The Baudelaires were so busy fidgeting and thinking that when the toboggan rounded one of the odd, square sides of the mountain peaks, it was a moment before they noticed the view spread below them. Only when a few scraps of newspaper blew in front of their faces did the Baudelaires look down and gasp at what they saw.
"What is it?" Violet said.
"I dont know," Klaus said. "Its hard to tell from so high up."
"Subjavik," Sunny said, and she spoke the truth. From this side of the Mortmain Mountains, the Baudelaires had expected to see the hinterlands, a vast expanse of flat landscape where they had spent quite some time. Instead, it looked like the world had turned into a dark, dark sea. As far as the eye could see there were swirls of gray and black, moving like strange eels in shadowy water. Every so often one of the swirls would release a small, fragile object that would float up toward the Baudelaires like a feather. Some of these objects were scraps of newspaper. Others appeared to be tiny bits of cloth. And some of them were so dark that they were utterly unrecognizable, a phrase Sunny preferred to express as "subjavik."
Klaus squinted down through his glasses and then turned to his sisters with a look of despair. "I know what it is," he said quietly. "Its the ruins of a fire."
The Baudelaires looked down again and saw that Klaus was right. From such a height, it had taken the children a moment to realize that a great fire had raged through the hinterlands, leaving only ashen scraps behind.
"Of course," Violet said. "Its strange we didnt recognize it before. But who would set fire to the hinterlands?"
"We did," Klaus said.
"Caligari," Sunny said, reminding Violet of a terrible carnival in which the Baudelaires had spent some time in disguise. Sadly, as part of their disguise it had been necessary to assist Count Olaf in burning down the carnival, and now they could see the fruits of their labors, a phrase which here means "the results of the terrible thing they did, even though they did not mean to do it at all."
"The fire isnt our fault," Violet said. "Not entirely. We had to help Olaf, otherwise he would have discovered our disguises."
"He discovered our disguises anyway," Klaus pointed out.
"Noblaym," Sunny said, which meant something like, "But its still not our fault."
"Sunnys right," Violet said. "We didnt think up the plotOlaf did."
"We didnt stop him, either," Klaus pointed out. "And plenty of people think were entirely responsible. These scraps of newspaper are probably from The Daily Punctilio, which has blamed us for all sorts of terrible crimes."
"Youre right," Violet said with a sigh, although I have since discovered that Klaus was wrong, and that the scraps of paper blowing past the Baudelaires were from another publication that would have been of enormous help had they stopped to collect the pieces. "Maybe we should be passive for a while. Being active hasnt helped us much."
"In any case," Klaus said, "we should stay on the toboggan. Fire cant hurt us if were floating on a stream."
"It doesnt seem like we have a choice," Violet said. "Look."
The Baudelaires looked, and saw that the toboggan was approaching a sort of intersection, where another tributary of the Stricken Stream was meeting up with theirs. The stream was now much wider, and the water even rougher, so the Baudelaires had to hang on tight in order not to be thrown into the deepening waters.
"We must be approaching a larger body of water," Klaus said. "Were further along in the water cycle than I thought."
"Do you think thats the tributary that carried away Quigley?" Violet said, craning her neck to look for her missing friend.
From The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket. Text copyright © 2004 by Lemony Snicket. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Brett Helquest. All rights reserved.
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