Adventures of a cat whis.., p.9

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, страница 9


Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

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  Klabiash is a card game. Their other favorite game is filthy euchre, but they thought klabiash would be easier for us to learn. The dealer gives each player three cards, face-down, until the thirteenth card, which is dealt face-up. Then the players grab cards, throw cards down, and shout things like "Menell!" "Yass!" "Deece!" and "Shmice!" Yass is worth twenty points, Menell is worth fourteen points, and when anybody calls Shmice, they throw the cards in the air and run around the room, jumping over furniture. The game ends when everybody is sweaty and exhausted. The trolls said we were good players, even though we had no idea what we were doing.

  "Time for you to sleep," Phil said. "Go upstairs. There are thirteen bedrooms—take any one or ones you like. We will have pea soup and Danish pastries for breakfast."

  The bedroom we chose was simultaneously fancy, old, and crummy. It must have been the height of fashion when Mr. Bannerman built the place in the 1880s, but it had plenty of time to get out of date, and we were not surprised to find that the trolls were not careful housekeepers. We pulled the dusty bedspread off the big old bed, which was made of dark wood, carved all over, and had a canopy. The sheets seemed reasonably clean, and there were no mice in the bed. We were tired after a day on the river and the energetic game of klabiash, so we climbed in and fell asleep in a minute.

  Molly must have been really tired. She slept all night and did not climb the drapes or do sound effects of the Battle of Britain with her mouth, or practice tap dancing. In fact, she was still asleep when I woke up early in the morning. I dressed and went downstairs. The trolls were sleeping in too, so I played with a cute frisky puppy I met in the parlor until the rest of the house woke up.


  With the Trolls Before Breakfast

  The puppy scampered off somewhere, and the trolls came thundering down the stairs with Molly bouncing after them.

  "Breakfast!" Helen called. "Split-pea soup and Danish pastries! And who wants prune juice?"

  "Me! Me! Me! Me!" Phil, Joe, Fay, and Uncle Bernard shouted.

  Helen got busy in the kitchen, and soon the old mansion was full of good smells that did not go together.

  "After breakfast, we can play cards!" Joe said.

  "Or we can talk with our guests," Uncle Bernard said. "What brings you to our island, girls?"

  "Well, do you know Chicken Nancy?" I asked.

  "The wise woman? Of course we know her," Fay said. "We've known her since she was born."

  "Chicken Nancy suggested we come here," I said.

  "She was telling us about the Wolluf," Molly said. "And she said this was the best place to see it."

  When Molly mentioned the Wolluf, the trolls went pale and gasped. There was a little period of silence. Then Uncle Bernard spoke slowly. "Great pineapple, preserve us! You want to see the Wolluf?"

  "Well, yes," Molly said. "We're curious."

  "Most people would rather run a mile than see the Wolluf," Fay said.

  "We see it all the time," Joe said. "And we are big strong trolls, brave as anything, and afraid of nothing—and even we have to get ahold of ourselves to keep from losing our prune juice."

  "Is it horrible?" Molly asked.

  "It is worse than horrible," Phil said.

  "Is it evil?" Molly said.

  "Not so much evil as frightening," Fay said. "It's the kind of thing you can hardly bear to look at. I would rather see a half-dozen regular werewolves than look at the Wolluf. And yet you dare not look away."

  "Of course, that would not apply to little Elizabeth here," Uncle Bernard said. "She has never had a problem with the Wolluf—and she is the only one of whom that can be said."

  "Yes, the Wolluf is the scariest thing in the whole valley," Joe said. "By the way, its name is Max."

  "Max?" Molly asked.


  "That's a funny name for something so scary."

  "I doubt you will think it's funny when you see it."

  "By the way, I am not Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling," I said. "My name is Audrey, and I come from another plane of existence."

  "How adorable. She doesn't know who she is," Uncle Bernard said.

  "I certainly do know who I am," I said. "And I never heard of Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling until the other day."

