Here We Go Again
In which a hssss becomes a BOOOOM!
Eddie Dickens woke up with a shock. An electric eel had just landed on him from the top pocket of his great-uncle's overcoat. And one thing that can be guaranteed to be shocking is electricity.
Eddie sat up. "What's happening, Mad Uncle Jack?" he asked, for that was the name he called the thinnest of thin gentlemen -- with the beakiest of beaky noses -- who was leaning over his bed.
"Come quickly, boy!" his great-uncle instructed, his top hat brushing against the gas tap of the lamp on the wall. The eel might have had electricity, but this house -- Awful End -- didn't.
Eddie didn't need to be asked twice. The quickest way to escape the eel was to leap from his bed, so leap from his bed he did.
Eddie and his parents lived at Awful End with his great-uncle and great-aunt (Mad Aunt Maud). If you want to find out how they all came to live together, following a series of awfully exciting adventures -- though I say so myself -- you'll have to read the first book in this trilogy, called (surprise, surprise) A House Called Awful End.
Now, where were we? Oh yes: an electric eel in the bed, Eddie Dickens out of the bed, and Mad Uncle Jack's top hat brushing against the gas tap . . . What's that hissing noise? Do you think it's important? Do you think its part of the plot?
Mad Uncle Jack snatched up the escaped eel, seemingly unconcerned as the current of electricity passed through his hand and up his arm as he popped it back in his pocket. This rather strange gentleman used dried fish (and eels) to pay his bills but, for some reason we're bound to discover later, this eel was still alive and slipping. (I can't really say "alive and kicking," now can I? Eels -- electric or otherwise -- don't have legs.)
Eddie glanced at the clock on the wall. It said six o'clock in the morning.
"Six o'clock in the morning," said the clock -- an old joke, but not bad for a clock.
Why was Mad Uncle Jack getting him up so early? Eddie wondered. It must be important. Then again, perhaps not. After all, his great-uncle was completely mad. Stifling a yawn, Eddie pulled on his clothes.
"Hurry!" said Mad Uncle Jack through gritted teeth. He didn't have a gritted pair of his own, so he always carried a pre-gritted pair about his person for just such an occasion. He kept these in a side pocket of his coat rather than in a top pocket. This was why the electric eel, rather than the pair of pre-gritted teeth, had fallen onto his great-nephew.
Out on the landing, the early light of dawn filtered through the large picture window. A picture window is a big window, usually with a large enough area of glass to permit one to see a view as pretty as a picture. (Not to be confused with a picture of a window, which is -- er -- a picture of a window.)
The view from this window was of Mad Uncle Jack's tree house, built entirely of dried fish and covered in creosote. The creosote not only protected the tree house from bad weather but also from the neighborhood cats (who loved the smell and taste of dried fish but who hated the smell and taste of creosote). Some might think the tree house pretty in the pinky early morning light. There was something quite salmony about it. That's the word: salmony.
Still half asleep -- which, if my math serves me correctly, means that he must also have been half awake -- Eddie Dickens followed Mad Uncle Jack down the front stairs. He lost his footing a couple of times but managed to remain upright and stumble on.
The heavy velvet curtains were closed in the hallway and it was pitch-black. Pitch is a kind of gooey tar that is very, very black, so pitch-black is a way of saying "very, very black" using fewer letters . . . so long as you don't then have to explain what pitch is, as I've just done.
Copyright © 2003 Philip Ardagh
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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