The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
Hear it (MP3) 14:57
By Linda Sue Park
A raspy voice scraped the air. “I’ll get you, Nancy and Joe,” it said, “and your little robot, too.”
The voice had come from the living room, down the hall from the bedroom where the twins were now.
“It’s the wolf!” Joe whispered, his eyes wide. His hand went automatically to the pocket of his trousers. The key was still there – the key he had worked so hard to recover after they had lost it during their earlier encounter with the wolf. “We gotta get out of here! We have to get back to the cradle!”
They had already seen it outside the living room window – the giant cradle of time that had brought them here to the past, to the house where they were born. To reach the cradle, they would have to get past the wolf.
Nancy clutched at her forearm, which seemed to be pulsing strongly. It wasn’t painful, but it reminded her of how the wolf’s claws had scratched her deeply, drawing blood. The odd thing was—
“Nancy, look!” Joe pointed at the robot. “It’s booting up!”
Lights were flashing on the robot’s torso. It began humming, then emitted a string of buzzes and beeps.
Supporting itself on its hands, the headless robot swung its torso forward. Hands – torso – hands – torso. . . . About the height of a sturdy three-year-old, it “walked” around the room, covering ground quite nicely and beeping as it went. Joe thought it seemed delighted to be able to move. Well, as delighted as a torso and two arms could be.
“It can already walk – just think how smart it will be once we’ve found all of it!” Nancy exclaimed.
Their joy was short-lived, for now they could hear the wolf in the living room, opening and closing closet and cupboard doors, slobbering, slavering, panting. . . .
Nancy thought hard. It was strange, almost as if she could sense what the wolf was thinking. Then, “I have an idea,” she said. “We have to get to the kitchen.”
Joe picked up the robot. “C’mon, buddy,” he said.
“How do you know it’s a boy?” Nancy asked. She was beginning to feel annoyed at the paltry number of females in this adventure. “I think it’s a girl. I’m going to call it . . .” – she paused and looked at the robot appraisingly – “Roberta. Roberta the robot. Hi, Roberta.”
The robot waved its arms with such enthusiasm that Joe had to duck out of the way.
“See? She likes her name,” Nancy said.
Joe frowned. “You think she heard that?”
He set the robot down and examined it quickly. On the front panel he found a small microphone grill.
“She booted up when we got both arms in,” Joe said thoughtfully, “and now it looks like she can actually ‘hear’ us.”
“Cool!” Nancy said, and Roberta let loose a cheerful whistle.
“Okay, let’s go,” Joe said and picked up Roberta again. He was glad that the robot had a torso now. Already he was missing Baby Max, who had transformed into an adult while in the giant cradle. Into Dr. Alistair Sloppy.
Dad and Mom had hurriedly left the house with two infants – Nancy and Joe themselves, in the past. The Sloppys were trying to hide the twins before evil forces from another dimension arrived.
It had been beyond frustrating for the twins to see their parents for such a short time before being separated again. And if putting together the Exquisite Corpse was the way to reunite them once and for all, then nothing else was more important.
The trio slipped out the door and down the hall. Joe glanced fearfully over his shoulder; any minute now, the wolf was bound to leave the living room.
In the kitchen, Nancy rifled through the refrigerator. She pulled out a chicken and a whole salami.
“Nancy! I’m hungry, too, but we don’t have time to eat!”
“I need just one more thing,” she said, still rummaging. “Well, this isn’t ideal, but it’ll have to do.” She began unwrapping a package of ground beef.
“Did you hear all that slobbering?” Nancy said. “It’s hungry. I’m betting it will be more interested in this food than in us – at least for a few seconds. And it’s not stealing, because, technically, this is our house, right?”
“You have a plan?”
Nancy’s eyes began to glow a little; she was almost smiling. They held a quick conference, their voices low.
“What about your arm?” Joe asked anxiously.
“Oh – I was going to tell you before! Look.” Nancy pushed up her sleeve to show Joe the wound.
It was completely healed, with only a faint shadow of a line where the scratch had been.
Joe was amazed. “How did it get better so fast?”
Nancy shook her head. “I don’t know. That ride in the cradle, somehow?” She didn’t mention that, if anything, her arm felt even stronger than usual now. Maybe it was just her imagination. . . .
There was no time to speculate further. “Ready?” Nancy said. “One-two-three—”
They played three rounds of rock-scissors-paper to determine who would leave the room first. Joe tried to outthink his sister. She always threw paper last. But he knew she knew that he knew she always threw paper last, so he thought she would think he was thinking exactly that and would therefore throw something different.
Joe threw rock.
Nancy threw paper.
“Dangit!” Joe exclaimed.
But losing at rock-scissors-paper was soon to be the least of his problems.
Joe took a deep breath and tiptoed into the front hall. Roberta followed him dutifully.
“Shh,” he whispered. The robot let out one last little bip and went silent.
The wolf spotted the boy and the robot, and calmly padded over to stand between them and the door that led outside.
“Why, Joe,” it rasped. “I was just thinking about you.”
Its prey trapped, the wolf was in no hurry. It licked its lips menacingly. Its yellow eyes narrowed in a sneer, and it took a couple of slow, arrogant steps toward Joe.