  "Then how do you account for the fact that you are she?" Uncle Bernard asked.

  "I don't know that I have to account for it," I said. "First, I am not she, have no recollection of being her, never heard of her, and besides, she lived a long time ago."

  "So did we," Uncle Bernard said. "And yet here we are, us."

  "But, I assume you have always been you," I said.

  "More or less," Uncle Bernard said. "But then, all of us are any number of people as we go along, if you'd care to think about it. I mean, once you were a baby, quite different from the girl you are now, and later you will be an adult, also different. Can you remember being a little baby?"


  "But you do not deny you ever were such a thing as a baby, do you?"

  "Well, no."

  "Why not, since you don't have any recollection of being one?"

  "Because everyone starts out as one."

  "And how do you know that is so?"

  "How do I know everyone starts out as a baby?"

  "Yes. What makes you think that is so?"


  "Oh, so you have observed every single person starting out as a little infant and growing up to be a child, an adolescent, and an adult?"

  "No, not personally observed."

  "Then why do you think it is true?"

  "Because everyone knows it."

  "So, you believe it because there is a consensus of opinion about it."


  "Excellent," Uncle Bernard said. "Everyone who believes Audrey here is Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling, raise your paw."

  All the trolls raised their hands, Helen called from the kitchen, "I believe it," and I saw that Molly had raised her hand too.

  "It seems we have a consensus of opinion," Uncle Bernard said.

  "That is not proof," I said. "You could all be wrong. I might just look a lot like her."

  "You have a point," Uncle Bernard said. "Nothing is ever definite, but you have to admit there is more of a possibility that you are Elizabeth than you previously thought."

  "Maybe a tiny bit more," I said. "But I am far from convinced."

  "What would convince you?"

  "Nothing I can think of, unless I suddenly remembered being Elizabeth, which I do not."

  Molly said, "You all say that Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling had a different reaction to the Wolluf from everyone else. I would be interested in seeing if Audrey does too, besides being interested in seeing the Wolluf."

  "Well, it's before breakfast, but I suppose we could call him if you think you want to see him on an empty stomach," Uncle Bernard said. "And as I think about it, that might be the best way."

  "You can just call him and he will come?"

  "Yes, but we tend not to."


  The Wolluf

  "All right. You asked for it," Joe said. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. "Max!" he shouted.

  I noticed all the trolls were shading their eyes with their hands. Molly looked excited. I braced myself for something ghastly. I heard the scrabbling of claws and the thumping of paws. I heard raspy panting.

  And then...


  Breakfast with a Wolluf

  The puppy, the one I had been playing with earlier, came bounding into the room. He headed straight for me. I sank to my knees and hugged and petted him. He put his paws on my shoulders and licked my face. At first I thought I was protecting him from the Wolluf, and then I realized that nothing else was about to enter the room.

  While this was happening, the trolls were moaning and groaning.

  "Oh, lordy, how terrible! How frightening! How unbearable!"

  Molly was saying similar things, but she was
n't groaning. She was clapping her hands, and jumping up and down.

  "What is all this? What is so horrible? What are you seeing that you find so unpleasant?" I asked the trolls.

  "Unpleasant? Painful is more like it," the trolls said.

  "Molly, what are you seeing?"

  "Oh, it is bad," Molly said. "I mean, it is scary. I'm not seeing anything. It's like there is nothing to see. There's ... there's a hole in reality. It is like absolute darkness—only it is so dark, it's bright. It's like looking at the sun, if the sun were the source of all darkness."

  "And it pulses. And coruscates. And flashes blackness," the trolls said. "It is like staring into the pit of hell. As often as we see it, it never gets easier."

  "I would rather be stuffed in a garbage can and thrown down a well than look at this," Joe said.

  "I would rather be put through an industrial olive-pitting machine than look at this," Fay said.

  "I would rather be trampled to death by a hundred elephants than look at this," Phil said.

