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Elliot and the Goblin War

Jennifer A. Nielsen


  Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer A. Nielsen

  Cover and internal illustrations © Gideon Kendall

  Cover and internal design © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover design by Gothamhaus Design

  Cover images © Cloudniners/

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.

  Source of Production: Sheridan Books, Chelsea, Michigan, USA

  Date of Production: September 2010

  Run Number: 13199

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page




  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24


  About the Author

  About the Illustrator

  Back Cover


  For Bridger, who can become anything he wants.

  As of today, there are only seven children who have ever read this book and lived to tell about it. Ninety-five children successfully read the first chapter, but upon beginning chapter 2, they started blabbering in some language known only as “Flibberish,” which makes it very hard to tell their parents why they can’t finish their homework. Thirty-eight children made it halfway through this wretched book before their brains simply shut down and they began sucking their thumbs through their noses.

  But these are minor problems compared to what happened to those who read the final chapters of this book. The only thing known for sure is that something in chapter 15 seems to make body parts fall off.

  If you’re very brave, one of those who would battle a dragon with only a toothpick for a sword, perhaps you are willing to take your chances and turn the page. But before you read even one more sentence, be sure that you have told your family who gets your favorite toys if you do not survive this book. Read it now, if you dare. But don’t say you haven’t been warned, for this is the story that unfolds the mysteries of the Underworld. Turn the page and begin Elliot and the Goblin War.

  When he was eight years old, Elliot Penster started an interspecies war. Don’t blame him. As anyone who has ever started an interspecies war will tell you, it’s not that difficult to do.

  Elliot had spent the evening trick-or-treating. Everyone thought he was dressed as a hobo, but he wasn’t. He didn’t have money for a Halloween costume, and so he’d just gone in his everyday clothes.

  On that night, his everyday clothes were a pair of his big brother’s old jeans with a hole in one knee, a T-shirt that sort of fit if he didn’t lift his arms up, and a long-sleeved plaid shirt over it that did fit. He also wore two different shoes, which weren’t part of his everyday clothes. It’s just that he couldn’t find their matches.

  Either way, he was on his way home with a big sack of candy, which is all that ever really matters on Halloween. He dipped his face into his sack and sniffed up the blend of chocolate, fruit, and sugar smells. And lead? Elliot pulled an orange pencil from his sack and then dropped it back in. Who gives pencils for Halloween? Probably the dentist over on Apple Lane.

  Elliot wrapped his sack up tight to keep the smell inside until he got home. He planned to share a few candies with his family and then go wild with the rest in one night of sugar-crazed insanity.

  “Help!” a voice cried.

  Elliot turned to see a little girl running toward him, dressed as an Elf. Her right arm flailed wildly, and in her left arm she carried a sack almost as big as she was. Every time she screamed, all the dogs in the area howled. Chasing her were two kids about his own size dressed as Goblins.

  “Hey!” Elliot yelled at them. “You’re not supposed to take someone else’s candy!”

  Elliot ran toward the kids in the Goblin suits. He tossed his heavy sack of candy over his shoulder then swung it toward them. It hit one Goblin in the shoulder and knocked him into the other. They fell on top of each other on the ground.

  “Stay out of this,” the Goblin on the bottom snarled. “You’re only a human boy.”

  “Don’t make fun of my costume!” Elliot yelled. “Just because you can afford a cool costume doesn’t make you cool.”

  The Goblin on the top rolled to his feet. “We don’t want to be cool. We want to be scary.”

  “My sister cooks dinners that are scarier than you,” Elliot said. It wasn’t an insult to his sister. She really did.

  “You want to see scary?” the Goblin asked. He crouched down on all fours and let out a growling sound that Elliot didn’t think any human voice could make.

  Then something happened, something Elliot had never seen a costume be able to do before. Not even the expensive ones. It began bubbling, as if it had become a vat of black, boiling oil. Ripples of bubbles started small but gradually grew bigger, almost as if the Goblin itself were growing in size.

  Elliot’s eyes widened. He’d seen things like this in the movies before. Even if this was only a costume, it was still a lot scarier in person than watching it in a theater with a bucket of popcorn on his lap. He didn’t want to watch it, and yet he found it impossible to turn away. Something in his brain yelled at him to run or else he’d be sorry. Elliot agreed with his brain, but his legs didn’t obey. He stumbled back a step and then jumped when the Goblin extended a hand—which now looked more like a claw.

  “Don’t look at him!” the girl in the Elf costume yelled.

  Elliot had nearly forgotten about her. Instinct took over, and he swung his sack again at the Goblin, but this time the claw grabbed the sack and tore at it, ripping a big hole. Candy poured out, most of it landing with a kaplunk in a big puddle of water that splashed all over the Goblins. The Goblins leapt a foot into the air and screeched as if the water was somehow painful to them. The bubbles melted back into the costumes, though Elliot thought there were holes the size of water droplets in their clothes now.

