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       3 Below, p.1

           Patrick Carman
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3 Below



  Title Page




  Chapter 1: It Began with a Letter

  Chapter 2: Land Ho!

  Chapter 3: What They Found Beyond the Wall

  Chapter 4: The Game Is Afoot

  Chapter 5: The Second Floor Goes Up

  Chapter 6: In the Shadow of a Monster

  Chapter 7: Lucy, Queen of the Dinosaurs

  Chapter 8: Lucy’s Burp

  Chapter 9: A Floor of Fog and Mirrors

  Chapter 10: The Realm of MONDAR!

  Chapter 11: The Voyage of the Tree Dragon

  Chapter 12: An Emperor Is Chosen

  Chapter 13: Beyond the Field of Wacky Inventions


  About the Author


  “Is that you?”

  “Of course it’s me. Who else would it be?”

  “You won’t believe where I am.”

  “It’s been a trying day; could you make this quick?”

  Ms. Sparks, who had been foiled again and again by Merganzer D. Whippet, had indeed endured a very bad day. Her plan to take over the Whippet Hotel had failed for a second time, and her prospects were extremely dim.

  “The top floor of my hotel just took off into the air,” Ms. Sparks was told. “An airship is carrying it away. Very odd.”

  Ms. Sparks sat up straight on her ratty old couch, where she had been dozing as the television droned in the background.

  “Are you on board?” she asked.

  “I was just getting to that,” the voice stammered, surprised by the fact that Ms. Sparks actually believed the top of a hotel had been lifted into the air. “I’m standing on the roof.”

  “Interesting. The top floor of the Whippet Hotel has also gone missing. And you have the satellite phone? The one that skips all the cell towers?”

  “Of course. I’m using it now.”

  Ms. Sparks tried to imagine what kind of madness Merganzer was cooking up and how she might benefit from it.

  “Call me when you land. Let’s see where this little adventure leads us.”


  “And one more thing,” Ms. Sparks warned. “If you find two kids along the way, keep an eye on them. They’re not as dumb as they look. I have a feeling they hold the keys to Merganzer’s kingdom.”

  When the call was completed, Ms. Sparks rose from the couch and tamed her beehive hair, which was tilted to the side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

  She took a single hard cookie from the battered coffee table and crushed it into dust.

  “What are you up to, Merganzer D. Whippet?”

  Clarence and Pilar Fillmore didn’t even have time to drop their bags on the floor of the lobby before surprising things began happening at the Whippet Hotel. It had been a long travel day and they’d arrived home late. They’d expected to see no one until morning, but Captain Rickenbacker was sliding down the banister, wearing his red cape, which flapped in the breeze behind him. It felt very much like he’d been waiting for the door of the hotel to open so he could descend on an unsuspecting visitor.

  When Captain Rickenbacker arrived at the bottom of the stairs, he produced a white envelope from his vest pocket.

  “This came for you in the afternoon post.”

  He said the words like they were part of a grand conspiracy.

  “Hello, Captain Rickenbacker,” Clarence said. “It’s nice to see you, too.”

  “It’s from him.”

  “Him? Who is him?” Pilar asked. She had the most charming Mexican accent Clarence Fillmore had ever heard — he never grew tired of hearing it — but Captain Rickenbacker’s voice was all business.

  “There is only one him — the him,” Captain Rickenbacker said.

  Pilar looked at Clarence, puzzled but amused. She loved all the quirky people who lived in the Whippet Hotel.

  “Merganzer D. Whippet,” Clarence said, for there really was only one him in their world, it was true.

  “Of course. What was I thinking?” Pilar said, batting her deep brown eyes in the direction of the envelope as she gently removed it from Captain Rickenbacker’s hand.

  The captain fluffed his cape and turned to go, then looked back and added one more piece of information he’d nearly forgotten to share.

  “Oh, and the top of the hotel has vanished. I’m investigating.”

