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Lizard music, p.6
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       Lizard Music, p.6

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  “It’s a serious problem, isn’t it?” I asked.

  “Oh yes, it’s a problem, but it doesn’t do to worry about it too much. Somehow, people who get all concerned about podism usually seem to wind up catching it.” Charlie’s voice was trailing off. He was looking at the rhinoceros. “You know, the white rhino isn’t white at all. He’s a grayish color like any other rhinoceros,” Charlie was saying. He was off again. “The term ‘white’ is derived from the Afrikaans word weit or ‘wide,’ having to do with the wide or squarish shape of the lip, thus distinguishing the white rhino from the black rhino, which isn’t black but gray and has a pointed or prehensile upper lip.”

  “What about the lizards?” I asked. You just have to ignore it when Charlie gets off the subject.

  “Umm? What’s that?” Charlie asked.

  “The lizards,” I said. “You said that the lizards come from outer space.”

  “In a way, in a way they do. It might be more proper to say they come from other space.”

  I was having a hard time making any sense out of what Charlie was saying. “Are you explaining or guiding?” I asked.

  “Explaining. Why?” Charlie asked.

  “I just wanted to know if I was going to have to pay for any of this,” I said.

  “No, no, as I told you, there is no charge for explanations. However, there is a charge for guiding. I’m a licensed guide,” Charlie said. “Does this mean that you’re ready to start out?”

  “Start out? Where to?” I asked.

  “To find the lizards,” Charlie said.

  “How much will it cost?” I asked. I was pretty sure that the explanations had gone about as far as they were going to go.

  “Two-fifty per day—you bring your own lunch,” Charlie said.

  “Let’s go,” I said.

  Charlie looked at his watch. “It’s almost five o’clock. Claudia and I have a show to do on the Clark Street bus. I’ll meet you in the A.M. at Shane Fergussen’s candy store,” Charlie said. With that Charlie took off. He had a kind of sideways style of running.

  There was nothing to do but go home and wait for the A.M. The zoo was about to close anyway. The McDonaldsville bus was crowded with commuters coming home from work. When I got home there were two postcards in the mailbox, one from Mom and Dad and one from Leslie. They were both about the same—having fun, wish you were here, etc.—except that Leslie’s card also said, “If you ever tell, I’ll kill you.”

  I had some time before the news. I thought about what to have for supper. I looked in the freezer. The neat rows of TV dinners in boxes turned me off. I thought about what Charlie had said. I didn’t really understand what he meant by prepackaged food, and I couldn’t see what that could have to do with pod people. Still it sort of spoiled my appetite for those TV dinners. I thought about something not prepackaged to eat. I had already done the egg thing. The frying pan was still soaking to get some of the black off. I didn’t feel like cooking again.

  I was looking around the kitchen, thinking about what to have for supper, when I noticed the calendar from the Pizza Palace. Every so often my family orders a pizza from the Pizza Palace. They bring it right to the house. The only thing is, nobody in my family likes anchovies. I mean, they hate anchovies. Not one of them can even stand to look at an anchovy. It makes them sick if they even think there’s an anchovy in the same room with them. I love anchovies. I don’t know how I found out about them—it sure wasn’t at home. Now, there is nothing to prevent ordering a pizza from the Pizza Palace and telling the man that you only want anchovies on half the pizza, or a quarter of the pizza. We do that with sausage because we all like it except Leslie. Of course she doesn’t hate sausage—I mean she doesn’t want to have a war against sausages. She just doesn’t care to have sausage on her pizza. It’s perfectly reasonable. She doesn’t want sausage, she doesn’t have to eat sausage. As I understand it, that’s why America is a great country. Nobody has to eat sausage if they don’t want to. But anchovies are a different story. Especially Leslie, but Mom and Dad too, freak out about anchovies. They won’t let me eat them in their presence. Even if I were to take my special anchovy slices of pizza away and eat them in another room, Leslie would start screaming that she could taste anchovies in her pizza and gagging and carrying on. Therefore I almost never get to have pizza with anchovies, although I am an American too.

