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Lizard music, p.9
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       Lizard Music, p.9

           Daniel Pinkwater
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I guessed the egg, if it really was still hatchable, had some kind of baby super-lizard in it, maybe like a crocodile or a dinosaur. Reynold told me that when the egg was hatched, the invisible barrier around Diamond Hard would start breaking down, so everybody could come to Thunderbolt City and enjoy the House of Plants and the House of Memory.

  It all made a good story (maybe it was even true), but I hardly thought Diamond Hard would get to be a big tourist attraction because of the House of Plants and the House of Memory—not if they were no more interesting than the two places where Charlie and Claudia were being taken. After all, one was just a big empty building, and the other one was just a place with an egg in it. I didn’t see how those things could be very interesting. I mean, Diamond Hard has a lot of wonderful stuff, and I think anybody would enjoy a vacation there, but looking at monuments is always a bore. Whenever I go someplace with my family, they always stop and read those signs along the road: In 1852 So-and-So Stole a Cow on This Spot. And it is just a spot with a few trees maybe. I guess maybe my family would like to go and see the egg.

  It turned out that the House of Plants was very interesting after all. I really wasn’t prepared for that after the description of the House of Ideas and the House of the Egg. The House of Plants was a big greenhouse all made of glass. It was hot and muggy inside and raining in places. It was like a jungle. There were all sorts of weird plants and trees. Some of them looked like nothing I had ever seen before. There was a Diamond Tree—that’s its name. It had a trunk as clear as glass, and the leaves and branches were transparent too. It shimmered like diamonds and reflected rainbows of light. Yet if you touched the leaves and branches they bent. They looked as though they should have been brittle. There were trees with bright blue leaves and red trunks. There were plants that moved continually—like dancers. There was something called the Truth Tree. It was a sort of dumpy, scruffy, dark green thing like a bush or shrub. It didn’t have much of a shape, and the leaves were moldy-looking.

  “This is the most beautiful plant here,” Reynold said. “Don’t you think so?”

  “Yes, it’s very nice,” I said, trying to be polite.

  The Truth Tree shook its leaves and made a noise. BRRRRATT!

  “You lied,” Reynold said. “It does that whenever anyone lies.” He was laughing.

  “Why didn’t it do that when you said it was beautiful?” I asked.

  “Because I really believe it,” Reynold said.

  Truth Trees are planted in all the front yards in Thunderbolt City. Before a lizard takes an idea to the House of Ideas, he tries it out on the Truth Trees. There were other trees and plants; almost all of them had something special about them. The House of Plants was the most fantastic place I’d ever seen. When Reynold told me that it was time to leave, I didn’t want to go. I was starting to feel that all the plants were my friends. I mean, it was like the Hogboro Zoo only much better. Reynold insisted. It was time to go to the House of Memory. We had to keep up with the schedule.

  Chapter 16

  There had been lizards strolling inside the House of Plants, and lots of lizards watering and taking care of the plants. Outside, lizard families were having picnics, and lizard kids were playing ball. The whole place had the atmosphere of a park or a zoo.

  The House of Memory was a very different sort of thing. We took a narrow path that started behind the House of Plants. There was tall grass on both sides, and the path was dusty. It wound down through taller and taller grass. The grass was spiky. Mosquitoes buzzed around us, and I got a lot of bites. The path kept going downward. There were some scraggly trees and bushes with stickers. We were getting into a forest, a dark one. It wasn’t like the forest we had passed through on the slopes of Diamond Hard. This forest was sort of mean and dark and mosquitoey. My nose was full of dust from the path. I was hot and sweaty, and sort of scared. I really wished we could have stayed in the House of Plants. I wished it even more when I saw the House of Memory.

  It was a little hut made of sticks and bundles of grass. There was a little dirt clearing around it, and there were lots of mosquitoes all around. The whole thing wasn’t any bigger than maybe a couple of telephone booths.

  “This is the House of Memory,” Reynold said. “I’ll wait outside for you.” It was obvious that both of us wouldn’t fit inside very well. There was a little low door, like the door of a doghouse. It was dark inside, and there was a sort of sweet hay smell that I didn’t like.

