The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
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Promises, Promises, and More Promises
By Patricia C. and Fredrick L. McKissack
“Hold on! Wait just one minute,” shouted Genius Kelly, making the universal sign for time out. “I am so confused right now. I don’t know which way to go or how to find the head or the door!”
“I feel the same way,” said Joe. “I know a lot more than I did when we started, still I don’t think we’re any closer to solving the problem.
“But we can’t give up,” said Nancy. “We’ve gotten help from so many people along the way. We have to find Roberta’s head or her systems will blow soon. And then we’ll never rescue Mom and Dad.” Nancy sniffed the air as if she might smell up a clue.
Nancy was the same – smart, brave, and a born leader, but everybody had noticed a difference in her. She had been acting strangely over the past few days . . . well, really since the wolf attack. First, the wound healed quickly, very quickly! Then she was stronger and could run faster than before. Her sense of smell was keener, and she had a ferocious appetite. Nancy was changing, but into what? Joe was watching his sister closely, dreading what she might be changing into.
Genius Kelly looked at his red arrow. “Look,” he exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “My arrow is spinning. It’s never done that before.”
“Mine is, too,” said Nancy.
“And mine,” Joe put in. “All our arrows are spinning counterclockwise – backward.”
“The arrows are telling us that in order to go forward, we must go back to the beginning!” said Genius Kelly.
“The beginning of what? Where?” Roberta asked.
Nobody had an idea, until Angel spoke. “Ask yourselves what was the beginning of this drama?”
“We got the birthday card from Mom and Dad on our 11th birthday, said Joe. “I still have it in my pocket, along with the key.”
“And then what happened?” Roberta asked.
“We were escaping on a train, when it blew up. We survived and ran into the woods where the adventure began,” Nancy answered. Then as if a light bulb went on in her head, Nancy blurted out, “That’s where we should go back...to the accident in our time and space.”
Suddenly, the arrows stopped spinning.
“I think we’re on to something,” said Genius Kelly.
“Let’s be on our way,” said Hathi.
“I don’t think we can or should go with them,” said Sybil, “I only foresee Nancy, Joe, and Genius Kelly leaving the village on this journey.”
“It makes sense,” agreed Roberta. “The three of them were actually there. We weren’t. So, they must go back to find the head and the door alone. We will wait for them here in the village where it is somewhat safe.”
“Didn’t we have this conversation before,” said Angel. “Didn’t we decide that going back to stop the explosion wasn’t such a good idea?”
“True,” said Genius Kelly. “But we’re not going to time travel back to the past. We are returning in the here and now, looking for clues that might have been overlooked after the accident. You weren’t looking for heads and doors at that time.”
“Look! Our arrows are pointing north now,” said Nancy.
“But the way back is south!” Joe pointed toward the woods behind the village. “On second thought,” he added, north does look like a better route.”
“It might take you longer,” Sybil said after peering in her ball, “but the way appears to be clear. No great obstacles.”
None of the group really wanted to see Nancy and Joe go off with the pig as their only protection, but nobody challenged Genius Kelly because he had been sent by the twins’ parents to protect them at all cost. And he had done his job. Besides, who had a better idea for looking for the door and the head?
After heartfelt good-byes and promises to be careful, the boy, the girl, and the big pig prepared for their trek. “We’re off to the here-and-now place where the train wreck occurred,” said Nancy.
“We’ll wait for your return,” said Sybil. Then she whispered to the three. “Please hurry. Roberta’s circuits could go any minute.”
“We love you,” said Hathi, wiping away tears.
Angel waved, and Roberta wished them well.
Their first night out, the threesome traveled by following the North Star, steady moving, rarely talking. At dawn, they stopped in a clearing and ate the sandwiches Angel had made from the cradle. Then they fell asleep.
Joe was awakened at nightfall by a feeling that Nancy was not there with them.
“Nancy,” Joe called to the darkness. No answer.
Genius Kelly woke up. “What? What’s wrong? Nancy? What?”
“She’s not here,” Joe whispered, fear rising in his voice.
Genius Kelly was already moving up the hill behind the clearing. Suddenly, the pig stopped in his tracks. Joe stifled a scream when he saw his sister surrounded by a pack of wolves.
Joe and Genius inched closer, crawling on their stomachs. Nancy wasn’t aware of their presence. The wolves were licking her hands. Their tails were wagging like playful puppies. She looked like she was having the time of her life.
“Oh no!” Joe shrieked. “My sister has turned into a werewolf.”
“Oh, forevermore, Joe. I have not turned into a monster,” Nancy said, calling over her shoulder as if she’d known they were there all the time. “Come on up here. You two need to hear this.”
Genius Kelly spoke up. “It’s an old urban legend, that once a person is bitten by a wolf, that person becomes a werewolf.”
“Glad to hear you say that,” said Nancy. The wolves began to howl and bay their agreement.
Nancy explained. “The wolves told me they are furious with the aliens for using their bodies without permission. Then the aliens did awful things, further adding to the bad reputation wolves have been trying to dispel for centuries. Granite, the Alpha wolf, told me that their kind had almost been hunted to extinction because humans misunderstood them. Stories about the big, bad wolf that ate pigs, swallowed grandmothers, and turned people into werewolves didn’t help either.
“How did they tell you all this?” Joe asked. He was amazed at how the wolves sat quietly while Nancy was speaking. Granite sat at her feet, looking up at her respectfully.
“Granite told me that the bite put wolf DNA in my system. It allows me to communicate with real wolves but for a limited time only. The wolves said they needed a human ally to help them regain support. I told them I would speak for them, if they’d help us find a head and a door.”
