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Lizard music, p.7
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       Lizard Music, p.7

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  “No, unfortunately Claudia gets sinus headaches from swimming underwater. Claudia will stay with the boat and wait for us to come back,” Charlie said.

  “The lizards live on the island, right?” I asked.

  “Right,” Charlie said. “The reason you’ve been getting the TV pictures lately is that the island has floated very close to shore, and the weather has been just right. Their TV signal bounces off low clouds and hits McDonaldsville and Hogboro.”

  “Doesn’t the force field stop the TV signal?” I asked.

  “It’s all around them, not over them,” Charlie said. “If it were on top of them, they wouldn’t get any sunlight. That stands to reason, doesn’t it?” I agreed that it did. It had been some time since I had wondered if Charlie were crazy. I spent most of the next couple of hours doing that, as we paddled along, following Claudia’s beak. I noticed that she would change direction every now and then, and Charlie would change the direction of the boat. I decided to say nothing about it.

  Claudia started clucking and jumping up and down. Charlie threw out the anchor, which consisted of a sort of cloth bucket on a long cord. “This is it,” he said. We were in the middle of nowhere—we couldn’t even see the shore. Once in a while, when the boat bobbed up, I could see the tallest buildings in Hogboro. The rest of the time there was nothing but water in every direction.

  “Let’s get our clothes off and into the garbage bag,” Charlie said. Claudia, who had been clucking and jumping and pointing her wings in one direction, was now clucking and jumping and pointing in another.

  “Wait a minute!” I shouted. “I’m not getting out of this boat!”

  “If you don’t get out of the boat, how are you going to get onto the island?” Charlie asked.

  “What island? I don’t see any island! All I see is water and some crazy chicken who is pointing like a hunting dog in three different directions.”

  “There’s no need to insult Claudia, after all the work she did in bringing us here,” Charlie said. “Besides, I don’t see what you’re so worried about. I’m taking all the responsibility. If anything were to happen to you, I’d lose my guide’s license.”

  I was getting hysterical. “What license? What guide’s license are you talking about? I never heard of a licensed guide, except maybe in the Maine woods.”

  “This is a funny time to get technical,” Charlie said, “but if you insist—” Charlie dug out an old wallet and fished around in it. He came up with a card and handed it to me. “My credentials,” he said. The card was black on one side, with a sort of compass printed in gold. The other side was light blue, with a white outline of a map of the United States. Printed in big yellow letters, it said:

  CAPTAIN MOONFLIGHT’S

  Secret Squadron

  This is to certify that:

  VINCENT VAN GOGH

  is a licensed guide.

  What does this mean?” I screamed. “What’s Captain Moonflight? Who’s Vincent Van Gogh? What am I doing out here in the middle of a lake with a crazy old man and a chicken?” I started to cry.

  “Guides are trained to deal with panic,” Charlie said. “You really ought to trust me and start getting ready to swim. The way I figure it, we only have about three minutes before the boat sinks.”

  “Sinks?” I was really in bad shape. I had let a crazy man row me out to the middle of a lake where there was supposed to be an invisible island. I had just gone along with the whole game, and now I was going to die. “Sinks? What are you talking about?”

  “Just be quiet for a second and listen,” Charlie said. I listened—there was a steady hissing noise. Claudia had punched a lot of holes in the rubber boat when she was jumping up and down.

  “I really should have put little boots on Claudia before we started out,” Charlie said. “Now she’s going to get a terrible headache from swimming underwater.”

  “Charlie, do you swear there’s an island?” I asked.

  “Of course I do. Now get your clothes in this garbage bag before they get soaked,” he said. Charlie had stripped off his clothes and was stuffing them into the bag. He had on one of those old-fashioned bathing suits that comes down to the knees and elbows. It was red and white stripes.

  The boat was getting sort of soft and lumpy-looking. I struggled out of my clothes and put them in the bag. “You promise there’s an island?”

  “Official guide’s word of honor,” Charlie said. He had squeezed all the air out of the plastic bag and tied the neck tightly with the twine. He was tying the other end of the twine around his ankle. There was water in the boat. Claudia was looking disgusted.

