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Adventures of a cat whis.., p.13
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       Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, p.13

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  "Or, has it occurred to you that these Mystic Brothers are crazy as bats?" Molly asked. "Maybe they lower people down here expecting them to go through some goofy trials, and when they never see them again they assume they failed, or they just forget about them. I mean, these are grown adults who wear pussycat masks and pineapples on their heads."

  "And we let them lower us into some kind of gigantic pit," I said. "We are the crazy ones."

  "Shall we holler?" Molly asked.

  "Yes. Let's do that," I said.

  We started to holler, but the echo got so loud, it made us dizzy and scared us.

  "Let's not holler," I said.

  "What do you suggest?" Molly asked.

  "Well, we can get out of the basket. And start feeling our way around."

  We got out of the basket. The floor of the place we were in was covered with gravel and loose stones. When stepped on, it made an unpleasant high-pitched squeaking sound—except in some spots where the stones made a nice mellow sound like a woodblock being hit with a drumstick or castanets.

  "Oh! I just thought of something," Molly said. "What if there are pits?"

  "Pits?"

  "Pits. In all this blackness, we could easily fall into a deep pit and break our necks. How do we know there aren't pits?"

  "Good point," I said. "We could just stay right here by the basket and wait for them to pull it up."

  "I think we just did that," Molly said.

  "What do you mean?" I said, and then, "Oh! It's gone! Do you think they pulled it up?"

  "Presumably."

  "And they would be able to tell by the weight that we weren't in it."

  "Right."

  "So they had no intention of pulling us back up. What's that noise?"

  "That's me hitting the elf fear gong," Molly said.

  "Well, stop for a minute, and let's think," I said. "What's the best thing to do?"

  "Find our way out of here and not fall into any pits," Molly said. "You have a trouble fez. Put it on and see if anything occurs to you."

  "Have you noticed that in some spots the floor makes an annoying squeaky sound and in others it makes a nice mellow clicking?" I asked Molly.

  "I did notice that," Molly said.

  "I am noticing that the mellow-clicking spots are grouped together, and contiguous," I said. "What happens if we step only on those?"

  Molly experimented. "I think they are laid out in a line," she said. "It's like a path or a road."

  "Maybe that is so we can follow in a direction even though it's completely dark," I said.

  "So we..."

  "Follow the mellow click road!"

  "Follow the mellow click road!"

  CHAPTER 58

  Following

  We made our way along, listening for the mellow clicks, stepping carefully lest we fall into a pit. I tried to be cheerful, but I couldn't manage it. It was depressing, and dark, and scary, and lonely.

  "You know what?" Molly asked me.

  "What?"

  "I miss my mommy and daddy."

  "You know what?" I asked Molly.

  "What?"

  "I miss my mommy and daddy too."

  "I thought you didn't remember your mommy and daddy."

  "I don't. That's the odd part. I think I am missing Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling's mommy and daddy."

  "That is odd."

  "I know. I think I am sort of working out the Elizabeth thing. I think maybe I am she, and also me. As to that other girl I saw who looked just like us—I mean her and me—I'm starting to have an idea."

  The three little kids appeared, floating over our heads as usual. They each had a candle. "Take heart, brave girl, and brave pussycat companion," the three little kids said.

  "I am a girl too," I said.

  "Take heart! Take heart! Your journey nears its 234 end! If you are brave you will be rewarded, and all will be well!"

  "So can you tell us if we are going in the right direction?"

  "For if you are of pure heart, and have courage, you will overcome even the greatest dangers!"

  "Is there a way out of here?"

  "So be brave, girl and pussycat, and you shall prevail. And now, farewell. Your destiny awaits you!"

  "Could you leave those candles with us?"

  And the three little kids were gone.

  "You know, I kind of hate them," I said.

  "So do I," Molly said.

  It seemed even darker once the three little kids had left with their candles. Of course, they had been above us, and we had been looking up at them. Had it occurred to us to look around, we might have gotten an idea of where we were in the candlelight, but they had come and gone so quickly, we never had a chance to think of that.

