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The Austere Academy

Lemony Snicket

  The Austere Academy

  Lemony Snicket

  More doom and gloom for the Baudelaire orphans, and school as well. Dear Customer, If you are looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere. You might expect that Violet, Klaus and Sunny would do very well at school. Don't. For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives. Within the chapters of this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, comprehensive exams, violin recitals, S.O.R.E and the metric system. It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and recording the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night's sleep. In that case, you should probably choose some other tape. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket

  Lemony Snicket

  The Austere Academy

  The fifth book in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, 2000

  For Beatrice-

  You will always be in my heart,

  in my mind,

  and in your grave.


  If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn't give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway. Carmelita Spats was rude, she was violent, and she was filthy, and it is really a shame that I must describe her to you, because there are enough ghastly and distressing things in this story without even mentioning such an unpleasant person.

  It is the Baudelaire orphans, thank goodness, who are the heroes of this story, not the and since then Olaf had followed them everywhere, usually accompanied by one or more of his sinister and ugly associates. No matter who was caring for the Baudelaires, Count Olaf was always right behind them, performing such dastardly deeds that I can scarcely list them all: kidnapping, murder, nasty phone calls, disguises, poison, hypnosis, and atrocious cooking are just some of the adversities the Baudelaire orphans survived at his hands. Even worse, Count Olaf had a bad habit of avoiding capture, so he was always sure to turn up again. It is truly awful that this keeps happening, but that is how the story goes.

  I only tell you that the story goes this way because you are about to become acquainted with rude, violent, filthy Carmelita Spats, and if you can't stand reading about her, you had best put this book down and read something else, because it only gets worse from here. Before too long, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire will have so much adversity that being dreadful Carmelita Spats, and if you wanted to give a gold medal to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, it would be for survival in the face of adversity. Adversity is a word which here means "trouble," and there are very few people in this world who have had the sort of troubling adversity that follows these three children wher-ever they go. Their trouble began one day when they were relaxing at the beach and received the distressing news that their parents had been killed in a terrible fire, and so were sent to live with a distant relative named Count Olaf.

  If you were going to give a gold medal to Count Olaf, you would have to lock it up some-place before the awarding ceremony, because Count Olaf was such a greedy and evil man that he would try to steal it beforehand. The Baude-laire orphans did not have a gold medal, but they did have an enormous fortune that their Parents had left them, and it was that fortune Count Olaf tried to snatch. The three siblings survived living with Count Olaf, but just barely, shoved aside by Carmelita Spats will look like a trip to the ice cream store.

  "Get out of my way, you cakesniffers!" said a rude, violent, and filthy little girl, shoving the Baudelaire orphans aside as she dashed by. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too startled to answer. They were standing on a sidewalk made of bricks, which must have been very old because there was a great deal of dark moss oozing out from in between them. Surrounding the sidewalk was a vast brown lawn that looked like it had never been watered, and on the lawn were hundreds of children running in various directions. Occasionally someone would slip and fall to the ground, only to get back up and keep running. It looked exhausting and pointless, two things that should be avoided at all costs, but the Baudelaire orphans barely glanced at the other children, keeping their eyes on the mossy bricks below them.

  Shyness is a curious thing, because, like quicksand, it can strike people at any time, and also, like quicksand, it usually makes its victims look down. This was to be the Baudelaires' first day at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three siblings found that they would rather look at the oozing moss than at anything else.

  "Have you dropped something?" Mr. Poe asked, coughing into a white handkerchief. One place the Baudelaires certainly didn't want to look was at Mr. Poe, who was walking closely behind them. Mr. Poe was a banker who had been placed in charge of the Baudelaires' affairs following the terrible fire, and this had turned out to be a lousy idea. Mr. Poe meant well, but a jar of mustard probably also means well and would do a better job of keeping the Baudelaires out of danger. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny had long ago learned that the only thing they could count on from Mr. Poe was that he was always coughing.

  "No," Violet replied, "we haven't dropped anything." Violet was the oldest Baudelaire, and usually she was not shy at all. Violet liked to invent things, and one could often find her thinking hard about her latest invention, with her hair tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. When her inventions were done, she liked to show them to people she knew, who were usually very impressed with her skill. Right now, as she looked down at the mossy bricks, she thought of a machine she could build that could keep moss from growing on the sidewalk, but she felt too nervous to talk about it. What if none of the teachers, children, or administrative staff were interested in her inventions?

  As if he were reading her thoughts, Klaus put a hand on Violet's shoulder, and she smiled at him. Klaus had known for all twelve of his years that his older sister found a hand on her shoulder comforting-as long as the hand was attached to an arm, of course. Normally Klaus would have said something comforting as well, but he was feeling as shy as his sister. Most of the time, Klaus could be found doing what he liked to do best, which was reading. Some mornings one could find him in bed with his glasses on because he had been reading so late that he was too tired to take them off. Klaus looked down at the sidewalk and remembered a book he had read called Moss Mysteries, but he felt too shy to bring it up. What if Prufrock Preparatory School had nothing good to read?

  Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire, looked up at her siblings, and Violet smiled and picked her up. This was easy to do because Sunny was a baby and only a little bit larger than a loaf of bread. Sunny was also too nervous to say anything, although it was often difficult to understand what she said when she did speak up. For instance, if Sunny had not been feeling so shy, she might have opened her mouth, revealing her four sharp teeth, and said "Marimo!" which may have meant "I hope there are plenty of things to bite at school, because biting things is one of my favorite things to do!"

  "I know why you're all so quiet," Mr. Poe said. "It's because you're excited, and I don't blame you. I always wanted to go to boarding school when I was younger, but I never had the chance. I'm a little jealous of you, if you want to know the truth."

  The Baudelaires looked at one another. The fact that Prufrock Preparatory School was a boarding school was the part that made them feel the most nervous. If no one was interested in inventions, or there was nothing to read, or biting wasn't allowed, they were stuck there, not only all day but all night as well. The siblings wished that if Mr. Poe were really jealous of them he would attend Prufrock Preparatory School himself, and they could work at the bank.

u're very lucky to be here," Mr. Poe continued. "I had to call more than four schools before I found one that could take all three of you at such short notice. Prufrock Prep-that's what they call it, as a sort of nickname-is a very fine academy. The teachers all have advanced degrees. The dormitory rooms are all finely furnished. And most important of all, there is an advanced computer system which will keep Count Olaf away from you. Vice Principal Nero told me that Count Olaf's complete description-everything from his one long eyebrow to the tattoo of an eye on his left ankle-has been programmed into the computer, so you three should be safe here for the next several years."

  "But how can a computer keep Count Olaf away?" Violet asked in a puzzled voice, still looking down at the ground.

  "It's an advanced computer," Mr. Poe said, as if the word "advanced" were a proper explanation instead of a word meaning "having attained advancement." "Don't worry your little heads about Count Olaf. Vice Principal Nero has promised me that he will keep a close eye on you. After all, a school as advanced as Prufrock Prep wouldn't allow people to simply run around loose."

  "Move, cakesniffers!" the rude, violent, and filthy little girl said as she dashed by them again.

  "What does 'cakesniffers' mean?" Violet murmured to Klaus, who had an enormous vocabulary from all his reading.

  "I don't know," Klaus admitted, "but it doesn't sound very nice."

  "What a charming word that is," Mr. Poe said. "Cakesniffers. I don't know what it means, but it reminds me of pastry. Oh well, here we are." They had come to the end of the mossy brick sidewalk and stood in front of the school. The Baudelaires looked up at their new home and gasped in surprise. Had they not been staring at the sidewalk the whole way across the lawn, they would have seen what the academy looked like, but perhaps it was best to delay looking at it for as long as possible. A person who designs buildings is called an architect, but in the case of Prufrock Prep a better term might be "depressed architect." The school was made up of several buildings, all made of smooth gray stone, and the buildings were grouped together in a sort of sloppy line. To get to the buildings, the Baudelaires had to walk beneath an immense stone arch casting a curved shadow on the lawn, like a rainbow in which all of the colors were gray or black. On the arch were the words "PRUFROCK PREPARATORY SCHOOL" in enormous black letters, and then, in smaller letters, the motto of the school, "Memento Mori." But it was not the buildings or the arch that made the children gasp. It was how the buildings were shaped-rectangular, but with a rounded top. A rectangle with a rounded top is a strange shape, and the orphans could only think of one thing with that shape. To the Baudelaires each building looked exactly like a gravestone.

  "Rather odd architecture," Mr. Poe commented. "Each building looks like a thumb. In my case, you are to report to Vice Principal Nero's office immediately. It's on the ninth floor of the main building."

  "Aren't you coming with us, Mr. Poe?" Violet asked. Violet was fourteen, and she knew that fourteen was old enough to go to somebody's office by herself, but she felt nervous about walking into such a sinister-looking building without an adult nearby.

  Mr. Poe coughed into his handkerchief and looked at his wristwatch at the same time. "I'm afraid not," he said when his coughing passed. "The banking day has already begun. But I've talked over everything with Vice Principal Nero, and if there's any problem, remember you can always contact me or any of my associates at Mulctuary Money Management. Now, off you go. Have a wonderful time at Prufrock Prep."

  "I'm sure we will," said Violet, sounding much braver than she felt. "Thank you for everything, Mr. Poe."

  "Yes, thank you," Klaus said, shaking the banker's hand.

  "Terfunt," Sunny said, which was her way of saying "Thank you."

  "You're welcome, all of you," Mr. Poe said. "So long." He nodded at all three Baudelaires, and Violet and Sunny watched him walk back down the mossy sidewalk, carefully avoiding the running children. But Klaus didn't watch him. Klaus was looking at the enormous arch over the academy.

  "Maybe I don't know what 'cakesniffer' means," Klaus said, "but I think I can translate our new school's motto."

