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Lizard music, p.5
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       Lizard Music, p.5

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  Jim and Linda went back to whispering.

  “Come on, now, this should be easy after the first question,” the Eft said.

  “Salamander the Great!” they both shouted at once.

  “Right, for 150,000 Agama Dollars!” the Eft shouted. The audience was clapping. I wondered why they all wore duck masks. I was getting a little bored—and tired. Except that everyone was a lizard wearing a duck mask, and speaking English, it was just a regular quiz show.

  “‘Red Scales in the Sunset’ is correct for 225,000 Agama Dollars!” the Eft was shouting. I wondered how many lizard programs were on late at night. I was starting to doze off with my chin on my fist. Every now and then it would slip off, and I would wake up suddenly.

  “I’m sorry, you should have known that. The answer is Newt Rockne,” the Eft said. My eyes were burning. My head was nodding.

  “She said, ‘Iguana be alone,’ ” Jim and Linda said.

  “Kee-rect, for 375,000 Agama Dollars!” the Eft said. I got to my feet. I felt as though I were walking on the bottom of a lake. My feet were like lead.

  “I’m sorry, it’s the Emperor Max Chameleon—Click!” I turned off the set and dragged myself to my room. I hadn’t slept in my bed for two nights, and it felt great when I got in. I could still sort of hear the Inept Eft in my head. “Elizardbeth Taylor is right for a half million Agama Dollars!” I was asleep in five seconds.

  Chapter 10

  “Victor, wake up!” It was my mother. “Wake up! It’s ten o’clock!” What was she doing here? I was having a hard time waking up. I was holding something heavy and hard in my hand—the telephone! I had answered the telephone in my sleep. “Victor! Victor! Are you all right? You were saying something about ducks.”

  I was trying to get myself together. “Everything’s fine, Mom,” I said. “Leslie let me stay up and watch the late movie, and I overslept.” I felt myself getting things back under control.

  “A fine thing,” my mother said, “letting a ten-year-old boy—”

  “Eleven,” I said.

  “—an eleven-year-old boy stay up till all hours. I’m going to call her at the office and give her a good talking to.”

  I imagined that horn that goes off in submarine movies just before they make an emergency dive. HONK HONK DIVE! DIVE! I had to think fast. “Well, you see there was this boy here—someone Leslie knows—and he’s sort of like a hippie, and Leslie told me she didn’t want me to go to bed until he went home.”

  “Oh, well—” Mom was thinking. “What’s this boy’s name?”

  “Hubert Van Eyck,” I said.

  “Is he a nice boy?”

  “No, he’s dumb. Leslie didn’t like him. She said that she never gets to go on a date, and when someone finally asks her, he turns out to be a creep. She’s in a bad mood.”

  “Oh, I see,” Mom said. I liked the way she said it. She had heard this routine from Leslie plenty of times, and it always went on for hours with Leslie whining and repeating herself over and over. I was just about certain she wasn’t going to risk calling Leslie for a few days, and certainly not at the office. Leslie would have gone into her act at work without a second thought. She doesn’t care where she is when she makes a scene.

  “Well, is everything okay?” Depth bomb attack over. I told Mom how everything was fine and asked how they were enjoying their vacation. As I suspected, Mom went on about scenery for a while. I told her it sounded fine. Then she went guilty, and started in on how there wasn’t all that much to do, and she hadn’t seen any kids my age, and how I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I told her I thought so too and I had to go meet a friend.

  I got dressed fast, grabbed a Twinkie to eat on the way, and ran for the bus. It was lucky my mother had called. As it was, I was afraid I was going to be too late and miss the Chicken Man. For a few seconds, before I woke all the way up, I was sort of scared that my mother had come back from her trip, or that she’d never gone, and it had all been a dream—the lizards and the Chicken Man and everything. I realized that I was enjoying all this very much. Even if the planet had been invaded by the pods, maybe there was something I could do about it, like that guy in the movie who was going to save the world. I would have hated it if it all turned out to be a dream. I was having a great adventure. I munched on my Twinkie, and felt good about everything.