She patted Granite on his head. The wolf raised his nose and released a sound that started deep in his belly and rose up through his throat into a perfect howl in the key of A. It was beautiful. A chorus of his pack responded with yips and growls, all communicating what was readily understood as joy.
Then Joe saw Nancy raise her own head and release her own yowl. It sounded like music. Joe was so taken with the chorus, he decided to join. So he threw back his head and let out a loud howl.
The wolves fell silent. Only the wind stirred in the trees.
“What?” said Joe, looking at Granite. Then Nancy. “What?”
“He means well,” Nancy told Granite. “His insult wasn’t deliberate.” Then turning to Joe, she whispered, “You told the wolves that they sounded like a pack of sick geese.”
Genius Kelly roared with laughter.
Joe shrugged. “Wolfese isn’t my first language, you know.”
Granite led his pack away, but not before he returned to nudge Nancy’s hand with his nose and make a few whimpering sounds. She patted his massive back and said, “Yes. A promise is a promise. I will keep mine. Thank you.”
The pack was gone and the three travelers sat on the crest of the hill sharing what they had just experienced.
“I’m a lone pig, in the woods, surrounded by wolves, and I’m still here to tell the story.” Genius Kelly touched his head, his legs, and his rump to make sure all his parts were in place. He was delighted that they were.
“I can’t believe my sister was conversing with wolves like they were all best friends,” Joe said, shaking his head in amazement.
“And I can’t believe what Granite came back to tell me,” said Nancy, laughing. “On the other side of this hill is a path. It leads to a railroad employee’s tin shack about two miles away. Granite said he wasn’t sure if this was useful information or not – he had no idea – but the pack saw a man and an almost-bald-headed woman take a head and a door inside the shack.”
“Think of it!” shouted Joe. “We know where the head and door are!”
“Why are we sitting here talking about how amazed we are,” Genius Kelly said, hopping to his feet. “Let’s get going.”
So they did.
They followed Granite’s directions and found the tin shack. “Check the mailbox,” suggested Genius Kelly. “It can give us a lot of information about who lives here.”
On the mailbox was a sign: Pirandello’s Place. 000 The Boondocks 00555.
Nancy marched up to the front door. “Wow, does this look out of place,” she whispered. “Something smells fishy here.”
“Maybe we’re in time for lunch,” said Joe, hopefully.
“No, that’s not the fishy I’m talking about. This door doesn’t fit this house.”
She knocked on the door. It opened. “Hi! My name is Pirandello. This is my abode. You’re not at all what I thought you’d be like, but you are welcome anyhow. I have fresh fish stew if you’d like to share a meal with me.”
“We appreciate your hospitality,” said Curious Kelly, looking equally as surprised as Nancy was by Pirandello’s familiarity.
“Oh, I’ve been expecting you,” said Pirandello. “You’ve come for the head or the door, or both. Right?”
Nancy gasped! “What? Who told you?” she asked.
“I’ll take some of your fish stew, please,” said Joe. Nancy gave him the sister look.
“When my friend, Orlando, and I found the head and door and the gummy bears, I knew we had something that could make me be one of the special people in the world!”
“But what made you think a head and a door had value?” Nancy asked.
Pirandello closed his eyes as if thinking how to express his thoughts. “I had a feeling...I mean this head looks like it belongs to something smart – not regular smart, but super smart. Whoever has the rest of it is bound to want its head in the worst kinda way. And a door! Now doors normally lead into or out of a place. This door isn’t attached to anything. But it has two sides. Whoever is on the other side of the door is gonna want to come in or get out. So I waited, figuring somebody would be coming for the head, the door, or both. I was right, and now I’m gonna cash in.”
“Cash in?” said Genius Kelly.
“Well, well, well, a talking pig,” said Pirandello. “Now that’s a million dollars in the bank for sure.”
“Okay, guys, you heard that – a million dollars for me!” Genius Kelly made a dramatic stage bow.
Pirandello filled a bowl of stew for Joe, while Genius Kelly began to negotiate. “Are those sour gummy bears in the jar on the counter?”
Pirandello grabbed the jar as if to protect it. “Yes! I love them, so it takes a lot of discipline to just eat one a day to make them last as long as I can. So, sorry, I can’t offer you one. Orlando rejected my proposal of marriage and took a train to California because I refused to share my gummy bears with her. Oh, well.”
May we see the head and the door,” asked Genius Kelly?
“Let’s look at the head first.” Pirandello went to a cabinet and brought back the head as he had found it. “This will cost you $500,000. Cash!”
“We don’t have that kind of money,” argued Nancy.
“Surely, you don’t expect me to give it to you? Free? Look! This is my opportunity to be famous for something. I’ve lived a dull gray existence. I feel in my gut that this head is a part of something big, and I want in.”
“Tell you what,” said Genius Kelly, leaning back. Nancy marveled at how quickly he was able to find a point to negotiate. “You’re right. You are part of an adventure. And when it is over, we are probably going to be asked by a major publishing house to write the story. If you give us the head and door, we will include an entire chapter about you in our book!”
“I’d be in a book?” said Pirandello wistfully. “I’d be famous for sure if I appeared in a book . . . especially if it’s a bestseller! Wow! That’s worth it.”
“So we can have the door and the head?” Nancy asked.
“No. Just the head . . . for your promise to put me in the book? So, promise?”
“Promise,” said all three.
And that’s how they got Roberta’s head, rushed back to the village, and got it in place before her systems corrupted.
“Now we need to go back and negotiate for the door,” said Joe. “I hope he has more stew.”
“Pirandello probably has the door well hidden,” said Sybil.
“Actually, Pirandello is hiding it in plain view,” answered Nancy with a smile and a soft yip and yawl.
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.”