The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
Hear it (MP3) 11:34
“Que Sera, Sera.”
By Jack Gantos
The moment everything went silent Doris the dormouse became very nervous. Silence was a kind of void in which her thoughts became lost like wooden needles in a wooden haystack. It was only through hearing herself speak that she knew what she was thinking, and because she was so squirrely, even for a dormouse, she nervously began to sing in a voice that was not unlike the sharp siren for a forest fire alarm.
“Que sera, sera!” she wailed with her little arms reaching toward the ever expanding universe, “Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”
Genius Kelly finished off the final line of the verse, “What will be, will be.”
Joe and Nancy felt left out. “What are you singing about?” they asked in unison.
Genius Kelly looked at them as if their IQs had suddenly dropped a hundred points and failed to bounce. “We are singing about fate,” he said condescendingly. “About not knowing what the future will be, yet having to accept without disappointment what the future will offer each one of us.”
“But what if the future is not made of wood?” Doris asked in a voice near to tears.
Everyone ignored her.
“Are you saying this bulging blue door is part of our fate?” Nancy asked Genius.
“Could I spell this out any more clearly?” he replied, exasperated with Nancy and Joe because his thinking was so much more advanced.
“Then why can’t we just open the door,” Joe suggested with great earnestness, “and embrace our fate with open arms?” He reached forward and grabbed the doorknob.
“Because,” Genius said in a tone of voice that was electric with concern, “fate is not always your friend.” Deftly he speared Joe’s hand with his pig’s foot and jerked it away.
“But our parents might be right behind the door,” cried Nancy. “And they might be thinking it is their fate that we open the door so they can embrace us. I would even go back and live in the circus again with that evil clown if we were all together as a family. I’d even live in one of those greasy little gypsy circus wagons that I’ve always thought are creepy and airless and overcrowded with pieces of broken furniture and dusty looking fake plants and a relative who is always lingering in the corner as he sharpens a long, sharp knife.”
“I feel the same way,” agreed Joe. “Plus, I’d even polish all those gigantic red clown shoes again, and rake up elephant dung with a smile on my face if Mom and Dad would return.”
“I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Doris interjected. “I mean, I can whittle a wooden chain out of a two by four, and a nuclear submarine out of a massive redwood, but I know that your lives are forever changed. There is no going back to the past. My last store was all items made of aluminum cans. It was a gleaming palace of pop-top-shelf merchandise until the recycling craze put me out of business. And before that failure I had a doomed plant store where I sold canisters of greenhouse gases. So I know that change is a one-way street. There is no going back.”
“I agree,” Joe said with authority and once more he reached for the doorknob. “So let’s go forward!”
And once more Genius Kelly stabbed his hand away.
“Just why don’t you want us to open the door?” asked Joe who rubbed the pain from his knuckles.
“Yes,” added Nancy. “I thought you were on our side. But now I smell a rat.” She gave the pig a suspicious look. “Perhaps you’ve never wanted us to find our parents?”
“I assure you,” Genius Kelly replied with great calmness. “That you do not smell a rat. I am fully on your side. My duty is to protect you, and to see to it that you find your parents, and to not suffer a tragic death along the way.”
“Death?” jabbered Doris as she nervously picked splinters from her chin. “Who said anything about death!”
Everyone ignored her.
“I have no intention of dying,” stated Nancy.
“But if you do,” interjected Doris, “I have a lovely hand-carved mahogany coffin that comes in your size with a variety of colorful bark liners.”
“Please,” Genius Kelly begged, “Let us stay on task. Now, follow my thinking here. Look at the door. Do you see the mail slot?”
“Yes,” they said in robotic unison.
“Now look closely at what is oozing out of it,” said Genius.
They all dropped to their knees and reached for the whitish, yellowish goop that was slowly seeping from the mail slot.
“Don’t touch it!” Genius instructed. “These drips are the advance scouts of an Eggy-Thingy invasion force.”