  “Chickens hate to swim,” Charlie said, “but it won’t be far.

  “Which way do we go?” I asked. I was still sure I was going to die.

  “Just follow Claudia. She’ll make for land like a bandit,” Charlie said. We were sitting in water. Then the boat just slid away under us, and we were swimming. I couldn’t see Claudia.

  “Dive! Dive!” Charlie shouted. Then he was gone too.

  I looked around—nothing but water. The horrible thought came to me that Charlie couldn’t swim. Crazy as he was, he might not have thought of it. Of course, chickens can’t swim, and Claudia had probably gone to the bottom like a stone. For some strange reason, I thought of my new $2.98 pocket watch ticking away in the waterproof bag, attached to the ankle of the drowned Chicken Man. I decided to try and save my life. I wasn’t sure which direction to swim. I wanted to go toward Hogboro. I wasn’t sure I could make the twelve or fifteen miles, but I had to try. It really didn’t matter what part of the lake I drowned in. I might as well start swimming and hope for the best.

  I struck out. I hadn’t gone ten yards when something grabbed me by the ankle and pulled me under.

  Chapter 13

  I kicked and struggled, but whatever had me by the ankle was stronger than I was. I could have looked down and seen what had got hold of me, but I was too scared. There are some pretty big fish and turtles in Lake Mishagoo. Besides, I couldn’t take my eyes off the light coming down from the surface. It was getting farther and farther away as I went down into the darkness. My lungs hurt … I wanted air … I wanted to live … I wanted Mom and Dad.

  All of a sudden, I was going up toward the light like a cork. Whatever had hold of my ankle had let go. I was kicking like mad. I burst out of the water into the sunlight. I gulped air. I turned and floated on my back. I was so glad to be alive that I almost forgot about being fifteen miles from shore and sure to drown. I looked into the blue sky.

  “Victor, you must be crazy. You hire a guide, and then you don’t do one damn thing he tells you.” It was Charlie. As I spun around to see where his voice was coming from, my feet touched bottom. We were standing in shallow water. There was a beach and trees about a hundred yards off.

  “I had to dive back under the barrier and drag you here,” Charlie said. “You were starting off for Hogboro without so much as a fare-thee-well, you maniac!” Charlie was telling me that I was crazy.

  I was about to say something about that, when I remembered that there was an island, that I was standing on the bottom, and that Claudia was paddling around, looking mad as a wet hen, which she was. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I guess I panicked.”

  “No need to apologize,” Charlie said. “It’s all in a day’s work for a licensed guide. Now let’s get on shore and get our clothes on. They’ll be coming to meet us soon.”

  We walked through the shallow water to the beach. Beyond the beach there were a lot of tall trees with silvery trunks. We got into our clothes. Claudia was walking around and sort of shaking herself and muttering.

  “There should be some lizards along to meet us any minute,” Charlie said. “We’d better wait on the beach—there may be wild pigeons in the woods.”

  “How are the lizards going to know we’re here?” I asked. “We didn’t make a lot of noise, or tell them to expect us, or anything like that. And what does it matter if there are pigeon
s in the woods?”

  “First of all, the lizards know that we’re here, you can be sure of that. There’s very little happens on this island that the lizards don’t know about. As for the pigeons, there goes one now.” Charlie pointed to a perfectly ordinary pigeon flying overhead. That is, it seemed perfectly ordinary until it came down a few hundred feet and I could see it was as big as a horse. Claudia growled.

  “Can those things hurt us?” I asked Charlie.

  “Do you want to find out?” Charlie said.

  “No—but—I mean, you’ve been here before—”

  “Who has?” he asked.

  “But you know all about how to get here, and the lizards, and the big pigeons—how’d you find out all that stuff?”

  Charlie tilted his head toward the chicken.

  “Claudia?” I said. “Claudia told you about all this?”

  “You really ought to get to know Claudia,” Charlie said. “She’s a very interesting bird—been everywhere—knows things.” Claudia was watching the big pigeon flying away in the distance and sort of snarling.

