The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
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In Arm’s Way
By Nikki Grimes
Nancy was none too fond of thunder. (It had something to do with her being shot out of a cannon one time too many as a young child.) Fortunately, Nancy had no inkling of the coming storm.
Nancy, Joe, Max, and Genius Kelly pressed on to the hill and the sea beyond. It seemed to Joe that they had been walking for quite some time and still there was no sea in sight.
“I thought Miss Hunch said the sea was a few yards away,” said Nancy.
“Maybe she meant that in fortune-teller-time,” quipped Joe.
“That would be misfortune-teller time,” Nancy corrected.
“Whatever,” said Joe. Sometimes his sister could be a pain. But why argue with her? He preferred to save his breath for the journey.
Nancy noticed that the sky had begun to darken. The swirling clouds seemed ominous. Even Max whimpered in the gathering gloom.
“It’s okay, Max,” said Nancy. “I’m sure we’ll get across the sea before the storm hits.”
Before long, the scent of the sea tickled their noses, and the party picked up its pace. Except for Genius Kelly, that is. His hoof-steps grew slower with each whiff of sea salt air.
“What’s wrong?” asked Nancy.
“Who said anything was wrong?” snorted the pig.
“Well, don’t bite my head off,” said Nancy.
“We’re almost there,” said Joe. “Hurry!”
“Wait,” said the pig, coming to a full stop. Joe turned and studied him carefully.
“I get it,” declared Joe. “You’re afraid!”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“Stop it!” said Nancy, getting a headache.
“Alright!” said Genius Kelly. “I’m afraid of water. Are you happy now?”
“Afraid of water?” said Nancy. “That’s silly.” At that very moment, a thunderclap reduced her to shivers.
“I suppose everyone is afraid of something,” she allowed. “But what are you going to do? You heard Miss Hunch. If we’re going to find our parents, we have to cross the sea.”
“Swimming’s not the only way to cross a sea,” said the pig. “I’ll just find a place shallow enough to walk across. I’d take you with me, but you’re too slow. See you on the other side!” And with that, he took off, calling over his shoulder, “May the force be with you!”
“Pigs,” said Nancy. “You just can’t trust them.”
Her words were drowned out by the next thunderclap. Joe noticed his sister flinch, and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll be fine on our own,” he said, suddenly the braver of the two. “Come on.”
Joe, Nancy, and Max made their way to a clearing that ended in a cliff edge. Joe peered over the side. There, a mile or so down, was the sandy bank and the sea. Now all they had to do was rappel down the cliff face.
“No one mentioned a cliff,” said Nancy.
“Or a gorge,” said Joe. “Or a bomb, or a talking pig – or a way down.”
“All right!” said Nancy. “You’ve made your point.”
That settled, Joe searched until he found a vine long enough to rappel them to the sand below. He double-looped one end around a sturdy tree root, then handed the other end to Nancy.
“Women and children first,” he said, then added quickly, “Just kidding!”
Nancy gave Joe a look that made him wither, then took off her belt and cinched Max tightly to her back. “Hold on tight, Max.” He giggled in response, loving the adventure.
Nancy started lowering herself down. At first, Joe could hear her labored breathing and occasional grunts. Then, quite suddenly, the vine went slack and there was only silence.
“Nancy?” called Joe. No response. Joe’s heart pounded.
“Nancy!” There was still no answer. Afraid at what he’d find, Joe peered over the cliff’s edge.
“Your turn,” called Nancy, tossing the vine up toward her brother. “There’s a great footpath here. We can walk down the rest of the way.”
Joe wiped the sweat from his brow. “Well, you could have told me!”
Once Nancy’s feet hit the sand, she looked around. A small reed basket on the water’s edge caught her eye. It was just the right size to hold Max as they journeyed across the sea. By the time she loosened her belt and let Max slide onto the sand, Joe had joined her.