Joe felt his nerve crumbling like a cookie in cocoa. I hope it doesn’t tear me limb from limb, he thought. If I have to die like this, a good hard bite to the spinal cord first would be best – that way I wouldn’t feel anything more. . . .
The wolf crouched, ready to spring.
Joe’s breath caught and he cowered against the wall. “Uh, Nancy?” he croaked.
Nancy stepped out of the kitchen, her arms full. “Hey!” she hollered at the wolf defiantly. “What about me?”
She didn’t even need to glance at Joe; she knew he’d be ready. How many times had they done this routine? Hundreds of times. No, thousands. Balls, clubs, hoops, platters. On the ground, on tightrope, on horseback. On a trampoline, on the shoulders of other performers. They’d even juggled blindfolded. They could have done the routine in their sleep: cascade, reverse cascade, shower, backcross, shoulder throw, repeat, repeat, repeat, finish with a Mills Mess, curtsy, bow.
On second thought, maybe they would save the curtsy and bow for later.
Nancy started the cascade and then began feeding Joe. The chicken and the salami, despite the differences in their weights and shapes, were working out nicely. In fact, the salami was a piece of cake.
The ground beef, however, was less cooperative.
Nancy had packed the beef into a ball as best she could, but it started to disintegrate almost immediately. Clumps of ground beef flew through the air. Some landed on the floor while others stuck to the walls and the ceiling. With each toss, there was less beef to work with, and Joe began to worry that they wouldn’t make it to the backcross.
His fears were groundless. Nancy’s plan was working! Distracted by the smell of raw meat and addled by trying to keep its eye on both the food and the children, the wolf began leaping and snapping at the bits of beef that were flying about. Joe edged his way toward the door, still juggling the chicken and the salami and the woebegone little wad of beef that remained.
“Now!” Nancy yelled.
Roberta reached out and, after a couple of groping attempts – she couldn’t see, of course – located the doorknob and threw open the door. Joe scooped up the robot and ran. Nancy hurled the chicken and the salami at the wolf as hard as she could, then raced out the door and slammed it behind her.
The cradle was directly over the front lawn. Not on the lawn, but hovering in the air ten or twelve feet above it.
“Human chain!” Joe shouted. He hurried to position himself beneath one of the cradle’s giant rockers and went down on one knee. Nancy was on his shoulders in a flash. Joe stood up and took Roberta by the hand.
“Alley-oop!” Joe swung the robot up toward Nancy, who caught the other hand.
“Oh dear,” Nancy said. “How are we going to do this – she doesn’t have any legs!”
Roberta let go of Joe’s hand and whistled electronically, waving her arm in big circles.
“Hey! Cut it out!” Joe yelled, staggering a little.
Roberta stilled her arm immediately and let out a couple of apologetic-sounding beeps. A series of mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic sounds ensued as the robot busily maneuvered herself until she was doing a one-armed handstand on top of Nancy’s head. She was now high enough to grab the cradle’s rocker with her free hand.
Just then, the wolf burst out the door, chomping on the last of the salami.
“Joe! Grab my ankles!” Nancy yelled. He obeyed immediately.
Nancy reached up and hung on to Roberta’s arm for dear life. More noises: clanking, cranking, straining sounds, as Roberta began hauling up her heavy burden.
Joe’s feet were now dangling a few yards above the ground. The wolf leaped into the air. Joe kicked out as hard as he could, hitting the wolf’s muzzle. The cradle lurched. Nancy screamed, and the wolf circled around below them, ready for another attack.
Roberta emitted a series of noises that alternated between a siren and a blast of microphone feedback. It was deafening; the wolf put its head on the ground and held its ears.
Then Roberta began to swing the arm that Nancy was holding. Back and forth, back and forth, slowly at first, then faster and harder. The twins fishtailed wildly through the air.
“YOWWWWW!” yelled one twin, and “YI-I-I-I-I-I-IKES!” yelled the other.
“Roberta, what are you DOING?” Nancy shrieked as she tried to tighten her grip.
Joe had a sudden flash of insight. “Nancy – it’s okay! I get what she’s trying to do! Just hang on and think trapeze!”
“Oh oh oh!”
When Roberta had built up enough momentum, she gave a final, mighty swing. Joe and Nancy soared in an arc with Roberta as its fulcrum. At the height of the arc, when they were directly above the cradle, Roberta let go.
Nancy and Joe landed in a heap in the cradle, which fortunately had a nice cushy mattress topped by a down comforter. As they caught their breath after their wild ride, Roberta pulled herself up over the edge of the cradle and tumbled in next to them.
Beep-beep-bip-bip-beep? she asked.
Nancy couldn’t help but laugh. “We’re okay, Roberta. How about you?”
Before Roberta could beep a reply, the cradle began to rock, and all three of them slid to one side. The cradle tipped so far that they had to hold onto each other and anything else they could reach.
When at last they leveled out again, the cradle stopped moving. Cautiously, Joe stood up and peeked over the edge.
They were on the beach again – exactly as they had left it.
Back in the present.
Audio recordings provided by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Butler Center for Children's Literature at Dominican University have developed a companion educational resource center (external link) to support “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”