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       Rem World, p.1

           Rodman Philbrick
 
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Rem World


  COVER

  TITLE PAGE

  DEDICATION

  1. FAT NO MORE

  2. UNDER THE BIG BAD WORLD

  3. LOW TIDE IN REM WORLD

  4. THINGS IN THE WHITE MIST

  5. FEAST OF THE FROG PEOPLE

  6. THE TROUBLE WITH NOTHING

  7. WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE

  8. WIND OF THE GIANTS

  9. THE GIANT’S TALE

  10. A SWOOP OF WINGS

  11. THE CLOUD PEOPLE

  12. NO ONE KNOWS EVERYTHING

  13. WHAT LEELA SAW

  14. THE LEGEND OF THE END OF THE WORLD

  15. THE BOY WITH THE BLANKET

  16. LEAP OF FAITH

  17. THE LUCKIEST PERSON EVER TO LIVE

  18. INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER

  19. THE TERRIBLE DARK TALONS

  20. THE SCRABBLING OF CLAWS

  21. THE TROUBLE WITH BORONS

  22. THE RIVER UNDER THE WORLD

  23. WHY THE RIVER GLOWED

  24. TO THE END OF THE WORLD AND BEYOND

  25. INTRUDERS IN THE GARDEN

  26. THE AWAKENING

  27. THE ISLAND OF THE DEMON

  28. THE THING INSIDE THE BOX

  29. A WONDER AND A TERROR TO BEHOLD

  30. THE END OF THE BEGINNING

  ABOUT THIS SCHOLASTIC SIGNATURE AUTHOR

  OTHER SIGNATURE TITLES

  PRAISE FOR RODMAN PHILBRICK’S REM WORLD­

  COPYRIGHT

  ARTHUR WOODBURY WAS fat, quite fat, and the nickname he hated most of all, the one that made his ears hot, was Biscuit Butt. He hated being Biscuit Butt more than he hated being Arty Farty, or Jelly Belly, or Fat Boy, or even the dreaded Goodyear. Mean but true, because as everybody knew, Goodyear was a blimp.

  And so on his eleventh birthday (yes, he ate the whole cake), the human blimp named Arthur Woodbury made a decision that would change not only his life but the fate of the whole world, and ultimately the entire universe, and many other universes, too.

  Arthur decided he would be fat no more. Somehow he would get thin. Gloriously, triumphantly thin. So thin, he would amaze his friends.

  Except that, strictly speaking, he had no friends. Not even one. The only friends he had were the kind you ate, like sugarcoated cupcakes or nut-filled candy bars or double-scoop chocolate-chip ice-cream cones.

  Arthur lived with his mother, and his mother lived with her mother, and so the three of them lived together in the kind of stupefying silence that was only broken by the creak of the refrigerator door.

  Creak, a cold pork chop.

  Creak, that plate of barbecued chicken wings.

  Creak, more biscuits.

  It had to stop, Arthur decided. And the truly wonderful thing, the fantastically amazing thing, was this: He didn’t have to stop eating. He didn’t have to go on a diet. He didn’t have to exercise.

  All he had to do was sleep.

  LOSE WEIGHT WHILE YOU SLEEP!

  TRY THE MIRACULOUS

  REM SLEEP DEVICE.

  SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.

  SEND ONLY $9.99 TO

  REM WORLD PRODUCTS.

  That’s what the ad promised on the back page of the comic book. For a mere nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, Arthur could go to sleep fat and wake up thin.

  He’d sent for it weeks and weeks ago and had pretty much given up hope—rooked again by those cheesy comic books—when the package arrived exactly on his eleventh birthday.

  “Oh,” his mother had said, sounding just a little surprised. “Someone sent you a birthday present—isn’t that nice?”

  Arthur agreed that it was very nice indeed. He neglected to mention that he had sent himself the present, because sometimes the less mothers know, the better.

  Not that Arthur’s mom was a bad mother. Exactly the reverse was true. She was as good as a mother could be, considering that Arthur’s dad had died before he was born, and he’d had no father to teach him important stuff like baseball and night crawlers and how to pick your nose without getting caught.

