A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window (5 page)

he stopped himself and pointed out the window. "Look!" Violet and Sunny looked. The window in Aunt Josephine's bedroom looked out onto the hill, and the orphans could see one of the spidery metal stilts that kept Aunt Josephine's house from falling into the lake. But they could also see that this stilt had been badly damaged by the howling storm. There was a large black burn mark, undoubtedly from lightning, and the wind had bent the stilt into an uneasy curve. As the storm raged around them, the orphans watched the stilt struggle to stay attached. "Tafca!" Sunny shrieked, which meant "We have to get out of here right now!" "Sunny's right," Violet said. "Grab the atlas and let's go." Klaus grabbed A Lachrymose Atlas, not wanting to think what would be happening if they were still leafing through the book and had not looked up at the window. As the youngsters stood up, the wind rose to a feverish pitch, a phrase which here means "it shook the house and sent all three orphans toppling to the floor." Violet fell against one of the bedposts and banged her knee. Klaus fell against the cold radiator and banged his foot. And Sunny fell into the pile of tin cans and banged everything. The whole room seemed to lurch slightly to one side as the orphans staggered back to their feet. "Come on!" Violet screamed, and grabbed Sunny. The orphans scurried out to the hallway and toward the front door. A piece of the ceiling had come off, and rainwater was steadily pouring onto the carpet, splattering the orphans as they ran underneath it. The house gave another lurch, and the children toppled to the floor again. Aunt Josephine's house was starting to slip off the hill. "Come on!" Violet screamed again, and the orphans stumbled up the tilted hallway to the door, slipping in puddles and on their own frightened feet. Klaus was the first to reach the front door, and yanked it open as the house gave another lurch, followed by a horrible, horrible crunching sound. "Come on!" Violet screamed again, and the Baudelaires crawled out of the door and onto the hill, huddling together in the freezing rain. They were cold. They were frightened. But they had escaped. I have seen many amazing things in my long and troubled life history. I have seen a series of corridors built entirely out of human skulls. I have seen a volcano erupt and send a wall of lava crawling toward a small village. I have seen a woman I loved picked up by an enormous eagle and flown to its high mountain nest. But I still cannot imagine what it was like to watch Aunt Josephine's house topple into Lake Lachrymose. My own research tells me that the children watched in mute amazement as the peeling white door slammed shut and began to crumple, as you might crumple a piece of paper into a ball. I have been told that the children hugged each other even more tightly as they heard the rough and earsplitting noise of their home breaking loose from the side of the hill. But I cannot tell you how it felt to watch the whole building fall down, down, down, and hit the dark and stormy waters of the lake below.

Chapter Nine

The United States Postal Service has a motto. The motto is: "Neither rain nor sleet nor driving snow shall halt the delivery of the mails." All this means is that even when the weather is nasty and your mailperson wants to stay inside and enjoy a cup of cocoa, he or she has to bundle up and go outside and deliver your mail anyway. The United States Postal Service does not think that icy storms should interfere with its duties. The Baudelaire orphans were distressed to learn that the Fickle Ferry had no such policy. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny had made their way down the hill with much difficulty. The storm was rising, and the children could tell that the wind and the rain wanted nothing more than to grab them and throw them into the raging waters of Lake Lachrymose. Violet and Sunny hadn't had the time to grab their coats as they escaped the house, so all three children took turns wearing Klaus's coat as they stumbled along the flooding road. Once or twice a car drove by, and the Baudelaires had to scurry into the muddy bushes and hide, in case Captain Sham was coming to retrieve them. When they finally reached Damocles Dock, their teeth were chattering and their feet were so cold they could scarcely feel their toes, and the sight of the CLOSED sign in the window of the Fickle Ferry ticket booth was just about more than they could stand. "It's closed" Klaus cried, his voice rising with despair and in order to be heard over Hurricane Herman. "How will we get to Curdled Cave now?" "We'll have to wait until it opens," Violet replied. "But it won't open until the storm is past," Klaus pointed out, "and by then Captain Sham will find us and take us far away. We have to get to Aunt Josephine as soon as possible." "I don't know how we can," Violet said, shivering. "The atlas says that the cave is all the way across the lake, and we can't swim all that way in this weather." "Entro!" Sunny shrieked, which meant something along the lines of "And we don't have enough time to walk