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The yggyssey how iggy wo.., p.9
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       The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.9

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  "The coracle," Big Audrey said. "It's light. I can carry it myself. You guys take these paddles." Seamus and I took hold of four canoe paddles, and Big Audrey lifted the coracle over her head like a huge umbrella. "Next stop is the Hole," she said.


  The Hole

  Juvenile Hole was perfectly round, with straight sides, like a well. It was maybe thirty or forty feet deep. There were benches in the bottom, with maybe a dozen kids sitting, looking at a big TV screen. There were no cops or guards, just what looked like a TV camera that ran around the inside of the bottom of the hole on tracks, the lens pointed in at the kids on the benches. Some of the kids had ratty-looking blankets over their shoulders. We tried to pick out which one was Neddie.

  As we peered into the Hole, we became aware of Uncle Father Palabra, the Farblonget brothers, and Gwendolyn Marshrat beside us.

  "Which one is your friend?" Uncle Father Palabra whispered.

  "He's there, sitting at the end," Seamus whispered back.

  "Let's do this," Uncle Father Palabra said. Uncle Father Palabra and one of the Farblonget brothers stood at the edge of the hole and lowered Gwendolyn Marshrat and the other Farblonget brother. Gwendolyn had the shoofly pie with her. She slapped the shoofly pie over the lens of the TV camera on tracks. It stuck. Then the two of them scooped Neddie up, under the arms, and Uncle Father Palabra and the other Farblonget brother reeled them up. It didn't take more than fifteen seconds.

  "Say, there's a place here in town where you can get a hamburger that weighs three-quarters of a pound," Neddie said. "It has special sauce, and it is made with Japanese kobe-style beef, whatever that is, and it's a limited-time offer. Can we stop and get one?"

  "Brainwashing works," Big Audrey said.

  "Get going," Uncle Father Palabra said. We four kids made for the Mahakahakakatuk, with Audrey and Seamus holding the coracle over us, and all of us underneath it, our scampering feet sticking out below. We must have looked like a big black turtle scooting along the sidewalk.

  "This reminds me of something," Neddie said.

  From behind us we heard a voice blaring over a loudspeaker: "Who put a shoofly pie over the lens of the television camera?"

  And we heard Uncle Father Palabra shout, "It was I, Norman! Norman put the shoofly pie on your fershlugginer lens!"

  "Hee hee!" Big Audrey giggled. "Now they're going to think Norman did it."

  The next thing I knew, we were in the coracle on the river, the big Mahakahakakatuk, paddling and spinning.


  Big River

  "This is Big Audrey," I told Neddie. "She and a bunch of other people rescued you from Juvenile Hole."

  "Pleased to meet you, and thanks very much," Neddie said. "They have the biggest television screen I've ever seen down there. We have better programs in Los Angeles, but they have better ads in New Yapyap City. What kind of boat is this?"

  "It's a coracle," Big Audrey said.

  "It's round."

  "It's all we've got. My uncle, Uncle Father Palabra, built it. Ancient type of boat."

  "It doesn't steer all that well," Neddie said. That was the truth. The coracle had a tendency to spin and it careened all over the river. After a while, we started to get the hang of it. With two people paddling and two others using their paddles as rudders at the front and the back of the boat—assuming it had a front and a back—we could get it to go more or less in one direction.

  "What river is this?" Neddie wanted to know.

  "It's the Mahakahakakatuk," Big Audrey said. "The object is to get to the other side."

  "How long would it take if we were in something normal?" I asked.

  "I don't know. Maybe half an hour."

  "And as we are?"

  "It looks like it will take all night—hours, anyway."

  "What are those hissing and clicking noises?"

  "There are things in the river."

  "Bad things?"

  "Well, I wouldn't dangle my fingers in the water," Big Audrey said.

  "Have you been on the river before?" I asked.

  "No. People don't go on the river much. It's the things. This is the first time the coracle has been in the water, too. Considering Uncle Father built it from pictures in an encyclopedia, it's working fairly well, I'd say."

  "It feels like something is gnawing on my oar," I said.