  Arthur’s mom tried hard, but sometimes she had no idea what her son was thinking, or why the only thing that made him happy was food, more food. Endless supplies of food, glorious food.

  “Did you have a nice birthday, dear?” she asked. “Was the cake big enough?”

  But Arthur didn’t answer because he wasn’t listening. He was thinking about his new miracle weight-loss device. If only it would work! If only he really could go to sleep fat and wake up thin!

  On the way out of the kitchen, Arthur snagged eleven Oreo cookies and slipped them into his oversized pockets. Just for luck. Then he headed down the cellar stairs into the deep, dark basement.

  And his life, and the world, and the universe would never be the same again.

  FOR SOME REASON the basement always reminded Arthur of his late father. Not that he had ever known him, outside of photographs and that stupid wedding video his mother liked to watch sometimes late at night. But there was a workbench in the basement, and racks of tools, and the stuff certainly didn’t belong to Mom or Gramma, neither of whom could turn a screwdriver without falling down. So the tools had been his father’s, once upon a time, and Arthur supposed that someday they would be his. Saws and hammers and pry-bars and sharp-edged things that would cut off his fingers if he wasn’t careful.

  Other boys learned about tools from their dads, who also took them to Cub Scouts and soccer and other boy-dad things. And when the dads were hanging out by themselves, talking dads-only stuff, the boys would brag about their fathers. How they’d almost been big-league ballplayers, and how they were strong enough to lift a whole pickup truck if they felt like it, and all the medals they’d won in the war. Each boy trying to prove that his dad was the biggest, the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, the best dad in the whole world.

  Arthur didn’t have anything to brag about because his father was dead, and if he happened to mention that, well, all the bragging stopped, and it got real quiet. And then, inevitably, one of the other boys would smirk and break the uncomfortable silence by saying, “Arty Farty had a father? I don’t think so. His mother bought him at the bakery. That’s why he’s got a GREAT BIG BISCUIT BUTT!”

  Which sometimes made Arthur think his father must have been a loser. What kind of dad died before his son was born? A loser dad, that’s what kind. One who didn’t care enough to stay alive. Arthur knew it wasn’t fair to blame his dad for being dead, but he couldn’t help it. Being called Biscuit Butt made him feel unreasonable. Like he’d been cheated out of something really important before he even knew what it was.

  Now, going down into the basement on the afternoon of his eleventh birthday, Arthur was thinking how cool it would be if his dad suddenly just appeared out of nowhere. “Sorry, kid, I’m not your late father, I’m just late.”

  Like he’d never actually died and the whole thing was just a misunderstanding.

  What a lame idea. It was such a stupid idea, it made Arthur hungry, and he reached into his pocket to snag one of the Oreo cookies.

  Mmmm. He could almost taste the velvety chocolate dissolving on his tongue, and the way the sweet vanilla filling made his whole mouth go zing!

  Then, for reasons he didn’t quite understand—a mysterious feeling that came from deep inside—he decided that just for once he’d put off eating the Oreo and save it for later.

  Which was a good thing, as it turned out, because before long, the cookie would save his life.

  SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.

  That was the phrase that really hooked Arthur when he first saw the advertisement for the REM Sleep Device—even though he knew from long experience that satisfaction can’t be guaranteed, not even if you get an extra dessert.

  He couldn’t tell wh
at the actual device was from the picture, which was sort of blurry, and Arthur had been prepared for the worst. Probably the thing would be made out of cheap plastic, like those toys they gave away at fast-food restaurants. How cool could it be for only nine dollars and ninety-nine cents? His mom had spent more than that on his birthday cake, what with all the extra frosting.

  So when Arthur opened up the smooth box marked REM WORLD PRODUCTS, he was pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly surprised. Because inside, glowing like the darkest part of a cat’s eye, was a shiny black device that certainly wasn’t made of cheap plastic. Hard to say what it was made of, except that it was cool to the touch, and it seemed to shimmer slightly as Arthur carefully lifted it out of the trim little container.

  Before Arthur had a chance to read the instructions, the mysterious-looking device opened on its own. As if triggered by a hidden spring, it suddenly unfolded and seemed to grow right before his startled eyes.

