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Lizard music, p.8
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       Lizard Music, p.8

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  It was pleasant sitting under the golden roof, having the nice lizard snacks and listening to Reynold explain things about Diamond Hard and the lizards. All the Reynolds were very nice to us and kept asking us if they could get us anything and were we comfortable. But the one they were really nice to was Claudia. I mean, they just kept hovering around her and sort of smiling at her. I mean, lizards don’t actually smile, but they looked at her in a sort of pleasant way. It seemed as though the lizards were happy to have us visit them, but they were really thrilled that Claudia was with them. Claudia seemed to be enjoying herself. Her feathers had dried, and she was sort of showing off, chickenlike—fluffing her feathers and clucking and tilting her head to one side. The lizards took it all in. Whenever she took a drink of the lemonade stuff or ate some of the cake crumbs, they would get all excited and look at each other and say things in lizard talk. That was about the only time I heard the lizards speak their own language—when they were excited. The rest of the time they all spoke English, even little kids. I supposed they had never seen a chicken and that’s why they were so excited, but it turned out to be something else.

  Coming down the inside of the crater was not easy. The clouds, once you got into them, were just fog—wet and dark and hard to see through. The rocks were wet and slippery. I didn’t like it. The lizards didn’t have any trouble, of course, and they sort of crowded around us and kept us from falling. Still, it was slow and wet and unpleasant. It must have taken us an hour to come down out of the clouds.

  Chapter 14

  Reynold (the first one) told me that nobody ever forgets his first look at Thunderbolt City from high on the crater slopes. I can understand that. All of a sudden we were beneath the clouds that usually fill the mouth of the volcano. Over our heads, stretching away for miles, was a ceiling of lumpy gray—the bottom of the clouds. There was gold and white light behind the cloud lumps, and the whole thing sort of glowed. Below us was a valley, so green you can’t imagine it. At the bottom was a plain, or flat place—it looked like a huge lawn—with streams and lakes that reflected gold and white. In the very middle of the big flat place was Thunderbolt City. All the roofs were made of gold. There seemed to be a hole—actually five holes—in the cloud roof over the city, and five broad rays of golden light fell on the roofs of the city. They were so bright, it was almost like staring at a hundred watt bulb. The walls of the houses were white, and they were all sort of clustered together around some big buildings like apartment houses, also with white walls and golden roofs, that stood in the center. I could see green gardens with white walls around them and green parks and ponds in Thunderbolt City. I have not mentioned this before, but I was in Disneyland once. Compared to Thunderbolt City, Disneyland is like a broken-down hamburger stand.

  The path down the inside of the crater was easy after we got out of the clouds. The path was marked with white stones, and sometimes there were steps made of stone or cut from the rock of the crater wall. As we got lower, we passed little flat places cut back into the slope—squares about as big as an average back yard. Lizard farmers were working in those spaces. They all waved to us and said hello. A lot of them knew my name. They all knew Charlie—they called him Chicken Man—and they all knew Claudia. I asked Reynold (another one) why the farms were up on the slope instead of down on the flat part of the crater. He said that there were farms on the crater floor too, but certain crops grew better higher up.

  Around the edge of the crater floor we came to the first lizard houses. They were farmers’ houses, made of stone and painted white. The farmers and their families lived in the houses, and climbed up the crater wall every day to work the tiny farm plots. Each farmhouse was tidy and small, with a wooden roof painted yellow. Many of the farmhouses had a chicken painted over the door. I asked Reynold (another one) about that. He said it was an old lizard custom. It was interesting, because there were no chickens on Diamond Hard. Nobody had ever seen one until humans invented TV. And yet, the custom of painting chickens on farmhouses was hundreds of years old. Reynold (the same one) guessed that there must have been chickens on the island at one time, and that’s when the custom got started. That sort of explained why Claudia was such a celebrity.

  By the time we had reached the farmhouses, we were walking on the flat crater floor and we could see Thunderbolt City in the distance. It was just as beautiful seen from below as it was when we looked down on it from the crater wall. The city was built on a sort of hill, right in the middle of the crater floor, with the biggest, tallest buildings in the center of town. It was getting to be late afternoon, and the sun was hitting the city at an angle. A big part of the crater floor was in shadow, and the city was shining with a slightly reddish color. What had looked like green lawns from above turned out to be fields of crops, mostly a green cabbage-looking thing about as big as a baseball that grew by the millions all along our walk to Thunderbolt City.

  The shadow on the crater floor had reached the city when we passed through the Chicken Gate. There isn’t any wall around the city, just a gate. The road passes through it. The gate is a huge boulder with a sort of rough door through it. It’s just a natural boulder, sort of egg-shaped with this hole through it. It isn’t fancy at all, except there’s a golden chicken on top. The door is so low that you have to crawl through.

