"You try," she said. "First a bite of some glue and then follow it with a crunch of the paper. And these squiggles. They are very tasty."
Despereaux looked down at the book, and something remarkable happened. The marks on the pages, the "squiggles" as Merlot referred to them, arranged themselves into shapes. The shapes arranged themselves into words, and the words spelled out a delicious and wonderful phrase: Once upon a time.
" 'Once upon a time,' " whispered Despereaux.
"What?" said Merlot.
"Eat," said Merlot.
"I couldn't possibly," said Despereaux, backing away from the book.
"Um," said Despereaux. "It would ruin the story."
"The story? What story?" Merlot stared at him. A piece of paper trembled at the end of one of her indignant whiskers. "It's just like Pa said when you were born. Something is not right with you." She turned and scurried from the library to tell her parents about this latest disappointment.
Despereaux waited until she was gone, and then he reached out and, with one paw, touched the lovely words. Once upon a time.
He shivered. He sneezed. He blew his nose into his handkerchief.
" 'Once upon a time,' " he said aloud, relishing the sound. And then, tracing each word with his paw, he read the story of a beautiful princess and the brave knight who serves and honors her.
Despereaux did not know it, but he would need, very soon, to be brave himself.
Have I mentioned that beneath the castle there was a dungeon? In the dungeon, there were rats. Large rats. Mean rats.
Despereaux was destined to meet those rats.
Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.
From Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Text copyright 2003 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright 2003 by Timothy Basil Ering. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher, Candlewick Press.
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