  “What’s inside?” I asked.

  “You have to see for yourself,” Reynold said, “and don’t think about a snake.” I hadn’t been thinking about a snake! Up until then, I hadn’t. Now I couldn’t think of anything else. This whole thing scared me. I really didn’t want to go inside the hut. There was a sort of watermelon smell that was making me nervous.

  “I don’t want to go in there,” I said.

  “You have to go in,” Reynold said. “It’s on the schedule.”

  I didn’t want to make a fuss. All the lizards had been so nice to me. I figured it wouldn’t take more than a minute to look at everything inside the hut and come right out again. It seemed very important to Reynold, and he showed no sign of letting me get away without seeing whatever was inside the House of Memory. What had he meant about snakes? Why shouldn’t I think about one? And why couldn’t I stop thinking about one? “It’s just an old shack,” I thought. I was sweating. Then Reynold did a very unfriendly thing—he just shoved me inside the hut.

  It was dark inside. I couldn’t see a thing. Then I saw something. It was the biggest snake I ever saw, bigger than the one in the Hogboro Zoo, and he was standing up and looking me in the eye, and he was a cobra.

  “He can’t hurt you!” Reynold shouted from outside. “I told you not to think about a snake!”

  I can say for sure that I have never been so scared in my life. I just stood there with my knees shaking. I wanted to run, but I was afraid to move. By the way, the cobra was white. That made it worse. For the second time in two days, this time for real, I was sure I was going to die.

  “Think about a corn muffin!” Reynold shouted, and the snake turned into a corn muffin. I looked at the corn muffin, a regular corn muffin. I thought about the snake. The corn muffin started to wiggle a little. I thought about a corn muffin—it was still. So that was how this place worked! You had to be careful what you thought about. I didn’t like it. I made for the door. But the door wasn’t there. This may sound funny, but the House of Memory was much bigger on the inside than on the outside. I mean, a whole lot bigger. It was as big as a barn at least, maybe as big as a football field. It was fairly dark, but there was enough light to make my way around. I guessed the light was coming from the doorway, and I tried to make my way in that direction.

  “What is this place supposed to be?” I thought. I really didn’t like it. Then I found the squirrel. It was my old gray squirrel. Not a real one, the one I had as a little tiny kid. This squirrel really meant a lot to me when I was a baby, and I was happy to see it again. It wasn’t just a squirrel like mine, it was the same one. I mean, I used to know every inch of that squirrel, the places where I had sort of sucked the fur off the ears and the green thread where Mom fixed it when the stuffing started to come out. It had one original glass eye and one coat button. This squirrel was really broken in, and there wasn’t another one like it in the world. Somewhere along the way my squirrel had disappeared. I never did know what happened to it. To tell the truth, a month didn’t go by when I didn’t wonder what happened to my squirrel. Finding it like that really made me feel good. When I picked it up, all the old feelings came back—not that I go around sucking the ears of stuffed animals. It just felt and smelled the way I remembered it. The House of Memory! So that was what this was! I walked around in the almost darkness, holding my squirrel by the hand, to see what other memories I could find.

  There were a lot of them. It was like walking around in a store or a museum. I recognized a few memories of mine, mostly baby stuff—my lit
tle bowl, my blue blanket, stuff like that. There were a lot of baby bowls that I didn’t recognize too, other people’s memories. There were memories that were really strange. I think they might have been memories of animals, or even plants and rocks—funny things like sounds, warmth, reddish light. My squirrel and I walked around among all the memories, looking for pretty or interesting ones. Little girls’ party dresses were popular, also scenes of the insides of rooms. There were no people. I don’t know why, maybe the lizards don’t collect those. Some of the strangest memories were feelings. You are walking along, and all of a sudden you are in a big puddle of warmth, or fear, or anger, or pleasure, or a particular smell. Then you step out of it and you’re back in the dark looking at somebody’s cap-pistol. I noticed that the majority of the memories were kid memories. There weren’t many grownup things. Also, you can pick up and handle your own memories, but other people’s memories are just like shadows. You can put your hand right through them. The one I really liked was a bunch of lions, maybe twenty of them, playing in this grassy place with bright sunlight. They were really great. I could smell the lions and the grass and feel the warmth of the sun. They raced around and knocked each other down and jumped each other, and wrestled, and swatted each other. They were big lions, but they weren’t all grown up. I really liked looking at them. I was really close to them, almost in among them. They were really enjoying themselves, and so was I.

