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Elliot and the Goblin War, Page 2

Jennifer A. Nielsen

  Elliot’s trouble was named Tubs Lawless, a kid from up the road who was two years older and two heads taller. He was dumber than a Popsicle and so mean that he jumped every time he looked in the mirror.

  Patches had helped Elliot escape trouble with Tubs more than once. Of course, Elliot didn’t know that, but she figured over the past three years she’d saved him from at least eighteen bruises, two black eyes, and one note taped to Elliot’s back telling the rest of the school to kick him.

  Today he was in a bit more trouble than usual. Patches watched Tubs chase Elliot behind Elliot’s house. She ducked behind a large elm tree as they raced across the grass on the edge of the woods that bordered Elliot’s backyard. The woods were mystery territory. No kid had ever explored them all. Even Elliot could get lost in there. It was rumored that a boy named Mavis had been lost in there for the last twenty-eight years.

  No sooner had Elliot run into the woods than a rope grabbed him by the leg and yanked his body up in the air, hanging him upside down. As Tubs got closer, Elliot squirmed to get free, but the rope only tightened.

  The rope trap was Elliot’s father’s idea. He figured it was a good way to catch dinner for the family. It had worked only once before, trapping a skunk that sprayed Elliot’s father in the face when he let it go. Now the trap had caught Elliot. Elliot wished he had something to spray Tubs with, like extra-strength bully repellent.

  Tubs ran up so close that their noses were almost touching, except of course Elliot’s nose was upside down.

  “Next time I make you do my homework, you’d better put in the right answers,” Tubs said.

  “I wrote that Tubs Lawless has pudding for brains,” Elliot said, smiling. “I thought that was the right answer.”

  “How should I know?” Tubs asked. “But if it was, then why did the teacher mark it wrong?” After a moment, his eyes widened and he said, “Hey! Pudding for brains—that’s an insult!”

  Tubs backed up and grabbed a handful of rocks, which he began throwing. Even upside down, Elliot did a pretty good job at avoiding the rocks, but Patches knew Tubs would get in a hit soon. She rolled up her sleeves, preparing to do a little magic to get Elliot down.

  “I thought we smelled manure back here,” a boy behind Elliot said. “Wait, it’s only Tubs.”

  “Hey, Tubs! Look this way!” another boy said.

  Patches turned to see Cole and Kyle, Elliot’s six-year-old twin brothers, standing in the yard with a long hose kinked in their hands and a naughty spark in their clear blue eyes. The twins released the kink, and a stream of water shot at Tubs, hitting him squarely in the chest. It knocked him to the ground. He crawled backward, cried for his mommy, then ran away.

  “Thanks!” Elliot told his brothers. He didn’t often use their names, because he couldn’t tell them apart. He sometimes wondered if Kyle and Cole even knew who had which name.

  “Our pleasure,” answered the twins.

  Cole and Kyle loved anything with water. They’d been suspended from kindergarten in their first week for putting a water snake in the boys’ bathroom toilet, which got into the pipes and ended up flooding the entire nonfiction section of the school library.

  “Mom and Dad are going to be home at any minute!” Elliot’s fifteen-year-old sister, Wendy, cried as she barreled into the woods. “Look at this mess. Dinner’s going to be burned now.” She had white flour in her brown ponytail. That meant bad news. She was cooking.

  Elliot and his brothers looked at each other. If the family was lucky, burned was the only problem with Wendy’s food. The only reason anyone ever came to eat was because she tricked them by putting a yummy-smelling dessert in the oven to call them.

  “I’ll cut you down, but I’ll be late for work,” said sixteen-year-old Reed, the oldest of the Penster children. Reed helped the family by sharing his earnings from working in a fast-food restaurant named the Quack Shack. Nobody thought duck burgers had much of a chance in becoming more popular than plain old hamburgers. They were right. Duck nuggets dipped in barbecue sauce weren’t too bad, though. Reed also tried to improve his family’s meager food supply by bringing home leftover pickle relish each weekend in case anyone wanted some. No one ever did, and Reed’s collection now fit in a jar almost as tall as he was.