  "I wouldn't be surprised," Big Audrey said. "What exactly are the things in this river?" Seamus Finn asked.

  "Mostly eel-sharks," Big Audrey said.

  "And they're bad?"

  "How good can something that's an eel and a shark be?" There was an evil-smelling mist rising from the river, and the moon lit up patches of greasy-looking slime. We were quiet and serious as we paddled and steered for the far shore and listened to the hissing and clicking.

  "At least there aren't any whales in this river," Seamus Finn said after a long time.

  "Oh, there are," Big Audrey said. "They eat the eel-sharks."

  We kept steering and paddling.


  Kind Hearts and Crunchy Granola

  Dawn broke on the river. We were getting close to the shore. We were tired and hungry, and our hands were sore.

  "Travel by coracle is the worst," Neddie said. "Who invented them, anyway?"

  "Well, the word coracle comes from the Welsh cwrwgl," Big Audrey said. "But they go back thousands of years, and similar boats turn up in all kinds of cultures. The curragh is an Irish boat, the Mandan Indians made bull boats, and the Iraqi gufa, the southern Indian parisal, and the Tibetan ku-dru are all along the same lines. As you can see, it's basically a big basket with hide stretched over it and tar spread over that to make it waterproof. And you have to admit, it got us where we wanted to go."

  "Do you have Wales, and Mandan Indians, and Tibet in this world, same as ours?" Neddie asked.

  "Apparently," Big Audrey said.

  "I want to go someplace where they're serving breakfast," I said.

  "Look!" Seamus Finn said. "People!"

  "Or Munchkins," I said.

  There were people! Short people! They were up to their middles, which would be up to our knees, in the river, scooping up fish in nets. They were all at least eighty years old and had long white hair—the men had long beards. They were wearing clothes in all the colors of the rainbow, and some of them had headbands—also rainbow-colored—flowers in their hair, and bead necklaces and bracelets. We paddled closer.

  "Dude!" one of the old people said. "It's kids in a coracle!"

  "Far out!" another old person said.

  "Heavy!" said another one.

  "Aren't you afraid of the eel-sharks, standing in the water like that?" Seamus asked the old people.

  "No hassle, man," one of the old bearded guys said. "They know we're cool. We do our thing and they do theirs. I bet you kiddies would like some breakfast. Help us carry the baskets of fish and we'll lay some nutrition on you."

  We beached the coracle and helped the weird old people carry baskets of fish up the bank.

  "What do you do with the fish?" I asked them.

  "We smoke them."

  "Oh, and then you sell them?"


  The old folks lived in a collection of tents, shacks, and broken-down school buses. Everything was painted in every color, just like their clothing. Introductions were made. They had names like Sunflower, Safflower, Cornflower, Wholewheatflower, Sun, Moon, Star, Sunshine, Moonshine, Weirdbeard, Popdaddy, and Woovy Groovy.

  Breakfast was something Gypsy Boots would have been proud of—fruit, juice, cereal consisting of oats, almonds, prunes, and raisins, and French toast made with health bread with nuts and seeds and twigs and things in it. The old people were friendly. They told us they were hoopies, which meant they had dropped out of society, lived peacefully, and didn't harm any living thing, except fish. They said they tried to live in such a way that they would not be hassled by Uncle. They called him The Man. They also felt
strongly that, if possible, one should try never to piss off a witch. Mama Banana seemed to be the head hoopie. She asked us lots of questions about where we had come from and where we were going.

  "So you're going to make the scene at the annual supernatural freak-out on the Devil's Shoestring? It's a hassle getting there, but you should do your own thing. I mean, we create our own reality. You children are welcome to crash here for as long as you like." Then all the hoopies got out guitars, and whistles, and drums and bells, and spent the rest of the morning making music.

  We stayed with the hoopies for a while. They were easy to be around, and we liked the healthy food and the music. We helped them fish, when they felt like fishing, and spent time wandering in the woods above the river, collecting flowers and mushrooms, all of which we ate or wore. And Sunbeam, Moonbeam, and Rainbeam showed us how to dye our clothes all colors, like theirs.