  The bus rolled into the terminal, and I grabbed a special zoo bus. I was still sucking a piece of Twinkie out of my teeth when I got off in front of the Hogboro Zoo. I guessed it was maybe 10:45. I really needed a big pocket watch. Shane Fergussen had some in his store for $2.98; I never knew watches were so cheap. I made a note: Buy watch. There was a big sign right inside the zoo with a map of the place and arrows pointing in all directions with animals painted on them. One had a lizard on it. I went off in the direction it pointed.

  The Reptile House was another of those big brick buildings. Over the door it said Reptile House with a couple of lizards carved on both sides. I had certainly seen a lot of lizards lately. I was getting so I could tell a lizard that was good-looking from one that wasn’t—by lizard standards, I mean. The ones carved on the Reptile House were good-looking lizards. I went inside.

  It was dark inside the Reptile House. There wasn’t any smell. It was quiet. There wasn’t anybody there, just a zoo guard standing near the entrance. All around the walls were glass windows with green plants behind them. It was cool—cool and dark and quiet. The windows had lights behind them shining on the plants. They looked like TV screens and the windows in the empty store where I had seen the album cover. Every now and then a little green head moved behind one of the windows. It was so quiet in the Reptile House that I could hear myself breathe. I just stood in the doorway for a while until my breathing got quiet. Then I went farther inside.

  Over each window there was a little card that told about the reptiles inside. The first thing I saw was an anaconda. Anacondas are the biggest snakes in the world; they get to be over thirty feet long! The one at the Hogboro Zoo is twenty-two feet. He was just lying in his cage, doubled back on himself—folded like a hairpin. The cage wasn’t long enough for him to stretch all the way out. He wasn’t moving, just breathing. I looked at him. He looked at me. At least I think he looked at me—it was hard to tell. He looked sort of intelligent—for a snake. The anaconda lifted his head for a while, then he laid it down.

  “Well, Mr. Anaconda, you may be very big, but you’re not very interesting,” I thought.

  “Who cares what you think,” the anaconda said. He didn’t really say it—he just looked as though that’s what he’d say.

  They have mostly snakes in the Reptile House, not so many lizards at all. One snake I liked was called the emerald tree boa. It looked a little like the anaconda, only much smaller, and was a beautiful green color. There were cobras—sort of scary. They really do spread out their hoods like they are always shown doing in jungle movies. There were black and green mambas, rattlesnakes, and copperheads—all poisonous. There are only a couple of poisonous lizards, it said on a card over the Gila monster’s cage. I felt good about that.

  My favorite animal in the whole place was the chameleon. It was really a weird-looking lizard, sort of humpbacked, with a tail that curls up in a little spiral. Chameleons can change color! Not only that, but they have these great eyes. Each eye sort of sticks out at the top of a little bump, and they can rotate their eyes in all different directions, together or separately. They’re funny looking, and sort of friendly looking too. I thought that I might like to have one as a pet. It said on the card that they make good pets.

  I spent a long time watching the chameleons. They changed color a couple of times—and they have this great slow-motion way of moving. I really enjoyed them. A fly got into the chameleon cage, and one of the chameleons shot out this incredibly long tongue, and just sort of zooped it right into his mouth. They have these great little hands and feet. Chameleons are terrific lizards. They have a lot of personality. Lizards in general
are friendlier than snakes. Most snakes either look mean, or look like they couldn’t care less.

  It occurred to me that I had been in the Reptile House for a long time. Almost nobody had come in—maybe two or three people had come in and said, “Oooo, look at the snakes,” and left after a few minutes. I must have been in the Reptile House for two hours.

  Where was the Chicken Man? Had I missed him? I was getting tired of standing around in the dark, looking at reptiles. I went over to have another look at the alligators. They were in a sort of open pit at the end of the building. There wasn’t any glass in front of them. There was a little fence about four feet high, and on the other side was this pit with water in the bottom, and some rocks and plants. The alligators were just hanging around—watching me. I wondered what they’d do if I fell into the pit.