  I must have watched the lions for an hour. I was sitting in the grass with my squirrel, just sort of relaxing. Sometimes the lions stopped their game and all fell asleep for a while—catnaps. Then they would start up again. Lions are really nice-looking animals. After a while, I thought I could hear Reynold calling me. I got up and started walking toward the sound of his voice. After a while, I could see the doorway glowing in the distance. Reynold called me about every five minutes. I got closer. The cobra was back in the doorway. I turned him into a corn muffin. Then I thought about a cobra with a bag over his head, and he turned into that. I walked right past him and out into the sunlight.

  Reynold was waiting for me, sitting on the ground in front of the House of Memory swatting mosquitoes. “Did you have an interesting time?” he asked.

  “Very,” I said. “How does that place work?”

  “I have no idea,” Reynold said. “We discovered the spot a long time ago and built the hut around it to keep people from stumbling in by accident.”

  “Is the snake always there?” I wanted to know.

  “Search me,” Reynold said.

  I guessed it must be afternoon. I checked my watch—I had forgotten to wind it. I asked Reynold for the time.

  He looked at his pebble. “It’s 4:37.” I set my watch.

  “By the way,” I asked, “how does that thing work?”

  “What, the pebble?” Reynold asked. “It doesn’t work. We wear them to show off for visitors. Most lizards just guess about the time.” I put my watch in my pocket.

  “We’d better start back to Thunderbolt City,” Reynold said. “You’re scheduled to attend a banquet with your friends and a lot of important lizards. Then we have to make preparations to send you back to Hogboro.”

  Reynold and I started walking up the path toward the House of Plants. “Did the House of Plants get started like the House of Memory?” I asked.

  “That’s right,” Reynold said, “we just found all the plants there and built the greenhouse to protect them. Probably Reynold planted them.” He meant Reynold, the old-time hero who started everything on the island.

  When we reached the House of Plants, Reynold bought us Thunderburgers and cups of tea from a little stand outside the greenhouse. I saw him give the lizard two Agama Dollars, but I didn’t manage to catch him putting his hand into his pocket, or taking it out. We sat on a bench and ate our Thunderburgers. This time they tasted a little like flowers. Then we drank the tea, which was bitter, and started walking back to the city. We were halfway there when I realized that I had left my squirrel in the House of Memory.

  There was a big commotion going on when we reached Thunderbolt City. Lizards were running everywhere. I couldn’t find out what was going on because they were all talking in lizard. I tried to ask Reynold what it was all about, but he had become so excited that he forgot to speak to me in English. He just kept repeating the same thing over and over in lizard talk. Reynold started running, and I ran with him.

  There was a big crowd in the middle of Thunderbolt City. The lizard band that I had seen on TV was on the roof of a building playing. Lizards were cheering and dancing. Lots of the lizards were holding statues and pictures of chickens over their heads. There were thousands of lizards in a sort of open square outside the biggest building, the one with a golden egg on top. I guessed that was the House of the Egg. The lizards were really happy. I lost track of Reynold when a lizard grabbed me by the hands and started dancing with me. Then another lizard wanted to dance with me, and another one. I was in the middle of a thousand dancing lizards. They were all speaking in lizard. I had no idea what was going on. It didn’t seem likely that this was a going-away party for Charlie and Claudia and me. However, the lizards did go all-out to be nice to visitors.

  I noticed that the wrist of the lizard I was dancing with had a flat pebble taped to it. I looked up. It was Reynold, my guide that afternoon.

  “What’s going on?” I shouted.

  “Neeble, neeble neeble neeble,” Reynold said.

  “Speak English! I don’t understand you! Speak English!” I screamed. I shook him by the shoulders.

  “Oh. Yes, of course. I do apologize,” Reynold said. “You don’t know what’s happened. Neeble neeble neeble neeble.” He was so excited that he had slipped back into lizard talk.

  “English! English!” I shouted.