  "I would rather die, be reborn as a skunk, and then be stepped on by a moose than look at this," Helen shouted from the kitchen.

  "What are you seeing?" Molly asked me.

  "Cute puppy," I said.

  "Cute cute, or horrifying and diabolically cute?"

  "Regular cute," I said. "He likes me. What happens if I wrap him in my sweater?" I put my sweater around the puppy and held him.

  "A little better," Uncle Bernard said. "Still scary, but better."

  "Would you like to take Max out on the veranda while we have our breakfast?" Helen asked. "Molly can bring yours outside to you."

  "I'm not sure I can eat," Joe said.


  Away from the Island

  I shared my Danish pastries with Max. He wasn't interested in the split-pea soup. Neither was I.

  "This is confusing," I said to Max. "Do you think I might actually be Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling?"

  "Obviously you're Elizabeth," Max said.

  "You can talk! How is it you can talk?" I asked.

  "I'm the Wolluf," Max said.

  "And you too think I am Elizabeth."

  "Not think—know," Max said. "I'm the Wolluf. I'm never wrong about things like this."

  "Is that why Chicken Nancy arranged for me to come here, so you could tell me I am Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling? Which I still do not believe, by the way."

  "I would imagine she wanted you to meet me because I am the only one who can guide you where you have to go," Max said.

  "And where do I have to go?" I asked the Wolluf.

  "Let's leave that for later," Max said. "Are you ready to take a little trip with me?"

  Molly had come out onto the veranda.

  "Can Molly come along?" I asked.

  "I see no reason why not," the Wolluf said.

  "We going somewhere?" Molly asked.

  "Max wants to guide me," I said. "Are you up for it? Is he still looking terrifying to you?"

  "Pretty terrifying—but I am learning to deal with it," Molly said. "These Hudson River trolls may be four hundred years old and know a lot, but they don't have nerve like a Catskill Mountain dwerg."

  "Good girl," Max said. "I don't do it on purpose, you know."

  "It talks," Molly said.

  "I was about to mention that," I said.

  "So what do we do first?"

  "First we get off the island and ashore. You girls strong swimmers?"

  "Not with these currents," I said. "Besides, I think I see Harold the giant making his way upstream. He can take us across."

  Molly leaned in through the open door and called to the trolls, "We're going soon. Would it be all right with you if we took the Wolluf away with us?"

  "All right?" the trolls answered all at once. "We would love it, and be grateful forever."

  "In that case, we'll be pushing off with Harold before long," Molly said. "Thanks for the breakfast and the bed and the klabiash game and everything."

  "Would you mind if we didn't come out to see you off?" Uncle Bernard said. "It's just that looking at the Wolluf one last time might make us sad."

  "Or sick," Molly said. "Do you have a big bag of some kind?"

  "Like how big?"

  "Big enough for a large puppy, I guess," Molly said.

  "How about a Spanish-American War knapsack? We have one of those for carrying firewood."

  "Toss it out here, and we'll try it for size," Molly said. To Max she said, "What do you think? Can you fit in this?"

  "I think so," Max said. "What's the idea?"

  "It's so Harold the giant doesn't jump out of the boat when we put you in," Molly said.

  "Oh! Good thinking," Max said.

  Harold was working his way closer.

  "Come get us off this island!" I shouted to him.

  "Fershlugginer currents!" Harold shouted. "I'm doing the best I can."

  On the third try, Harold managed to get the coracle up against the dock.

  "Be careful with this," Molly said as we handed down the Wolluf.

  "What is it?" Harold asked.

  "Talking knapsack. Don't open it."

  The trolls had stuck their arms out various windows and were waving handkerchiefs.

  "Goodbye, trolls! Thanks for everything!" we shouted, and stepped into the boat.

  Harold pushed out into the current. "So what's in the bag?" he asked.

  "Would you believe ... the Wolluf?" Max asked.

