The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
Hear it (MP3) 9:51
The Gingerbread House
By Katherine Paterson
“Well, Nancy, here we are again – the same old beach that we left behind. Was it hours ago? Or days ago?”
“It’s felt like weeks,” said Nancy. “Weeks without any sleep.”
“Or food,” said Joe.
“What about Baby Max’s lunch?” asked Nancy, trying not to sound as prickly as she felt. She remembered quite well the sight of Baby Max, Genius Kelly, and Joe pigging out on the contents of that blue plastic Star Wars lunch box and then had to immediately apologize mentally for pigism to Genius Kelly, who really was a pig and might well be sensitive. Fortunately, no one had heard this moral lapse. She was wondering if it might have something to do with having been scratched by that horrible wolf when she realized that she should have been listening to her brother instead of thinking only of herself.
“That was days ago,” Joe was saying, “and, besides, the thermos was missing. I haven’t had a drop to drink since we dived into the river.”
“What about when you were under the sea?”
“Nancy! Surely you know that you mustn’t drink seawater. You would die of thirst after all that salt.”
Nancy was a bit embarrassed to be reminded of this simple scientific fact. After all, she was the elder by ninety minutes and universally acknowledged as mentally as well as morally superior to her delightful, fun-loving, younger brother. She decided to change the subject. “It’s getting dark, Joe. Why don’t we take shelter under those trees at the edge of the woods and go to sleep? Everything will seem clearer in the morning.”
You would think after all the bad surprises of this adventure, the twins would have been terrified to close their eyes, but they reckoned there was a Saline Solution Sea between them and the Leonardo Dubenski band of villains; the wolf was trapped in another dimension; the giant squid was deep under the briny; and Boppo, well, knowing the clown’s problems with staying awake, he was probably snoring away somewhere under his own tree.
Nevertheless, Joe and Nancy snuggled up close to Roberta’s torso, and the robot put one electronic arm around each of them and gently beeped a lullaby to the weary pair.
Toward dawn a snorting sort of snore jolted Joe wide-awake. Boppo? The evil clown was forever turning up at the most awkward moments, and he was a first-class snorer. Joe was quite sure he’d never heard Nancy snore and robots surely didn’t. He sat up cautiously. A few feet beyond Roberta and Nancy was a rising and falling hump of something snorting like a steam engine with each breath.
“Psst, Nancy,” he whispered. “Wake up. We’ve got company.”
But Nancy only sighed and snuggled closer to Roberta.
Joe stood up and peered more closely at the noisy lump. In the early morning light he was able to make out, to his great relief, not Boppo, but the sleek, black form of Genius Kelly.
“Humph,” said Joe. “Some guardian you turned out to be.” There was no answer from the pig unless you count a wheezy snuffle from a snoring snout. “Yeah, one super bodyguard,” he said disgustedly, and as he looked he seemed to see imposed on the prone body a diagram from the butcher shop indicating hock, pork belly, loin chop, ham. . . . His mouth was watering. He forced himself to turn away from such disloyal thoughts. What would his parents think of him if they knew he was regarding as potential bacon the extra-terrestrial help they had sent the twins?
He sat down again as close to Roberta as possible. Where could they find something to eat? There was no sign of civilization in this desolate place, with the Saline Solution Sea in one direction and dark woods in the other. Of course, the most important thing was to find Roberta’s missing head and legs, but surely they couldn’t keep up the search with nothing to eat or drink.
It was then he thought of Sybil Hunch. Of all the people and creatures they’d encountered, with the exception, of course, of Genius Kelly and the pirate Angel, the misfortune- teller had seemed, if not an ally, at least not an enemy. Hadn’t she changed the ropes that Leonardo Dubenski had bound them with into ivy? He didn’t relish the thought of arm-wrestling the giant squid again, even aided by a two-armed Roberta, but Genius Kelly was here now. He had obviously found a way around the sea. He could lead them back that way and help them find Sybil Hunch’s house. She was a woman, he thought, like the bearded lady, who was a terrific cook. Women cook.
When Nancy finally woke up she was so happy to see Genius Kelly that she ran over and shook him awake. He was not pleased, but he stiffly allowed a hug around his belly, trying to maintain his dignity.
“Where were you all this time?” Joe asked, remembering all that had happened since they’d last seen the pig.
“That’s not what I’d regard as a warm welcome,” the pig said huffily. “It was a long way around the sea.”
“Sorry,” said Joe, none too graciously, “but I haven’t had anything to eat for days, so I’m feeling pretty grumpy. I think, however, I know where we can get some breakfast.” But when Joe shared his plan, neither Nancy nor the pig was enthusiastic.
“Too many nettles along the route,” grumbled the pig.
“You remember what happened the last time we ran into the Dubenski gang,” Nancy said. “I’m hungry, too, Joe, but we can’t just go off on our own. We have to follow the arrows. With everything that’s been going on, we haven’t even had a chance to consult them.” Then looking at Joe’s crestfallen face, she added, “Maybe they’ll point us toward food and drink as well as Roberta’s missing parts. That’s the most important thing, Joe. We have to find the rest of Roberta.”
Roberta gave a few affirmative beeps – not so many as to seem interfering, but just enough to show where she would stand, if she had a leg to stand on.
Joe sighed, but he took off his shoes and examined the arrow on his little toe. Meanwhile, Nancy and Genius Kelly were examining theirs as well.
There was no arguing. All three arrows pointed in the same direction – straight into the woods.
Nancy tried once more to cheer Joe up. “Maybe we’ll find berries along the way,” she said.
Joe smiled weakly. She was a brave girl, that sister of his. There was nothing to do but heave Roberta under his arm and follow Nancy and the pig straight in between the dark overhanging branches of the trees.
They had been trudging along for what seemed liked hours when Joe stopped in his tracks. “What’s that smell?” His alert nose had picked up a delicious aroma. The little band pressed forward, forgetting arrows, forgetting fear, forgetting everything, I am sorry to say, but their empty tummies.
Just ahead of them in a clearing, the noonday sun shone down on a tiny house. It had two chimneys, and smoke was definitely coming out of one of them, as was the wonderful aroma.
“Food!” Joe said, and, forgetting all caution, started to run toward the house; but Nancy, her arm that had been scratched by the wolf strangely strong, reached out and grabbed her brother, holding him fast.
“Joe, wait! I think – I think that cottage is made of gingerbread.”
“All the better.” said Joe, “Gingerbread for breakfast!”
“But, Joe, don’t you remember the story?”
Nancy opened her mouth to answer, but at that exact moment, Roberta began to wriggle under Joe’s arm. The twins watched open-mouthed in amazement. When she was nearly upright, she swung her arm up toward the roof of the little house and began beeping frantically.
Two children and a pig looked up to see what this anxious signal might mean. Could it be? Yes. The second chimney looked strangely like an upside-down leg.
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.”