The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.6Daniel Pinkwater
What I got from reading all the signboards and observing all that was going on was that the dead love a good party, and on Día de los Muertos, everybody makes sure it's the best one possible.
What I liked best were the little mariachi bands, usually two or three guitars and a trumpet, maybe an accordion. They walked around playing, and would stop and play for people, and sing these Mexican hillbilly songs. The musicians all had Mexican cowboy suits, and big sombreros, and had bushy mustaches. They were great, and they seemed to be having the most fun of anybody.
Except this one band—the Mexican guys looked slightly bugged. It was also the only band that had a bongo player, and the bongo player was Bruce Bunyip! He had a set of bongo drums hanging from his neck on a string, and a cheap souvenir sombrero he had bought, or probably stolen, from one of the stands. He was drumming up a storm, but what he drummed didn't necessarily go with what they were playing. You could see the band wished he would go away but weren't sure of how to politely get rid of him.
"Bruce!" I said.
"Babe!" he said. "Did you come down here to hear me make the scene with these Mexi-cats?"
The mariachis took advantage of Bruce's stopping to talk with me to move away, swiftly.
"You sure were doing a lot of drumming," I said.
"They're a little square, but I showed them a few things," Bruce said. Then he saw Neddie and Seamus. "Hey, man! Hey, man! Are you taking care of my chick?" Meaning me.
"She's your chick?" Neddie asked.
"What can I say? The babe digs me," Bruce Bunyip said.
"Amazing!" Seamus Finn said.
"Fascinating!" Neddie Wentworthstein said.
"Oh, crud!" I said.
"You like him?" Seamus asked me.
"I'm ambivalent," I said.
"So what was it that Melvin expected us to learn at the Día de los Muertos celebration?" Neddie asked. We were having crullers and coffee at the Rolling Doughnut, our usual Sunday-morning hangout.
"That the dead love a good party?" Seamus guessed. "What does that tell us about ghosts disappearing? Isn't that what we were asking him about?"
"But are ghosts really disappearing—I mean, permanently?" I asked. "We thought Billy had vanished, but he turned up at the restaurant the other night."
"Yes, and he knew about the disappearing ghosts but refused to tell us anything," Seamus said. "Said he was sworn to secrecy, and we couldn't drag a single word about it out of him."
"So something is going on, and he knows what it is, but we can't find out," Neddie said. "And if Billy won't talk, I don't see much chance for finding out—I mean, he's sort of our personal ghost. He's our friend."
"We could ask Melvin to clarify," I said.
"Yeah, right," Neddie said.
"Oh, sure," Seamus said. "You've heard Melvin clarify. He just makes things muddier and muddier."
"Well, I'm going to get to the bottom of it," I said.
"Good luck," Neddie said.
"You'll just be chasing your tail," Seamus said. "It's one of those ghostly secrets—you can't find out a thing."
"Care to make a little wager that I can't find out?" I asked.
"Okay. If you find anything out, we'll pay for your crullers for two months—when you give up, and you will, you have to buy us each crullers for a month. Fair?" Neddie asked.
"Perfectly fair," I said.
They have their ghost, and I have mine, I thought.
Neddie's father is the Shoelace King. When you buy shoelaces, if you look at the little paper wrapper, nine times out of ten it will say WENTWORTHSTEIN SHOELACES. So they are incredibly rich. Mr. Wentworthstein likes saying that he started his fortune on a shoestring—he works it into every conversation.
Mr. Wentworthstein does projects. One of his projects was having scientists develop a shoelace that can't be broken. It took a year, and a huge sum of money, but they came up with one—only it was half an inch thick. Not ready for the marketplace, Mr. Wentworthstein said. Another project was a toy that was supposed to become a huge fad, like the yo-yo—it was called the Shoe-la Hoop, and it was sort of like a lasso, and also a hoop you could swing around your head, and sort of dance and gyrate inside of. He got all of us kids to learn how to play with it, which was hard to do—also, it was boring. He had thousands of them made and got them into stores. Nobody bought even one. Mr. Wentworthstein's current project is the Museum of the Shoelace. Neddie's mother had made a big basketful of corn muffins, and Seamus Finn and I had been invited to help eat them. While we slathered butter and strawberry jam on the muffins, Mr. Wentworthstein told us about the Museum of the Shoelace.
"Before I can open the museum, I have to assemble the collection," Mr. Wentworthstein said. "I already have several exhibits that will be sensational."
"Oh, Father, no one will be interested in seeing shoelaces," Eloise said. Eloise is Neddie's sister, who is older and is going to be an actress.