  Then we heard a voice. It seemed to come from all directions. "It is time! Prepare yourselves for the first ordeal. Prepare yourselves for the Trial of Hot!"

  Prepare? Prepare how? On one hand, it felt sort of good that the Mystic Brothers had not forgotten about us and we were not completely alone. On the other hand, we were supposed to be preparing for the Trial of Hot, and we had no idea how to do that.

  "If there's fire involved, that means there will be light too," I said. "Then at least we can get some idea of what's around us, and maybe even see a way out."

  Something small and light bounced off my head. "What's that? A bat?"

  Another one hit me.

  "There are things hitting me!" I said.

  "Me too!" Molly said. "We're being pelted with..."

  I caught ahold of one of the things and felt it. It was smooth, and tapered, and had a stem. "This feels like a Mexican pepper!" I said.

  "We're being pelted with jalapeños!" Molly said.

  "Peppers? That's the Trial of Hot?"

  I could hear wheezing and snorting and giggling in the darkness. It was obvious, the Mystic Brothers had gathered in the pit, or mine, or basement, or whatever it was, and were throwing little hot peppers at us.

  "The Trial of Hot! You have survived! You live!" the voice that came from everywhere said. "Continue on your quest, worthy girl and worthy pussycat!"

  "I'm a girl too!" I shouted.

  "Oh, for pity's sake," Molly said. "Hot peppers! What's next? Squirt guns?"

  CHAPTER 59

  A Light!

  Far away we saw a tiny twinkling light! It looked like a distant star.

  "Look!" Molly said.

  "I'm looking!" I said.

  "Run!" Molly said.

  "I'm running!" I said.

  We were excited. The light looked friendly. It seemed brighter as we ran toward it. It was a lantern, or a candle—we didn't know what it was, but we felt it was our best friend.

  "The Trial of Wet!" the voice from everywhere shouted, and we were squirted with water from all sides. This time the Mystic Brothers were giggling out loud.

  Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt. We were drenched.

  "What idiots!" Molly said.

  "Really," I said.

  The squirting stopped.

  "Once again, you have survived!" the voice said. "You are accepted into the Mystic Brotherhood. You may purchase robes, pussycat masks—only necessary for one of you—and sacred pineapple headdresses. Congratulations! You may depart the sacred chamber."

  Then we were alone again. There was no sound of anyone else. We approached the light, which turned out to be a fat candle on a rock.

  We stood there, wet.

  "What do you think?" Molly asked. "We are in the ordinary basement of the temple, and the nitwits just lowered us very slowly?"

  "Something like that," I said. "Let's take the candle and find the way out of here."

  "I am never joining anything after this," Molly said. "Especially anything secret."

  "That goes double for me," I said.

  We found a couple of ladders that went up into the darkness. Painted on the wall with whitewash next to one ladder was a sign that read ORDINARY LADDER, and next to the other ladder was one that read MYSTIC
LADDER.

  "Guess what," I said. "I'm for using the ordinary ladder. If we go up the other one they will probably dump buckets on us, or set off firecrackers, or try to make us buy pineapple hats."

  "I agree," Molly said. "Let's start climbing. I bet it's only ten feet."

  "I bet it's eight feet."

  CHAPTER 60

  Much More

  It was more like a hundred feet. I have plenty of experience as a mountain climber, and Molly as a dwerg can climb right up a smooth wall, but it was still a long, hard climb. The ladder was dirty and dusty, and went up a narrow wooden shaft. We figured we had been lowered into a mine after all.

  "I hate those Mystic Brothers," Molly said.

  "Oh, I hate them too," I said.

  "Why are you climbing with the Sacred Snooker Stick?" Molly asked me. "Doesn't it make it harder for you?"

  "It's mine," I said. "They gave it to me."

  "They gave it to both of us," Molly said. "But you may have my share."