  Clarence should have been highly alarmed, but he was used to the extraordinary goings-on at the hotel. He took it in stride.

  “Where are Leo and Remi?” Mr. Fillmore asked.

  But Captain Rickenbacker was already leaving, on his way back up the stairs in the direction of the Pinball Machine, where he solved crimes and ate donuts. He was not one to dawdle after a mission had been completed.

  “Better read it,” Pilar said, stepping out of her sandals. She liked the feel of the cool marble floor on the bottoms of her feet.

  And so Clarence popped the wax seal on the envelope, removed the letter, and read it out loud.

  Clarence and Pilar,

  Welcome home! I trust you had a marvelous time on your honeymoon in the Riviera. You have been missed!

  Things have been quiet as usual in your absence. Humdrum, dull, a real snooze. The boys were practically dying of boredom, so I decided to intervene on their behalf.

  I hope you won’t mind that I’ve taken them on a little adventure. Nothing too exciting. There will be a lot of naps and checkers, that sort of thing.

  Take good care of the hotel in their absence. I’ll have them back in a week.

  With fondness on your return,

  Merganzer D. Whippet

  The truth, of course, was there had been no humdrum, no dull, no snoozing at the Whippet Hotel while Pilar and Clarence had been away. Leo and Remi had been in the vast underbelly of the hotel most of the time, searching through a hidden jungle, a mad scientist’s underground laboratory, and the realm of gears, which had all been every bit as dangerous as it sounds.

  Pilar shrugged. Though she still had a bride’s glow about her, she was also exhausted from all the traveling.

  “It’s Merganzer. How dangerous could it be?” she asked.

  But Clarence knew better. A little adventure could mean almost anything when it came to Merganzer D. Whippet. At least Leo and Remi were smart, resourceful, and careful.

  “They’ll be fine,” he said with a half smile, for he was only half sure. “How about we start our week by getting some sleep?”

  If only they’d known how Leo and Remi’s little adventure was beginning, the last thing on their minds would have been turning in for the night.

  Leo and Remi were on the roof that had gone missing from the Whippet Hotel. The entire top floor of the Whippet was flying through the sky, held aloft by a vast and nearly invisible airship. That alone should have been enough to make them both dizzy with anticipation, but really, it was only the beginning. They were moving quietly above a low blanket of clouds. Looking down made Leo feel safe, as though the clouds were a soft bed of cotton candy the top of the Whippet Hotel could land on if the airship overhead failed them. If he could have seen how high they really were, it would have taken his breath away.

  “Where are we going?” Remi asked for the tenth time. “And when will we get there?”

  Mr. Powell was above them in the cockpit of the blimp, guiding them to places unknown, but everyone else, including Merganzer, had gone down to the roof below. Merganzer wouldn’t stop playing with the ducks. He sat cross-legged by the small pond, letting the new ducklings climb into his lap. One had long fallen asleep in his hand, and he cupped it like a delicate egg, watching as it breathed a hundred breaths a minute.

call this one Comet,” Merganzer said. He brushed a finger across the strip of yellow-white fur running along the duckling’s back. “He’s going to be a fast one, I can tell.”

  “I don’t know,” Leo said as he and Remi came close. “Maybe we should call him Snoozy instead.”

  “He’s saving his energy,” Merganzer replied. “For when he really needs it.”

  “So about that destination,” said Remi. “And when we’re getting there?”

  Comet woke with a start, his little eyes blinking wildly. He jumped out of Merganzer’s hand, racing for the pond. The white strip of fur down his back did look kind of like a comet streaking across the sky.

  “You see there? He is fast!”

  Remi went back to looking at the clouds below them, resting his elbows on the wide rail of the Whippet Hotel roof. Leo and Merganzer joined Remi, and the three of them stared out into the starry night, an icy wind blowing through their hair.

  “How about we look over this way, shall we?” Merganzer said. He opened up his long coat and wrapped the boys in its warmth, pulling them along as they flew across the night sky. Merganzer was nearing his fiftieth birthday, but he had the wondrous heart of a boy leaving on an adventure.

