The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
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A Second Arm
By Steven Kellogg
Joe had never felt so alone and, indeed, he had never been so alone! He swam steadily out to sea, but inside he was shaken, confused, and distressed knowing that his twin sister Nancy, his devoted companion, his best friend since birth, and the only family he had ever known, might be in trouble! And he soon might be in trouble as well. And for the first time ever they wouldn't be able to help each other! That thought threatened to throw him into complete despair, but then his good sense and his natural bravery kicked in. He forced himself to focus clearly on his immediate goal, which was the recovery of the lost key. “Accomplish that,” he told himself firmly, “and then return to shore and search for Nancy.”
Joe filled his lungs with a huge gulp of air and dove straight down. Fortunately, his circus training had a required reading list that included a book by Houdini. It had given Joe some tips on underwater survival, like swallowing and storing several hours' worth of oxygen, as he had just done, and projecting words in air bubbles, which he and Nancy had mastered so that they could talk to each other while they were submerged in the circus penguin pool.
Once he had reached the floor of the sea, Joe spotted an odd serpentine creature emerging from a cave. It snatched a passing fish, deposited it back in the cave, and then re-emerged. Joe was about to send the serpent some musical notes encased in bubbles that were part of a snake charming melody that he and Nancy had practiced on cobras and adders in the circus. But suddenly it became clear that what he had taken for a serpent was actually another robotic arm! Joe waved to see if he could catch its attention. The robotic arm froze in alarm. But after a moment, as Joe continued to smile and wave, it tentatively waved back. Joe slowly approached it with his hand extended in a welcoming gesture. “I hope that we can be friends,” he said. “My name is Joe.” Very timidly the robotic fingers unclenched and reached toward Joe's hand. The moment their fingers touched, Joe gasped and stared in amazement. The robotic arm had quite magically transformed itself into a real arm!
The new arm reached for Joe, but this time it was not tentative. It grabbed his hand and shook it firmly and vigorously. Then it encircled him in a warm and grateful hug.
“Who are you?” asked Joe. “Where did you come from? How did you get here? Oh, I wish that you could talk to me.”
In response the fingers of the arm began to move in sequences that Joe recognized as a form of sign language. “Are you trying to say 'DANGER?'” he asked. The arm gave a “thumbs up” in affirmation, and then it pointed slowly and ominously toward the cave.
Not wanting to be distracted from his search for the key, or from his plan for a prompt reunion with Nancy, Joe explained the importance and urgency of achieving these goals as quickly as possible.
To his surprise the arm indicated that the key was in the cave. Joe was stunned. He couldn't believe his good luck. “I'll get it right now!” he cried. “And then we can hurry back to rejoin Nancy. That is,” he added, “if you would like to come with me. And I hope that you will. You see, my sister has another robotic arm, and . . .”
Joe had been about to explain some of the details of the Exquisite Corpse mystery, but he froze as a grotesque creature slunk out of the cave's shadows.
The beast appeared to be part human and part squid, and it reared up, confronting Joe with eight tentacled arms that writhed and coiled menacingly.
“That arm is my slave!” hissed the squid. “Like you, it trespassed onto my territory! And, since it was a pitiful, brainless, robotic fragment with no memory and no future, I placed it under the control of my brain. But now I see that you have had the audacity to release it from its robotic state and to usurp my control. And now MY slave is loyal to YOU! That is intolerable!”
The squid tried to seize the arm, but it clung desperately to Joe.
“Hold on!” cried Joe. “Let's talk this over! First of all, I haven't come here to trespass or cause trouble! I'm looking for an important lost key, and the arm tells me that I will find it in that cave!”
“There it is, and there it shall remain!” snarled the squid. “RELEASE MY SLAVE AT ONCE!”
The arm signaled frantically that it would never submit to enslavement again. It wrapped itself more tightly around Joe, who wanted very much to help it, but had no clue as to how he should go about it.
Now . . . we know that the twins had a degree of familiarity with the martial arts, and Joe wondered if the squid might back off if he demonstrated a few karate or kung fu moves. Probably not, Joe decided as the squid became more threatening, flailing its tentacles and shrieking: “UNHAND THAT ARM! UNHAND THAT ARM! UNHAND THAT ARM!” It seemed dangerously close to exploding into attack mode.
“My sister Nancy would say that is a very silly, ill-conceived sentence,” said Joe, who was stalling for time while desperately trying to come up with a plan. “She would say 'Unhand that arm' is as silly as 'disarm that elbow,'” he continued.
