I got it! "And we do! We know how to cross the bog!" I shouted, jumping up and down.

  "We do?"

  "We do! We do!" I yelled.

  "We don't—anyway, I don't," Viknik said.

  "We do! We were told! Remember the song?"

  "The song Fats sang?"

  "Yes. Your feet's too big."

  "That's it!" I shouted. "Big feet for a big feat!"

  "Wait a second!" Neddie said. "Are you thinking..."

  "Yes, I am!"

  "Seamus, do you have your scout knife?" Neddie asked.


  "And I have mine. Viknik, you have some kind of knife in your bag?"

  "Sure, I have a knife for cutting the garlic."

  "Okay! We can do this!"

  "What? What?"

  "Make snowshoes," I said. "Or, in this case, bog-shoes. There are plenty of bendy saplings and reeds, and vines and creepers around here. We make big feet to distribute our weight widely, and a-bogging we shall go!"

  "Oh, it's beautiful!" Seamus said. "And I have made snowshoes before, when I went to ski camp, so I know just how it's done!"


  How It's Done

  It was simple. It only took about an hour. We bent flexible branches or sections of sapling into an oval and tied them fast with lengths of vine. Then we crisscrossed them with a couple of sticks, filled all the open parts with loosely woven vine or long grasses, and twisted grasses together to make loops to hold them in place on our feet. The results were crude, and wouldn't last a long time, but we were sure they would be good enough to get us across the bog.

  "Let's try them out," I said.

  The bog-shoes worked! It didn't take long to get used to walking on them. We discovered it was best to spread ourselves out and put our feet down gently to keep the bog from starting to quiver—but they worked! We made our way out to the middle of the quivering bog. There was a fairly large hummock, rising up a foot or so, and in the middle of that was a cairn, or pile of stones. They'd been carefully stacked, not a natural or random thing.

  "I think old Shmoonik must have piled up these stones," Viknik said. He removed the top stone and reached down into a hollow that had been beneath it. He pulled out a little wooden box, covered with moss. We were all holding our breath. Viknik opened the box, and his eyes filled with tears.

  "It's here," he said.

  He carefully handed the box around, and each of us had a look. In the box was a little carved stone. "Oh, yes. A little stone bunny," Neddie said.

  "It's a turtle," Viknik said. "I want to say that you are all great. By helping me do this feat, you have brought happiness to the people of my valley."

  "What happens now?" I asked. "Do we have to do something with the amulet?"

  "As I understand the legend, once the amulet is in the possession of the people, whoever is oppressing them will become powerless. I am one of the people, and I claim the turtle in the name of the people, so I would assume it will just work automatically."

  "We ought to check and see if that is so," Neddie said. "Is there a way we can do that?"

  "We could go to Old New Hackensack," Viknik said. "The big festival is going on there, and there will be all kinds of witches, also Uncle and his so-called helpers. We could go there and see if anything has changed."

  "That's where we wanted to go in the first place," I said. "Is Old New Hackensack far from here?"

  "If we continue to the other side of the bog, we will be quite close," Viknik said.

  "Well, pop that amulet into your leathern bag, and let's get going," Big Audrey said.


  Supernatural Days

  Looking across the quivering bog, we could see a high, skinny mountain. It didn't seem to be very far away.

  "The Devil's Shoestring," Viknik said. "We head in that direction."

  We headed. In less than two hours, we had arrived at Old New Hackensack. There was a big banner hanging above and across the main street of the town:



  The streets were alive ... well, dead ... with ghosts, haunts, apparitions, phantoms, and imps. Also shades, spectres, spirits, shadows, and wraiths. And there were plenty of witches, enchantresses, wizards, hexes, hags, and sorceresses. And we got to see nixies, pixies, naiads, dryads, nymphs, goblins, and fairies. There were trolls, monsters, zombies, gnomes, and leprechauns. We noticed that the ghostly types were eating! Apparently, the inability of ghosts to eat food—only sniff it—was somehow suspended during Supernatural Days, and there was no end of vendors, with stands and carts, selling everything from popcorn to roasted toads.