  I called the Pizza Palace and ordered a pizza with double anchovies. I switched on the TV and sat down to wait for my pizza. I had already checked the icebox—there was plenty of milk. That’s another thing they can’t stand. I like milk with my anchovy pizza. They won’t even let me talk about it. The only time I ever get it is when I am over at Howard Foster’s house. I have rights, just like anybody else.

  The quiz program, the one where the people climb out of a greased pit with a mouthful of money, was just ending. The announcer was telling how they spray the money with Lysol at the beginning of each show so the contestants won’t get sick from the germs on the money. The doorbell rang—that didn’t take long. I went to the door. There was Charlie! He was carrying a big cardboard pizza box.

  “Hey, Victor!” he said. “Is this where you live?” Apparently Charlie delivered pizzas part-time. He handed me the box. “Anchovies, ugh!” he said. “That will be three dollars.” I paid him. “I’ve got to run—lots of pizzas to deliver,” Charlie said. “Are we still meeting at Fergussen’s place in the A.M.?”

  “Sure,” I said.

  “See you then. By the way, don’t miss the late movie—it’s a good one.” He was gone.

  I checked the TV listings. The late movie was Invasion of the Fat Men. It did sound interesting. The bell rang again. It was Charlie.

  “I almost forgot to tell you—bring a bathing suit, and a big plastic garbage bag, and some strong twine.” Then he was off again.

  Bathing suit? Garbage bag? Twine? I didn’t understand any of this. I sat down again. The Roger Mudd show had already started. My pizza was cooling on the kitchen table. You can never trust a pizza until it is really good and cold. A pizza that only seems warm to the touch can still give a serious pizza burn. Hot pockets of molten cheese are lurking under the surface. The smart way to eat a pizza is to give it at least twenty minutes to cool off before you put your teeth into it. Some people never learn this. My sister, Leslie, for example—there’s no point in someone like her eating a pizza, because she’s always in pain after the first bite.

  Roger Mudd was talking about the President—he had a cold, and had decided to stay indoors. I went to test my pizza. It seemed okay. Roger said that they were going to bring back the two-dollar bill. A poor news day, obviously. Sometimes they really have to stretch to fill up a half hour. Walter is really good at that. I remember when those guys went to the moon, Walter could talk for half an hour about nothing. I really miss him sometimes when he’s on vacation.

  The news ended. I ate my pizza and watched a game show. It was the one where people get all dressed up in funny costumes and make fools of themselves. The ones in the funniest costumes get to be on the program and get asked easy questions, which half of them miss.

  I rummaged around in the kitchen for some twine and a garbage bag. I found the things I needed and put them in a paper bag, along with some peanut butter sandwiches, and put the bag on the table near the front door, next to the stack of phony letters to Mom and Dad.

  I got through another evening of prime-time television. I don’t know why all the good stuff isn’t on until late at night. I finished my model—all but the painting—and cleaned up the newspapers and stuff. I always paint models in the basement, because Mom says the smell of the paint lingers for days. I think it smells pretty good. I felt sort of bored and restless. I wanted the evening to be over so it would be night. I wanted it to be tomorrow so I could go with Charlie, wherever it was we were going.

  Invasion of the Fat Men was a good movie. In the movie, some scientists notice thousands of round things like meteorites desce
nding to the earth, only they descend very slowly. People are watching through telescopes. As the round things get closer, people can see that they are not meteorites—they are fat men in sport coats, with checked trousers and two-tone shoes with rubber soles, and knitted neckties—and they are floating down to earth like big round snowflakes. There is a worldwide panic. It takes days for the fat men to float down.

