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Authors: James Kennedy

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“H
ERE’S
to villainy!” cried Ken Kiang, lifting his glass. “Here’s to wicked work well wrought! Here’s to outrage, injustice! Violence and venom! Marvelous murderers and cutthroat criminals! I embrace you all, brothers!
I’m one of you now!

Hoagland Shanks sat with his arms crossed. “Where’s my pie? I don’t see any pie yet.”

“Just you wait!” said Ken Kiang cheerfully.

Ken Kiang and Hoagland Shanks were seated in a small, cluttered Paris bistro, a members-only club, extremely discreet, hidden behind an unmarked door in an unfashionable neighborhood; and open only to men as wealthy and perverse as Ken Kiang.

“Shanks, I can’t tell you how lovely it feels,” exulted Ken Kiang. “The sticky, clammy,
damning
feeling of blood on my hands. My first murder! It’s only a matter of time before I tackle the other major sins.” He consulted his checklist. “Let’s see, there’s torture, sacrilege, treason…Shanks, why do I have a whole chapter on mouse abuse? Goodness knows
but I do!

“Hey, it’s none of my business,” interrupted Hoagland Shanks. “But I woulda thought you’d killed plenty of folks. I heard you were supposed to be a really evil guy or somethin’.”

“Confession time, Shanks,” said Ken Kiang. “I’m really no more than an amateur evildoer. Until tonight, I was all hat and no cattle! It’s only now, with this magnificent quadruple murder, that I’ve married my malevolent mistress of malefaction and started sliding down the slippery slope to sweet sin!”

“Heck if I know what you’re jawin’ ’bout, Ken,” growled Hoagland Shanks. “But I still don’t have my pie—and you promised me pie! Now talk sense, talk pie!”

“Oh, I
shall,
” said Ken Kiang, refilling his glass. “For that is just what you shall receive. Hoagland Shanks, welcome to one of the most exclusive establishments of Paris, La Société des Friandises Etranges—the Club of Weird Desserts, to you—and your passport to the exhilarating world of gourmet pie!”

Hoagland Shanks scanned the menu with distaste. “Fancy talk, Ken, but I don’t see pie on this menu. No
real
pie, anyway. Where’s apple pie? Where’s cherry pie? I don’t like it, Ken; don’t like it one bit.”

Ken Kiang drew close. “Oh, but only yield your mouth to me, Shanks—lend me your stomach! I shall open new worlds before you. Pies beyond your wildest dreams. Pies you dared not even hope exist!”

“Apple pie,” said Hoagland Shanks firmly. “They got that?”

“They have a pie here,” said Ken Kiang dreamily. “The Calibrated Cataclysm. Juicy quinces and persimmons and coconut milk, soaked in a hundred different liqueurs precisely measured out in single-angstrom drops to achieve a perfect harmony on the tongue, served flaming in a dish of richest creams and ices; what say you, man—will you try it?”

“Apple pie,” said Shanks.

“But just a taste—a taste can’t hurt, can it?”

“Apple pie.”

“Perhaps you are more sophisticated than I gave you credit for,” said Ken Kiang. “Perhaps you prefer the avant-garde. Then would you consider the Phosphorescent Fascination, a shimmering goo of edible plastic mixed with liquid neptunium—a radioactive substance that, if you dim the lights, will shine out of your throat! Oh, you’ll quickly become a Class Four biohazard, Shanks; but the exquisite flavor is worth every click of the Geiger counter. How about it, Shanks—like to live dangerously?”

“Apple pie.”

“Very well. Never let it be said that Hoagland Shanks doesn’t know what he likes. An apple pie it is. But first…why not have a spoonful of this?” And Ken Kiang held up a tiny gold spoon, which held the tiniest bit of yellow filling, scooped from a tiny pie on the table.

Hoagland Shanks shrugged, took the spoon, and tasted. His eyes immediately popped wide, his mouth hung open, and he whispered, “Whoa! Ooh…I mean…wow! What is
that,
Ken?”

“A personal favorite,” Ken Kiang said. “Made of a substance that activates dormant taste buds on the
insides of your veins
—and thus you taste the pie
with your entire body
as it pulses throughout your internal organs! Come on, Shanks! Can you bear to pass
that
up?”

Hoagland Shanks shuddered with pleasure as the extraordinary dessert worked through him. He reached for another bite.