  "I am not going down in the earth and stumbling around in the dark and having Mexican peppers thrown at me and getting squirted and not even get a Sacred Snooker Stick out of it," I said. "Thanks for your share. I need this Snooker Stick." I had no idea why I said that or what I needed it for.

  "De boom is de sleutel," Molly said.

  CHAPTER 61

  Finally!

  We got to the top of the ladder and clambered through a little door in a wall to find we were looking at a really big flying saucer! It was huge, and glowing—sitting on the ground in what looked like a park, with an enormous metal man standing in front of it. He was glowing too, and he was close to us, just a few feet away! Our mouths dropped open. We were too surprised and scared to move.

  Then we heard a very loud voice—it was a woman's voice—saying, "Klaatu barada nikto." I felt chills down my spine. I felt amazement and awe. I felt ... recognition.

  "Wait a second," I said.

  "Yeah, I saw this movie too," Molly said.

  "Do you realize where we are?" I asked.

  "We're on the back side of a movie screen," Molly said. "The movie is being projected on the other side. It's The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's been playing at the Panopticon in Poughkeepsie."

  "Which would make sense, because this is the Panopticon in Poughkeepsie," I said.

  "You think?" Molly asked.

  "It's easily tested," I said. "Let's go through that side door with the red Exit sign over it."

  We went though the door and found ourselves in the alley next to the movie house. We walked to the street, and there was good old Poughkeepsie as we knew it. And as if to prove we were back in our old time and space, who should come walking along, carrying a gallon jar of beet borscht from Adams's Farm Market, but Professor Tag!

  "Professor Tag!" we shouted.

  "Hello, girls," the professor said. "What have you been up to? Would you like to come to my house to enjoy some borscht?"

  "We swore an oath not to," Molly said. "But we have a lot to tell you. Would you come with us to Chicken Nancy's house?"

  "Of course," Professor Tag said. "I'll just take the borscht along as a present for the old lady. That's a nice Sacred Snooker Stick—where did you get it?"

  "We'll tell you everything when we get to Chicken Nancy's."

  CHAPTER 62

  Tell Everything!

  I checked my reflection in store windows as we passed. I had lost the enhanced pussycatness that had happened while we were on the semi-Poughkeepsie plane. This caused mixed feelings—I was happy to see the more familiar me, but I thought I had looked better with fur all over.

  When we got to Chicken Nancy's little house in the woods she was outside, mixing sugar and yeast into a big tub of cornmeal mush.

  "I brought you borscht," Professor Tag said.

  "Pour it right in here," Chicken Nancy said. "It will give it age. Hello, girls. Did you learn things on your trip with the Wolluf?"

  "We certainly did, and we have questions to ask you," Molly said. "For instance, is it true that you and the Wolluf are secretly Audrey's parents? Are you a leprechaun? Is there a pot of gold buried under the floor of your little house? Do you come from Venus? Am I actually a princess from a magical realm? Has all this been a dream?"

  "No," Chicken Nancy said. "Why do you ask?"

  "I just wanted to have something to say," Molly said. "Once Audrey gets started, she's going to do all the talking."

  "Understood," Chicken Nancy said.

  "Oh, there is one thing," Molly said. "I was thinking I would just live here with you for a few years and learn to be a wise woman. Is that okay?"

  "I assumed we had already agreed about that," Chicken Nancy said.

  "Cool," Molly said. "I just wanted to make it official. I'll be quiet now. Audrey, you go."

  Of course, I had to bring Chicken Nancy and Professor Tag up to date, telling them about all the things that had happened since we went underground with the Wolluf. "By the way, what was with the Wolluf running out on us like that?" I asked Chicken Nancy.

  "He's the Wolluf," Chicken Nancy said. "He's wild and unpredictable—but you must admit, no harm came to you. I think you have to give him credit for knowing that was how it would be. But what I am waiting to hear is whether you learned anything or figured anything out."

  "I was coming to that," I said. "It's all about Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling. First you show me a picture of her, and it looks just like me. Molly thinks I actually am Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling. You say maybe I am. Professor Tag says I definitely am—"

  "I do say that," the professor said.