"On the contrary, daughter," Mr. Wentworthstein said. "People will flock to my museum. They will come by the thousands. For example, I have a shoelace which I am pretty sure belonged to General and later President Ulysses S. Grant. Now, that by itself is a crowd-getter. But it gets better. I have shoelaces that belonged to an ancient Roman emperor, Caligula's Ligula. I have a pair of shoelaces made by South American Indians from the skin of the electric eel—they still have a faint electric current, and we are going to fix it so they light up a tiny lightbulb. I have shoelaces that belonged to Lord Buckley. They are plaid. And of course, the longest shoelace in the world, a scale model of New York City made entirely of shoelaces, an exhibit of shoelaces of the future, in which you will see the twenty-first-century methods by which shoelaces will be manufactured, and simulated spun glass, titanium, and carbon fiber shoelaces. I have a playable violin with shoelace strings and a shoelace bow. And, there will be occasional exhibits with live animals and people—for example, I will have Mongolian tribesmen in the museum, weaving the traditional shoelaces of their people and answering questions from the public. Now, think of it, children—can you imagine a more exciting museum?"
"These are wonderful corn muffins, Mrs. Wentworthstein," Seamus Finn said.
"Yes, they are, Mother," Neddie said. "No one makes corn muffins like yours."
"There is only one thing missing to make my museum a complete success," Mr. Wentworthstein said. "It is the Devil's Shoestring, the rarest shoelace of all."
"Isn't the Devil's Shoestring a natural wonder, a rock formation or some such thing, in Yosemite or some other national park?" I asked.
"It is also a shoelace," Mr. Wentworthstein said.
"What is it like?" Neddie asked.
"I don't know," said Mr. Wentworthstein. "I just know it is the ultimate shoelace collectible. If any of you children ever hear word of it—what it is, where it is, anything—I hope you will tell me promptly.
"We'll be on the lookout for it," we all said with our mouths full of muffin.
Muffins on the Roof
Mrs. Wentworthstein gave me some muffins wrapped in a napkin to take to Kitty Nebelstreif up on the roof.
"These look yummy," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "May I fix one for you? I have some pineapple mango marmalade."
"No thanks," I said. "I am chock full. If I ate another muffin I would fall dead."
"Well, you'll have a cup of blueberry tea," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "Tell me all the news of the outside world."
"Well, this disappearing ghost business has been on my mind," I said.
"They've been clearing out," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "I think half the ghosts are gone from this hotel. I've been getting some good nights' sleep for the first time in years."
"They used to come up here at night and make noise?" I asked.
"Always," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "Ghosts love a good party."
"And you have no id
"Not a clue," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "Mmmmm, these muffins are wonderful."
"Billy the Phantom Bellboy turned up," I said. "I saw him after the ghostly Halloween parade."
"Oh, isn't that fun?" Kitty Nebelstreif said. "I used to go all the time. Did Billy have anything to say about the ghostly disappearances?"
"He said he knew all about it but couldn't tell us a thing. Said he was sworn to secrecy."
"But you plan to find out all about it," Kitty Nebelstreif said.
"You know me well," I said.
"I understand the cookery class is going to happen," Kitty Nebelstreif said.
"The one where the mothers from my school are going to take health food lessons from Gypsy Boots?"
"Yes, the hotel has cleaned up the old restaurant and moved chairs into the kitchen, where Gypsy Boots will demonstrate recipes."
"I thought Gypsy Boots believed in eating everything raw," I said.
"I suppose he is going to show the mothers how to chop things up and put them in a blender," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "Or show them how to chop things up and make them into salads."
"Hardly sounds like a cookery class to me," I said. "More like a chopping class."
"I'm sure it will be very nice," Kitty Nebelstreif said.
"Are you planning to attend yourself?" I asked her.
I think I have already mentioned that the popular song "Nature Boy" was written about Gypsy Boots. He was the first person to make "health food" widely popular. At one time, he and a bunch of other maniacs lived up in the hills, eating things they found growing wild, wearing hardly any clothes, and sleeping in caves and trees. He invented the "smoothie," which is a bunch of fruits and juices spun in a blender. These blenders are a big item lately. They are sort of like the milk shake machines in soda fountains, only instead of the motor on top and the blades coming down into a big container, blenders have the motor underneath and the blades at the bottom of a tall, thick glass. Everybody buys them, mostly so they can make milk shakes and malteds at home, which are never as good as the ones at the drugstore.
Gypsy Boots is a nice man, and he will stop to talk to anybody about wheatgrass, and why garlic is good for you.
FLOWER AND VEGETABLE SALAD
2 cups thinly sliced cucumber
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup tomatoes (small pieces)
3–4 minced or chopped nasturtium leaves
Mix all ingredients in a salad bowl, using chopped green nasturtium seed pods instead of leaves if you prefer. If the salad is not moist enough, you may add a teaspoon of safflower or soy oil.
That's one of his. It was in the newspaper.
Talking to a Dead Bunny
I found Chase sniffing some nasturtiums near the deserted and overgrown tennis court behind the hotel. She was about the size of a medium-to-large cocker spaniel on this particular day.
"You know, those are okay to eat," I said. "I just read a recipe in the newspaper."
"Tell me something I don't know already," Chase said. "I'm a rabbit. I know what's what."
"How about you telling me something?" I said.
"Such as what?" Chase asked, moving over to sniff some wild parsley.