  When the fat men start alighting on earth, everyone has been a nervous wreck for days. Each fat man weighs about six hundred pounds, and there are millions and millions of them, so there’s no point in trying to resist them if they are unfriendly. The governments of the various countries just hope they can negotiate with them. All the presidents and kings and so forth are waiting for leaders of the fat men to contact them. They never do. They just start looking around for places to eat. They especially like hamburger stands and pizzerias and places like that. Most of the fat men from space go to California and New Jersey, because they have the most driveins, but the fat men are all over the world and still descending. It’s like a blizzard of fat men from space. No airplanes can fly because of the ones floating down, and no cars or trains or buses can go very far without getting snarled up in crowds of fat men from space strolling along eating Twinkies and chocolate Mallomars. The whole planet is covered with pizza crusts and hamburger wrappers. It is almost impossible to walk in the streets of the cities because of all the empty Dixie cups and crowds of fat men. The earth people can get nothing to eat but fruits and vegetables, lean meats and rye toast—the only things the fat men from space don’t eat. Civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

  In the Rocky Mountains, in a secret underground laboratory, scientists bake a huge jelly doughnut. They use the last fifty million tons of sugar on earth that the fat men have not taken control of. Then they catapult the jelly doughnut into outer space, beyond the earth’s gravitational pull. The fat men notice the jelly doughnut and take off after it. The last scene is Newark, New Jersey, covered with popsicle sticks and empty cellophane wrappers from Devil Dogs. The people come out of their houses and watch the last of the fat men floating upward. Then someone says, “Do you suppose they’re gone for good?” and someone else says, “We must always be prepared. Never again shall earth be taken by surprise without an arsenal of jelly doughnuts.”

  A pretty good movie, I thought, if a little weird. The lizards appeared on schedule, but tonight the reception wasn’t very good. There were all those little dots jumping, like when there’s no signal coming from the station, and you could just make out the lizards behind the dots. The sound wasn’t too good either. It was just as well—I really needed to get to sleep at a decent hour if I wanted to be fresh for my adventure in the morning.

  In the morning, I woke up early enough to take a shower. I hadn’t had time for one the past few days, and I was starting to get sort of grimy. I put on my bathing trunks under my clothes, picked up the bag with the lunch, twine, and so forth, picked up a forgery to mail, and went to the bus stop. I didn’t bother with breakfast, because I was planning to have something to eat at Shane Fergussen’s candy store.

  Chapter 12

  I was sitting at the counter of Shane Fergussen’s candy store having a grape soda and a jelly doughnut for breakfast, when Charlie walked in.

  “That looks good,” he said. “I’ll have the same, Shane.” I looked at my new $2.98 watch—it was 9:45. The bus from McDonaldsville had been crowded with commuters. “A grape soda and a jelly doughnut for my good friend Albrecht Dürer,” Shane Fergussen said.

  “I thought your name was Charlie,” I said to the Chicken Man.

  “—or Charlie for short,” Shane Fergussen said.

  Charlie had a big bag with him. It was made out of some kind of rough cloth. “You’re a good swimmer, aren’t you Victor?” he asked.

  “Sure,” I said.

  “Do you like boats?”

  I wasn’t sure—I had never actually been in a boat. I said I supposed I liked them.

  “Fine, because we’re going for a boat ride today,” Charlie said. We paid Shane Fergussen and left the candy store. It was 9:58.

  “What boat ride?” I asked.

  “Out to the middle of Lake Mishagoo,” Charlie said.

  Lake Mishagoo is this big lake that Hogboro is right next to. It’s not just some little pond. You can’t see to the other side of it, and it gets pretty choppy sometimes. Mishagoo is an Indian word. It means “lake-so-big-you-can’t-see-the-other-side.” That’s the sort of thing they teach us in school.

  It was just a few blocks to the lake. Charlie was carrying the big bag over his shoulder. It looked heavy. He was wearing his hat, so I assumed that Claudia was under it. Charlie didn’t say anything; he just puffed along carrying the bag. When we came to an intersection, he’d set the bag down and wipe his face with a handkerchief.

  “Do you want me to help you carry that?” I asked.

  “The guide carries the bag,” Charlie said.

  To get to the lake you cross a street, and there’s a little park. The park stretches along the lakefront, and in some places there are beaches. In between the beaches are stretches of rocks along the shore. We wound up on some rocks.

  “The lake! The lake! We made it!” Charlie said. This struck me as weird—we’d only gone about eight blocks from Shane Fergussen’s candy store.

  “Where’s the boat?” I asked.