She was just about to lift Max into the basket so they could be on their way when she felt a foreign presence. In one smooth move, she passed the baby to Joe, and took a kung fu stance, ready to kick the daylights out of whatever new villain was stalking them.
“Show yourself!” Nancy demanded.
Out of the darkness of a cave appeared a pirate, skin rich as ebony, robe and bejeweled hands flashing gold. However, Nancy’s eagle-eyes noticed that his hands were too manicured for a real pirate.
“Who are you?” demanded Nancy.
“That ain’t the question, dahlin’. What’re yawl doin’ out here in the middle of nowhere, all by yourselves, hmm? This ain’t no place for kids to be roamin’.”
Nancy cringed with each ain’t, dropped “g,” and mangled syllable. She stopped counting the ways in which this person’s language was objectionable.
“What’s your name?” asked Joe, not wanting to be left out of this interchange. The pirate who wasn’t a pirate burst into a blinding smile.
“Ma friends call me Angel. Heck, ma enemies call me Angel, too.”
“Why, the Angel Who Sat by The Door, of course.”
“What door?” Nancy perked up. Could this be another clue?
“Door? Who said anythin’ about a door?”
“Did I? What’re yawl doin’ out here, again?” he asked, changing the subject.
“What were you doing out here?” asked Joe, feeling especially clever.
“I was out here doin’ what I always do. Watchin’.”
“Watching what?” Joe was determined to pin him down.
“I already told ya! You young folks just don’t listen these days,” said Angel.
Nancy sputtered, exasperated. As for Joe, he suddenly felt like Alice in Wonderland, unable to get straight answers out of anyone after she slid down that rabbit hole. (Okay, so he had swiped Nancy’s copy of the book and read it. But who could resist a story about a giant rabbit with a pocket watch?)
“We’re wasting time,” said Joe. “We need to get going if we’re going.”
Nancy nodded, got Max settled inside the reed basket, gave him a slight push, and waded into the water after him. She reached for the basket to hold it steady, but just as her fingers grazed the edge, lightning blasted across the sky. In the sea’s reflection, Nancy saw a man and a woman, their faces pressed against a door. The image only lasted a brief second, but Nancy’s heart told her these were her parents, and they were calling out to her.
Max cried, and Nancy snapped to.
“Oh! Max!” The basket was drifting out to sea. The peals of thunder were deafening now, but Nancy pushed past her fear and swam as fast as she could. Her short stint as a circus mermaid sure came in handy. She sliced through the water quickly, fighting against the current, heading to the point where the sea began to widen. If she didn’t reach him in time . . .
A few more feet, thought Nancy, calling up all her reserves. I’m coming, Max! Nancy grabbed hold of the basket just before the stiff current swept it, and Baby Max, away.
With both in tow, Nancy swam safely to the opposite shore.
Heart beating wildly, Nancy lifted Max from the basket and rested on the bank, cradling him. A few minutes later, Joe clambered up onto the bank himself.
“What took you so long?” she asked, now that she had her breath back.
“Just before I stepped into the water, the pirate tossed a bottle into the sand right in front of me. There was something in it.”
“This,” said Joe, holding up a folded piece of paper folded around a key.
“Guard this key with your life,” said the note. “Godspeed, Joe and Nancy. When you see your folks, tell them Angel sends his felicitations.”
Angel had not been there just to annoy them after all, Nancy realized.
“I don’t know what this key opens,” said Joe.
“I do,” said Nancy, smiling.
“Let’s go find our parents.”
Nancy held Max up to Joe, and the three were on their way. After taking a few steps, Nancy stubbed her toe on something.
“Ouch!” She bent down to move the object from her path. It was a strange metal alloy, covered with ash from a fire, perhaps, or from an explosion. She was just about to toss it into the brush when sunlight broke through the clouds, and she saw the object for what it was. An arm. A robot’s arm.
“Well, I’ll be,” Nancy whispered.
“My, my,” said a raspy voice. “What have you got there?”
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.”