  “There, can you see it now?” he asked. Merganzer pointed out with a finger that was almost as crooked as his long nose was. “Way off in the distance.”

  They’d long left the lights of the city behind, and the clouds below had turned black and forbidding. But Merganzer D. Whippet wasn’t pointing at the clouds, he was looking across the sky, where something was coming toward them. At nearly twelve years old, Remi and Leo had never known stars to shine so brightly, because they’d both been city dwellers their entire lives. They turned their gazes away from the sparkling sky above and followed the line of Merganzer’s finger.

  “Looks like a hot dog,” Remi said. He was a semi-round boy who thought about food a great deal of the time.

  “Wait, that’s —” Leo began to say, and Remi jumped in.

  “It is! It is a giant hot dog!”

  Leo rolled his eyes, something he found himself doing quite a lot when he was with his newly acquired stepbrother. “It’s not a hot dog. It’s an airship.”

  “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Remi,” Merganzer said. “But Leo is right. And that’s not the only one.”

  The flying thing off in the distance did have the shape of a hot dog. A huge hot dog. It turned slowly, like a submarine in the ocean, and headed straight for the roof of the Whippet Hotel.

  “Hey, there’s another one!” Remi yelled, and he ran from under the cover of Merganzer’s long coat, pointing his pudgy finger toward an approaching light.

  “What’s going on here?” Leo asked as he turned toward Merganzer. He was a boy with a bubble of curly hair, which raked forward into his bright eyes as the wind pushed against the back of his head.

  “Just watch,” said their mystifying companion. “I bet you’ll figure it out on your own.”

  And so they did.

  Airships were coming in from all directions, and they were all on a path pointing toward one another, as if a funnel in the middle of the sky was pulling them closer. Like the blimp that floated over Leo’s head, these approaching airships were also carrying cargo.

  “Wait, are those what I think they are?” Leo asked, leaning as far out over the ledge of the Whippet Hotel roof as he dared. There were five airships — six including the one over Leo’s head — and all of them were carrying something.

  Leo turned to Merganzer and stared up into his twinkling eyes.

  “How many hotels do you own?” Leo asked.

  Merganzer’s eyes darted back and forth, as if he’d been caught with a secret.

  “More than one.”

  Leo returned his gaze to the ledge, where the five other balloons were getting awfully close to one another. Each of them carried the roof of a different hotel.

  “This is outrageous,” Remi said to Merganzer. “Even for you.”

  “Why, thank you, Remi. That means a lot.”

  Leo couldn’t take his eyes off the scene unfolding before him. The airships had come to a stop. They were like floating centurions, staring silently at one another in a circle. Looking more carefully, Leo thought he saw people standing on the roofs of the buildings.

  “Who are they?” Leo asked. “And why did you bring them up here?”

  But Merganzer only smiled broadly, looking out at the tops of all his hotels as they floated in front of him.

  Blop, Remi’s miniature robot, peeked his head out from Remi’s pocket and observed the approaching vessels with some interest.

  “Airships are marvelous inventions, especially good for carrying heavy loads a long way,” he began. Once Blop started in on a subject it was hard to get him to stop. He went on about the crash of the mighty Hindenburg, which had put an end to the use of hydrogen inside of airships.

  “Also called zeppelins, because they were originally invented by Count Zeppelin, and later, in World War I, blimps — but the source of the word blimp is unknown.”

  The boys watched all the airships move toward them as Blop went on and on about how the flying vessels were normally filled with helium, which made them lighter than air and gave them their ability to float. It was here that Merganzer interjected.

  “You’ll be pleased to know I’ve done some reengineering. The stuff I put in these airships is much more powerful than plain old helium. Also a tad unstable, but nothing to worry about. As long as we don’t unhook the weights unexpectedly, we’ll be fine.”

