Sample text for Secrets of Dripping Fang. Book one, The Onts / Dan Greenburg ; illustrations by Scott M. Fischer.
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The Jolly Days Orphanage
The first thing Wally Shluffmuffin heard was the familiar crackle of the loudspeaker in the darkness. Next he heard the too-loud, too-cheery voice yell:
"Five a.m., orphans! Rise and shine!"
Wally couldn't believe it was five already. He didn't think he'd been asleep for more than an hour or two. Next he heard the too-loud tape of the rooster crowing.
"When the rooster crows, jump into your clothes!" yelled the voice on the loudspeaker.
Next he heard the too-loud bugle call that wakes soldiers in the army.
"Out of your sacks, troops!" yelled the voice on the loudspeaker. "Chow in the mess hall in six minutes!"
This was the way Wally had to wake up every morning. He couldn't decide what he hated more-the stupid rooster, the stupid bugle, or the stupid yelling voice of stupid Hortense Jolly, owner of the stupid Jolly Days Orphanage of Cincinnati.
Thirty-eight orphans fell all over each other in the dark dorm, pulling on clothes. Still half asleep, Wally started dressing, stubbing his toes and putting his jeans on backward.
The dorm was a long room with mattresses on the floor. A rope divided the dorm. A scuzzy blanket hung from the rope, separating the boys' area from the girls'. Like most things at Jolly Days, the dorm smelled of hospital soap and the rotting carcasses of rats that had crawled into the walls, seeking better food than was being served in the orphanage, and died terrible deaths.
Wally knew he had just six minutes to dress, make his bed, race the other kids to the john, throw cold water on his face, drag a comb through his hair, squirt toothpaste in his mouth, and scramble to his place at the breakfast table.
Hortense Jolly waited in the dining hall with a stopwatch. Precisely six minutes after the bugle blew, she bonged a heavy brass bell with her soup ladle-BONNNGGG!
If you weren't in your seat when the bell bonged, you had to do extra chores.
Wet orphans with unbuttoned shirts and toothpaste smears on their faces tumbled into the dining room.
The bell bonged.
Wally ran in, tripped, and skidded across the dining room floor on his belly.
"Wally Shluffmuffin, you are precisely seven seconds late," Hortense Jolly announced. "As your reward you get to clean all the toilets!"
Wally groaned. He took the seat his sister, Cheyenne, had saved right next to her.
Wally and Cheyenne Shluffmuffin looked almost exactly alike. Both were ten years old. Both had rust-colored hair, freckles on their cheeks and noses, and identical salami-shaped birthmarks on their left shoulders.
"I hate cleaning the toilets," whispered Wally to his sister.
"Why? The toilets are the cleanest things at Jolly Days," whispered Cheyenne.
Cheyenne saw only the good side of life, Wally only the bad. Cheyenne always saw a glass as half full, not half empty. Wally was sure a half-full glass had a leak that would ruin everything underneath it.
The Shluffmuffin twins had two flaws:
(1) Cheyenne was allergic to ragweed and roses and cats and dogs and dust and mold and milk and wheat and wool and soybeans and flour and everything else you could possibly be allergic to, so she was usually either sneezing or blowing her nose.
People around her had stopped saying "God bless you" or "Gesundheit" every time she sneezed, because it was taking up all of their time.
(2) There is no polite or pleasant way to say this, so here it is: Wally's feet just plain stank. No matter how often he washed them, scrubbed them, sprayed them with Lysol, or soaked them in vinegar or hot sudsy ammonia, his feet reeked worse than festering, maggoty meat.
But if you didn't count sneezing or foot stink, Cheyenne and Wally were model children.
"And now, orphans, please rise for The Song," said Hortense Jolly.
Hortense Jolly, who planned someday to write musicals for the Broadway theater, had composed "The Jolly Days Loyalty Song." Every morning the orphans had to stand and sing all four verses before they were allowed to eat.
The children struggled to their feet. Hortense Jolly marked time with her soup ladle, and they sang:
"Oh, an orphan's life is super, we have found,
With no moms or daddies bossing us around.
There's no better friend, by golly,
Than our precious Hortense Jolly-
We will love her till we're six feet underground!
"When we're eatin' steaks, they're always piping hot!
Are we ever whipped or beaten? I think not!
No, Miss Jolly has a way
To make sure that we obey-
Do not think that she is dumb, because she's smott!
"If an orphan misbehaves, a siren's sounded.
If that orphan is found guilty, he is grounded.
If he's scolded, it's done sadly.
If he's spanked, it's not too badly.
And he's never held beneath the water till he's drownded.
"Oh, our orphanage we love in many ways,
But someday we hope to enter a new phase
With a brand-new mom or daddy
In a home in Cincinnati-
Though we'll puke our guts out, missing Jolly Days."