  "It doesn't even look like it's in English," Violet said, peering up at it.

  "Racho," Sunny agreed.

  "It's not," Klaus said. "It's in Latin. Many mottoes are in Latin, for some reason. I don't know very much Latin, but I do remember reading this phrase in a book about the Middle Ages. If it means what I think it means, it's certainly a strange motto."

  "What do you think it means?" Violet asked.

  "If I'm not mistaken," said Klaus, who was rarely mistaken, "'Memento Mori' means 'Remember you will die.'"

  "Remember you will die," Violet repeated quietly, and the three siblings stepped closer to one another, as if they were very cold. Everybody will die, of course, sooner or later. Circus performers will die, and clarinet experts will die, and you and I will die, and there might be a person who lives on your block, right now, who is not looking both ways before he crosses the street and who will die in just a few seconds, all because of a bus. Everybody will die, but very few people want to be reminded of that fact. The children certainly did not want to remember that they would die, particularly as they walked beneath the arch over Prufrock Prep. The Baudelaire orphans did not need to be reminded of this as they began their first day in the giant graveyard that was now their home.


  As the Baudelaire orphans stood outside Vice Principal Nero's door, they were reminded of something their father said to them just a few months before he died. One evening, the Baudelaire parents had gone out to hear an orchestra play, and the three children had stayed by themselves in the family mansion. The Baudelaires had something of a routine on nights like this. First, Violet and Klaus would play a few games of checkers while Sunny ripped up some old newspapers, and then the three children would read in the library until they fell asleep on comfortable sofas. When their parents came home they would wake up the sleeping children, talk to them a little about the evening, and send them off to bed. But on this particular night, the Baudelaire parents came home early and the children were still up reading-or, in Sunny's case, looking at the pictures. The siblings' father stood in the doorway of the library and said something they never forgot. "Children," he said, "there is no worse sound in the world than somebody who cannot play the violin who insists on doing so anyway."

  At the time, the Baudelaires had merely giggled, but as they listened outside the vice principal's door, they realized that their father had been absolutely right. When they first approached the heavy wooden door, it sounded like a small animal was having a temper tantrum. But as they listened more closely, the children realized it was somebody who cannot play the violin insisting on doing so anyway. The sounds shrieked and hissed and scratched and moaned and made other horrible sounds that are really impossible to describe, and finally Violet could take it no longer and knocked on the door. She had to knock very hard and at length, in order to be heard over the atrocious violin recital going on inside, but at last the wooden door opened with a creak and there stood a tall man with a violin under his chin and an angry glare in his eyes.

  "Who dares interrupt a genius when he is rehearsing?" he asked, in a voice so loud and booming that it was enough to make anyone shy all over again.

  "The Baudelaires," Klaus said quietly, looking at the floor. "Mr. Poe said to come right to Vice Principal Nero's office."

  "Mr. Poe said to come right to Vice Principal Nero's office," the man mimicked in a high, shrieky voice. "Well, come in, come in, I don't have all afternoon."

  The children stepped into the office and got a better look at the man who had mocked them. He was dressed in a rumpled brown suit that had something sticky on its jacket, and he was wearing a tie decorated with pictures of snails. His nose was very small and very red, as if somebody had stuck a cherry tomato in the middle of his splotchy face. He was almost completely bald, but he had four tufts of hair, which he had tied into little pig
tails with some old rubber bands. The Baudelaires had never seen anybody who looked like him before and they weren't particularly interested in looking at him any further, but his office was so small and bare that it was difficult to look at anything else. There was a small metal desk with a small metal chair behind it and a small metal lamp to one side. The office had one window, decorated with curtains that matched the man's tie. The only other object in the room was a shiny computer, which sat in a corner of the room like a toad. The computer had a blank gray screen and several buttons as red as the pigtailed man's nose.

  "Ladies and gentlemen," the man announced in a loud voice, "Vice Principal Nero!"

  There was a pause, and the three children looked all around the tiny room, wondering where Nero had been hiding all this time. Then they looked back at the man with the pigtails, who was holding both hands up in the air, his violin and bow almost touching the ceiling, and they realized that the man he had just intro-duced so grandly was himself. Nero paused for a moment and looked down at the Baudelaires.

  "It is traditional," he said sternly, "to applaud when a genius has been introduced."

  Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course. Piracy, for example, is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years, but that doesn't mean we should all attack ships and steal their gold. But Vice Principal Nero looked so ferocious that the chil-drcn felt this was a time to honor tradition, so they began clapping their hands and didn't stop until Nero took several bows and sat down in his chair.

  "Thank you very much, and welcome to Prufrock Preparatory School, blah blah blah" he said, using the word "blah" to mean that he was too bored to finish his sentence properly. "I'm certainly doing Mr. Poe a favor in taking on three orphans at such short notice. He assured me that you won't cause any trouble, but I did a little research of my own. You've been sent to legal guardian after legal guardian, and adversity has always followed. 'Adversity' means 'trouble,' by the way."