  “Oh yes. Sorry,” Reynold said, “it’s just that I’m so excited. You see. The egg. It’s hatched!”

  Reynold was really so excited that he couldn’t stand still. He was sort of hopping up and down the whole time he was talking to me. Another Reynold appeared. “Victor, I’ve been looking for you. You have to start for the coast soon. Come along and say good-by to your friends.” He took me by the hand and started leading me through the crowd of dancing lizards.

  “Good-by? What do you mean?” I asked, but he didn’t hear me over the music and the shouting.

  It wasn’t easy to get through the crowd. We would go a few steps in one direction, and then get swept back to where we started by the surging, swirling, dancing lizards. Everybody was patting me on the back and saying neeble neeble neeble neeble to me.

  “Neeble neeble neeble,” I said back, and the lizards laughed and smiled and patted me on the back some more. I still don’t know what neeble means. I guess it means all sorts of things, depending on how you say it. It appears to be the only word in their language.

  We finally got to a little wooden side door in the House of the Egg. Reynold pounded on the door. “Open up. It’s me, Reynold, and I’ve got Victor with me.”

  The door opened, and we popped inside.

  Chapter 17

  When the door closed, the noise of the crowd shut off as though someone had turned off a TV set. The House of the Egg had thick walls.

  “Come this way,” Reynold said. We climbed a long flight of stone stairs. At the top of the stairs we passed through a door into a big room. It was the fanciest room I had seen in Diamond Hard. The walls were white with gold trim, and there were little plaster chickens carved on the corners of the ceiling. There were heavy red drapes tied back with gold ropes with gold tassels. In the middle of the room was a fountain made out of a greenish stone with gold running through it. In the middle of the fountain was a gold statue of Walter Cronkite. The water came out of his pipe. The floor was made of green and white stone in squares, like a checkerboard. There was a thin edge of gold around each square. There was this real fancy chandelier made out of diamonds or glass cut in the shape of eggs. It was some fancy room.

were a lot of lizards standing around wearing black top hats. Some of them had red or white silk sashes running across their chests, and some of them had fancy medals around their necks. They were talking quietly and drinking lizard lemonade from little cups.

  All the lizards in top hats shook hands with me and said, “The egg is hatched.” They seemed very happy about it. Someone was just handing me a cup of lemonade, when Charlie came through a big gold door.

  “Victor! Come in here and see what we’ve got!” Charlie said. He was wearing a top hat too, and a red sash, and a gold medal with a diamond the shape and size of an egg in it. He waved me into the room he had just come out of. It was fancier than the room with the Walter Cronkite fountain, only cozier. It was sort of like a king’s bedroom. Running around on the floor was a tiny baby chick, all yellow and fuzzy, and running around after it, clucking, was Claudia.

  “You can see what happened,” Charlie said. “No sooner did Claudia and I come into the room where they kept the egg—you were told all about the egg, weren’t you?”

  I said I was. “It’s supposed to hatch out the king of the lizards or something,” I said.

  “Something like that,” Charlie went on. “Anyway, the minute we laid eyes on it, it started to make noises, clicking and so forth. Reynold got really upset and ran for the lizards whose job it has been to look after the egg all these years. Claudia’s instincts took over, and she hopped on top of the thing. If she had done that when there were any lizards in the room, I don’t know what would have happened. You know they’re very respectful of that egg. They even put the empty shell in a vault for safekeeping. Anyway, being cold-blooded folks, they might not have really understood what Claudia was trying to do. It all worked out for the best, because by the time the egg-keeping lizards returned, the egg had just about hatched. They were going to say something about Claudia sitting on top of their sacred egg, but she gave them a look that could freeze water, and in the next second out popped a brand-new baby chick, the same one you see Claudia chasing around the room. She’s a pretty old chicken, but apparently she hasn’t forgotten a thing. You should have been there, Victor. The lizards didn’t know what the chick was, never having seen one, and Claudia and I had to explain that it was a baby chicken. Once they understood that, they nearly went crazy. Claudia knows how they feel about chickens around here. They like them better than anything. It seems they didn’t know what was supposed to hatch out, but a chicken suits them just fine.”

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