“All in good time, my man,” said Ken Kiang gently, moving the pie out of Shanks’s reach. “You shall have all the pie you like, in good time.”

Hoagland Shanks licked his lips. “If they’re all as good as that pie, lemme at ’em!”

“You shall have them all,” promised Ken Kiang. “But before we begin, won’t you join me in a little pie of my own—a recipe I’ve concocted myself—won’t you do me that favor, Shanks?”

“You bet! Whatcha got?”

Ken Kiang said a few words in French to the waiter, who brought out a pie with a black, lumpy crust. The waiter threw the pie down and stole away as quickly as he politely could, standing far from the table, muttering darkly.

“Jeez, Ken,” said Hoagland Shanks. “What kinda pie you got here?”

“I doubt you have tasted it before,” said Ken Kiang. “It is the Pie of Innocence Slain. In it, Shanks, you will taste crushed dreams, and defeat; youthful enthusiasm curdled into despair; desperate loneliness; and at the center, Shanks, that rarest, most dainty of delicacies—the heart, Shanks; the pure and uncorrupted human heart. Tonight, Hoagland Shanks, you consume your own soul.”

“You talk like a darned fool, Ken,” said Hoagland Shanks. “Tastes like peaches.”

         

Fifty-five pies later, Hoagland Shanks trembled with joy.

“I thought I knew about pies,” he whispered. “I thought I knew what pies were all about.”

“I told you they were good pies,” said Ken Kiang.

It was four in the morning. They had been at La Société des Friandises Etranges for eight hours. Ken Kiang sat up straight, fresh as a flower, and drank coffee. The waiter slumped in a booth, watching the Belgian Prankster on a black-and-white TV.

“You must know an awful lot about pies, to know about this place,” said Hoagland Shanks.

“Oh, I’ve picked up a little knowledge here and there,” said Ken Kiang carelessly.

“Reckon you know…about any other pie places? Like this?”

“Of course!” said Ken Kiang. “But, unfortunately for you, a deal’s a deal. I promised you the most delicious pies you have ever tasted. You have received said pies. End of transaction.”

Hoagland Shanks looked hurt. “But telling me about just one—that wouldn’t put you out, would it?”

“That’s just it,” said Ken Kiang. “It
would
‘put me out.’ I’m evil, remember? I refuse to tell you where more delicious pies may be found, Shanks, simply because it is a mean thing to do.”

Hoagland Shanks started to cry. “But, but…all I want is more pies.”

“I confess I find your tears strangely satisfying.”

“Isn’t there a way for me to get pies that still lets you be a mean guy?”

“Hmmm.” Ken Kiang cocked his head. “Perhaps there is, Shanks. Perhaps there is…”

Ken Kiang was ruminating, considering the problem from several angles, when his eyes happened to fall upon the TV in the corner; the Belgian Prankster was still on; Ken Kiang watched for a few moments—his eyes grew wide; and all at once he let forth a mighty yawp and leaped to his feet, pointing at the TV in horror.

“The Belgian Prankster?” he howled.
“The Belgian Prankster?”

I
T
was completely dark. Jo couldn’t feel anything, couldn’t see anything. Only after a moment did she remember how the
Indignant
had been shot down, and she had been screaming, and then everything had ended.

She heard herself say, “So this is the afterlife.”

“Do you think we’re really dead?” said Sefino somewhere.

“I’m certainly dead,” came Colonel Korsakov’s voice.


I’m
not dead,” said Aunt Lily.

There was a long silence.

“Pretty dark, though,” said Jo slowly.

“There’s no way
I
survived,” said Sefino. “Crashing into the ocean, sinking, explosions everywhere, water flooding through the cracks and holes and—”

“That’s strange,” said Jo. “Are you wet, too?”

“A bit soggy, yes.”

There was a pause.

“I thought the afterlife would be drier than this,” said Jo.

“Or better lit,” said Sefino.

“We’re not dead!” insisted Aunt Lily.

No one spoke for a while. Jo fidgeted uncomfortably in the wet darkness. Her body was coming back, and it ached all over.

“Pretty dull afterlife,” said Sefino. “I must have been more of a sinner than I thought.”

“I expect it picks up later,” said Colonel Korsakov.