  Elliot was cut down and the family walked back to their home, a two-story wooden box that leaned in whatever direction the wind blew.

  Patches crept out from behind her tree and cradled her head in her hands while she watched them go. It would’ve been nice to rescue Elliot from Tubs, but that wasn’t why she had come here. The Brownies weren’t doing well in the war against the Goblins. In this case, “not doing well” meant they were losing in every way possible. She knew that one day the Goblins would decide to come after Elliot too. And she was right.

  But as you will see, it didn’t happen in the way Patches thought. Elliot just wasn’t that lucky.

  Dear Reader, you may wonder why I haven’t said anything yet about a character in this story named Diffle McSnug. The answer is simple. There is no character in this story named Diffle McSnug. As far as I know, nobody named Diffle McSnug has ever existed, so I’m not sure why you’d think I should write about him.

  Even if Diffle McSnug existed, he wouldn’t have time to sit around in Elliot’s story, waiting to do something important. He’d be off on his own adventure, which right about now would involve his diving with sharks to recover some sunken pirate treasure. Only he’s almost out of air and the sharks are licking his toes.

  I’m sure you’d love to hear how he escapes. It’s too bad he never existed, because if he did, I’m sure that would be a fascinating story.

  There is someone far more important to write about in this book, and that is the Brownie known as Queen Bipsy. She had just reached the end of her 561st birthday. That would be extremely old for a human, but for a Brownie it was only very old. Her birthday party was the largest in the Brownie Underworld, because she was the queen of the Brownies, and not attending her birthday party was a crime punishable by ten years of hard labor. (Hard labor in the Brownie world is the nonstop eating of chocolate cake…without frosting or a glass of milk, if you can imagine the horror of it.)

  Something happened to Bipsy that night as she walked home from her birthday party. From the corner of a cave someone whispered, “Psst, look over here.”

  Everyone knows that if someone whispers, “Psst, look over here,” that definitely means you should not look over there. If there were a good reason to look, then they wouldn’t have to say “psst” in a whisper.

  Queen Bipsy must not have known this, because she did look. From out of the shadows, she saw something bubbling to life. Ripples moved along leathery green skin, and the figure grew in size. Bipsy knew she should run, but all the wiggly juice she had drunk at her party weighed her down. She wanted to run but couldn’t move.

  Her eyes remained fixed on the monstrous creature, even as it rose above her. The only reason she was still watching it, and not lying dead on the ground from terror, was that she was full up to her eyeballs with wiggly juice, which made her vision blurry.

  She could see it well enough to cause her Brownie heart to do a cancan dance inside her chest, though. And she clearly heard the pleasure in the monster’s voice as he said, “It took me three years, but I finally got you, Queen Bipsy.”

  “Queen Bipsy? Are you all right?” A hand touched her shoulder, breaking her trance. The monster that had been in the cave shrank away, and Bipsy turned to face her friend Mr. Willimaker. Even at this late hour and after such a happy party, he still looked morning fresh.

  Ordinarily, Brownies don’t worry too much about their personal appearance. They usually have a lot of thick hair, which always looks a little gray no matter what color it really is. Their pointy ears often clog with earwax, and their fashion sense stalled a couple of centuries ago. Their only virtue is they bathe often. Just because one lives in the Underworld doesn’t mean they have to smell like the Und

  Mr. Willimaker was different. His clothes were made by a Pixie tailor and always the latest in Elfish fashion wear. He trimmed his hair and used a bit of magic each morning to get it pointing all the same way. He wore oversize glasses that made his oversized eyes look even bigger and which often slid off his undersized nose.

  Most Brownies found it funny that Mr. Willimaker always dressed for success, because success was the last word they would use to describe him. Three years ago, he had run through Burrowsville, the Brownie city, warning everyone to get out while they could. They were being invaded by a strange creature that no doubt planned to kill each and every Brownie in some gruesome way. Mr. Willimaker caused near riots as Brownie families gathered what supplies they could and hurried into the streets.