  You’d think it would be sort of a shock to meet lizards that walk on their hind legs and stand about five feet tall. I mean, even after seeing them on television, it would have to be a little strange to meet them face to face. But something had been happening over the past few days. I was getting more and more used to the way lizards looked, their expressions and all. They seemed pretty human-looking, and I wasn’t too upset by the appearance of the lizards who came to meet us. There were maybe a dozen of them. They came out of the trees, walking easily on their hind legs. They walked toward us. It was eerie—the green lizards and the silvery trees. The sand was yellow, and the sky and water were deep blue. It was like a dream. I mean, it was really happening—I knew that—but it was so vivid, the focus was so sharp, and there didn’t seem to be any sound. The lizards walked silently, the lake was silent, even Claudia had shut up—and I don’t even remember hearing myself breathe.

  “Five-men!” the lizards said. “Five-men—like us!” They were looking at our hands.

  “Isn’t Fergussen with you?” one of the lizards asked.

  It was the first time I had ever seen Charlie look surprised. “How do you know about Fergussen?” he asked.

  “You’re the Chicken Man, aren’t you?” a lizard asked. “And that’s Claudia, and that’s Victor, right?”

  “How did you know that?” Charlie asked. He really looked funny. He was sort of gasping and working his eyebrows.

  “We saw you on television,” one of the lizards said. “You’re the most popular show in town. We’ve been watching you for weeks. Everybody especially likes it when Shane Fergussen makes chocolate sodas for Claudia.”

  Charlie whispered to me, “They’ve been watching us while we’re watching them. Their television must work differently.”

  “How rude of me not to introduce myself,” the lizard who had been doing all the talking said. “I am Reynold, and these are my friends, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, and Reynold.”

  “Is everybody here called Reynold?” I asked.

  “Of course not,” Reynold said. “That would be ridiculous. There are lizards named Raymond and Helena and a lot of things.”

  While we were talking with the lizards we had begun to walk. It was soundless walking, the way the lizards had walked when I first saw them. I was doing it too. I know that walking on a sandy beach doesn’t make any noise, but this was even quieter. Usually you can hear some sound—sand shifting, your own breathing, someone else’s breathing, your clothes rustling, something clinking in your pocket—but this walking was without a sound. We walked through the silvery trees. The floor of the forest was sandy. We walked without saying anything. Sometimes the lizards were ahead of us, sometimes they were behind us. Claudia was sitting on Charlie’s shoulder with her head tucked under her wing.

  We came to a hilly place in the forest. The trees were thicker. Streams ran through the forest, sometimes at the bottom of deep channels. There was a good smell. It wasn’t a regular forest smell; it was spicy, like cookies at Christmastime. Once or twice I thought I heard music—lizard music in the distance. We walked for a long time and fairly fast. I never got tired. The cool, spicy air made me feel very wide awake. We had been going up and downhill for some time, but mostly uphill. The sky was turning yellow. The leaves on the trees were getting less green and taking on a pale blue color. The spice smell was very strong. It made me hungry and made me feel as though I had just eaten something nice, both at once. The sand was a very bright yellow color, like gold. Still silence. Still going fast. Still going uphill mostly. It was the best walk I’ve ever taken in my life. There were times when I didn’t notice anything about the air and the trees and the yellow sky. I just felt the pleasure of moving, just walking. It was so easy. Walking can be wonderful. I didn’t have a thought in my head. I wasn’t curious about where we were going. I didn’t care if we never got anywhere, just walked and walked through the beautiful forest, day and night forever. I really never dreamed there was so much to walking. Other times I studied the shapes of leaves and the colors of things and what the shadows did as we passed through them. Even when I wasn’t thinking, I was taking everything in. If I knew how to draw, I could draw a picture of every single leaf and tree and grain of sand that I passed on that walk. I could count the leaves in my picture, and then go back to the spot—no, more leaves would have grown. I could take a photograph that was made that day and count the leaves in the photograph, and every leaf that was in the photograph would be in my drawing. If you really look at something, really really look at it—not staring, or trying to memorize it, or anything—just look at it easily, but really look like I was doing on that walk, you will never forget even the smallest detail of what you’ve seen. I learned that in the forest.