“Listen to yourselves!” said Aunt Lily. “I don’t see how we could’ve survived, either—but isn’t it obvious we’re alive?”

Jo coughed up some salt water. “Does anyone have a light?”

“In the compartment above your head,” said Colonel Korsakov.

Jo opened the compartment, found the flashlight, and clicked it on. The plane was destroyed, its hull torn and flooded with black, swirling seawater. Jo’s beam of light swung over the oily murk, in which floated waterlogged books, lamps, boxes—all of Sefino’s and Korsakov’s possessions, soaked and ruined.

“Where are we?” said Jo.

“I have high expectations of heaven,” said Korsakov. “My grandmother said that if I lived a good life, all my wishes would come true in the next world.”

“You must have exceptionally weird tastes,” said Sefino.

“C’mon, let’s get out of this plane before it totally falls apart,” said Aunt Lily. “Jo, you’ve got the light. Lead the way!”

They got out of the plane, squeezing through the gash on the side. Jo carefully lowered herself down into the darkness, and into more water, which came up to her waist, warmer and slimier than she expected.

Jo didn’t think she was dead, either. In fact, she buzzed with strange exhilaration. She felt as though she was on the verge of something big, that she was coming close to a destination that had been pulling at her ever since the package fell from the sky.

Soon they were all wading in the slimy water. The ground was squishy and uneven, and the dark, humid air seethed with living smells. Jo’s flashlight swept around the damp cave, in which everything pulsed and squished about in the most sickening way.

Colonel Korsakov was fiddling with the plane. “I’ve fixed the lights…Mind your eyes….”

The plane’s lights switched on and a great length of the cavern was lit up—a dim tunnel of glistening pink walls, soft and quivering, with dozens of tubes leading in and out, spilling juices; a red, ribbed, dripping passage, leading off into forbidding darkness.

With a whoop of delight Colonel Korsakov slogged ahead, wading excitedly into the treacherous goo; he looked around with awe, with astonishment, and finally with an unrestrained boyish glee. He turned around, and smiling, held his arms out wide.

“Grandmother was right! My wishes have come true!” he exulted. “It cannot be denied—the miracle of it all!
We are inside my digestion!

“I have been sent to hell,” said Sefino.

“The organs! The entrails! The enzymes and juices!” rhapsodized Korsakov. “At long last, reward! An eternity to spend
in my own stomach!

“Hey!” Jo was looking down the tunnel in the other direction. “Come look at this!”

Jo pointed her flashlight down the dripping tunnel. It dropped into an enormous mucilaginous gorge, thick with running juices, the walls writhing rhythmically.

At the bottom there stood a building.

It was a solid, respectable five-story brick building. In a city, one might pass it a hundred times without noticing it. Inside a giant throbbing stomach, however, it was noticed.

“Wonders upon wonders!” said Colonel Korsakov. “I don’t recall eating a small law firm.”

Jo squinted down at the building. Carved above the door were these words:

         

LODGE

ORDER OF ODD-FISH

         

“Order of Odd-Fish—that’s what is said on the package!” said Jo. “Aunt Lily!…Aunt Lily?”

Aunt Lily was gazing at the lodge with frozen eyes. Her hands clutched vaguely at her chest, and she turned away with a shiver. “Okay,” she said faintly.

Jo, Aunt Lily, Korsakov, and Sefino half climbed, half slid down the gorge, grabbing hold of fleshy knobs and pulsing protrusions, and finally dropped to the bottom.

The lodge loomed before them, dead and silent. Every window was dark. Its crumbling bricks were crabbed with gray, sickly ivy, and cold thin mist twisted around. The whole building looked as if it was sunk into a dreary hibernation.

Jo walked up the porch steps. She raised her hand to knock on the door—and she felt something familiar.

Back at the ruby palace, Jo would often go down to the small movie theater in the basement where Aunt Lily kept all her old black-and-white films. Jo would watch those movies alone, far into the night, trying to figure her aunt out. She felt that somewhere within all those old movies, there had to be some clue that would tell her where Aunt Lily had disappeared to for forty years, and where she had come from; and some hint as to why that note had said she was “dangerous.”

Jo fell asleep while watching the movies, but a story would take shape in her dreams, patched together from clips of the dozens of movies she watched—and for a moment she
would
know who she was. Jo always forgot the dream in the morning, no matter how she tried to remember it. But she did remember that feeling of knowing.

