Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, страница 4
And that was when they were still a couple hundred feet above us.
By the time they were at the level of the treetops, we were so full of bliss, we were probably drooling. Also giggling. The fuzzballs bounced around, whirling and zigzagging—it was comical somehow. They were putting on a show for us.
I noticed there were lights flickering in the windows of Spookhuizen. The flying fuzzers bowled down the avenue of beech trees, bounced a couple of times, and settled onto the roof of the house. Then they either sank or extinguished, going out like matches. And it was over. They were gone.
"Wow! That was not what I expected," I said to Molly when I got my voice back. "I loved it! I love the saucers!"
"Did they go inside the house?" Molly asked.
"It sort of looked like it," I said. "But I'm not sure."
There was the house, dark and silent and deadlooking in the moonlight again.
"Do you want to wait around in case they come back?" Molly asked.
"I'm not sure I could stand it if they came back," I said. "I might flip my wig—no offense."
We made our way back through the dark barn. The lights were on in the lunchroom, and we could see the enormously fat Clarinda Quackenboss through the windows, bustling around. We went in. The place was empty except for a couple of orange cats before which Clarinda was in the act of placing saucers.
"Ah, it's those girls!" Clarinda said. "You want apple fritters?"
"We just noticed your lights on," I said. "That was quite a show the saucers put on out back."
"Was it? I didn't notice. Too busy getting things ready," Clarinda Quackenboss said. "I open up on Wednesday nights in case the extraterrestrial aliens want fritters."
"Have any come in so far?" Molly asked.
"I was hoping for a big crowd, but all that's come in tonight are these two." She jerked her thumb at the cats. "You want some more milk with apple fritters crumbled in, kitties? No?"
The cats strolled out through the open door.
"How about you, girls?" Clarinda asked. "Apple fritters?"
"We filled up on Chinese food," I said. "Thanks anyway."
"So, you don't bother to watch the saucers on Wednesday nights?" I asked Clarinda.
"I'm too busy. Some nights they come crowding in, demanding apple fritters. Some nights they don't. I don't know why. By the way, they pay in pure gold, and they're good tippers, those space aliens."
"Are they nice? Are they fierce?"
"Oh, they're nice. They're regular pussycats."
"What goes into apple fritters?" Molly asked me as we walked home.
"Apples, of course, and some flour and water, sugar, oil to fry them in, maybe eggs if you use them to make the batter."
"So mostly stuff that isn't very expensive and keeps fairly well?"
"And the space creatures pay in gold, and tip handsomely."
"So she said."
"So, she ought to be able to make a tidy profit running that lunchroom specializing in fritters."
"But so far we haven't seen anybody there. Where are all the customers?"
"I don't know. Maybe it gets busy at lunchtime."
"Listen, are you going to tell the Gleybners what we saw?" Molly asked.
"Sure. They're interested in flying saucers, anyway in theory. Why do you ask?"
"Well, if you tell them, they will repeat it to everyone who comes into the store, and that's all the flying saucer fans in Poughkeepsie. Then, next Wednesday there might be a whole crowd of people with binoculars and cameras hanging around Spookhuizen. Who knows? It might scare them away, and we might want to go back for another look. You might have questions you want answered."
"Well, that guy the professor talked to the other day knew all about them, and that they landed behind the old stone barn on Wednesday nights. So apparently it's not some secret we discovered."
"Right. It's common knowledge, so we are not witholding anything people couldn't find out for themselves if we don't go into detail with the Gleybners. We can just say we saw lights in the sky—it's the truth, and it's also what everybody says when they see, or think they see, flying saucers."
"I wouldn't want to trick the Gleybners," I said.
"It's not tricking; it's just revealing stuff a bit at a time. I think we should talk to the professor before we let the information spread around too much. Do this for me—I'm insane and you don't want to upset me."
"Well, all right," I said. "I don't see that it makes a big difference one way or the other."
What the Professor Found Out
"I haven't been able to find out a thing!" the professor said.
Molly and I were in the living room of his house, a nice little house near the college. The professor was wearing a wizard robe and one of those pointy wizard hats with stars and moons on it. When we asked him, it turned out it didn't have any special significance—he just wore the robe around the house because it was comfortable, and the hat came with it and kept his head warm.
"Not a thing?"
"Well, nothing I didn't know already—there is mention of Spookhuizen here and there, but no records, nothing about exactly where it was built, or that it still stands. And the same with Alexandra Van Dood. There was such a person, but I found nothing about her as a ghost. I've been all through three libraries, looked through newspaper records, phoned librarians in New York City and Washington, D.C., and haven't found a scrap."
"Well, we found out something," I said.
