The Wondrous Journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins, p.1Lesley M. M. Blume
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Lesley M. M. Blume
Jacket art and interior illustrations copyright © 2012 by David Foote
Maps originally created by Orr & Company 1850 ca. London
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blume, Lesley M. M.
The wondrous journals of Dr. Wendell Wiggins : describing the most curious, fascinating, sometimes-gruesome, and seemingly-impossible creatures that roamed the world before us / by Lesley M.M. Blume; illustrated by David Foote.
[1. Paleontology—Fiction. 2. Voyages around the world—Fiction. 3. Imaginary creatures—Fiction. 4. Diaries—Fiction.] I. Foote, David, ill. II. Title.
The illustrations were created using a Victorian dip pen and black ink on paper.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
Paleozoology: A branch of science dealing with the recovery and identification of animal remains from archaeological contexts, and the use of these fossils in the reconstruction of prehistoric environments and ancient ecosystems.
In other words: The study of extremely ancient animals.
Keynote Speech by Dr. Harriet J. Knickerbocker
Journal No. 1: South America
The Grand Adventure Begins
Arrival in the Jungle
Amazonian Umbrella Fish
Rockhide Miners of Roraima
The Amazonian Whispering Vine
Gargantuan King Mosquitoes
Skull-Head Hover Fish
Journal No. 2: North America
Hapless Vampire Glow Bats
Gibear’s Christmas Surprise
Giant California Sloths
Camel-Backed Geyser Geniuses
Two-Headed Mammoth Buffalo
Dreaded Gossip Peacocks
Devil’s Triangle Magnet Tribe
Journal No. 3: Europe
Gibear’s Birthday Surprise
Journal No. 4: Africa
Paper Mirage Tribe
I Am Robbed, and Gibear Creates a Spectacle
Pin-Headed Desert Giants
Cloud-Dwelling Hummingbird People and the Mysterious Mile-Long Shadow
Journal No. 5: Asia & Australia
Mr. Devilsticks Gets His Due
Hermit Crab Humans
The Curious Pearl-Tree Forest
Diva Opera Ostriches
Behemoth Cleaning Squid
Journal No. 6: Antarctica & the North Pole
A Face-Tree Made of Ice
Quarrelsome Iceberg Insects
A Rather Gaseous Northern-Lights Creature
I Reflect on My Journey
Concluding Remarks by Dr. Harriet J. Knickerbocker
by Dr. Harriet J. Knickerbocker
At the Presentation of
The Wondrous Journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins
The Royal Paleozoological Society
Esteemed members of the scientific community, ladies and gentlemen of the press:
Thank you for joining me here tonight as I unveil one of the most important documents in modern history. The journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins might just be the most extraordinary contribution to the study of the earth’s past since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Although they are over one hundred years old, these journals have only just been “discovered” recently. And like so much vital history, they have been hiding in relatively plain sight for decades.
In the pages of these diaries, Dr. Wiggins—whom we must now consider the greatest paleozoologist of all time—has divulged the secrets of the ancient animal world: a world before human beings, a world before dinosaurs, a world that, until now, existed well beyond the outer reaches of our imaginations.
Until this evening, Dr. Wiggins himself had been a forgotten figure from a bygone era. Born in England in 1830, he showed promise as a young graduate student of archaeology and paleozoology at the University of Oxford. Yet soon after earning his degree, Dr. Wiggins set off to explore our noble planet’s ancient animal life, and rarely communicated with anyone in his native England for decades. He clearly chose to immerse himself completely in the cultures he explored.
Just imagine: his spectacular, around-the-world voyage took place in an era before planes and cars, before the days of ocean liners and railroads and Global Positioning Systems—and even before the age of reliable maps of some of the far-flung places to which he traveled. Why, we modern-day scientists—with all of our fancy technology—have not been able to uncover the same sensational findings.
Thanks to these journal pages, we have found that Dr. Wiggins was also a man who achieved many mind-boggling firsts. It appears that Dr. Wiggins was a passenger in the earliest working helicopter, was the first man to reach the South Pole, and realized many other such accomplishments. Not only have his journals rewritten the history of the ancient animal world, they’ve rewritten the history of discovery itself. Dr. Wiggins is a true marvel, a man to whom no location was too remote; the word “impossible” simply was not a part of his vocabulary. His talents appear to have been limitless: as you will see, he even proved to be a marvelous artist; his sketches bring his creatures to life in a most vivid manner.