  In less than the time it took for his heart to beat twice, the REM Sleep Device became a special helmet, with a black-tinted visor that slipped down to cover the eyes.

  “Wow,” said Arthur, and he meant it.

  The instructions were printed on a single sheet of very thin paper.

  Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a REM Sleep Device. Batteries are not included because batteries are not required. The REM Sleep Device works on brainpower. It will help you harness the hidden power of the human mind. With the aid of the REM Sleep Device you’ll not only lose unwanted pounds while you sleep, you’ll increase your powers of imagination and therefore become more intelligent. You’ll awaken thinner and smarter, although not necessarily wiser.

  All you have to do is follow these simple rules:

  1. Put on the REM Sleep Device.

  2. Lie down in a safe place.

  3. Go to sleep.

  WARNING!

  All rules must be followed exactly,

  or the REM World Products guarantee will be void.

  These are the easiest instructions I ever read, Arthur said to himself.

  He couldn’t wait to try it.

  There were no beds in the basement, so Arthur hopped on the workbench. He put down the sheet of instructions and picked up the glistening black helmet. He knew even before he tried it on that the device would fit perfectly, and it did.

  “This is so cool,” Arthur said as the visor automatically flipped down to cover his eyes.

  Inside the helmet he could hear a faint, distant sound, like waves breaking on a faraway beach. It was like the sound you hear when you hold a shell to your ear, only more so: Sssssssssh, ssssssssssh, ssssssssssssh, the sleepy whisper of an enchanted wind.

  Arthur lay down on the workbench. He didn’t even have to close his eyes, because the visor made everything totally dark. The sound of the distant ocean came closer, closer.

  Sssssssssssh, the wind whispered. Ssssssssssssssssssh.

  And then, just like that, Arthur fell deeply asleep.

  WHEN ARTHUR WOKE UP he was still fat. That was the first thing he checked, even before he took the helmet off and sat up.

  “I knew it,” he said bitterly. “What a rip-off! The stupid thing doesn’t work.”

  And with that, he threw the REM Sleep Device to the basement floor. It skittered away into a dark corner, sounding almost as if it were alive instead of just a stupid old helmet bought from the back pages of a comic book.

  The second thing he noticed was that the seashell sound of the ocean was still there, even though he was no longer wearing the helmet.

  “Weird,” said Arthur, climbing down off the workbench. Maybe it was just wind in the trees. But no, he knew what wind-in-the-trees sounded like, and this was different.

  Maybe it was an approaching tornado, or a hurricane.

  “Cool!” said Arthur, who enjoyed a storm so long as he was safe in the basement, or huddled under his bed with a flashlight and plenty of candy bars.

  Cautiously he went to the bulkhead and unlatched the old wooden door. The ocean-roar sound got much louder. Except it couldn’t be the ocean, because the seashore was miles and miles away.

  What was going on out there in the big bad world?

  Curiosity got the best of Arthur, and so he went up the bulkhead steps to lift the door. Arthur decided the noise must be some sort of machinery, maybe a huge leaf blower, coming from the yard next door.

  They’d better not blow all their crummy old leaves my way, Arthur said to himself, and he flung open the bulkhead door and climbed up out of the basement and into his own backyard.

  Except it wasn’t his own backyard.

  Arthur was standing on the hard, shiny mud of a beach at low tide. Clumps of green seaweed had been left behind by the retreating sea. All along the horizon, in the direction of where the ocean must have gone, was a thick white mist.

  And the sky was not blue. It was pale green.

  · · ·

  Impossible. Arthur decided the best thing to do was to go back into the basement and start over. But when he looked behind him, the bulkhead door had vanished, and there was nothing there but the same hard, damp mud and a few more globs of fragrant seaweed.

  “I love that smell,” said a small voice.

  “What!” said Arthur as his heart thumped. He looked wildly around for the source of the small voice, but he couldn’t see anything.

  “Over here,” the voice said.

  Arthur whirled around, but he still couldn’t see anything, or anyone.

  “I’m right here, kid. If you got any closer I’d bite—except, lucky for you, I don’t bite.”