  We entered the city. In a way, it was the neatest place I’d ever been. I mean, it was very tidy—more so than McDonaldsville. There wasn’t a speck of dirt anywhere, and everything sort of just fit together. At the same time, it wasn’t boring and all the same like McDonaldsville. It was busy and interesting like Hogboro. A very unpodlike place. Very lizardy. Lizards were hurrying everywhere. Many of them said hello to us, and stopped for a second to say they were glad we’d come. Then they would excuse themselves and hurry off. They were on their way home from work and school. It was lizard rush hour! Reynold explained that everybody was hurrying home so they would not miss the “CBS Evening News.” There were no cars and buses. Everything moved by lizard power, so it wasn’t a noisy rush hour. There was just a little noise of scampering and scratching as the lizards hurried home.

  Reynold asked us if we’d like to come to his house to rest up and have something to eat. After that, he was going to take us to the place where visitors stay. This was the first Reynold talking. Charlie said that he didn’t want to be any trouble, but Reynold said that it was a pleasure to have us and he wanted us to meet his family. Reynold’s wife was named Helena, and he had three children named Raymond. They all knew who we were and were very excited about Claudia. The house was small and very nice, with polished wooden floors and white walls. There were drawings of Walter Cronkite that the three Raymonds had done, hanging near the television which I recognized from Reynold’s description. Reynold showed us around the house. It was very plain; there wasn’t much furniture. He said that if we wanted to wash, there was a little house in the back yard. We went out. It wasn’t an outhouse; it was a regular bathroom made of stone. Some of the things in it were a little strange, because they were made for lizards. When I came back from my turn in the bathroom, Reynold and Charlie were watching television. It was about time for Roger Mudd. I guessed they were watching television. I mean, they were both sitting there with the three Raymonds, and they all had their eyes closed, and the big cylinder was spinning. Helena wasn’t watching—she was in the kitchen fixing something to eat. I sat down between Charlie and Reynold, closed my eyes, and tried to watch too. It didn’t work. I just sat there trying for the whole half hour—nothing. I guessed there was a trick to it. I made up my mind to ask Charlie how he did it, but I wanted to wait until we were alone. Reynold said something about how Roger Mudd would really be terrific if he grew a moustache, and we all sat down to supper.

  The supper was the same as the snack we’d had on the crater rim. The little cakes are all they ever eat in Diamond Hard, not that I minded. It isn’t the sort of food you’re apt to get tired of, since it tastes like everything there is all at onc
e, and one thing after another simultaneously. As I said, it’s an interesting food. The lizards call the little cakes Thunderburgers. Of course, they’re not in the least like hamburgers—it’s just another English word they like.

  It was like eating with any family. The three Raymonds talked about what had happened in school. Helena told Reynold what had happened while he was working, and Reynold told about our walk from the beach to Thunderbolt City. It turned out that all the Reynolds who had met us had started out the day before and slept in the forest so they would be sure not to miss us. I wanted to know how they knew we were coming. Reynold said they had seen it on TV. It seems that Reynold had some kind of job which included meeting visitors to Diamond Hard. Charlie wanted to know if they had many visitors. Reynold said almost none. Of course Claudia got most of the attention of the family. They all wanted to feed her, and whenever she took some food, they all laughed and carried on. Charlie whispered to me that he was afraid Claudia was going to get spoiled from all that attention.

  After supper, Reynold said he would take us to the place where we were supposed to stay. We followed him out into the street. All the houses in Thunderbolt City glow in the dark. They don’t exactly shine like light bulbs, they just glow slightly—enough to see where you’re going. Reynold took us to the middle of town, up the hill and into one of the big buildings. We didn’t see many lizards on the way.

  Inside the big building, we went up a very long flight of stairs and then down a long hall. Reynold showed Charlie and me two little rooms with nothing in them but a sort of low bed; those were for Charlie and me to sleep in. Claudia was supposed to sleep in this real big room, with all kinds of beautiful oil paintings of Walter Cronkite and Thunderbolt City and beautiful rugs and statues of chickens. Charlie said that Claudia wasn’t used to sleeping in a room of her own—usually she just slept in Charlie’s hat turned upside down.

  Charlie explained to Reynold that Claudia was used to sort of depending on him, Charlie, and she might not be too comfortable spending the first night in a strange place all alone. Reynold said he understood, and it was fine with him if Charlie wanted to stay in the big room with Claudia. Then he asked us if there was anything else we needed—there wasn’t. Reynold said good night and left.

  Charlie and I had a long talk. I wanted to know a whole lot of things about the island and the lizards. I hadn’t asked too many questions of Reynold and the other lizards because I didn’t want to bother anybody—they were all being so nice to us. Also, it was becoming very clear that I wasn’t very important to them, even Charlie wasn’t. The one they were really interested in was Claudia. She was like visiting royalty or something. It obviously had to do with all the chicken pictures and statues all over the place. I asked Charlie if the chicken was like a god on Diamond Hard. He said he didn’t know—Claudia hadn’t told him all that much about the place. That was something else I’d been meaning to ask him about—I had never heard Claudia say a word. I also wanted to know if Charlie had really been watching television with Reynold, or if he was just faking it like I was. I didn’t get answers to any of this, because he started shushing me. He said that Claudia was getting sleepy, and we’d have to continue our talk in the morning. He pushed me out of the big room and closed the door very softly. There really wasn’t any question that Charlie was very fond of Claudia and tried to make her comfortable whenever he could. I went back to my little room and fell asleep with all my clothes on.