  Without a glance backward, they ran down the street and vanished into the night.

  It took a moment for Elliot’s heartbeat to return to normal. When he caught his breath, he yelled after them, “Babies!”

  If water ruined their costumes so easily, they should’ve worn something else. He leaned over and picked up a few pieces of candy that weren’t
too wet. It was the cheap candy, like the kind old women keep in bowls by their TV remotes. There wasn’t even enough left to share with his family.

  “Sorry about your candy.”

  Elliot turned to see the girl in the Elf costume speaking to him. She had a small mouth and huge brown eyes. Her hair was thick and hung to her shoulders. Looking at her, Elliot finally understood what a button nose is.

  “That’s all right,” he said. “Someone probably would’ve stolen it before I got home anyway.”

  “You have Goblins too?”

  He smiled. “Around here we call them bullies.”

  “Oh.” She held out her sack. “Since your candy’s ruined, you can have this.”

  Elliot peeked inside. It was filled with long, green pickles. Dozens of them. Pickle juice leaked from a small hole in her bag and made a smelly puddle on the ground. “Um, no thanks,” he said.

  “I’ve got more if you change your mind.” She closed her sack and added, “That was really brave, risking your life for me like that.”

  Maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, Elliot thought, but he smiled kindly. She was so young, she must’ve thought the Goblin costumes were real. Poor thing was probably scared half to death. He said, “Nice costume. You’re an Elf?”

  She puckered her face. “Everyone knows that Elfish ears are short and pointy. I’m a Brownie. My ears are bigger and pointier, see? And Elves are much taller than Brownies. My name is Patches.”

  “Hi. I’m Elliot.” He shifted his feet and found himself staring at her eyes. He’d never seen anyone with eyes that large or that round. “Well, I’d better go home now.”

  “Okay. Well, thanks for what you did. I won’t forget it.”

  Patches never did forget it, but Elliot’s mind was on something entirely different before he even made it home. Maybe he would’ve remembered if he had known the girl he saved wasn’t a human in a Halloween costume, but a real Brownie from her Underworld home.

  And as your clever mind also must have guessed, Dear Reader, she was being chased by real Goblins.

  Patches went to her Underworld home to tell the other Brownies about her new hero, Elliot Penster. Elliot Penster went home without any Halloween candy. And the Goblins who had ruined his Halloween went home to start a war.

  After leaving Elliot, the Goblins returned to their Underworld city of Flog. If the name Flog makes you think of a sunny place with green grass and chirping birds, then you are not thinking of the same Flog as where the Goblins live. In the first place, you should have known there’s no sun, because Flog is deep underground. Flog gets some light from the glow of the Elves’ kingdom, but never quite enough. So it always feels like that hour after the sun goes down but before the moon comes up. Instead of grass and flowers, there are rocks and dirt, and even if a chirping bird somehow finds its way underground, it had better get out quick before it’s eaten by a hungry Goblin.

  The Goblins weren’t hungry at the moment, though. They were busy listening to their two friends describe exactly what Elliot Penster had done to them.

  Goblins rarely came face-to-face with a human anymore. That sort of thing used to happen more often a few hundred years ago.

  In those days, a Goblin could sneak into a human’s home or barn and cause all sorts of wonderful trouble, such as tipping over a lantern or setting the cows loose in the pasture. Meanwhile, the do-good Brownies would work throughout the night repairing holes in shoes or cleaning out fireplaces, always trying to help the humans who did so little for the Brownies in return. It just made the Goblins look even meaner than they actually were.

  The Brownies were always careful to leave the home before anyone awakened, but it became quite common for a human to stumble upon a Goblin in the act of causing trouble. When the humans started fighting back, the Goblins had no choice but to join the creatures of the Underworld.

  The Goblins still went to the surface now and then, but only if it was really important, such as to chase after a Brownie with a big sackful of pickles. And now that a human had gotten in their way, they crowded into a tight circle to hear the dreadful tale.

  If you had actually been sitting with the Goblins in Flog (which I hope is not something you’d ever consider doing, even if you’re invited to come; as you’ve just read, Goblins don’t like humans), then you would not have understood what the two Goblins were saying about Elliot. It would have sounded like this: Arkny flob goopah boohinder human Elliot, which of course means, “On the surface there is a dangerous human named Elliot” in Flibberish.

  All Underworld creatures speak a common language called Flibberish. It is very much like English, except that all the letters to all the words are entirely different. And of course, Flibberish speakers end every conversation by spitting at each other. Many Underworld creatures speak both Flibberish and English, but to make reading easier for you, Dear Reader, whenever the creatures speak in Flibberish, it’s been translated to English. If you still can’t read it, then you probably don’t speak English. Try reading something in Icelandic or pig Latin, and see if one of them is your language instead.