  When we decided it was time to do our own thing and split, the sweet old hoopies gave us love beads and told us to create our own reality, and be mindful of karma. Karma is what happens to you because of what you did—every action has a reaction, and if you live groovily, you will have groovy experiences.

  We knew the general direction we needed to go. The hoopies had never been as far as the Devil's Shoestring, because going so far was just such a drag, man. We started up the path, carrying bags of granola, with flowers in our hair. The hoopies cried and waved goodbye.

  "Stay on the road! Don't play cards with strangers! If you meet a witch, don't piss her off! Don't piss off a witch! Don't trust anyone over ninety!" they called after us.


  My Name

  In addition to the granola and flowers, Mama Banana had given me another gift. She told me about my name. "Do you know what your name means, little one?" Mama Banana, the matriarch of the hoopies, asked me. Calling me "little one" struck me as a little funny, since Mama Banana was well under four feet tall.

  "I was always told it meant 'Odin's Steed,'" I said. "Odin being one of the Norse gods. 'Ygg' means 'terrible,' one of Odin's nicknames, and 'drasil' means 'horse' or 'steed.' So Odin's Steed, or the Terrible One's Horse."

  "Did no one ever tell you about another meaning of the name? Have you ever heard of Yggdrasil the World Tree?" "Oh, yes," I said. "There was something about a tree, but I never got that part straight."

  "Well, the old Norse folks made some weird connection between trees and horses, for some reason—so they might give a tree a name like the Terrible One's Horse, and it's a tree, always was a tree, was never anything but a tree, and there isn't an actual horse in the story. Don't ask me why."

  "Not rational, huh?"

  "And a long time ago. Parts of the puzzle are missing. Anyway, Yggdrasil, also called the World Tree, is a giant ash tree that links together all the various worlds."

  "So the ancient Norse knew there were different worlds, or planes of existence?"

  "Yep. And the thing that connects them is the tree: Yggdrasil."

  "Cool. So it is kind of neat that I come from a different world, and here I am in this one."

  "It is neat. Beneath the three roots of the tree are the realms of Asgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim. There are three wells, too: Mimisbrunnr, which is guarded by Mimir; Urdarbrunnr, which is guarded by the Norns; and Hvergelmir, the source of many rivers."

  "Who and what are all those?"

  "No idea, but it sounds cool, doesn't it? Four deer run across the branches of the tree and eat the buds—there's a squirrel named Ratatosk who carries gossip, and Vidofnir, a rooster who perches at the very top. There's a snake called Nidhogg who gnaws on the roots, and on the day of Ragnarok—that's when the whole universe is destroyed, but don't worry, it starts over again—a giant named Surt will set the whole thing on fire."

  "Some tree. I have to get a book and read about all this stuff."

  "We used to have a book. It was about a little girl piglet who lived in an apartment."

  "So my name is the name of the tree that connects the different worlds."

  "Nine of them."

  "My last name is Birnbaum. Does that mean anything?"

  "Yep. Pear tree."

  "A tree again!"

  "You're a tree person."

  "I like it. Thanks, Mama Banana."

  "Oh! I just remembered who the Norns are. They are like the fates, also like witches, but not exactly. By the way, try not to get a witch pissed off at you. Anyway, some stories say that every person has a Norn who takes care of him or her."

  I hoped I had a Norn, and it was about Yggdrasil the World Tree, and the old Norse myths, and how I was a tree person that I was thinking as we walked along.


  On the Road

  "So we just continue along this little road," Big Audrey said. "And eventually it will take us to New Old Hackensack. Nothing to it."

  "And we should keep a lookout for a ghostly black bunny on the way," I said.

  "So, how long will it take us to get to New Old Hackensack?" Neddie Wentworthstein asked.

  "The hoopies didn't say. They seemed to think it was too far for them, but they're really old. Probably isn't that far, really."