  At last Arthur was able to make out the source of the voice. Behind him a small, plump creature sat on a lump of seaweed. You had to look close because it blended into the background, as if camouflaged. Arthur squinted and saw that it looked like an opossum, because of the long, curvy tail, but it also resembled a cat with very large, dark brown eyes.

  “What are you?” Arthur exclaimed.

  The creature looked offended. “I’m not a what. I’m a who.”

  “Sorry,” said Arthur, who felt bad. “Do you have a name?”

  “Morf.” The creature raised a paw to its forehead and seemed to concentrate, as if trying to dredge up thoughts from the very air. “And your name is, let me see…wait, don’t tell me…Biscuit! That’s what I’m picking up. You’re Mr. Biscuit, right?”

  Arthur felt his face go red. “My name is Arthur,” he insisted.

  “Hmmmm,” said Morf. “If you say so.”

  “I do say so.”

  “Arthur Biscuit?”

  “Look, please forget the biscuit part, okay? It’s just plain Arthur.”

  “Anything you say,” said Morf. “But around here you have to earn a name before you get to keep it.”

  With that, Morf got up from the pile of seaweed, raised his slightly muddy paw, and shook the boy’s hand.

  “Welcome to REM World,” he said. “I’ll be your guide. Every visitor to REM World gets a guide.”

  “REM World?” said Arthur. “Guide? What are you talking about?”

  “Didn’t you read the instructions?”

  “Of course I read the instructions,” Arthur said indignantly. “And it didn’t say anything about my house disappearing. Or finding myself on a beach with all this stinky seaweed and a sky that’s green instead of blue.”

  “Uh-oh!” Morf looked at him with sudden concern. “Where’s your helmet?”

  “Helmet?”

  “I knew it!” Morf said. “If you read both sides of the instructions, you’d know you can’t leave your helmet behind. Oh, this is bad, very bad! Terrible things will happen! How are you supposed to get home without your helmet?”

  Arthur had no idea what Morf was talking about, and no desire to find out. What he wanted to find was a way back into his basement. He searched around for the vanished bulkhead, but it was as if his home had never existed. “This must be a dream,” he decided. “That’s it! A drea
m. All I have to do is close my eyes and count to three and I’ll wake up. One…two…”

  “Sorry, kid, but that trick won’t work here.”

  Arthur opened his eyes and found he was still in REM World, wherever that was. Stupid helmet. If only he’d read the instructions more thoroughly, instead of just skimming. “What am I going to do?”

  “I suggest we run,” Morf said.

  “Run?” asked Arthur. He hated to run. “Why?”

  “Because they’re coming to get us,” said Morf with a shrug, as if he couldn’t care less.

  “What are you talking about?” asked Arthur.

  “Monsters,” Morf said, even more casually. “Fog Monsters.”

  That’s when Arthur saw them. Large, murky shapes stumbling through the mist. And they really were monsters.

  ARTHUR RAN, BUT the hard-packed mud was slippery underfoot and he couldn’t seem to get any traction. Truth was, he’d always been the slowest one in gym class, which was just one of the many reasons he hated exercise. But what choice did he have?

  Every time he looked over his shoulder, the things in the fog kept getting closer and closer.

  “Uh-oh,” said Morf, skidding to a stop.

  Arthur almost ran over him and ended up—whump!—on his bottom in the wet mud.

  “What do you mean ‘uh-oh’?” he asked fearfully. “Hadn’t we better keep running?”

  “Too late,” said Morf. “We’re surrounded.”

  It was true. The Fog Monsters were coming at them from all directions. Great, lumbering beasts whose shapes seemed to change as they got closer and closer.

  Arthur decided the best thing to do was close his eyes and wait for the end. He couldn’t run anymore. His butt was soaking wet. The things in the fog were going to get him, and there was nothing he could do about it.

  “It won’t be long now,” Morf said cheerfully, and he began to groom his tail with his small, fussy fingers.

  Arthur kept his eyes shut tight. He could hear Morf purring happily away, and he could also hear the gloppy, mud-sucking sound of the Fog Monsters getting closer and closer.

  Closer and closer.

  Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer, and he opened his eyes just a little.

 
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