The squid dismissed Joe with a savage hiss and lunged again for the arm. The arm grasped Joe even more firmly and would not be pried loose.
At that moment, thinking of Nancy while the arm gripped him with the strength of a wrestler, Joe thought of a course of action. It would be risky. The physical exertion demanded might suddenly exhaust the remainder of his air supply. But it was a plan that called for fairness and sportsmanship so he was sure that it would meet with Nancy's approval and there was no doubt that she would applaud his commitment to the arm's freedom. “I only hope I can pull it off,” thought Joe nervously. “Oh well. . . . Here goes!”
Joe cleared his throat and lowered his voice to an authoritative, take-charge, very grown-up register. “Now see here, Squid,” he began. “If you will calm yourself and think in a rational manner, I'm sure it will be clear to you that these wild threats and outbursts of violence are unmanly and unsquidly. We have an opportunity to settle this dispute in a fair and sportsmanlike manner. In accordance with the laws of knighthood, the code of dueling, and the rules of the International Olympics, I propose a sporting competition to decide the status of this arm, as well as the ownership of the key. In consideration of the fact that the athletic versatility of my friend has obvious limitations, the only event in which he is fully qualified to compete is Classical Arm Wrestling, and we challenge you here and now to a match.”
The squid smirked as it sized up this small, pretentious opponent and his pathetic fragment of a partner. The challenge was accepted.
Joe and the arm exchanged a bravely cheerful “thumbs up,” and positioned themselves in front of their glowering adversary.
Joe gripped two tentacles in each hand, and the arm encircled the other four. The squid abruptly lunged forward in an attempt to steamroller the teammates off their feet, but they braced themselves and held fast. Then slowly and inexorably, combining every ounce of their strength with their shared determination to win both the arm's freedom and the key, they turned, twisted, and tilted the straining and gasping squid until its balance became precarious. Joe cried: “TWO HEAVE-HOES, AND OVER HE GOES!”
Furious to find itself on the verge of defeat, the squid violently shoved back, hissing like a steam engine. But that shove had no impact. The arm seemed to be gaining power, while the intense exertion of the struggle had clearly depleted the squid's energy. Unfortunately Joe's air reserves had also been depleted, and he knew that within a few minutes he would have to bolt for the surface. Joe decided to pull back and conserve his last precious breaths, while, at the same time, allowing the arm to single-handedly achieve the victory over his former oppressor. The arm seemed to read Joe's thoughts, for, suddenly, with an amazing surge of strength, and seemingly without effort, he lifted the squid high off the ground and then flipped it onto its back, decisively winning both the match and his freedom.
The arm pumped ecstatically and high-fived and hugged Joe. When their offer of a sportsmanlike handshake was rejected by the sulking squid, they bid it a hasty farewell, grabbed the key, and swam to the surface. Joe saved his last puff of stored oxygen to exhale with an explosive cheer, as he and the arm burst into the open air like a pair of joyful porpoises.
As they swam together and chatted contentedly, Joe was pleased to realize how completely he had learned to understand the arm's sign language. He also realized with a certain sense of surprise how warmly he felt toward the arm. He was such an admirable, kind and generous arm, as well as a mysterious one. Joe looked forward to getting him together with Nancy and the robotic arm so they could try to figure out how they all related to the Exquisite Corpse puzzle. Meanwhile the arm propelled them through the waves with powerful, sweeping strokes, returning them to shore in a much shorter time than Joe had taken on the way out. It made Joe smile to see how much the arm was enjoying his freedom. “And I am certainly feeling very much better,” he reflected; “I have brought back both the key and a new friend — but now I must find Nancy! I must!”
Once on the beach the friends collapsed to rest and to dry off in the sun. The arm wistfully told Joe that he hoped someday to find the parts of himself that were lost. Most importantly he wanted to recover his brain and his heart so that he could reclaim his memories and share his story with people he cared about.
“I, too, want to know your story, and Nancy and I will help you to discover it,” promised Joe. “But now,” he said, “I'm anxious to head out and find -”
Joe's sentence and the serenity of the beach were interrupted by a distant, high-pitched, and agonized scream. The arm sprang erect, and Joe froze in horror.
“That was Nancy!” he whispered.
Audio recordings provided by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Butler Center for Children's Literature at Dominican University have developed a companion educational resource center (external link) to support “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”