The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
Hear it (MP3) 9:52
Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
By Patricia C. and Fredrick L. McKissack
“No way! I don’t believe you!” Nancy said, shaking her head in disbelief. “How can a baby be our father?”
“In one way, he is,” said Einstein, quickly adding, “but in two ways, he’s not.”
“I usually leave solving riddles and other word games up to Nancy,” said Joe.
“This one’s got me stumped,” said Nancy.
Einstein shrugged. “It will come to you,” he said. Then he pulled a diaper out of his backpack and began drying Max. The baby cooed his gratitude.
Einstein took off the baby’s tiny roller skates and put on little hiking boots. “You’re going to need these,” said Einstein. Nancy and Joe moved in closer to see if Max had a mark on his leg that resembled the state of Florida same as their father. He did. Could this really be their father?
They were even more shocked when they saw a red arrow on Baby Max’s little toe.
“Those red arrows are multiplying. They must be clues of some kind,” said Nancy.
Joe agreed. Nancy was usually right about such things. “We’ve got arrows on our toes. Baby Max has one, and . . .”
“So do I!” snorted Genius Kelly, the pig! He had chewed through the whip Nancy had used to bind Boppo the clown to him. The pig was free now and crouched as if to attack anything or anybody who got in his way. “I want that baby!”
Showing more bravery (and maturity) than he’d ever shown in his whole life, Joe stepped in between Max and Genius Kelly. “If-if-if you think I’m going to let you harm this little one,” Joe sputtered, or maybe it was more like a mutter. “It aine gonna happen.” Nancy cringed when her brother used aine gonna. (As you know, highly moral people insist upon good grammar.) Nonetheless, she was still proud of his stand against the dangerous Genius Kelly.
But the pig was totally unimpressed. He charged into Joe, yelling, “Out of my way!” Joe fell backward into Einstein and both of them went careening over the boxing ring ropes. Now Genius Kelly had a clear path to the baby who was sitting defenseless on the ground, clutching his blue, plastic, Star Wars lunch box. Max thought it was all really quite funny and clapped his pudgy little hands and squealed.
As Genius Kelly built up speed, heading for Max, Nancy stuck out her foot and tripped the pig who slipped, slid, and fell flat on his nose. That gave Joe, who had recovered from his spill, just enough time to snatch up the baby and run into the woods. Genius Kelly followed, snorting and sniffing and hurling insults and threats like lightning bolts.
Meanwhile, Boppo had freed himself from the whip as well, and grabbed an unsuspecting Nancy from behind. “Surprise!” the clown said menacingly. “Okay Einstein, these woods are infested with all kinds of bad guys, and the leader of them is Leonardo Dubenski.”
“He’s the worst of the worst,” said Einstein.
“But you know these woods like your backyard. I’ve got to capture that baby and get through those woods before Leonardo Dubenski finds out what’s really going on. . . .” Boppo stopped and his red mouth stretched into a huge deceptive grin. “See why you’ve got to help me track that dear little baby.”
“How disingenuous,” said Nancy. “And who is this Leonardo person anyway?”
Boppo scowled at her. “You’d better hope we don’t run into him in the woods. Hey,” Boppo added, “let’s take the girl along and hide behind her when the villains attack!”
Before Einstein could answer, Boppo’s head bobbed forward and instantly he was fast asleep. What a surprise. Or was it?
Nancy pushed Boppo off and he collapsed like a heap of rags. She rushed toward the woods to save her brother and Max who were no match for an irate pig and a villain even the villains feared.
“Wait, let me get my backpack,” said Einstein.
“No way. You’re not coming along to hide behind me when we get attacked,” Nancy said heading for the woods. “No way!”
“Knock. Knock,” Einstein said.
Nancy halted, as Einstein knew she would. She loved knock, knocks. “Who’s there?” she asked.
“Fools russ-ian where angels dare to tread,” he said. “You need me to get through those woods . . . especially if you run into Leonardo Dubenski.”
“O-kay! But, I want the answer to the riddle about Baby Max and our father,” Nancy bargained.
“Better still, I’ll take you to the answer.”
It didn’t take long for Einstein and Nancy to catch up with Joe. What? Another surprise! The three of them—yes, Joe, Max, AND their arch enemy Genius Kelly, the pig—were sitting high on a boulder over-looking a stream, sharing a tuna on whole wheat sandwich, cookies, and a tropical fruit cup they’d found in Max’s blue, plastic, Star Wars lunch box. “Too bad, the thermos is missing,” said Genius Kelly, “it might have had some soup in it.”
That did it for Nancy. “Joe? How could you? You’re laughing like you’re with an old friend. This is a dangerous place, not a city park.”
“I know that!” said Joe. “Wait until you hear what Genius Kelly has to say.” Joe beckoned for Nancy to join them.
Nancy turned to say something to Einstein, but he began to fade in and out, flashing a blue light, until he—poof—vanished. “No,” shouted Nancy, grabbing a handful of thin air. “Now we’ll never know what the riddle means.”
Genius Kelly flipped over on his back, kicked up his legs, and let out a shrill, high-pitched squeal that sounded like . . . laughter. Laughter? Baby Max did the same thing, except his little squeals weren’t nearly as intimidating.
Nancy looked at the pig, Max, and her brother. “What’s so funny? Who’s gonna help us get through these villain-infested woods, now?”
“Nancy, you said, ‘gonna’!” said Joe.
“Not to worry,” said the pig. “Einstein was just a hologram I programmed to say things I couldn’t say and do things I couldn’t do. The riddle is really mine.
“See, Nancy,” said Joe. “I told you. . . . Not bad for someone they say is a sloppy thinker.”
The pig continued to explain the riddle. “Little Max is your father in one way, because he has Professor Alistair Sloppy’s DNA. But in two ways Max is not your father, because, one, Max is a failed experiment designed to get your father back to this dimension. And two, the real Professor Alistair Sloppy and his wife (—your mother—) Elizabeth Verrie-Sloppy are trapped in a time warp, a dimension from which they cannot return.”
“Well, for sure, you’re no ordinary pig,” said Nancy. “Who are you, really?”
“Among my many names, I am known as Axan. I am from that other time dimension. Your parents were worried sick about you being on this side and they were unable to get home to you. So, I made the leap to this side. And I have watched over you all your lives, while your parents worked on a way to make the journey back home,” the pig explained. “What better place to hide than the Sick and Tired Circus?”
“Well, actually, really, any place would have been better than the Sick and Tired Circus,” said Joe.
“I want to know why you choose to be so mean to us?” Nancy asked. “We thought you were a villain.”
“That’s what I wanted others to think. That way, I always knew who was up to no good. Who would ever suspect a pig—a talking pig at that?”
“Tell her what the red arrows mean,” Joe said.
But they were interrupted. “Aren’t we a cozy little gathering,” said someone on the ledge above them. There was nothing familiar or friendly about the voice.
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.”