  "The trolls on Bannerman's Island think I am, and so it goes. After a while, I started thinking I am ... only I know I'm not ... only I have the feeling I am. It gets all confusing. And then I started feeling that I am and I am not. I am me, Audrey, and I am Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling too, and also a girl I saw in a crowd on the semi-Poughkeepsie plane."

  "Are you saying you are one of those multiple personalities?" Professor Tag asked. "I was just reading about those—people who have several different imaginary persons within them."

  "I am saying I am a multiple person—not just personality," I said. "I don't have it all worked out. Maybe it's that there is one of us, or of me, on this plane—that would be Elizabeth—and one on the plane I came from—that would be me—and one on the quasi-Poughkeepsian plane Molly and I just visited—that would be the girl I saw. And there's the time thing—that's confusing. Maybe there has been a whole string of Elizabeths, or Audreys, over time.

  "But here's the thing I am sure of—I have to do something for Elizabeth. Maybe the whole reason I came to Poughkeepsie was to do this thing for her."

  "And do you know what that thing is?" Chicken Nancy asked.

  "Not exactly. I almost know it. It's right on the tip of my brain, so to speak. What I do know is that it has something to do with the flying pussycats."

  Molly was grinning. So was Chicken Nancy.

  "Flying pussycats?" Professor Tag asked.

  "They're not flying saucers. They're not spaceships like in the movies. They're not machines. They're alive, and if they're not pussycats, they're something pretty close to pussycats."

  "What are you saying? That there are pussycats capable of interplanetary travel?" the professor asked.

  "What day is this?" I asked.

  "Wednesday," Professor Tag said.

  "Come with me to Spookhuizen tonight, and I'll show you," I said.

  CHAPTER 63

  Plans

  "I'll come along," Chicken Nancy said. "Not only is it Wednesday, but this is the day of the year when a great ball would be held at Spookhuizen. I used to attend those balls. It will be pleasant to visit on this night, and remember them. In fact, let's dress up fancy tonight."

  "Dress up fancy?" Molly asked.

  "Yes! Call it an old woman's whim," Chicken Nancy said. "I have a couple of ball gowns you girls would look lovely in."

  "I can go home
and put on my kilt and regalia!" Professor Tag said.

  "You have a kilt and regalia?"

  "Oh, yes. The Royal Scottish Accountants—I am a member."

  "It will be fun," Chicken Nancy said. "Do you agree?"

  "I'll bet one of the gowns belonged to Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling," Molly said.

  "As a matter of fact..." Chicken Nancy said.

  "We can fix up our hair too," I said.

  "Take naps!" Chicken Nancy said. "Then we'll dress, and have an elegant meal, and all go to Spookhuizen, just as though we were going to a ball in the old times."

  CHAPTER 64

  I Know What I Know

  Before we took our naps, which we needed after being initiated all night long, Molly asked me, "What do you plan to show us at Spookhuizen tonight?"

  "It's going to come to me," I said. "I'm going to have an idea, and something will happen. It will all be made clear."

  "And how do you know all this?" Molly asked. "I just know it," I said.

  "Well, you're practically getting to be a dwerg for knowing things," Molly said.

  "I learned from the best," I said.

  And we both fell asleep.

  CHAPTER 65

  Razzle-Dazzle

  The ball gowns from Chicken Nancy's closet must have come from the same time as the cloaks. They were gowns for children or young people, simple and graceful. Mine was blue and Molly's was green. They were soft and light, with long flowing skirts that made us look as though we were gliding when we walked. I felt good wearing mine.

  Chicken Nancy's gown was a different sort of thing entirely. It was dark green and had gold fringes, and tassels, and Chicken Nancy had a tall feather thing on top of her head and carried a little sparkly bag she said was a reticule. She had piled her hair on top of her head too, making her look quite tall, and had gloves that came up to the elbow.

  "I wore this once at a party attended by Mr. Lincoln," Chicken Nancy said.

 
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