  “If you fell into that pit, they’d gobble you up in two seconds flat,” someone said. I looked around. The zoo guard was standing nearby. He had a green uniform, like a police uniform, and a badge that said Zoo Police. He also had one of those rectangular black plastic nameplates with his name on it in white letters, Anton Anolis.

  “Did you speak to me?” I asked.

  “I was just observing that the alligators have no manners at all,” Anton Anolis said. “Most of the reptiles, even the real poisonous ones, will treat you just fine if you are polite. Those alligators would eat anyone. They’d eat the President of the United States if he fell into that pit, which is why I hope he never comes here.”

  “Did they ever actually eat anyone?” I asked.

  “Well, not that I know of, but I dropped my lunch down there by accident once, and it was gone in a flash—two salami sandwiches, a tangerine, and a jelly doughnut—snapped up by one of those monsters. Then there used to be a keeper names Jones who vanished without a trace—never heard of him again. Some people say that the alligators were smiling for a week after that. Maybe he got eaten, maybe he didn’t. I kept an eye on the alligator pit for maybe a shoe, or a zoo badge, but I never found anything. I guess you’re really interested in reptiles,” Anton Anolis said.

  “I am sort of getting interested in them,” I said, “but the reason I’ve been here for such a long time is that I’m waiting for a friend. You don’t know anything about someone called the Chicken Man, do you?”

  “The Chicken Man?” Anton Anolis said. “Never heard of him. Come this way.” Anton Anolis led me to a side door of the Reptile House. The door opened onto a little sort of courtyard with trees and benches. Sitting on one of the benches reading a newspaper was the Chicken Man. It wasn’t a regular newspaper; it was in some foreign language with a different alphabet. The letters were funny-looking loopy things with thick and thin parts, and the Chicken Man was turning the pages backwards. He saw me and folded the newspaper.

  “Ah, Victor! Glad to see you. Come and sit down,” the Chicken Man said. I sat down on the bench.

  “I see you’ve been enjoying a visit with the reptiles,” he said. “I never go in there anymore, ever since poor Jones disappeared.” The Chicken Man looked off into the distance. He seemed to be thinking about something. He didn’t say anything for a long time. I sat there, keeping quiet. I was getting uncomfortable.

  “How’s Claudia?” I said finally.

  “Ask her yourself,” the Chicken Man said. He took off his hat, and there was Claudia—sleeping. She opened one red eye, gave me a cluck, and settied back to sleep. The Chicken Man put his hat over her again.

  “Now, what in particular did you want to see me about?” the Chicken Man asked.

  “I’m not sure why, but I think you can answer a lot of questions that have begun to bother me,” I said.

  “Very likely,” said the Chicken Man. “Such as—”

  “Such as, where are the lizard programs on television coming from? Such as, why did you make that lizard appear in your hand the other day? Such as—”

  “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” the Chicken Man said. “Just hold the thought for a minute while I get set up here.” The Chicken Man dug around in his raincoat and came up with a huge pipe, a curved one. He stuffed it full of tobacco, struck a match on the sole of his shoe, and lit it, making huge clouds of blue smoke.

  “A bowl of Latakia always helps me listen, and I perceive that you have a complicated problem. Proceed, Victor,” the Chicken Man said. I had sort of forgotten where I was in my questions, watching the Chicken Man light the big pipe.

  “I have some notes here,” I said. I got out my notebook. “By the way, what is your name? I’ve heard about fifteen names for you so far.”

  “It’s true, I am known by a variety of names,” the Chicken Man said. “Which one do you like best?”

  “Charles Swan,” I said.

  “Call me Charlie,” the Chicken Man said.

  “It was you in the taxi, wasn’t it?” I asked.

  “Sure, you knew that, didn’t you?” Charlie said.

  It was hard to keep a conversation going in one direction. The Chicken Man, Charlie, had a way of getting me off the track. “Now, about the lizards,” I said.