around the lake, either." "There must be other boats on this lake," Klaus said, "besides the ferry. Motorboats, or fishing boats, or-" He trailed off, and his eyes met those of his sisters. All three orphans were thinking the same thing. "Or sailboats" Violet finished for him. "Captain Sham's Sailboat Rentals. He said it was right on Damocles Dock." The Baudelaires stood under the awning of the ticket booth and looked down at the far end of the deserted dock, where they could see a metal gate that was very tall and had glistening spikes on the top of it. Hanging over the metal gate was a sign with some words they couldn't read, and next to the sign there was a small shack, scarcely visible in the rain, with a flickering light in the window. The children looked at it with dread in their hearts. Walking into Captain Sham's Sailboat Rentals in order to find Aunt Josephine would feel like walking into a lion's den in order to escape from a lion. "We can't go there," Klaus said. "We have to," Violet said. "We know Captain Sham isn't there, because he's either on his way to Aunt Josephine's house or still at the Anxious Clown." "But whoever is there," Klaus said, pointing to the flickering light, "won't let us rent a sailboat." "They won't know we're the Baudelaires," Violet replied. "We'll tell whoever it is that we're the Jones children and that we want to go for a sail." "In the middle of a hurricane?" Klaus replied. "They won't believe that." "They'll have to," Violet said resolutely, a word which here means "as if she believed it, even though she wasn't so sure," and she led her siblings toward the shack. Klaus clasped the atlas close to his chest, and Sunny, whose turn it was for Klaus's coat, clutched it around herself, and soon the Baudelaires were shivering underneath the sign that read: CAPTAIN SHAM'S SAILBOAT RENTALS-EVERY BOAT HAS IT'S OWN SAIL. But the tall metal gate was locked up tight, and the Baudelaires paused there, anxious about going inside the shack. "Let's take a look," Klaus whispered, pointing to a window, but it was too high for him or Sunny to use. Standing on tiptoe, Violet peered into the window of the shack and with one glance she knew there was no way they could rent a sailboat. The shack was very small, with only room for a small desk and a single lightbulb, which was giving off the flickering light. But at the desk, asleep in a chair, was a person so massive that it looked like an enormous blob was in the shack, snoring away with a bottle of beer in one hand and a ring of keys in the other. As the person snored, the bottle shook, the keys jangled, and the door of the shack creaked open an inch or two, but although those noises were quite spooky, they weren't what frightened Violet. What frightened Violet was that you couldn't tell if this person was a man or a woman. There aren't very many people like that in the world, and Violet knew which one this was. Perhaps you have forgotten about Count Olaf's evil comrades, but the Baudelaires had seen them in the flesh-lots of flesh, in this comrade's case-and remembered all of them in gruesome detail. These people were rude, and they were sneaky, and they did whatever Count Olaf-or in this case, Captain Sham-told them to do, and the orphans never knew when they would turn up. And now, one had turned up right there in the shack, dangerous, treacherous, and snoring. Violet's face must have shown her disappointment, because as soon as she took a look Klaus asked, "What's wrong? I mean, besides Hurricane Herman, and Aunt Josephine faking her own death, and Captain Sham coming after us and everything." "One of Count Olaf's comrades is in the shack," Violet said. "Which one?" Klaus asked. "The one who looks like neither a man nor a woman," Violet replied. Klaus shuddered. "That's the scariest one." "I disagree," Violet said. "I think the bald one is scariest." "Vass!" Sunny whispered, which probably meant "Let's discuss this at another time." "Did he or she see you?" Klaus asked. "No," Violet said. "He or she is asleep. But he or she is holding a ring of keys. We'll need them, I bet, to unlock the gate and get a sailboat." "You mean we're going to steal a sailboat?" Klaus asked. "We have no choice," Violet said. Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and you had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it. "We have to get to Curdled Cave as quickly as possible," Violet continued, "and the only way we can do it is to steal a sailboat." "I know that," Klaus said, "but how are we going to get the keys?" "I don't know," Violet admitted. "The door of the shack is creaky, and I'm afraid if we open it any wider we'll wake him or her up." "You could crawl through the window," Klaus said, "by standing on my shoulders. Sunny could keep watch." "Where is Sunny?" Violet asked nervously. Violet and Klaus looked down at the ground and saw Klaus's coat sitting alone in a little heap. They looked down the dock but only saw the Fickle Ferry ticket booth and the foamy waters of the lake, darkening in the gloom of the late afternoon. "She's gone!" Klaus cried, but Violet put a finger to her lips and stood on tiptoe to look in the window again. Sunny