  The mystery was solved by Mr. Willimaker’s own daughter, Patches, who recognized the invading creature as a simple field mouse from the surface world. It must have gotten lost and somehow found its way to the Underworld. She scooped the field mouse into her arms and gave it a loving hug. With Queen Bipsy’s help they sent it back home.

  The Brownies were angry with Mr. Willimaker for several months at the trouble he had caused. After that, he was laughed at wherever he went. Jokes were written about him, and every time something unusual happened in Burrowsville, the Brownies said, “Maybe it’s a mouse attack.” If it weren’t for the fact that Queen Bipsy was still his friend, Mr. Willimaker would have been laughed out of Burrowsville long ago.

  “Are you all right, Queen Bipsy?” Mr. Willimaker asked again.

  “No,” she answered. “I think I’ve just been scared to death.”

  “Pardon me for correcting you, Your Highness, but I notice you’re still alive.”

  Queen Bipsy plumped down on a rock and folded her arms. “Scared half to death, then. And I think very soon the other half of me will die.”

  Mr. Willimaker wondered which half of her had died. Both halves of her body looked equally upset with him. “Could you wait to finish dying until tomorrow?” he asked. “Maybe by tomorrow you’ll change your mind and be fine.”

  “I am the queen, and I’ll die when I want to,” Queen Bipsy insisted. “I’ve lived a full life, and besides, I’m pretty sure my spleen just died. You don’t seriously expect me to continue living with a half-dead body and no spleen, do you?”

  Mr. Willimaker didn’t answer. He thought maybe it was a trick question.

  Queen Bipsy looked around her. “I need to choose the next ruler of the Brownies. Where’s my royal scribe?”

  Her royal scribe had been killed in a Goblin attack over a year ago. Maybe her spleen had been in charge of remembering that, before it died.

  “I can write for you,” Mr. Willimaker offered. He patted his pockets. Somewhere he had a pen—ah, there it was. But paper. He didn’t have any paper! The future of the Brownie kingdom was at stake. Why couldn’t he find one tiny scrap of paper?

  “I don’t have all day to die,” Queen Bipsy muttered. “Could you hurry it up?”

  “Go ahead, Your Highness. Oh! I mean, go ahead and speak. Not go ahead and die. I’ll find some paper soon.” Mr. Willimaker continued looking through his pockets. He didn’t need much. An inch of paper would do.

  Queen Bipsy’s eyes widened and she gasped. “Too late. I think this is it, the end. I believe this may be my last breath before I die.”

  Mr. Willimaker gave up his search for paper. Then he did what everyone does when they have an emergency need to write something down. He put the pen to the palm of his hand and said, “I’m ready. What is the name?”

  “No, it seems I have another breath.” She drew in a slow breath and then added, “There, now this one is probably my last.”

  Mr. Willimaker leaned forward. “If you could please use that breath, then, to tell me the name of the next ruler…”

  “The Brownies will have a king this time.”

  “A king—yes, that’s fine. What’s his name?”

  “There’s only one person—” She paused as she sucked in some air. “You must give him everything necessary to succeed. His name is—”

  Then Queen Bipsy’s head fell forward onto her chest. Mr. Willimaker sadly bowed his head. She had been a good queen, noble and kind. Her death had come too soon for the Brownies who loved her.

  “His name is the following,” Queen Bipsy said, tapping him on the shoulder and nearly causing him to jump out of his skin. (You, the reader, may also have nearly jumped out of your skin when you realized the queen was not as dead as Mr. Willimaker had suspected. Studies have shown this very thing happened to twenty-three other readers who failed to fit back into their skin after this point and have had to go skinless since.)

  Mr. Willimaker put his pen to his palm. “Yes?”

  “No time left to say the name,” she whispered. “You must choose him.”

  Mr. Willimaker tried to point out that it would have been faster to say the name than to have ordered him to choose someone, but it was too late. For when she closed her eyes this time, it was certain she had died, because she didn’t spit.