  “The weights?” Remi asked.

  “I think he’s referring to the top of the Whippet Hotel,” Leo said.

  “So right!” Merganzer said, slapping Leo on the back with a gloved hand. “Now that we’re hooked up, we need to stay hooked up. Unhooking is a delicate process.”

  “What would happen if the zip rope snapped?” Leo asked. The zip rope was made from a very special monkey tail. It has amazing strength, like a million rubber bands all wrapped together.

  “A zip rope break?” Merganzer asked. “Why, that’s impossible! But since you asked, I’ll tell you. We would fall — I suppose that much is perfectly clear. But the airship overhead, it would fall, too. Only it would fall up. Up, up, up it would go as fast as we would fall. And it wouldn’t stop until it reached the moon.”

  “Cool,” Remi said. He could imagine a blimp slamming into the moon in a ball of fire.

  “If my calculations are correct,” Blop said, “it would appear that we’re beginning our descent.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Remi asked.

  “It means we’re finally landing!” Leo said excitedly, and as he said the words, all six hotel roofs drifted down and vanished into thick clouds. Everything turned hazy and soft around the edges as beams of light from the airships darted in every direction. And then, without any warning at all, the roof of the Whippet Hotel burst through the clouds and the ground appeared below them. Darkness lay for miles in every direction, and in the center of all that darkness, Merganzer D. Whippet’s estate sat quietly waiting for them.

  The first time Leo and Remi saw the field of wacky inventions, they both knew it would forever remain one of the most magical moments of their lives. Even after everything they’d seen inside the Whippet Hotel and the many adventures they’d had, they both knew this place was something special.

  “Getting close, sir,” Mr. Powell yelled down from the airship cockpit. “Better turn on the lights!”

  Merganzer’s eyebrows raised in anticipation and he took a hotel key card out of his coat pocket. Leo and Remi watched as he swiped his finger across the face of the card, then touched the top of the card and ran his finger slowly down the middle. Down below, two curved strips of light appeared and inside the strips, the letters began to appear.

  W H I P P E T

  The letters must have been twenty feet wide, for the airship was still high up in the air and the word was brig
ht and clear. Merganzer tapped his finger on the key card over and over, and down below glowing circles of light appeared around the WHIPPET. Six round circles of light shone up through a field of wide oak trees, making the leaves glow bright red and yellow like a forest afire.

  “Landing locations illuminated!” Merganzer shouted up to Mr. Powell.

  There was enough light now for Leo and Remi to see the outline of the entire world they were about to enter. From overhead, they could see the tops of the great oak trees, their canopies hiding whatever lay hidden beneath. There were openings for the airships to dock, and a high stone wall wrapped around the entire property, encasing everything in secrecy.

  “So this is the field of wacky inventions,” Leo said.

  “Looks awesome,” Remi said.

  “You have no idea,” Merganzer replied, then he leapt up onto the edge of the narrow rail that ran around the roof of the Whippet Hotel.

  “I’m just a kid,” Remi said. “But I think that’s a bad idea.”

  “Land ho!” Merganzer yelled, ignoring Remi as he leaned over the edge of the Whippet Hotel in a most precarious fashion. Leo and Remi each grabbed one side of his coat, trying to hold his tall frame steady as Merganzer wobbled back and forth, shuffled unsteadily to the left, and fell off the roof. Merganzer’s coat slipped off quietly as he fell, and Leo and Remi each held one empty sleeve as they looked at each other and screamed.

  “Don’t worry too much, boys,” Mr. Powell said. “Merganzer usually has a plan even I don’t know about.”

  Sure enough, a parachute popped open and they watched as Merganzer drifted below them, expertly navigating a path to the very circle of light Leo and Remi were headed for. By the time they arrived in their airship, Merganzer had landed, moved out of the way, and stood waiting.

  “What took you so long?” Merganzer said, laughing up at Mr. Powell as the roof of the Whippet Hotel touched down.

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