  "Holy pineapple!" Harold said.


  Harold, Row the Boat Ashore

  "Do you mean to tell me you caught the Wolluf?" Harold asked.

  "Not caught," Max said. "I can bust out of this rucksack anytime I want."

  "We just thought it would be better not to distract you," Molly said.

  "I'm fairly distracted," Harold said. "You do realize that the Wolluf is the most terrifying and powerful supernatural thing in the whole valley, do you not?"

  "Ha! And that is without half trying," Max said from inside the bag.

  "I think he's cute," I said.

  "But given that every normal person, and also dwergs, trolls, and I don't know what else, finds him unbearable to look at and scary to the point of fainting or throwing up, or both, we thought it would be best to conceal him so you could work the boat without getting everybody drowned," Molly said.

  "I have a strong inclination to head for shore," Harold said. "Was that what you wanted me to do?"

  "Yes," Max said. "Make with the paddles."

  We helped Harold drag the coracle out of the river. He chained it to a sapling with a bicycle chain and lock, and we covered it with branches.

  "What now?" Harold asked.

  "I'm coming out of the bag," Max said.

  "Do you have to?" Harold asked.

  "Just close your eyes tight," Max said. "Nobody is asking you to look."

  "I'll just take a tiny peek," Harold said. "Ack! That's enough."

  "Sissy!" Max said. Then to Molly and me, "It's too awkward for me to travel with you in daylight and a populated area. Let's meet somewhere after dark. Can you get to Poughkeepsie from here?"

  "Harold says there's a bus," I said.

  "Fine. I'll meet you outside the old lady's house when it gets good and dark."

  "But she said she was frightened when she saw you," I said.

  "Well, you can warn her not to look outside. Anyway, it will be just the three of us."

  I was petting Max's cute head. He still looked like a puppy to me. Molly was forcing herself to look at him, but there were tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked as though she had been slicing onions. Harold had tears streaming down his cheeks too, though his eyes were closed tight.

  "Okay, I am going to disappear now," Max said. "I'll see you tonight."

  "He's gone," I told Harold.

  "I need to lie down," Harold said. "But first I'll show you where to catch the bus."

  "You're not coming with us?"

  "No. I'm going to see if I can sell the coracle. And then I am going to check in to a cave somewhere and try to sleep off the glimpse I had of that Wolluf."


  Fuss on the Bus

  On the bus, Molly went to summing up. "Let's see ... the trolls think you're Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling; the Wolluf, who seems to be the most important supernaturalnik in the valley, thinks so; I think so; Professor Tag thinks you probably are; and Chicken Nancy doesn't say you are and doesn't say you aren't but thinks you shouldn't rule out the possibility. I'm wondering if maybe you're ready to change your vote."

  "Look," I said. "You can't take a poll and convince me that I am someone I know I am not just because a certain number of people believe I am. It doesn't work that way. I know I am not Elizabeth ... If I were, I would know it. To me that makes perfect sense."

  "So you're saying you know you are not Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling because you just know it—no reason, just know. Is that right?"

  "Of course. How does anybody know they are who they are?"

  "It's an interesting question. What if everybody you knew and everybody you ever knew called you Susie Bunny Booboo? What would you think then?"

  "I'd think it was a gag—they were all doing it on purpose."


  "That they were all crazy."


  "That I was crazy. Do you think I am crazy?"

  "Not at all, and I am in a position to be able to tell. But don't you think it is just possible that if absolutely everyone called you Susie Bunny Booboo that it might be your name."

  "Well, for the sake of argument, it might be possible, but it isn't my name. I am not Susie Bunny Boo-boo, and I am not Elizabeth Van Vreemdeling."

  "You are not because...?"

  "Because that is not my name."

  "And what is your name?"

  "You know my name. My name is Audrey."

  "Audrey what? What is your second name?"

  "It's funny. I never had a second name. Or I never knew one."

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