“And, Mr. Genius,” Doris said, “how could you possibly know that?”
“Put two and two together,” Genius replied. “Bacon and eggs! Every pig has been taught from birth to know the smell of an egg means doom for our porcine breed.”
This stunningly sad piece of information seemed so true that all four of our characters shared one collective thought. How is it, they pondered in silent unison, that children learn their morals, ethics and values from early children’s books populated with clever and cute animals that they, the readers, later learn how to eat? They were galvanized with this revelation but not frozen by it because the clattering mail slot snapped them to attention and right away they saw that through the slot the Eggy-Thingy ooze began to spit out toward them with phlegmy tendrils that seemed to reach for their legs.
“It is happening,” Genius said gravely. “The very worst thing you might imagine is about to take place if that door is not completely sealed.”
“But if we seal it we will never get to our parents,” shouted Nancy in despair.
“And if you don’t seal it your fate will be sealed for good,” replied Genius, “And if your parents are alive then they will have no chance of rescuing you. What would be worse? They find you dead, or you find them dead?”
It was a terrible question.
“I’d rather they find me dead,” Joe said heavily then dropped his chin onto his chest and stared at the exotic heartwood floor boards.
“Pull out of it,” Nancy said to Joe as she gave Genius a harsh look. “We aren’t living in an ‘either-or’ world at the moment. The world we are living in has multiple . . .”
But Doris, who needed to speak again in order to know she was still alive, said, “Then help me with these coffins!”
Quickly she bounded across the store and grabbed the end of one with her super dormouse strength. Joe followed and soon they picked it up and set it in front of the door and blocked the mail slot, which pinched down on some of the Eggy-Thingy goop. A faint cry could be heard from behind the door but Doris, Genius, Nancy, and Joe were in no mood to empathize with the enemy. Quickly they stacked another coffin on top of the first, and another until you couldn’t see the blue door at all.
“Get the wood glue and fasten the coffins to the door,” Doris instructed Genius. “We’ll seal them up in a crypt.”
But Genius was nowhere to be seen.
“Genius Kelly!” shouted Joe.
“Where are you?” hollered Nancy.
“Does anyone smell bacon?” asked Doris.
Everyone ignored her.
The twins ran toward the front door of the shop of wood and they could just make out the pink curly tail of Genius as he slipped between two distant trees.
“He’s on to something,” Nancy said. “Hurry up.”
“There is a law of physics that Sir Isaac Newton discovered,” Joe suddenly remembered. He had a talent for uniting random facts. “For every action there is a reaction – and for every front door there is a back door.”
“Pirandello’s door!” exclaimed Nancy. “That must be where he is heading.”
You would think pigs would be slow, but Genius was not all lard. He was made of sausage and chops and other muscular cuts. He dashed through the undergrowth of the forest as if he were sniffing out truffles. The twins followed as best they could but before long they lost him and managed to get themselves lost in the process. There they stood, in the middle of a forest, with not a path in sight and no possible way to contact the outside world.
Nancy hung her head. “All fate is loneliness,” she said, quoting her favorite nursery rhyme.
“We live as we dream – alone,” moaned Joe, quoting someone famous who went up a river in the Congo and got stupidly lost. “We are all alone and doomed,” he said, and felt faint.
“No we are not,” Nancy shouted. “Look!” she pointed at the floor of the forest. There in the dirt was drawn the outline of a toe with an arrow on it.
“I guess that’s why they call him a genius,” said Joe.
“Follow that toe,” cried Nancy with her hopes fully restored. “We must get to that back door.”
“Is it a full moon tonight?” Joe asked as he ran.
Nancy looked up into the still blue sky. “Can’t tell yet,” she said. “Why?”
“I fear a high tide,” Joe replied. “An Eggy-Thingy high tide, which might surge from door to door.”
And off they ran. “Genius!” they kept crying out. “Wait for us!”
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.”