The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
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A Possible Solution
By Natalie Babbitt
One second is not a lot of time, but it was all that was needed. A new voice, the high shriek of a crone, came out of nowhere: “Run! Run, you ugly Leonardo Dubenski with your thieves and beasts! That baby you see there is a wonder baby, and his plan is to turn you all into daffodils!”
Daffodils! To face the wretched weather alone in a weedy field or be crammed rootless into a crowded vase where life is brief - these very thoughts were horrors to Dubenski and his crew. At once there was a scramble for safety: the sound of pounding feet and paws. And then - silence. They were gone.
“Who are you, you with the warning?” cried the pig. “Let us see you!”
And so, from behind a bush, a crooked, bent old woman stepped out. She was wearing a cloak of black, and her hair was frizzy white around her creased and wrinkled face. “I am the voice,” she croaked, “but I don't deserve the credit. I am only a reporter of possible things to come. I am Sybil Hunch, the local misfortune-teller. I was reading my crystal ball,” she told them, holding out a sphere of misty glass, “and it let me know there was trouble waiting for Dubenski. But it didn't mention you. Nevertheless, your danger, like his, is past. I will finish it off with a wave of my hand.” And suddenly the rope that had tied them high and together over the pit became a simple twist of ivy. Nancy, Baby Max, Joe, Genius, all four, swung easily to safer ground and, breaking the vine, dropped to the grass.
“We can't thank you enough, Miss Hunch!” said Nancy, lifting up Baby Max and cuddling him in her arms. “But I didn't know Baby Max was a wonder baby who could change bad people into daffodils.”
“I didn't know it, either,” replied the crone. “But it seemed like a good idea. There must be something useful for daffodils to do.”
“Daffodils, daisies, dandelions, who cares?” cried Joe. “Now we can go on with our project . . .”
“Our project,” Nancy interrupted, “to rescue our mother and father from some other dimension.”
“A time warp, is that it?” croaked Sybil Hunch. “I guessed as much. But you've been all through this terrible woods, correct? And found next to nothing of any help at all. I will look into my crystal ball and see if it has anything to say.”
They all sat down on the grass there, in a circle, with the crystal ball set in the middle. Sybil Hunch stroked its smooth glass lightly with the tips of her knobby fingers and murmured to it, over and over: “Hmm la hoodle, hmm la hi, doom and gloom, hello, goodbye.” The crystal ball began to glow. A cloud moved inside it - faint but growing darker - and its colorless color turned slowly into greens and blues tumbling and rolling over themselves, with rising and falling spreads of lacy white. And as they watched, wide-eyed, a shape appeared, a shape like that of a graceful fish with glittering scales, and a voice came from it, a voice full of bubbles:
If you've lost your A, And you can't find B, Then you have no choice But to go to C.
And then the sound went silent, the glass's color faded, and it lay inanimate on the grass.
“There is your answer,” said Sybil Hunch.
“What answer?” protested Genius Kelly with a snort. “What does it mean, 'go to C'?”
A moment of puzzlement, and then Nancy exclaimed, “Why, it means we should go to sea! Salt water! Of course - that's it! We should find the ocean and look for our Mom and Dad there!”
“But there's no ocean near to here,” said Joe. “We'd have to travel for days!”
“No, you wouldn't,” said Sybil Hunch. “It's only yards away, beyond that hill.” And she pointed over Joe's shoulder. “There's a sea right there, the Saline Solution Sea. Perhaps it holds the answers.”
Nancy climbed to her feet and tucked Baby Max into the curve of her arm. “There's no time to lose,” she said soberly. “Let's go, everyone. Let's go at once.”
“You should do exactly that,” said Sybil Hunch. “But I will stay behind. My work is here, among these trees, doing what misfortune-tellers do. But I will remember this day forever. I wish you good luck, my dears. May everything go well!”
The crystal ball, however, seemed to expect some other outcome. It rested at her feet, motionless, but if you listened with care, you could hear, coming from its depths, the sound of distant thunder.
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.”