  There were lots of beverages being offered for sale, and we saw visitors drinking from big paper cups of witches' brew. And there were souvenirs for sale: crystal balls, pointy hats, Harry Houdini lunch boxes, magic wands, T-shirts with funny slogans. We heard music coming from loudspeakers: eerie organ music, funeral dirges, and a song called "I'll Put a Spell on You" were playing so loud, we couldn't hear one another speak. There were also lots of fortunetellers, and ugly parlors, which are like beauty parlors only for witches, where you can have warts put on your nose and chin, with an extra charge for the kind with thick black hairs coming out. There were broom re-strawers, black cat groomers, and witch-shoe repairers.

  We saw the ghost of Harry Houdini himself among the crowd, and Billy the Phantom Bellboy, Rin Tin Tin, Fritz the projectionist, and lots of ghosts I recognized from the Hermione. La Brea Woman was chatting away with some other ancient ghosts, in their native language, I suppose. She smiled and waved to me. Compared to this, the ghostly Halloween parade in Los Angeles was like a tea party for babies.

  "Wow! What a crowd," Big Audrey said.

  "It's great!" Neddie and Seamus said.

  "What do we do now?" I asked. "I mean, how are we going to tell if Viknik's having the amulet has had any effect on Uncle's bad witch helpers? The whole place is such a mob scene."

  "True," Seamus said. "It's pandemonium."

  "Imagine meeting you here!" someone said. It was Ken Ahara, the grad student ghost fan, looking like he was in ghostology heaven, with four cameras hanging around his neck, snapping pictures every which way. I might have known he would find his way to an event like this.

  "Is this not heaven, or am I mistaken, I think not," Ken Ahara said. He looked a little unsteady on his feet.

  "Have you been drinking witches' brew?" I asked him.

  "I am drunk with happiness," Ken Ahara said. "Also, I haven't slept for two nights. There's just so much going on!"

  "You know where everything is and when things are supposed to happen?" I asked him.

  "I have the whole schedule memorized," Ken Ahara said. "Ask me anything."

  "Stick with us, Ken Ahara," I said. "We will have need of you."

  "Anything to oblige," the overexcited spookologist said. Then he said, "Ohhh! A zombie! I need to get a picture!"

  Ken Ahara rushed off, taking pictures wildly. A hag who happened to be standing nearby, enjoying an eye-of-newt ice cream cone, said to me, "I don't suppose anyone has told that young man that pictures taken here will definitely come out blank."

  "No, I don't suppose anyone has," I said.


  Perfect Opportunity

  Ken Ahara came back all out of breath, from photographing, and being chased by, the zombie. It seems the zombie didn't want his picture taken.

  "The big event of the whole fe
stival is the Witch Rodeo and Ghost Olympics up on the mountain. It's tonight. There's broom flying, spell casting, teleportation, causing cow's milk to go sour, changing things into other things, and bobbing for poisoned apples. Also there is a ghostly choir and leprechaun clog dancing. Everyone is going to be there, and Uncle, who runs this whole territory, is going to make the opening speech."

  It sounded pretty good. All we had to do was wait around, enjoying the sights in the town and snacking on fried dough in the shape of brooms and pointy hats, until the big show started.

  "Also, this will be the perfect opportunity to see if the amulet worked," I told Viknik. "Everyone will be gathered together, including Uncle, and I assume the council of helpers will be with him. We can see if they've lost their power."

  We walked up and down the streets of Old New Hackensack. The various supernatural visitors, witches, ghosts, and assorted unnatural tourists seemed happy and were having a good time. But we noticed the ordinary citizens of New Old Hackensack, and particularly the Shlermentalers, who were dressed more or less like Viknik, seemed to be slightly depressed. In spite of the festive atmosphere, I got the feeling that everyday New Old Hackensack was not a very happy place—it was the same feeling I had in New Yapyap City, though we weren't there long enough for me to be sure about it. I assumed people felt the way they did because they were ruled by a weak idiot who was controlled by evil beings.

  Turning a corner, I saw a very large black rabbit, at least six feet tall, walking arm in arm with a guy in a rumpled raincoat. It was Chase! I had seen her assume different sizes, but this was the biggest yet.

  "Chase!" I called out. "Where did you disappear to?"

  "Ah, I see you made it," Chase said. "This is my friend Elwood. Elwood, say hello to Yggdrasil, Seamus, Neddie, and a couple of other people."

  Elwood was polite and friendly. He shook hands with each of us.

  "Why did you run off so fast?" I asked Chase. "We couldn't keep up with you."

  "But you got here," Chase said. "Was the trip interesting?"

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