  Mr. Willimaker stared at his hand, as if the name should magically appear there. How was he to choose the next king? For a brief moment he considered writing in his own name, but then he remembered that most Brownies would rather be ruled by a patch of mold than by him. He thought about writing in the name of Fudd Fartwick, the queen’s closest advisor, but remembered that Fartwick was cruel and evil, and also a known cheater in the delightful game of buzzball.

  If he chose badly, think of how the Brownies would laugh at him then. They’d ask, “How many Brownies does it take to destroy the kingdom? Only one, if it’s Mr. Willimaker.” Not a funny joke, but the Brownies would laugh about it anyway. No, there had to be a way for him to obey Queen Bipsy’s command but still get the Brownies to choose the next king.

  He forced his eyebrows together. Think, Willimaker, think. His nervous brain simply answered, no, and quite rudely too. Fine, Willimaker told his brain, then I’ll make this decision without you.

  Dear Reader, even a rude brain is better than no brain at all. If your brain has been rude to you, then you may punish it by watching an entire day of cartoons. But when it has apologized, you must turn off the television and start using it again.

  As often happens when one is not using his or her brain to think, Mr. Willimaker came up with an idea certain to end in disaster. The queen had ordered him to choose a name, and he had to obey her command, no matter how strange it was. But if he chose someone who was also strange, it would be impossible for the Brownies to accept him. They’d ignore her wish and choose their own king.

  So he chose a king none of the Brownies had ever heard of. In fact, the king wasn’t a Brownie at all.

  It was a human. A human whose name he knew only because his daughter, Patches, never stopped talking about him. An eleven-year-old boy named Elliot Penster.

  Obviously, the Brownies would never allow a human to become their king. They’d ignore Queen Bipsy’s will and call for a general election to choose their next ruler.

  The plan was clever, foolproof, and perfect in every way but one: the Brownies never ignored Queen Bipsy’s will.

  At the news of Queen Bipsy’s death, an immediate assembly of all Brownies was called. It was held in Burrow Cave, the only place large enough for all Brownies to meet together. Despite the hundreds of fireflies that flew above them, it was always a little dark in there. That was fine by most Brownies, since it meant they didn’t have to look too closely at the Brownie in charge of the meeting, Fudd Fartwick.

  Fudd had been Queen Bipsy’s advisor for the past four hundred years. At twenty-eight inches, he was taller than most Brownies. His nose was longer than most Brownies’ noses and slightly crooked, too, which was okay since it kept most people from noticing his eyes. Fudd had mean eyes. He didn’t look at others; he glared at them. If he smiled, it was probably because one of his evil plans had worked. In those happy moments, his eyes s
hrunk to tiny slits on his stout face. He was the kind of creature whom you wouldn’t want to look at very long for fear your eyeballs would burn.

  Don’t laugh. It’s happened before and it’s not pretty.

  Fudd had one simple, humble wish for his life, which was to become the most powerful creature in the universe. There was only one position for him of greater power with the Brownies, and that was as king. Now that Queen Bipsy had died, he was ready to take the crown for himself.

  Fudd had big plans for the Brownies. No more homes in underground tunnels and caverns. No more life as second-rate creatures behind the Elves and Fairies. No more making their living by doing secret chores for the humans. No, it was time for the humans to begin serving them.

  It would take the help of the Goblins, though he’d have to keep that a secret. Brownies and Goblins weren’t the best of friends, mostly because Goblins had spent the past three years trying to kill the Brownies. But Fudd planned to trick the Goblins. As soon as he convinced the Goblins to join him, he could end the war and become the hero of the Brownies—but even more, he’d become the Goblins’ king as well.

  Fudd smiled. His pointy teeth peeked through his gray lips. Careful now, he thought. Accept the crown first, and then you can make your plans.

  Mr. Willimaker stood to speak to the group. He coughed several times, because whenever he was nervous, it felt like something was stuck in his throat, like a pumpkin. He hadn’t washed his hand with the name of the king on it, although it had become so sweaty that all of the letters had washed together and now said the new king’s name was something like “Lnit Prmsln.” He didn’t know anyone named Lnit Prmsln, so he’d have to go with his first choice.