  It was a winding dirt road, just wide enough for a single car—only there were no cars. There were no houses either, just woods and fields. The weather was mild, the sky was blue, a little breeze was blowing, there were flowers blooming along the roadside. It was a perfect day for walking. Now and then we would come to a cold, clear stream and drink the best-tasting water. When we got hungry, we dipped into the bags of crunchy granola and fresh fruit the hoopies had given us.

  "So, what do we do when night comes? Just sleep on the ground next to the road?" Neddie asked.

  "I guess so," Big Audrey said. "Unless we find some kind of shelter."

  "I hope it doesn't rain," Seamus Finn said.

  "It doesn't look like rain," I said.

  "You'd think there would be a house, or a person, or a sign or something," Neddie said.

  "It doesn't look like wild forest," Big Audrey said. "I mean, this is a road, not just a path—someone must use it—and some of the fields are cultivated, so there must be farmers who take care of them."

  "Yes, but where are they?" Neddie said.

  "It's getting late," I said. "The sun is getting low."

  "It will be dark before long," Seamus said.

  "Getting a little cooler, too," Big Audrey said.




  Gingerbread House

  We walked. The sun was setting. Lower and lower. Shadows got longer. Then the rim of the sun disappeared behind distant hills. The sky got purple. The breeze was starting to feel a bit chilly. Nobody said anything. The twilight was deepening.

  And then.

  "A light!" Neddie said.

  "Yes! A light!"

  It was a friendly yellow light, twinkling through the trees. As we rounded a curve, we could see it plainly. Not far off. It was a house!

  "Should we go there?" Seamus asked.

  "Yes!" we all said.

  "Maybe there's a barn or something we could sleep in," I said.

  "Maybe there are hoopies, or other nice people there," Big Audrey said.

  We were running across the fields. As we got closer, we could make out the house more clearly in the fading light. It was a nice house. It was sweet. It had pointy roofs, and three porches, and several chimneys. It was painted in many colors, and there were all kinds of carving and scrollwork, spindles, cutouts, little spidery bits of woodwork.

  "What a fancy house!" Big Audrey said. "What kind of house do you call this?"

  I knew. "It's a Victorian house. All the decoration was popular in the nineteenth century. It's called gingerbread. This is what you call a gingerbread house." The friendly yellow light was a porch light. The windows were lit up too, with a warm glow. There were flower beds bordering a winding gravel path that led to the gingerbread house. And we could smell a
wonderful smell—someone was baking something. It made our mouths water.

  We stopped just short of the porch with the light and stood in a little knot, deciding what we should do and say. "We can just say we are travelers and ask if there is a barn we can sleep in."

  "Maybe we should just ask if we can have a glass of water and wait and see if they are friendly and invite us in."

  "We could offer to do some kind of work around the place in return for shelter for the night and maybe something to eat."

  "What if we just knock on the door and then stand there looking cute?"

  "Or pathetic! Pathetic might be good."

  "How about cute and pathetic?"

  "Yes! We'll do that!"

  Before we could set foot on the porch, the door opened. There was a tall, thin woman, sort of old, but not old like the hoopies. She had gray hair done up tightly, in a neat bun, and a long gray dress.

  "Why, it's children!" the woman said. "And what nice-looking children! Where can you have come from? Come closer, into the light, so I can see you. Oh! Such lovely children! Come in! Come in, children! I have hot apple pie! And milk! Come in! Come in!"

  We crowded into the nicest, neatest, sweetest, friendliest, prettiest old kitchen any of us had ever seen. The smell of hot apple pie was so thick, we could almost see it. There were old-fashioned carved chairs, and a kitchen table to match. The stove was old-fashioned, black and made of iron. There were four or five fat, contentedlooking pussycats curled up on cushions near the stove, purring and licking their paws.

  "Sit down, children! Sit down. You must tell me who you are and what you are doing way out here in the country at night. I have cold milk, and the pies are just cooled enough to eat. Isn't it lucky I baked pies? Come, children, sit. My name is Wanda. I hope none of you is afraid of pussycats. I have many pussycats, more than just these. I have, oh, millions of cats. Now who wants a slice of cheddar cheese on their pie?"

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