We told the professor all about our visit to Spookhuizen, and the beautiful, fuzzy, made-you-feel-wonderful, flying ... somethings, and how they may have gone into the house.
"Now you see the limitations of professors like me," the professor said. "I looked in books, and you girls went and looked at an actual something. Well done! Very well done!"
"What now?" I asked.
"Well, it's interesting, isn't it?" Professor Tag said. "I suppose I could write a small article about it, but maybe not. People look askance at those who are interested in flying saucers. It's the sort of thing that would emphasize that I'm crazy, which I am—but why do things that call more attention to it?"
"But I want to know more about those flying things we saw," I said. "It's very important to me."
"It is? Why?"
"I don't know. I just know I felt something when we were watching them. I can't describe it, but it was important."
Molly was smiling.
"In that case, now we know what has to be done!" Professor Tag said.
"Of course we do!"
"What? What has to be done?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"Um, not quite. Tell us."
"We have to get a look inside the house."
"But it's spooky and scary."
"We'll go in the daytime. It's not as scary then, is it?"
"Maybe not as."
"If you need to know, you need to know. Did you feel that the things you saw were scary?"
"Just the opposite. But the house is."
"Things are scary until you know what they are. I'll just go and change clothes."
"Wait! We're going now?"
"Why not? No time like the present. Besides, aren't you a little hungry? I'll treat you both to apple fritters and coffee."
Professor Tag ran into his bedroom and emerged after a few minutes wearing short pants, boots, knee socks, a jacket with a lot of pockets, and a pith helmet. It was one of those African explorer outfits.
"Who are you supposed to be this time?" I asked.
"Professor Tag!" Professor Tag said. "This is my usual costume for field work and expeditions. See? I have pockets for notebooks, lots of pencil
"What exactly are you a professor of, Professor?" I asked.
"Classical accountancy. I specialize in dynastic Egyptian bookkeeping."
"And you go on field trips and expeditions requiring all that gear?"
The professor was putting his arms through the straps of a rucksack. "You'd be surprised," he said. "A classical accountant must be ready for every kind of emergency."
The first emergency, or what I thought was an emergency, happened when we arrived at the old stone barn. We went through as usual—there were the scary-looking beech trees, making a long corridor, and at the end ... no house!
"Where is it?" I asked.
"Where is what?" the professor asked.
"What do you mean?" Molly asked.
"I mean it isn't there! There is no house where the house was!"
"What are you talking about? There is the house, just where it always was."
"No it isn't! Yes it is!" The house was there, just like before. "But just now there was no house there!" I said.
"I didn't see no house," the professor said. "And I do not mean that in an ungrammatical way."
"I didn't not neither," Molly said. "And I do."
"Well, that is strange," I said. "It wasn't and now it is."
"A trick of the light, no doubt," the professor said. "Now let's go have a look at it."
"We're going to go inside?" I asked.
"At least we'll have a peek through the windows," the professor said. "Let's approach."
We began walking along the beech-lined driveway toward the house. It was quite a long driveway. And it turned out to be even longer than it first appeared. We walked and walked, and the house didn't seem any nearer.
We walked some more.
And some more after that.
"You know, we don't seem to be getting any nearer," I said.
"We're not," Molly said. "How can that be?"
"Another trick of the light, perhaps," the professor said. "It may be like a Japanese garden: the landscape is cleverly laid out so the spaces seem large and the distances greater than they are. Only in this case, it's done so a great distance seems small. If the trees near the house were larger than the trees at the far end of the drive, for example, it might make them seem closer."
"So you're saying the house is farther than it seems, and someone made it so the distance would seem less? Why would anyone do that?" I asked.
"Why does anyone do anything?" the professor asked. "Let's walk faster and see if we seem to be making any progress."
We walked faster. We walked faster yet. We trotted. We ran. When we looked behind us, there was a long line of trees. When we looked forward, the house appeared to be just as far away as when we first started.
"It's no use," Molly said. "We can't get near the place."
"It has to be moving away from us as we approach," I said. "Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"And don't forget, when we first came here you didn't see it at all, and a moment later, when Molly and I looked, it was there and we all saw it. I am thinking you looked first, Audrey, and it hadn't arrived yet. And a moment later, it had!" The professor was making a note in his notebook.
"Okay, I have an idea," I said. "What do you think would happen if we found out the boundaries of the property, left it completely, found our way around to the other side, and approached the house from that direction? What do you think would happen then?"
Molly and the professor looked at me. "We could try it, if we wanted to be thorough and scientific," the professor said. "But I think we all know what would happen."
"The same thing," I said.
"I agree," Molly said.
"So what are we going to do?" I asked. "Give up on getting close to the house?"
