I'm not most kids. I'm Louis Drax. Stuff happens to me that shouldn't happen, like going on a: picnic where you drown.
Just ask my maman what it's like being the mother of an accident-prone boy and she'll tell you. No fun. You can't sleep, wondering where it's going to end. You see danger everywhere and you think, Got to protect him, got to protect him. But sometimes, you can't.
Maman hated me before she loved me because of the first accident. The first accident was being born. It happened the same way as the emperor Julius Caesar. They stab the lady with a knife till her belly pops, and then they yank you out, all yelling and covered in blood. They thought I wouldn't make it out in the normal way, see. (Also gross.) Plus they thought she would die from it too, like Julius Caesar's mum, and they'd have to put our dead bodies in coffins, a big one for her and a kid-size one for me. Or maybe they'd put us both in the same one, a two-corpse coffin and blah blah blah. I bet they make them. I bet you can order them from the Internet for mums and boys with a special bond. Being born was gross; even if you live to be a hundred years old, you and your maman don't get over something like that, but it was just the beginning. I didn't know that though, and nor did she.
The second accident was when I was a baby. I was about eight weeks old and I was lying asleep in my cot and suddenly I started getting Cot Death. Got to protect him, got to protect him, she went in her head. Don't panic. Just call an ambulance. And they told her how to de-suffocate me till they arrived and they gave me oxygen that left bruises all over my chest. She's probably still got the photos. She'll show you if you want, plus the X-rays of my cute little baby ribs, all broken and smashed. Then when I was four I had a fit where I screamed so hard I practically stopped breathing for nine and a half minutes. True story. Not even the Great Houdini could do that and he was an escape artist. He was American. Then when I was six I fell on the tracks of the metro in Lyon. I was 85 per cent electrocuted. That hardly ever happens to anyone, but it happened to me. I survived, but it was practically a miracle. Then I had food poisoning, from stuffing my face with poisoned food. Salmonella and tetanus and botulism and meningitis are just some of the diseases I've had, plus others I can't pronounce but they're in volume three of the encyclopédie medicale, you can read about them, they're gross.
--Having a kid like me was a nightmare for her, I tell Gustave. Gustave's an expert on nightmares because his whole life's one. - Every day, she was thinking about all the different kinds of danger, and how to keep me safe.
-- You're better off here, says Gustave. -- I was lonely before you came, Young Sir. Stay as long as you want. Keep me company.
I'm getting used to him, but he still scares me. His whole head's wrapped in bandages with blood on. If you saw him you'd think he was creepy too; you might even die of fright. But you might tell him things anyway, just like I'm doing. It's easier if you can't see someone's face.
The thing is, I wasn't to be trusted. Lose sight of me for a minute and I'd get myself into trouble. Everyone said having a high IQ made it worse not better.
-- They say that cats have nine lives, said Maman, -- because their souls cling to their bodies and won't let go. If you were a cat, Louis, you'd have used up eight of your lives by now. One for each year. We can't go on like this.
And Papa and Fat Perez agreed - Who's Fat Perez? says Gustave. Fat Perez was a fat mind-reader who wasn't any good at mind-reading. Maman and Papa used to pay him to listen to me, and get to the bottom of the mystery. The Strange Mystery of Louis Drax, the Amazing Accident-Prone Boy. That's what Papa always called it when he was turning it into a story. But it wasn't a funny one. It was deadly serious and it drove Maman to sheer desperation.
Excerpted from The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. © Liz Jensen, 2003. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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