Now, while Dr. Wiggins is, of course, to be credited with this stupendous work, no man works entirely alone. He relied on legends, expertise, and small teams of local individuals to guide him across oceans and continents—and he was flanked at all times by a most unusual sidekick named Gibear, with whom you’ll become acquainted shortly. It also appears that he was never quite able to escape another tagalong companion: a rather grumpy, nagging yet wise mother, who managed to follow Dr. Wiggins around the globe.
During Dr. Wiggins’s lifetime, many of the world’s great nations exploited foreign lands through vast and cruel empires. Dr. Wiggins, on the other hand, wanted only to explore and understand these cultures. As he says in his very first journal entry:
I am seeking out the remains of [the world’s] most ancient creatures, to learn their ways and their fates. In doing so, I hope to learn more about ourselves—and what our own future might look like. And if this fact-fin
It did indeed take up his whole adult life. Dr. Wiggins completed his mission and retired to England in 1885—after thirty-five years in the field—and prepared the journals for publication. In fact, he intended to have them sent directly here, to the Royal Paleozoological Society. But they never arrived—until late last year. The story behind this delay is almost as extraordinary as the tales told in Dr. Wiggins’s manuscript; I will reveal it at the end of this presentation, during which I will read excerpts of the most exciting entries.
Some consider the century-long disappearance of Dr. Wiggins’s journals to be tragic—but perhaps this is how fate intended it. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dr. Wiggins’s journals have surfaced now, in 2012; after all, many scientists and religions around the world have predicted that 2012 will mark the beginning of the next mass extinction—like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs so many years ago. Some believe that fate has put these cautionary tales back into our hands to remind us that it’s not too late to steer our world away from such an end. We clearly have much to learn from the creatures and tribes in the following pages. While natural disasters often bring about the ends of species, these stories show that certain species often bring doom upon themselves, through foolish or selfish actions.
As we stand here on the eve of our prophesied disappearance, let us ask ourselves: Is such a thing inevitable? Are we courting such a fate, and what can we do to change it? What can we learn from the mistakes of our ancient ancestors? The lessons offered in these pages should be taken to heart. We don’t want to end up as a cautionary tale ourselves, on a list of similarly self-destructive creatures who shortsightedly caused their own demise.
We disregard the wisdom in these pages only at our greatest peril.
The Wondrous Journals of
Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins
Note to Readers: Courtesy of the Royal Paleozoological Society, footnotes have been inserted throughout the journals to help contemporary readers navigate Dr. Wiggins’s times and world.
Journal No. 1
Aboard HMS Destiny
In Which I Begin My Grand Adventure
Farewell, England! I am free at last—free from school, from meddling professors, from gaggles of fellow students, and especially from old Mother Wiggins, who created quite a commotion when I told her that I was shipping out to sea. I am off to spend time in the animal kingdom, I told her, and I’m leaving people behind.
Sometimes I think that it is terribly limiting to be a human being: we are the most irritating creatures. Let us face some facts: we are slow; we are narrow-minded; we are spoiled; we get bored at the drop of a hat. Oh—and how we complain! We have turned from a species of hunters and survivors into a species of dreary little complainers.
Animals, the dear things, on the other hand, treat their lives like one big adventure. And the things they can do! They can soar over mountains, swim to the darkest depths of the sea, and thrive in the nastiest of jungles. Brilliantly colored feathers or wonderfully patterned hides or iridescent scales cover their bodies, while we must make do with our dull old skin. Animals rarely get bored, and if they do, they never just lie around and moan about the state of things. They simply live life.
Mother Wiggins always told me that I was too hard on people. She would remind me that we invented tools and built great cities. “What elephant can claim that, Wendell?” she’d say. “Giraffes and lions might be grand to look at, but they do not run the world—we do.”
“Yes, Mother,” I would sigh. “You are quite right. People are very interested in running the world, which is precisely the problem.”
I personally am less interested in running the world than in understanding it. In this grand adventure—starting now, on the high seas—I shall pursue nothing less than learning the world’s true story.
Now, when we pick up a book, do we start reading in the middle? No, of course we don’t. How on earth would we know what is going on, or who the characters are, or what they are up to? Indeed, we start reading the book at the beginning.
This is precisely what I am about to do: in order to understand the natural world, I am seeking out the remains of its most ancient creatures, to learn their ways and their fates. In doing so, I hope to learn more about ourselves—and what our own future might look like. And if this fact-finding mission takes up my entire life, I shall consider it a life well lived.
Some would say that this is insanity. At least, that’s what Mother Wiggins told me before I left.