  “Oh yes, did you have a look at the iguana in there?” Charlie pointed his pipe at the Reptile House. “They have a fine double-crested basilisk. Quite rare, really.”

  “Was that the one that runs around on its hind legs?” I asked.

  Charlie was doing it again. “Yes, that’s the one—interesting family, the iguana.” Charlie puffed on his pipe.

  There was another silence. It was frustrating. Charlie was real good at taking control of a conversation, and then he’d just let it die out. I wondered if he was charging me for all this pipe smoking, and stuff about iguanas, but I was embarrassed to ask him. It all reminded me of the chameleons walking in slow motion on their little branch.

  “We’ve been invaded by people from another planet!” I shouted.

  “Not people—creatures,” Charlie said.

  Chapter 11

  “Will you please tell me what’s going on?” I screamed. “I’m only eleven years old, and some of this stuff has got me very upset!”

  “There’s no need to get excited, Victor,” Charlie said. “Now just tell me what’s on your mind.”

  “Lizards,” I said. “Lizards are on my mind, and pod people, and you—you’ve been turning up everywhere!”

  “I know quite a lot about the lizards,” Charlie said, “somewhat less about the pod people as you call them. As to me turning up everywhere, I’ve always done that. It’s you who have taken to turning up lately. We were certain to meet once you started that.”

  “Well, if you know so much, why aren’t you excited, or at least worried?” I asked. I hadn’t been bothered too much by the thought of the pod people invading the earth until that moment. “Don’t the pod people worry you?”

  “If you mean the pod people in that old science-fiction movie, they don’t worry me at all,” Charlie said. “Worrying about them is a good way to become one.”

  “I thought they came from outer space,” I said.

  “No, not the pods—it’s the other ones who come from outer space,” Charlie said.

  “The other ones—do you mean the lizards?” I asked.

  “In a way—in a way the lizards are from outer space,” Charlie said. “I see you’re a little confused about this stuff.”

  “I’m only eleven,” I said.

  “Quite so,” Charlie said. “I will try my best to explain it to you, as well as I understand it myself. But first, I suggest we stop at the refreshment stand for a bite of something nutritious. It’s almost two o’clock, and I expect we’re both hungry.” There was no way to hurry Charlie. He said that he didn’t believe that people should talk about serious things while they were eating, so I had to listen to him carry on about the differences among various old violins while he put away six hot dogs. I had a hot dog myself, and a root beer.

  Charlie suggested we take a walk around the zoo while we talked. “I gather you’ve only recently noticed
the lizard programs on television,” Charlie said.

  “Well, I don’t usually get to stay up late,” I said. “They’ve been on every night so far since I’ve been staying up.”

  “And you observed that there was nothing about them in the daily television listings?”

  “Yes,” I said.

  “Perhaps you even called the TV station to inquire,” Charlie went on.

  “I did that,” I said, “and they didn’t tell me anything.”

  “Not surprising,” said Charlie. “They don’t know anything. Now, what’s this about pod people?”

  “Last night I began to notice that there were these people on television—regular television—before the lizard programs. They aren’t regular humans—it’s hard to explain—something about them doesn’t make sense. They seem to—they seem to—”

  Charlie finished the thought for me. “They seem to be going through the motions of being humans without really meaning it or understanding it.”

  “That’s it,” I said. “They’re real, but they’re not. It got me thinking about this movie where pods from space come down, and replicas of the real people come out and replace everyone.”

  “I’ve seen the movie,” Charlie said. “Everyone has. It’s an excellent film, but not entirely accurate. You see, the pod people, as you like to call them, are not from another planet. They are ordinary people who have developed in a certain way. It can happen to anyone, if they’re unlucky.”

  “That’s even scarier than being invaded from space,” I said. I thought about the stupid people on the talk show. I was worried that it could happen to me. It had happened to my sister.

  “What makes people get that way?” I asked.

  “Nobody seems to know,” Charlie said. “There’s a lot of it going around. My personal belief is that it comes from eating too much prepackaged food, but that’s just a little theory of mine.”

 
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