was crawling through the open door of the shack, flattening her little body enough so as not to open the door any wider. "She's inside," Violet murmured. "In the shack?" Klaus said in a horrified gasp. "Oh no. We have to stop her." "She's crawling very slowly toward that person," Violet said, afraid even to blink. "We promised our parents we'd take care of her," Klaus said. "We can't let her do this." "She's reaching toward the key ring," Violet said breathlessly. "She's gently prying it loose from the person's hand." "Don't tell me any more," Klaus said, as a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. "No, do tell me. What is happening?" "She has the keys," Violet said. "She's putting them in her mouth to hold them. She's crawling back toward the door. She's flattening herself and crawling through." "She's made it," Klaus said in amazement. Sunny came crawling triumphantly toward the orphans, the keys in her mouth. "Violet, she made it," Klaus said, giving Sunny a hug as a huge boom! of thunder echoed across the sky. Violet smiled down at Sunny, but stopped smiling when she looked back into the shack. The thunder had awoken Count Olaf's comrade, and Violet watched in dismay as the person looked at its empty hand where the key ring had been, and then down on the floor where Sunny had left little crawl-prints of rainwater, and then up to the window and right into Violet's eyes. "She's awake!" Violet shrieked. "He's awake! It's awake! Hurry, Klaus, open the gate and I'll try to distract it." Without another word, Klaus took the key ring from Sunny's mouth and hurried to the tall metal gate. There were three keys on the ring- a skinny one, a thick one, and one with teeth as jagged as the glistening spikes hanging over the children. He put the atlas down on the ground and began to try the skinny key in the lock, just as Count Olaf's comrade came lumbering out of the shack. Her heart in her throat, Violet stood in front of the creature and gave it a fake smile. "Good afternoon," she said, not knowing whether to add "sir" or "madam." "I seem to have gotten lost on this dock. Could you tell me the way to the Fickle Ferry?" Count Olaf's comrade did not answer, but kept shuffling toward the orphans. The skinny key fit into the lock but didn't budge, and Klaus tried the thick one. "I'm sorry," Violet said, "I didn't hear you. Could you tell me-" Without a word the mountainous person grabbed Violet by the hair, and with one swing of its arm lifted her up over its smelly shoulder the way you might carry a backpack. Klaus couldn't get the thick key to fit in the lock and tried the jagged one, just as the person scooped up Sunny with its other hand and held her up, the way you might hold an ice cream cone. "Klaus!" Violet screamed. "Klaus!" The jagged key wouldn't fit in the lock, either. Klaus, in frustration, shook and shook the metal gate. Violet was kicking the creature from behind, and Sunny was biting its wrist, but the person was so Brobdingnagian-a word which here means "unbelievably husky"-that the children were causing it minimal pain, a phrase which here means "no pain at all." Count Olaf's comrade lumbered toward Klaus, holding the other two orphans in its grasp. In desperation, Klaus tried the skinny key again in the lock, and to his surprise and relief it turned and the tall metal gate swung open. Just a few feet away were six sailboats tied to the end of the dock with thick rope-sailboats that could take them to Aunt Josephine. But Klaus was too late. He felt something grab the back of his shirt, and he was lifted up in the air. Something slimy began running down his back, and Klaus realized with horror that the person was holding him in his or her mouth. "Put me down!" Klaus screamed. "Put me down!" "Put me down!" Violet yelled. "Put me down!" "Poda rish!" Sunny shrieked. "Poda rish!" But the lumbering creature had no concern for the wishes of the Baudelaire orphans. With great sloppy steps it turned itself around and began to carry the youngsters back toward the shack. The children heard the gloppy sound of its chubby feet sloshing through the rain, gumsh, gumsh, gumsh, gumsh. But then, instead of a gumsh, there was a skittle-wat as the person stepped on Aunt Josephine's atlas, which slipped from under its feet. Count Olaf's comrade waved its arms to keep its balance, dropping Violet and Sunny, and then fell to the ground, opening its mouth in surprise and dropping Klaus. The orphans, being in reasonably good physical shape, got to their feet much more quickly than this despicable creature, and ran through the open gate to the nearest sailboat. The creature struggled to right itself and chase them, but Sunny had already bitten the rope that tied the boat to the dock. By the time the creature reached the spiky metal gate, the orphans were already on the stormy waters of Lake Lachrymose. In the dim light of the late afternoon, Klaus wiped the grime of the creature's foot off the cover of the atlas, and began to read it. Aunt Josephine's book of maps had saved them once, in showing them the location of Curdled Cave, and now it had saved them again.

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