“Great scott!” cried Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut. “Your mother just lost her hand in the rotating band saw!”
Katie Mulligan kept dribbling her ball of wastepaper back and forth between her knees. “Uh-huh,” she said. “Sure.”
Katie’s mother screamed and held up her bloody stump.
Katie kicked the ball of paper into the trash basket, scoring two points. She asked, “Right at the wrist?”
Jasper rushed to Katie’s mother’s side. “Don’t you worry, Mrs. Mulligan!” exclaimed Jasper. He grabbed her arm. “Lie down flat while I prepare a tourniquet.”
They were in the Mulligans’ garage, watching Mrs. Mulligan make a roulette wheel for the Salvation Army’s charity casino—or at least that’s what they’d been watching until Mrs. Mulligan’s gruesome accident.
“Where do you want to go to dinner?” Katie asked her friend Lily.
Lily shrugged. When she was alone with her friends, she was very quiet, hiding behind her bangs, watching rather than speaking. She was naturally pretty shy. She was also made bashful by the sight of industrial accidents, even though she knew that Katie’s mother was just playing a prank on Jasper, the way Mrs. Mulligan always did. Run over by a moose, decapitated by the dryer, burnt to a crisp by a defective AM/FM clock radio—there was no tragedy too weird and stupid for Jasper to believe.
“Don’t you worry, Mrs. Mulligan,” he was saying. “By next Thursday I’ll have you fitted up with a bionic hand that will be every bit as good as your old hand. And it will have extendable fingers and photon thrusters, and there’ll be a space in the thumb to conceal your cyanide pill and lock-picking tools.”
Mrs. Mulligan stopped screaming. She looked at him skeptically. “My lock-picking tools?”
“Or whatever,” said Jasper. “Whatever’s small and can be concealed in a secret chamber.”
Mrs. Mulligan took off the fake rubber arm stump and stretched her fingers. “Why would you possibly think I would want lock-picking tools?”
“Ah,” said Jasper, somewhat displeased. “I see you are not actually wounded at all.”
“Who has lock-picking tools?”
“Mrs. Mulligan, was your accident with the band saw just a jolly prank to ‘put one over on me’? Because if it was, may I—ma’am—may I say that I did not entirely appreciate the humor.”
“Jasper, do you have lock-picking tools? What do you kids do all day?”
“Good question,” sighed Katie. “It’s vacation, and we’re bored out of our minds.”
Mrs. Mulligan waved her rubber wrist in the air. “Well, that’s why I was trying to cheer you all up a little.”
“By sawing off your own hand?” said Jasper.
“You girls didn’t even jump,” said Katie’s mom.
“Because we see it all the time,” said Katie. She groaned, “Aaaaaaalllllllll the tiiiiiiiiiiime.” She let her tongue hang out of her mouth and her head roll back.
Katie Mulligan lived in Horror Hollow, a small, eventful suburb where there were constantly problems with phantasms, murderers, door-to-door tarantula peddlers, and slime. She even had her own series of books written about her. They told every gory detail of how she fought off ghouls on the rooftop, bats in her bedroom, and wyverns in the den. It was a popular series, since she was the only girl heroine to fight evil in flip-flops. Katie was plucky and brave and always spoke her mind.
Unfortunately, in order to have lots of “cliff-hanger” chapter endings in the Horror Hollow series, a lot of tedious cliff-hanger things had to happen to the family in reality. But even a family constantly attacked by living dolls and ferocious skate-punk vampires couldn’t have disasters every minute of their lives. There had to be some time in between disasters for eating, drinking orange juice, and walking the dog. This meant that in order to provide excitement before the real action started, they had to play a lot of stupid, disgusting pranks on each other. That got old very quickly. There are only so many times you can watch your father’s face melt before you want to just say, “Okay, stop the bus.” It makes you almost long for the moment when, finally, the pine tree out the window grows a big spindly claw and the adventure starts for real.