  Chapter 15

  “Good morning,” the lizard said. “My name is Reynold.” He wasn’t any of the Reynolds I had met the day before. “I will show you where you can wash.” He took me down the stairs and led me into a sort of back yard, where there were a number of stone washrooms. Reynold waited for me. When I came out he said, “I’ll take you to your friends. We can have breakfast while I tell you the plans we’ve made for you.”

  We walked back into the building where I had slept. In a large room I found Charlie and Claudia already having breakfast, those Thunderburgers again. The night before they had tasted a little like meatloaf; now they tasted a little like bacon and eggs.

  “I’ve been telling your friends something about our island and what we’d like to show you,” Reynold said. “There’s a lot to see. I’ve made up schedules. We’ll have to skip a lot, because you’re going to have to leave late tonight.”

  I must have looked surprised, because Reynold said, “Please don’t be offended—we’d love to have you stay longer. The reason we will send you off tonight is so that you will be able to get home at all. You know this is a floating island. Of course we can’t control when or where it will move, but we can predict it. At high tide tonight we’ll start moving, and by morning we’ll be a hundred miles away.”

  Charlie asked a question. “Why doesn’t this island ever float closer to shore than ten or fifteen miles?”

  “It’s the invisible wall,” Reynold said, “the same thing that keeps boats from bumping into us. It’s like a big invisible bumper all around the island.”

  Reynold took a sheet of folded paper out of his pocket. This shocked me, because he wasn’t wearing any clothes. They aren’t put together in the regular lizard way. Reynold unfolded the sheet of paper.

  “In order to cover most of the important sights on the island, we will divide into two groups,” Reynold said. He was reading from the sheet of paper. “The Chicken Man and Claudia will visit the House of Ideas and the House of the Egg. Victor will visit the House of Plants and the House of Memory. I’m afraid that’s really all we’ll have time for in just one day.” Reynold folded up the sheet of paper. I watched to see if he was going to put it back in his pocket—I wanted to be sure I had really seen it the first time—but he just left it on the table.

  Another lizard came into the room. “This is Reynold,” Reynold said. “Reynold will guide Victor, while I, Reynold, will guide the Chicken Man and Claudia. To save time and give each visitor the widest possible impression of the important things on our island, Reynold will tell Victor all about the House of Ideas and the House of the Egg while they are on their way to the House of Plants and the House of Memory. Meanwhile, I, Reynold, will tell the Chicken Man and Claudia all about the House of Plants and the House of Memory while we are on our way to the House of Ideas and the House of the Egg.”

  The lizards seemed to be really having a lot of fun being tour guides. They were very organized and businesslike. Both of them were wearing what looked like wristwatches, but on a closer look they turned out to be flat pebbles taped to their wrists. Reynold looked at his pebble. “It’s 7:15, time we started out.”

  Reynold and I had a fairly long walk down the hill and through the city. While we walked he told me about the places I would not have time enough to see. The House of Ideas and the House of the Egg were near the center of the city, in two of the big buildings we had admired from the plain. The House of Ideas was a big empty building with nothing in it. It had no windows and only one door. Outside the door a lizard sat at a small desk. On the desk was a little wooden box. If a lizard had an idea, he could go to the House of Ideas and give an Agama Dollar to the lizard at the desk. Then the lizard at the desk would unlock the door for the lizard with the idea, who would slip inside and shout his idea. For example, a lizard might get the idea that lizards should not give advice to their friends unless they were asked for it. He would go to the House of Ideas, pay one Agama Dollar, and shout, “Lizards should not give advice to their friends unless the friends ask for it.” Then the lizard at the desk would lock the door, and the lizard who had the idea would go away satisfied.

  “In this way,” Reynold explained, “we have collected and kept safe all our ideas for generations.”

  “You mean that you think all those ideas are still in there?” I asked.

  “Of course,” Reynold said. “How are they going to get out?” This struck me as a little dumb, but it didn’t seem polite to say anything about it.

  The House of the Egg was appare
ntly a place where they kept this egg that was sort of sacred. It seems that someone named Reynold (what else?) had been a big deal on Diamond Hard a long time ago. He invented the House of Ideas and the House of Memory and television, and all sorts of stuff. He was almost like a god to the lizards. When Reynold the first had died or gone away—Reynold (my Reynold) didn’t make it clear which—he left this egg and told the lizards that one day a stranger would come to the island and the egg would hatch, and they would have a leader and do all sorts of good things—conquer the pods and everything. I stopped Reynold there. I wanted to know what he knew about the pod people. It turned out that the lizards all believed in pod people. They thought that almost everybody outside Diamond Hard was a pod.

  “Lizards and pods are natural enemies,” Reynold said. I had sort of figured that out for myself. Anyway, when the egg hatched, the lizards would start to fulfill their destiny, as Reynold put it. They would become a powerful influence in the world outside, everybody would see their television programs, the House of Ideas would be broken open, and all the good ideas would flood out into the world, and it would be the end of podism. It was all going to start with a visitor to the island, and that’s why they had everything ready for visitors and were so nice to them, even though nobody ever found their way to the island for years at a time. They never knew when it would be the visitor who would hatch the egg.

 
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