"Well, now that we know it doesn't want us to get close, I want to all the more," the professor said. "Oh, look! It's gone!"
We looked. There was no house to be seen.
"I told you it went invisible," I said.
"So you did," Molly said. "Wait! I think it's coming back!"
We could see the house, but dimly, and it was sort of transparent.
"Well, this is beyond me," the professor said. "We need to talk to someone who knows about things like this."
"Do you know such a person?" Molly asked.
"I do, and we are going to see her."
"Chicken Nancy, of course," the professor said.
"Who is Chicken Nancy?"
"She knows things no one else does," Professor Tag said. "She's very, very, very old. She's the one to ask about things like invisible, evasive houses."
"And this is someone you know?" I asked.
"I know about her."
"But you've never met her."
"Well, let's go talk to her," Molly said. "Do you know where she lives?"
"Somewhere around here," the professor said. "She's a local wise woman."
"Somewhere around here meaning this neighborhood, or the city of Poughkeepsie, or this general area?"
"This general area. Somewhere in this county, or maybe the next one."
"So how do you propose to find her? The yellow pages?"
"I rather doubt she'd be listed, or even have a phone. We'll ask around. Someone is sure to know where to find her."
I liked the professor so much, and he seemed to know so many things, and was so confident, that I had to keep reminding myself that he was a five-star maniac. I reminded myself.
"I've worked up an appetite chasing that house," he said. "Who'd like apple fritters and coffee?"
"Good idea," Molly said.
"Good idea," I said. "Something real that we can get our hands on."
"It's the girls! And the professor!" Clarinda Quackenboss said brightly. Then she bellowed, "Apple fritters?"
"But of course," the professor said. "And keep them coming."
"Clarinda," I asked. "Did you know that if you try to approach the old house out back, it moves away from you?"
"There's an old house out back? I never noticed."
"What? You've never seen it?"
"I've never looked. I am interested in apple fritters, and serving my customers. That's the way to run a successful business."
When Clarinda went into the kitchen to make our apple fritters I whispered to the professor, "She isn't a ghost, is she?"
"No, not a ghost. I'm not sure what she is, but she may not be an ordinary human. I suspect you will never see her anywhere but in this fritter shop. Very perceptive of you to notice."
"I'm going to ask her if she knows where Chicken Nancy lives," Molly whispered.
"Why bother?" I whispered back. "She'll just tell you all she pays attention to are apple fritters."
"It will do no harm," Molly said. Clarinda came out of the kitchen with fritters. "Clarinda, do you know where Chicken Nancy lives?"
"You go down the road about a quarter of a mile, and go right at the corner. Then go along that road for almost a mile. You'll see a Christmas tree farm on the right, and a long driveway. Go all the way along the driveway, past the Christmas tree farm. There's an orchard on the left—just keep going until the driveway turns into a footpath through the woods. Continue on that until you come to a little house, and that's it."
"How come you know that?" I asked.
"I buy apples from the orchard."
She's Very, Very, Very Old
There is the city of Poughkeepsie, and surrounding it is the town of Poughkeepsie, which is bigger and more rural. Still, it is possible to look out certain apartment windows or schoolroom windows in the city of Poughkeepsie and see cows, or fields under cultivation. A Christmas tree farm, and an orchard, and woods are within the city—and there are streetcar tracks that go right out into the country, so a farmer can walk a little way
We followed the road Clarinda had told us about and found the Christmas tree farm and the driveway. It smelled nice with the fir trees on one side and the apple trees on the other. Then the driveway narrowed into a little path that we followed into the woods. We had to walk single-file until we came to a clearing. The sun was shining down through the trees on a little cottage with a pointy roof. There was a neat vegetable garden beside the cottage, and flowers in pots on the little porch. Also on the porch, sitting on a straight chair, was an old lady. Her skin was brown, her hair was white, and her eyes were very clear and bright. She was wearing a gray old-fashioned-looking dress.
There was a dog, gray and shaggy, lying beside the old lady. As we approached, the dog stood up and we saw that he was very big and very tall. He stood with his head down and looked at us with yellow-brown eyes. The eyes were kind and intelligent. But I could tell this dog was not one to mess with. Anyone who found his way to this little house with bad intentions would soon wish he had never come.
"But you have nothing to worry about, girl from far away," the old lady said. "I will speak to the dog. Weer, this cat-whiskered girl and the two crazy people, one a lot crazier than the other, are just looking for information. They mean us no harm." Weer sank down beside the old lady's chair, but kept an eye on us. "By the way, I know you didn't come seeking it, but I can cure you of being insane while you're here—if you wish."
"I am Professor Tag," Professor Tag said.
"I know all about you," the old lady said. "You go cuckoo every spring, and your students love you."