“You have gone mad, Wendell,” she squawked, planting her hands firmly on her pillowy hips. “We’ll see how long you last out there in the wilderness without your chocolate biscuits.”
“I will get along just fine, thank you very much,” I snapped. “After all, sometimes I would suffer without them for weeks at university when you forgot to send my monthly cakes and foodstuffs. You have trained me well in enduring deprivation.”
Mother Wiggins shifted tactics and promised me that my “silly little mustache” would wilt. I informed her that I intended to travel with a small waterproof chest of precious, fine English mustache wax. (After all, remote travel is certainly no excuse to abandon good grooming.)
Still, I cannot be too upset with her curmudgeonly attitude toward my adventure: after all, she did slip a tin of biscuits into my trunks; I am brushing their delectable chocolaty crumbs off these pages as I write this.
Oh, dear: a storm is churning up the sea, and water is spilling down below the decks. I had better put this journal away: it has to last all the way through the South American jungle, where I am heading first.
In Which I Arrive in the Jungle
What better place to begin this adventure than the Amazon jungle? Starting here was my grand plan all along: it is one of the densest, creepiest, crawl-ingest, and most unstudied places on the planet—I absolutely get goose bumps when I think about the secrets I shall uncover.
This is the life for me. Paradise, in fact! Mosquitoes by the barrelful, poison frogs lurking around every corner, man-eating plants sprouting up and posing as innocently as the baby white rosebushes in Mother Wiggins’s garden. Dark, unexplored caves that have held their breath for millions of years. Crushing waterfalls and piranha-filled rivers. Why, it is the most divine holiday I’ve ever taken.
The local wildlife has worked hard to make me feel at home. Just last night, as I camped, an unlikely duo of animal guests visited to relieve me of some of my supplies: first, a giant anteater lumbered in and rooted through my provisions rucksack. While I shooed this creature away, a king vulture swooped in and stole all of my adored chocolate biscuits!
“What did I tell you, Wendell,” hollered Mother Wiggins in my mind. “I just spent tuppence on chocolate biscuits for the enjoyment of a vulture. Would you say that is money well spent?”
“Go away, Mother—I’m in the jungle,” I told her, and when she’d disappeared, I reminded myself that one ought to get used to being without the comforts of home, and that was that.
In Which I Discover … Amazonian Umbrella Fish
(Umbra Piscis ab Amazon)
The unfortunate news: Mother Wiggins was right about my mustache. It is drooping most regrettably in this wretched humidity. And the heat positively melts my fine, precious English wax right off my face. The indignities one must suffer in the name of science!
However, the good news is very good: two months into my expedition, I have already discovered a previously unknown ancient animal. My heart pounds as I scribble this down.
A local guide and several porters led me here. “Bring me to the most remote part of the Amazon,” I told them. “Someplace where no one like me has ever toddled a
“Kerepakupai Merú,” the guide told me, pointing at the rushing waters; this means “Waterfall of the Deepest Place” in his language.1 The falls simply must be over three thousand feet high, which might make them the highest in the world.2
The guide brushed aside a curtain of vines against the mountain; behind lurked the mouth of a dark cave. I crept inside, lit a torch, and looked up—and fainted dead away. (I admit now that this wasn’t very manly of me, but I was quite excited.) There on the ceiling and walls: thousands of ancient etched drawings—why, it was practically a library!
The creatures portrayed in these drawings were terribly peculiar, with their umbrella-shaped bodies and odd movements up and down the falls. What did it all mean? My guide and porters were stumped as well. This clearly called for an excavation around the cave and falls. I shouted for my tools and began digging for fossils and clues at once.
The first few days of the dig were a misery: practically everything went wrong. Every time I tried to carve an excavation pit into the ground near the falls, all of that gluey Amazonian mud would slide right into the hole. And every once in a while, I would spot an F.O.I. (Fossil of Interest), and it would turn out to be of just a plain old Amazonian bullfrog, which had nothing to do with these mysterious cave drawings.
During the day, the sun beat down on us, and steam unfurled like smoke from the waterfall; my poor mustache practically hung down to my toes. My porters were very inexperienced at this excavation work, got frustrated easily, and sat down for long breaks under the strangest little umbrellas—ugly brittle things, resembling parched leather stretched over rickety bones. Of course, I was only too happy to partake in these respites: this excavation-in-the-jungle business certainly was very taxing work. Hardly anything got done, thanks to all of the umbrella breaks being taken—but then something quite miraculous happened during one of them.
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