Jasper also had a series written about him, but it had been written many, many years before. In his series he invented stupendous devices and went on startling adventures where there was plenty of action and fisticuffs. Unfortunately, the Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut series was no longer read very much, except by kids with the influenza, after they’d run out of everything else to read and had watched a couple of days of MTV, even the reality shows about sorority girls basting turkeys with hard liquor. Once flu victims had played all the Chinese checkers they could stand with their brothers and had used the Internet to look up scenes of ape-to-ape violence, then, sometimes, they would read and enjoy a good, clean, fast-paced Jasper Dash adventure that had been sitting in their attic for forty years. They would like the Jasper Dash series, but often the scenes they really remembered from his books, the ones that really stayed with them once they got well, turned out to be things they’d dreamed when they fell asleep in the middle of Chapter 12.
Often, if you go to a town library and under Keyword Search type “Jasper Dash,” you’ll come up with a list of his books—and beside each one, it says: “Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.” This means that they are no longer in circulation. Some librarian has taken them off the shelf, wiping away a tear, and has opened the book to the back, where there’s a pouch for a card dating back to the time of the Second World War, and she’ll crumple up the card, and then she and her fellow librarians will take special knives and slice away at the book and will eat the pages in big mouthfuls until the book is all gone, the whole time weeping, because they hate this duty—it is the worst part of their job—for here was a book that was once someone’s favorite, but which now is dead and empty. And the little cheerful face of Jasper Dash, heading off to fight a cattle-rustling ring in his biplane, will still be smiling pluckily as they take their Withdrawal Knives and scratch his book to pieces.
Lily did not have her own series. She didn’t realize yet how exciting her life really was. Her friends knew, because she had often gotten them out of scrapes, but she didn’t believe what her friends told her. She thought she was just the quiet sidekick.
Want to learn more about these fascinating characters? You can read their previous book, Whales on Stilts!, available for the laughably low price of $15.00 at fine bookstores near you.*
“If you’re bored,” suggested Mrs. Mulligan, “why don’t you get out of the house? You could go down to the old swamp, or the rust exhibit at the museum, or maybe that weird store that just appeared last night on Bunk Street.”
“No,” said Katie. “I’m sick of adventures. I’m sick of it all.”
Mrs. Mulligan put her hands (intact) on her hips and smiled. “Whenever I hear that, I know a particularly big and baffling adventure is just around the corner! You kids just wait!”
Katie gritted her teeth. She was about three inches away from having a good old-fashioned tantrum. “No,” she said. “I’m going to have a normal vacation. Like a normal kid. Not like a mass-market celebrity in a weird, psychopathic suburban development.” She stood up and began rummaging around in the garage mess. She knelt in front of a pile of stuff. She started to rifle through it. She grunted, “We’re going to play Twister. Okay? That’s it. We’re playing Twister.”
She threw old kites and skates and carpet samples across the garage.
“Hey!” said Mrs. Mulligan. “Katie! Stop!”
Katie didn’t listen. She hurled a pair of running shoes onto the hood of the car. She tossed a map of the world into the air.
Lily felt kind of embarrassed for Katie, in that tingly way you feel embarrassed when a friend is having a tantrum in front of you and you’re not along for the ride.
“Katie!” scolded her mom.
Katie kicked a box of Christmas lights under the workbench.
* Remember: If you buy two copies and hold them at different distances from your eyes, you can see the book in 3-D.
“I built my house out of Whales on Stilts!,” says David Gonzales of South Rupture, Indiana. “I stacked them up in a big pile. I’ve never regretted it. It was way cheaper than marble.”
Jenn Ross of Dexter Heights, South Dakota, writes that she uses multiple copies of Whales on Stilts! to keep deer out of her flower garden. “Oh, I love that book,” she says. “It’s just the right weight for hurling. Or I use a kind of a book launcher my husband made for me. Yessiree Bob, there’s many a deer in Dexter Heights that regrets it ever heard about the exciting career of plucky heroine Lily [Gefelty].”
M.T. Anderson is the author of the Pals in Peril series; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, which won the National Book Award; The Game of Sunken Places; Burger Wuss; Thirsty; and Feed, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Young Adults. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Visit him at MT-Anderson.com.
Kurt Cyrus has illustrated numerous acclaimed picture books celebrating the natural world, including What in the World?: Numbers in Nature by Nancy Raines Day; Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler; and his own Tadpole Rex and The Voyage of Turtle Rex. Kurt lives with his wife in McMinnville, Oregon. Visit him at KurtCyrus.com.