  After a while, it became obvious that we were climbing a mountain. Things were getting steeper and steeper, and whenever I looked back, I looked down. I really liked being high up. I never had been that high before. There aren’t any hills at all where I live. In fact, the city of Hogboro built a hill in the city park so kids would know what one looked like. Sometimes I could see over the tops of the trees, all the way to the beach and the lake. The forest was getting thinner, and the soil was starting to get rocky. Sometimes I had to use my hands to get over big rocks. Of course, the lizards just skittered over the rocks when they went on all fours. They were so fast, you could hardly see them. Soon there weren’t any more trees, just rocks. I could see almost the whole island. When it got really steep, a lizard would give me a push from behind, or dangle a tail for me to hold onto. There were clouds around us. Sometimes we could look down at a cloud. The rocks were a grayish blue color, some of them were green. We went up and up, it seemed like forever. I was starting to get just a little bit tired.

  “We’ll take a rest up there, Victor.” It was Reynold who spoke—the first Reynold, the one who spoke to us on the beach. Now this is sort of funny. Even though all the lizards were named Reynold—and of course they looked pretty much identical—I could always tell which was which. Later, when I talked to a bunch of lizards named Reynold, if I were to say “Reynold,” only the one I meant would respond. I mean, it worked, talking to the lizards. I always knew which one I was talking to, and they always knew too.

  The place Reynold had pointed out was a little patch of grass at the very top of this big mountain. There were some big smooth rocks and a sort of thing like a tent without sides—just a roof. It turned out to be made of gold. We all sat down under the gold roof supported by wooden poles and cooled off. Someone had left some baskets there. They were perfectly round, a little bigger than basket-balls, with handles on top. Reynold (another one) opened them and handed around something between cakes and cookies. They didn’t taste exactly like anything I’d ever eaten and they tasted a little like everything I’d ever eaten, all at the same time. They were very
interesting. I had two. There were also bottles of something like very good lemonade, only not made from lemons. It is the only stuff I ever drank that is, without a doubt, better than grape soda.

  Reynold (the first one) explained to us that we were not on top of a mountain. Actually, we were on the edge of the crater of a big volcano. We could almost see that. The ridge curved away from us in both directions, making part of a big circle. We couldn’t see the whole circle or down into the crater because there were a lot of clouds. The lizards were planning to take us down into the crater (the volcano wasn’t active), and inside the crater was the main city of the island, Thunderbolt City. The name of the whole island was Diamond Hard. Diamond Hard is a translation. The name in their language sounds something like Neebleninn, which is sort of squeaked in a very high-pitched voice with a sort of rush of air. The lizards have a very weird language. About this time, Charlie brought up the question of how come the lizards all speak English.

  Reynold (another one) explained. When humans invented television, the lizards started picking it up on their sets. They had television a long time before we did. Human television became very popular with the lizards; they did almost nothing but watch it for the first few years. As I said before, they can receive not only the programs but the people watching the programs—and they can watch hundreds or even thousands of “shows” at once. It’s a whole different system. Their sets are big cylinders, maybe six feet high and two feet across, and they spin. There’s a sort of pin running down through the center of the cylinder, and it is held top and bottom by a frame of some kind of black stone. When a lizard wants to watch television, he gives the cylinder a spin, and it will keep spinning for hours. Little blue sparks appear at both ends of the cylinder. I know I’m not explaining this very well, but I really don’t understand it. Anyway, they watch television with their eyes closed. They just sit in the room with the spinning cylinder and close their eyes and see all the shows on TV and all the people watching the shows—all at once! When human television got popular, all the lizards started speaking English. They had known about it from radio for a long time, and some lizards spoke it, but when TV came along, it got to be a sort of fad. All the lizards loved Groucho Marx and Walter Cronkite—it was the moustaches that they liked, Reynold said. I was really glad to know that someone beside me appreciated Walter Cronkite.

 
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