  “Tell us about the dangerous human named Elliot!” someone yelled from the crowd.

  The larger Goblin, also with the larger vocabulary of at least twenty words, spoke for both of them. “There we were, minding our business”—as they saw it, their business was chasing after an innocent Brownie and her pickles—“when this human ran over to pick a fight with us.”

  The Flog citizens gasped in horror. Humans were their favorite villains in any story.

  “He beat us with a sackful of chocolate candies.” More gasping followed this terrible news. “That’s right, it was chocolate,” the Goblin continued. “We were lucky to escape alive.”

  The smaller one thrust out his arm, which was covered in welts. “He gave us these too.” This had happened when Elliot’s sack of candy fell into the water. Water always burns Goblins.

  “And he broke all the bones in your face!” a Goblin yelled from the crowd. “You look awful!”

  The smaller one rolled his eyes. “No, that’s my real face. I always look this way.”

  There was a slight moment of silence while many Goblins considered that all of them always looked that way. The awkward feeling was soon forgotten as another Goblin in the crowd yelled, “This means war!” It was followed by cheers and plans to go to the surface and begin attacking the humans.

  “You’ll never win,” a Goblin in the back said. His voice sounded like two pieces of sandpaper rubbing against each other. Music to a Goblin’s pointy, hairy ears.

  Every green Goblin head turned to see the greenest Goblin of all walking to the front of the crowd. His name was Grissel, and he hadn’t been seen in public for fifty-five years. He was a decorated hero of the Great Goblin War of the last century, having rescued the entire city of Flog from a human invasion. Goblin children sang songs about him. Goblin females left pickle pies on his doorstep. And Goblin males tried to imitate his fashion sense, although they could never get the rag tied around their waists in just the right way.

  By the time Grissel reached the front of the crowd, everyone was silent. He looked the Goblins over for a few moments and then said, “We don’t want a war with the humans. There’s nothing we want on the surface.”

  “We want pickles!” a Goblin said.

  “And if we kill all the humans, who’ll make more pickles for us to steal?” Grissel snarled. “Tell me, what do we like more than pickles?”

  “Puppy dogs?” another Goblin said. “Cute little doggies with those sad puppy eyes? They make you just want to hold them and give them a hug.”

  Grissel stared in disgust and then pointed a finger at the Goblin, who promptly blew up. When the dust settled, Grissel repeated, “I said, what do we like more than pickles?”

  This time there was silence, which wasn’t a surprise. Nobody likes to get blown up just for giving a wrong answer.

  “We like Brownies,” Grissel said. “May
be a human got involved with us on the surface, but we were after the Brownie girl. If you want to go to war, then we go to war against the Brownies.”

  A cheer rose throughout the crowd.

  So it was, on Halloween night while Elliot lay in his bed feeling bad about having lost his candy, that the Goblins declared war on the Brownies. And the Underworld would never be the same again.

  There are many causes of forgetfulness, including at least 236 different diseases, most of which you probably can’t pronounce. A good way to know that you don’t have any of those forgetting diseases is if you remember that the Brownie child, Patches Willimaker, had decided to keep her eye on Elliot in case the Goblins returned again.

  (If you don’t remember that, then you might have some form of amnesia. You may have forgotten that you have amnesia, because if you do remember having it, then it probably isn’t amnesia at all. Maybe you just weren’t reading carefully.)

  Three years passed from the night Elliot saved Patches from the Goblins, and all that time, she watched him. Elliot lived in the very small town of Sprite’s Hollow, which is about a hundred miles away from anywhere you’d want to be. The weather there was usually just about right for the time of year, except for last July when hail the size of golf balls fell all over town and refused to melt afterward. (Or maybe it was the mini-golf tournament they held around town that day. No one really knows for sure.)

  Sprite’s Hollow was normally a peaceful town, where cows and chickens outnumbered the people, so it was never hard to find Elliot. A person could run from one end of town to the other in less than twenty minutes, even faster if you were Elliot and were being chased by one of the school bullies.

  By the time he was eleven years old, Elliot was so skinny that his normal-size head looked too large for his neck. He had blond hair every summer and brown hair every winter and red hair only once, when he fell into a bucket of mashed beets. His legs had grown in the last year, and his great hope was that the rest of his body would soon grow to match.

  Sprite’s Hollow was also the kind of town where a kid could get into a lot of trouble with only a little effort. Some kids got into trouble by changing road signs so that travelers who thought they were leaving town actually went back the way they had come. Others snuck into barns and added chocolate syrup to the cow’s water, hoping the cow would then produce chocolate milk.