  “Wait,” Charlie said. Out of the big bag he dumped a big shapeless yellow thing. He spread the yellow thing out on the rocks. It was shaped sort of like a flat bathtub; it was made of something like rubber. Charlie found a valve and started blowing into it. It was one of those war surplus, blow-up life rafts. As it inflated, it looked more like an out-of-shape doughnut than a bathtub. The doughnut part was what got filled with air. There was a rubber floor, and Charlie dug a pair of collapsible oars out of the bag.

  “Our yacht,” he said, when he had finished blowing it up.

  “Where are we supposed to go in that thing?” I asked. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to ride in it. Charlie had set the little boat in the water, and it was bobbing around.

  “Just hop in—I’ll tell you all about it on the way,” he said.

  I hopped in. “Start telling me now, so we can go back to shore if I don’t like it.” Charlie had taken his hat off. Claudia was there all right. She spread her wings like the eagle on a half-dollar. Charlie was paddling with one of the collapsible oars.

  “We are going to Invisible Island, over there!” He gestured with his oar.

  “I don’t see any island,” I said.

  “Hence the name,” Charlie said. “It’s there all right, and a very interesting island it is, too. Now grab an oar and do some work while I tell you about it. The guide doesn’t have to do all the work.” I grabbed an oar. Claudia had hopped off Charlie’s head and was standing in the front of the raft. She still had her wings spread out and her beak thrust forward, like a figurehead on an old-fashioned sailing ship.

  “Invisible Island is a volcanic island, fairly large, that has broken off from the bottom and floats around in Lake Mishagoo,” Charlie said. “It has been floating around for millions of years, but it never floats any closer to shore than fifteen or twenty miles. Just now it is rather close to Hogboro.”

  “Why is it called Invisible?” I asked.

  “Because it is invisible,” Charlie said. “You should have known that.”

  “I should have,” I said. “Let me put it another way. Why is it invisible?”

  “I was just coming to that,” Charlie said. “It’s fairly complicated. You see, Invisible Island has the quality of bending rays, such as rays of light. You know that light rays tend to travel in more or less straight lines, but they can be bent. Well, certain islands bend them a lot. If you look straight at Invisible Island, you don’t see the island, you see around the island, and you think you’re looking directly at whatever’s on the other side. Also, if you sail straight at the island, you will simp
ly sail around it, thinking you’re going in a straight line. It isn’t easy to explain—there’s a book called Mount Analogue by René Daumal that tells all about it. Just take my word for it. We are paddling directly toward a very large island, bigger than the city of Hogboro, and it’s only about twelve miles off.”

  “If you can’t see it, how do you know for sure?” I asked.

  “I don’t,” Charlie said, “but Claudia does. Chickens have an uncanny sense of direction. The only problem is getting them to take you where you want to go.”

  “Then Claudia is—” I started to say.

  “That’s right, Claudia is navigating,” Charlie said.

  “But if the island bends things so they go around it—” I got stuck.

  Charlie helped me out. “It’s a force field—like an invisible wall.”

  “Well then, how are we going to get onto the island?” I asked.

  “We have a long way to paddle yet,” Charlie said. “How about a canoeing song to pass the time?” With that he began to sing some song about bright paddles and good comrades and stuff like that. He kept it up for about an hour. Claudia continued to point the way with her beak. I was getting into the rhythm of the paddling. I liked the little rubber boat and the feeling of being out on the lake. The water made a nice sound slapping the sides of the boat. Charlie paddled with a long sweeping motion. After a while he laid his oar across the little boat. “Lunch-time,” he said. I looked at my watch, 11:43. I got out my peanut butter sandwiches. Charlie and Claudia had brought tuna fish.

  I hadn’t forgotten my question. “How do we get past the force field, or invisible barrier, or whatever it is?” I asked.

  Charlie swallowed a mouthful of tuna fish sandwich. “Very easy—we go under it. That’s what the waterproof bag is for. We put our clothes in there, tie the bag to an ankle, and just swim under. Once we’re inside the barrier, it’s just a few hundred feet to the shore.”

  “What about Claudia?” I asked. “Will she swim under the barrier too?”

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