The orphans took their seats again and began their breakfast.
Breakfast was stale bread crusts and tea. Each orphan was allotted just one tea bag per month, so after the first few days the tea was only hot water with a faint memory of what was in the bag.
Lunch was a bowl of gruel-a thick gray soup that looked and tasted like mucus. Dinner was gruel with little green floaty things that were supposed to be broccoli but looked like boogers.
All orphans at Jolly Days grumbled about the food. All orphans but Cheyenne.
"I suppose you like eating mucus with boogers for dinner every night," said Wally to his sister.
"Oh, Wally, for heaven's sake, it's not mucus with boogers-Ah-CHOO! It's soup with broccoli," said Cheyenne. "And things here could be a whole lot worse."
"How could they possibly be worse?" Wally asked.
"Well- Ah-CHOOF!-we could be chained to the wall and forced to eat spiders," said Cheyenne.
"That could still happen," said Wally.
"Or there could be no Saturday Night Treat," said Cheyenne.
"Oh, right," said Wally bitterly. "What would we do without the fabulous Saturday Night Treat!"
Every Saturday night as a special treat, the orphans were allowed to share a Choco-Doodle-Doo chocolate bar. Because there were thirty-eight orphans at the Jolly Days Orphanage, a Choco-Doodle-Doo bar split thirty-eight ways gave each orphan a piece of chocolate the size of a pencil eraser.
Every day the orphans at Jolly Days had to do six hours of chores.
Every day they washed the dishes with boiling water. Every day they took large greasy pots and pans caked with baked-on brown crust and scoured them with steel wool.
Every day they washed the windows, chipped rust off the pipes with hammers and chisels, and cleaned the toilets with strong hospital soap.
Every day they made up the smelly beds, did the stinky laundry, dusted, and mopped the sticky floors with ammonia.
At the end of each week, whichever orphan had done his chores the best won a prize. The prize was that he got to wax and polish Hortense Jolly's red-and-white 1956 Oldsmobile convertible.
None of the orphans had ever seen anybody ride in Hortense Jolly's red-and-white 1956 Oldsmobile convertible, not even Hortense Jolly herself. But the car was so shiny after all that waxing and polishing, you couldn't stare at it directly without hurting your eyes.
Jolly Days orphans did not go to school. Instead, Hortense Jolly had invented a home-study plan she felt was much better for them than anything taught in schools: She assigned each orphan a letter of the alphabet. Each orphan had to learn every word in the encyclopedia that started with his or her letter.
Wally got the A's, Cheyenne the S's. After a year of studying the A's, Wally asked if he could possibly move on to another letter.
"That depends, Wally," said Hortense Jolly. "Do you know every single word in the encyclopedia that begins with A?"
"Yes, Miss Jolly," Wally answered.
"Okay, give me the definition of the word abelmosk."
"'Abelmosk,'" Wally repeated in a good strong voice. "A plant of the mallow family. Its seeds are used to make perfume."
"Good," said Hortense Jolly. "Okay, what's the definition of axolotl?"
"'Axolotl,'" Wally repeated. "A salamander found chiefly in Mexico and the western United States."
"Fine so far," said Hortense Jolly. "All right, Mr. Smarty-pants, tell me the definition of . . . argala."
"'Argala,'" Wally repeated. "An African stork, also know as the marabou."
"Not bad," said Hortense Jolly. "Now, what is the definition of azedarach?"
"'Azedarach'?" Wally repeated. "Uh . . . let me think."
Wally scratched his head and tried to remember the definition of azedarach.
Hortense Jolly chuckled nastily. "I thought you said you knew all your A's," she taunted.
Wally began perspiring heavily. He really wanted to be through with the A's. He was sick to death of the A's. He knew the word azedarach. He had read it hundreds of times. Thousands of times. He just couldn't remember right that minute what it meant.
"Let me tell you the definition of aye-aye," said Wally, "which is right next to azedarach in the encyclopedia. An aye-aye is a kind of lemur found in Madagascar. It has shaggy brown fur, large ears, pointed claws, and a long bushy tail."
"I didn't ask you the definition of aye-aye, Wally," said Hortense Jolly. "I asked you the definition of azedarach. If you really knew your A's, you would tell me that azedarach is the chinaberry tree, or its bark, which is used to make medicine. I suggest you seriously learn your A's, young man."
Wally sighed and returned to his A's.
Copyright © 2005 by Dan Greenburg
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Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Orphans -- Fiction.
Twins -- Fiction.
Brothers and sisters -- Fiction.
Swamps -- Fiction.
Ants -- Fiction.
Cincinnati (Ohio) -- Fiction.