"Such as what is the deal with the ghosts disappearing? Where are they all going, and why?"
"You don't know?" Chase asked.
"If I knew, why would I ask you? Billy the Phantom Bellboy claims to know all about it but says he can't tell. Been sworn to secrecy."
"Billy the Phantom Bellboy doesn't know what he is talking about," Chase said. "It's no secret. The ghosts are going down below to enjoy the big event."
"Down below? Big event?"
"Do you know about Walpurgisnacht?"
"You mean Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurga's Night, also known as Hexennacht or Witch's Night, in German? It's an old pagan festival that later got hooked up with the birthday of a saint named Walpurga, and it's supposed to be when all the witches and ghoulies and goblins come out and have a big whoop-de-doo on a mountain called the Blocksberg, also known as the Brocken, which is the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Is that what you mean?" I asked.
"How do you know so much?" Chase asked.
"I have volume V–W of the Children's Encyclopedia in my room," I said. "In Sweden the holiday is known as Valborgsmassoafton or Valborg, which is the Scandinavian name for St. Walpurga. In Finland it's Vapunaatto, and in Estonia it's Volbriöö. People, especially students, have bonfires, and dance outside and drink too much. And it comes exactly six months before or after Halloween to the day. So why are all the ghosts leaving to go to it when Halloween is barely past?"
"I didn't say ghosts were going to it. I just asked if you knew what it was."
"Which I do," I said.
"Which you do," Chase continued. "And I only brought it up as an example of a big supernatural wing-ding. You know, ghosts love a good party."
"And there's going to be one."
"And it's down there, you said."
"Yes. Down there."
"In the Underworld."
"In a big hole in the ground."
"There's going to be a big supernatural wing-ding in a hole in the ground."
"Not really. The wing-ding is on top of a mountain."
"And this mountain is..."
"And it's called?"
"What, the mountain?"
"Okay, yes, what is the mountain called?"
"It's called the Devil's Shoestring."
"Interesting. And where is it located? Don't say down there."
"Hackensack? That's in New Jersey!"
"This is a different one. And it's called Old New Hackensack. There are worlds within worlds."
"And in Old New Hackensack there's a mountain called the Devil's Shoestring."
"It's tall and skinny."
"And this is where the supernatural hootenanny is going to happen."
"On the mountain, and in the vicinity."
"And all the ghosts are going there."
"Can I go to this party?"
"I suppose, if you knew where it was."
"You just told me, Hackensack, but not the one in New Jersey."
"That's right, Old New Hackensack."
"So I could go?"
"If you knew how to get there."
"How do I get there?"
"Can't tell you. Sworn to secrecy."
"How to get there is a secret?"
"So Billy the Phantom Bellboy was right."
"Just about how to get there—the rest anybody can know."
"Are you going?"
"But you won't take me with you."
"You know, you should follow me around someday. You'd enjoy seeing all the stuff I get up to."
"I'll make a point of doing that," I said.
"Good. I'm sure you'll learn things."
Invitation to Insanity
"Melvin wants to treat us to a meal at Clifton's!" Neddie Wentworthstein said. "It's Crazy Wig's birthday. It will be you, me, Seamus Finn, Crazy Wig of course, Aaron Finn the movie star, Al from school, and Billy the Phantom Bellboy."
This was perfect. "This is perfect," I said. "I have something interesting to discuss with all of you." Al from school is Al Crane, one of the military school kids. He hangs out with Neddie and Seamus, but not all the time. His father is the manager of the Gibbs Brothers Circus, and frankly, he usually has better things to do.
"Everybody has to bring a suitable present, and you can't order anything over five cents—but the restaurant provid
"Actually, it sounds like someone is going to entertain eight people for thirty-five cents—since the ghost doesn't eat—and get a free cake and presents out of it, but I will attend, noting that I appear to be the only female any of you know and the occasion would be drab without me."
"Melvin could invite your boyfriend, Bruce Bunyip," Neddie said.
"I never said he was my boyfriend," I said.
"He says different," Neddie said.
I had not run into Bruce Bunyip since I met him bongo-ing on the Day of the Dead, but I had attained some status at the Harmonious Reality School once word got around that I was stepping out with practically a criminal. I did nothing to discourage the rumor. Apparently, Bruce Bunyip had been doing something similar at the Brown-Sparrow Military Academy. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
Loopy Birthday to You
Neddie brought Crazy Wig a pair of fluorescent pink fuzzy shoelaces. Seamus brought him a petrifed possible wolf's tooth. Al gave him a pair of tickets to the circus. Aaron Finn gave him a pair of swordsman's gloves he had worn in some movie. I gave him the latest edition of Mad Comics. Melvin gave him argyle socks. Billy, being a ghost, didn't have anything material to give him, but he told him the location of some buried Spanish gold coins. Crazy Wig seemed pleased with his presents. He had on a nice suit and the buffalo-skin hat with horns he always wore, and also a hand-painted necktie with a hula dancer and a palm tree on it.
The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts by Daniel Pinkwater / Fantasy / Humor / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes