The chronicles of harris.., p.3
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.3

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  "Hey," Tina shouted at the dress, "you're so stuck up! I hate you!"

  "She's our sister," he said. "You shouldn't say that"

  "But I do hate her," she said. "She always gets more attention than we do."

  "Yeah, you're right," he said.

  The dress kept floating away from them. It was going to float out of the lake and down a river and into and across the ocean and discover a new country. That dress was going to have adventures that Timmy and Tina would never be able to share.

  Timmy and Tina were so jealous of their sister. They were furious with her.

  "Throw a rock at her," Tina said.

  "What?" Timmy asked.

  "Hit her with a rock," she said. "And sink her."

  So Timmy found a flat rock and skipped it once, twice, three times across the water and tore a hole in the dress.

  "Good shot!" Tina shouted.

  They watched the dress sink beneath the surface of the lake.

  "Good," Timmy said. "She's gone"

  But then the dress popped back up to the surface.

  "No!" Timmy screamed.

  "Throw another rock at her!" Tina screamed.

  So Timmy found a bigger, flatter rock and skipped it once, twice, three, four, five times and tore a bigger hole in the dress. "Yes!" Tina shouted. "I got it that time!" Timmy shouted.

  They watched the dress sink again beneath the surface of the lake.

  "It's not coming back this time," Tina said. "No way," Timmy said.

  But, sure enough, that dress popped to the surface again. It almost seemed to float above the water.

  "Timmy," Tina said, "I want you to kill that dress."

  So Timmy found the best skipping rock anybody has ever found, and he skipped it twelve times and tore a fatal hole in the dress.

  Or so he thought.

  The dress didn't sink at all this time. In fact, it was now definitely floating above the surface of the lake. That dress was hovering above the water.

  Timmy and Tina gasped in fear once, and then gasped again when the best skipping stone in the world came flying back to them, bounced off Timmy's chest, and landed on the beach at his feet.

  "Did that dress just throw that rock back at us?" Tina asked.

  "Back at me," Timmy said.

  And then both kids screamed when that empty dress, when Mary Elizabeth St. Pierre, straightened her sleeves and hem and came floating back toward them.

  "Stop her! Stop her!" Tina yelled. "She's going to get us!"

  Timmy picked up the rock at his feet. He ignored Tina's panicked screams and took careful aim at their fast-approaching triplet. He knew they were in terrible danger if he missed. He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

  Missing in Venice

  Even with her mighty engines in reverse,

  the ocean liner was pulled further

  and further into the canal.



  He had lost himself. The kid is lost. That felt sour, to call himself "the kid." But that's what Scorpio Drake called him. "The kid is coming along? To Venice? Does he have to come, Candy sweet? Doesn't the kid have school?"

  His stepmother had answered, "Scorpio. Of course he's coming. He's just lost his father. What do you think I'm going to do, park him in a kennel? Woof."

  "Bark double bark to you, Candy darling."

  Barf double barf to both of you, Linus had thought.

  So once in Venice, he got lost. Every day. As lost as he could, while his widowed stepmother and her big fat old scorpion lawyer examined the jewelry in the safe-deposit box at the Banca d'ltalia. Lost while Candace Mercurio and Scorpio Drake met with the Italian avvocati. Lost as lost, while they pored over legal documents with those nervous handsome lawyers like a nest of eels, writhing their sleek forms and wringing their narrow hands in their offices overlooking the Grand Canal. Lost on purpose the first two days; lost for real the third.

  The kid. Lost in Venice. It served them right.

  "He won't get lost," Scorpio Drake had insisted. "It's too early in the year for the school vacation crowds. Can't the kid read a map?"

  Yes, the kid could read a map, even when most of the streets were water. But he couldn't read the laminated four-fold Venice-at-a-Glance map after he'd dropped it into the oily water under the thirty-fourth canal he crossed since his breakfast ciocolatto and biscotti.

  Weirdly liberated—because who cared if he ever came back?—Linus wandered squares empty of all but thin, huddled trees. He ventured on bridges that changed direction two-thirds of the way across. He mounted staircases and descended others. Passed nuns and carabinieri. He asked neither for prayers nor for a police escort. He liked being lost in the city of floating palazzi, façades golden as champagne above black water.

  Probably about noon—he was getting pretty hungry—he came upon a shadowy fondamenta where the water curiously smelled less of sewage and more of ginger and molasses. A crooked old woman stood at the back of her little roofed boat, shaking a metal canister. Flour on the water like snow. "Goodness," she said in respectable English when she saw him. "Ants in the supplies. I hope ants can swim." She wore a high French baker's hat. An old trademark for some European baking soda come to life. "Lost, I suspect. You need some lunch?"

  He was about to say "Anything but pizza" when a silvery glint flew through the air. "Oh," cried the old woman, and "Oh," cried Linus. But they didn't see where the ring went.

  "Did you hear a splash? Mercy! I hope no fish eats that ring! Imagine a nice pesci puttanesca, the flesh filleted on a platter and the ring found and fingered by some villain! It's quite valuable."

  "How much did it cost?"

  "I mean valuable in that I value it. It's a mighty unusual ring. Not your dime store, gimcrack ring. It's compelling. If it floats out to sea and a squid picks it up, they'll be saying, 'Beware of the squid that ate Sicily,' that sort of thing."

  "Squids don't eat landmasses."

  "Use your imagination. They might. But where did my ring go?"

  "I didn't hear any splash," said Linus to Her Craziness, the Queen of Gingerbread.

  "I've been looking for that ring for six months. It must have slid off my hand when I was grubbing for a fistful of flour to scatter at the bottom of a baking sheet. Maybe it flew onto the pavement?"

  The walkway was cobbled with ten thousand stones. "I'll look in the chinks for you," said Linus.

  "I'll bake you your own gingerbread house if you find it for me." She disappeared for a moment while he was on his hands and knees, hunting, and then she returned with a very American sandwich, peanut butter and Concord grape jelly. His favorite. How did she know?

  It took several hours before he found the ring. Not so compelling as all that—just a plain silvery band. The local church bells were striking four o'clock. His stepmother would be starting to worry. Well, maybe she would.

  "You've got it! Brilliant child. Give it here and I'll make you your gingerbread house."

  "Use your imagination," he said, throwing her own words back at her. "What would I do with a gingerbread house? I'm just going to keep the ring."

  Shrieking at him to stop, the dumpy old baker hurried down the gangplank, but it took Linus only a minute to lose her. He ducked through dusky alleys and darted over bridges that divided in the middle and settled themselves in halves on the other sides.

  Candy Mercurio was pacing the salon of the Albergo Santa Chiara by the time Linus had found his way back. She was testy with him. "No court will release those jewels to a legal guardian who manages to misplace her ward. I was worried silly over you."

  "I wasn't," said Scorpio. "What's that in your hand, kid?" The lawyer grabbed Linus's forearm and twisted it just enough to hurt, and the boy's hand fell open despite itself.

  "Scorpio, really. Haven't you seen enough jewelry this week?" asked Linus's stepmother.

  "Oh, Candy, you know me. Baubles are my little hobby. I love to string
cheap rings on a thread and dangle them from window latches to catch the light. This one seems common enough, but I'll take it anyway."

  "Hey, that's mine!" cried Linus. "I found it!"

  "So did I. Right in your hand."

  "Don't be greedy," his stepmother said to Linus. "It's the least Scorpio deserves. Helping us as he does. Kiss double kiss."

  "Wink double wink," said the lawyer.

  Stink double stink, thought Linus.

  In their room, Linus hissed, "That's not fair, Candy. That was my find. Is he picking your pocket the way he just picked mine?"

  "I've asked you repeatedly to call me Mother. Since your own mother died when you were born and your father's dead now too, there's no one left to object. Really. No boy calls his maternal unit Candy. It's unseemly."

  "What's happening with the jewels that Nona Mercurio left Dad in her will? Is Scorpio stuffing them in his briefcase behind your back after you have them appraised? We'll need something to live on, Candy. Some kind of a home."

  "You do your math," she said, "and I'll do mine."

  "And he'll do his," muttered Linus. He claimed to be ill, which gave Candy a chance to whip out for a quick dinner with the creepy lawyer. Linus ate potato chips and drank limonata in their room.

  He was lying awake in the dark when his stepmother came in. "We're almost done with the accounting. Tomorrow Scorpio will file our papers with the authorities and then we can go home. Stop faking sleep, will you? I know you're awake. I can't imagine you really think Scorpio would skim jewels out of our haul."

  Use your imagination, thought Linus coldly. But all he said, just loudly enough to be heard, was "Snore double snore."

  When he woke next morning, his stepmother was gone. She'd left a note. "Celebration lunch at noon today at a modest place in Arsenale di Venezia. That's the shipbuilders district. Find it on your map, and meet us at the Ristorante Europa on the Ponte Penini. We'll wind up this ordeal."

  Great, thought Linus. And I've lost my map. But of course it wasn't the only map ever printed of Venice. He would locate another.

  The concierge told him that to find another map, Linus would want the nearest newsagent. Easy. Left out the door, second calle on the right, cross the first bridge, turn left, turn right, second bridge on the right, through the archway of the monastery, take the middle calle of the three that leave the plaza on your left, then cross the third bridge, and halfway down, on the left: Eccoló. Impossible to miss it.

  He thought he had gotten at least half of the directions right, but perhaps he'd turned left instead of right, or taken the second rather than the first bridge. The neighborhood got seedy, and one of those clammy Adriatic mists started to wisp in along the canals. When he smelled gingerbread, he began to worry. Then there she was again, her hand out and her face fierce.

  "It is not yours," said the old woman. "It wasn't made for a child's hand. Give it back."

  "I don't have it anymore," said Linus. "I'm sorry. It's gone missing."

  " You'll go missing if you don't give it back to me."

  "I was wrong to take it from you, but now it's been taken from me."

  She said, "Come aboard my boat and we'll go look for it."

  "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."

  "You're not supposed to steal, either. Come on." She grabbed his elbow and propelled him onto the gangplank. She was strong for an old woman. Though her vessel was only the length of the standard gondola, it sported a tiny cabin large enough for one, if he crouched down. Well, more like a bin—or a kennel—than a cabin. "Be my guest," she said, and kicked him in.

  The smell of cinnamon and clove was overpowering. He nearly passed out. As he steadied himself, he realized that the room was much larger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. Space for a table and two chairs, an oven that steamed with baking gingerbread, shelves of supplies. Cabinets built into the walls. Bookcases, maps, navigational charts. A few gilded carnival masks, a lute, a dried squid nailed up by its tentacles.

  A funny red cap was perched upon a plaster skull labeled "Phrenology of Talents." Pink highlighter letters marked out the cranium with sections of the brain: Linear logic. Arithmetic skill. Muscle memory. Gender. Liver ailments. Guilt. Liberal tendencies. Affection. Double joints. Perfect pitch. Location of car keys. Balance. Verb tenses. Charms. Charmlessness. And so on.

  "That cap is worn by the ruler of Venice. It's a doge's cap—a camauro. You have a good head on your shoulders," she said, coming in behind him and examining his scalp with her knuckles. "Tell me how you lost my ring."

  "I didn't precisely lose it. My stepmother's lawyer took it without my permission." She kneaded the truth out of him. All the truth. About his father's death. About his stepmother's worry about funds. About Linus's suspicion that Scorpio Drake would steal from them anything that Nona Mercurio, his father's mother, might have left them in her Italian bank.

  The elderly woman swung open a shutter. She must have cast off; the boat was bobbing along the Grand Canal at vaporetto speeds. "We'll find him. I will have my way," she muttered. "I always do. Where shall we look?"

  Linus told her about the meeting point in Arsenale di Venezia. "Good. We're nearly there," she replied.

  "But I didn't tell you where I was going."

  She laughed. "As if you know where you are going!"

  Sure enough, just as they pulled up to a set of wet steps rising out of the canal, where they could tie up and disembark, along the fondamenta came his stepmother. "I told you never to go off with strangers!" said Candy at the sight of the old woman heaving herself up the steps.

  How am I supposed to know the difference between strangers and family anymore? He didn't say this out loud. Turning to the crabbity old dame, he pointed to his stepmother and said, "This is Candy Mercurio."

  "Candy Lately," corrected his stepmother. "I decided to go back to my maiden name, now your father's dead."

  "Oh. Candy. This is..." He paused, unable to say "the Queen of Gingerbread." It didn't matter; she was approaching his stepmother.

  "What's the matter, gingersnap?" the mysterious old dame said. Linus hadn't noticed that Candy's makeup was messy with damp.

  "I ... I thought I'd surprise Scorpio and meet him at the law offices. But he'd been and gone already, and taken the jewels, signing for them as my proxy."

  "He'll be here soon," said Linus, without conviction. "He just got lost. Could happen to anyone."

  "Oh, but the avvocati told me that after he left, they found a receipt for a single cruise ticket with stops in Rhodes, Marseilles, Naples, Mykonos ... It must have dropped out of his coat pocket. I've been looking for him all morning—the hotel, the Caffè Florian at the Piazza San Marco. Then I hurried here, hoping he'd arrived early and was waiting for me—but he's missing, Linus! He's missing with our jewels! And that ship has probably left port by now."

  I thought the jewels were mine, thought Linus. But I should talk; I stole a ring, too.

  He glanced at the old woman. She looked at him as if she knew what he was thinking. Then with a curious expression she shrugged and reached out to hug his stepmother. "Poor lamb, you look as if you have a serious headache," she said, and Linus saw the old woman take the crown of Candy's head in her palm and press it down into her own shoulder. It was a consoling gesture, a sweet-old-grandma behavior, but Linus could see that the old woman was running her hand across the back of Candy's scalp, feeling the landscape of her character.

  The old woman released Candy and said, "I know what you need. A spot of gingerbread to take your mind off your troubles. I have just the thing in my apron pocket." She pulled out a bit of gingerbread that looked as if it had been stamped out by a cookie cutter shaped like a scorpion. "Nothing like gingerbread to clear the mind, I always say."

  Candy took it and began to nibble. Almost at once her worry and distractedness became more abstract, as if she were not really standing next to a Venetian canal eating a gingerbread scorpion but merely dreaming she was.

  "Now," said the old woman to Linus, "whether or not that fiend is missing with your jewels, he's missing with my ring. I'm getting him back. Are you going to help or not?"

  She might be a gingerbread fruitcake, but he owed her this. He listened as she babbled more nonsense. "This little exercise of the imagination works best for me when I'm peering through that very capable ring, but in the absence of that, we'll have to find a double for it." She eyed the canal. "Do you see the circle made by the bridge over the water?"

  "The near bridge?" He squinted. She meant the circle made by the closest bridge and its reflection in the canal. Bridge double bridge. "Yes ... It's more of an oval. It looks more like an eye."

  "Like the eye of a squid big enough to eat Sicily?"

  He wasn't going to answer that. Though in fact it did look like an enormous eye, seen from a fatal closeness.

  "Ah, well. Think of it as the eye of a needle, then. Stand back, Candy Lately, or you'll be the late Candy Lately." Moving swiftly for an old biddy, she hustled into her cabin and then came out again carrying something warm from the oven and a bottle of something goopy. Molasses, by the smell of it through the wide mouth of the open jar.

  "Are you watching?" she asked. Linus nodded. Candy was finishing off one gingerbread scorpion leg after another, lost in a bliss of imagined revenge.

  "Ginger, molasses, clove, and salt," she murmured as she poured the molasses into the canal. "Lost my ring, but it's all his fault. Cinnamon, butter, flour, molasses. What a collection of pains-in-the—"

  "Look!" interrupted Linus, who was leaning over the canal's edge to watch. Up from the depths of the black water something was floating. Something hinged and squarish. It straightened itself out, flat as an old-fashioned record album cover. The Venice-at-a-Glance map, emerging from the depths to serve as a floating platform.

  "In case he doesn't remember how to get back to you," the old woman said to Candy, a little coyly. "Can't claim to be lost if a map's still floating around somewhere." She tipped the large jar of molasses nearly upside down. A single, final drop fell out into the water. "A little something sugary to lure a scorpion." It looked like a drop of blood in the canal.

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