She felt it now. The feeling of knowing was in that lodge. It was so real that she almost imagined it as an actual physical thing, a black dot lurking somewhere in there. Maybe the black dot was hidden on top of a bookshelf, or tucked inside a drawer, or sitting under a dish; wherever it was, she would find it. She would tear the lodge apart to find that dot. It was the period at the end of her old life.

Jo knocked. There was no answer. But the heavy oak doors, laced with iron and copper, gave way when she pushed, and swung open into a musty darkness.

The foyer was a gloomy cave of high ceilings and ponderous decor. Smooth, dusty hardwood floors, overlaid with ratty rugs, spread down two corridors and up a gently swooping stairway. The walls housed rows of bookcases crammed with yellowed books and crumbling maps. A shattered chandelier lay crashed in the center of the room, glistening in frozen splashes of light.

“Hello?” called Colonel Korsakov. But nobody answered.

They made their way through the abandoned lodge. There were signs that the inhabitants had intended to return soon, long ago: wineglasses stained red with evaporated wine; a dusty half-finished card game lying on a table; a book cracked open and left on the ottoman; a pipe on a chair. All was veiled with dust.

“I remember this place,” said Aunt Lily.

Korsakov stopped. “Exceedingly strange. I, too, remember something about this place.”

“I used to live here,” said Sefino suddenly.

“So did I!” said Aunt Lily.

“I lived here, too!” said Korsakov, astonished.

“I didn’t!” said Jo, starting to feel left out. “I don’t remember this place at all!”

Korsakov opened a door, and they stepped into a large kitchen. A couple of pots bubbled on the stove. Some chopped vegetables sat on the counter, as well as a gentleman.

He was an elderly black gentleman, very tall, thin, and gangly. He wore a tattered three-piece suit and no shoes or socks. His face was freckled and lined, his hair gray, his eyes bright and clear. He hopped off the counter, adjusted his spectacles, squinted at his visitors, and smiled with mild surprise.

“An unusual place for a reunion,” he said.

“Reunion?” said Sefino. “What on earth do you mean?”

“Really? You’ve
completely
forgotten me?” The old man looked hurt. “Your old comrade in arms?”

“Oh, come now—
this is too much
!” said Sefino, waving his antennae. “Sir, I am a gentleman. Ordinarily at this hour you would find me enjoying an expertly mixed cocktail, or cataloguing my award-winning collection of Turkish cufflinks. Instead, my companions and I have spent the last twenty-four hours being shot at, insulted, blown up, tied up, tossed about, threatened, eaten, and forced into social contact with dubious persons. I, for one, shall have no patience for whatever whimsical tomfoolery you may have in store for us.”

Jo murmured, “You are a three-foot-tall talking cockroach.”

“Not terribly whimsical, once you get used to it,” said Sefino. “But all this—it’s too much!”

“Sefino, you haven’t changed a bit,” said the old man.

“What? No!” Sefino pounded the table. “How do you know my name before I’ve told you? More nonsense! This
entire day
has become too fantastical for my taste.”

The old man turned to Jo. “And you must be Jo Hazelwood.”

Jo looked up, startled. “What? Oh…but my name isn’t Hazelwood.”

“Ah, yes, I suppose you’d think that.” He held out a bony hand, and Jo, bewildered, shook it. “I’m Mulcahy.”

Aunt Lily said, “
Oliver
Mulcahy?”

Colonel Korsakov started. “
Sir
Oliver Mulcahy! I remember—”

Sefino stood up angrily. “No explanation, sir, can justify such ludicrousness!”

“What are you doing here?” said Colonel Korsakov.

“Napping in this fish’s duodenum,” said Sir Oliver. “Very snug. Ah! I was wondering where my scarf had gone. Thank you.”

Korsakov was carrying the scarf that had been coughed out of the box along with his furry cap and Sefino’s pipe. Sir Oliver took the scarf and nonchalantly wrapped it around his neck.

Aunt Lily looked at the man with mounting puzzlement. “I know you—I know this place—but I can’t quite remember who you are—why can’t I
remember
?”

“That’s easy,” said Sir Oliver. “You’ve all lost your minds. Fortunately, I have them right here, in jars.” He rummaged in the icebox and took out three glass jars. Each contained brainy clumps floating in yellow fluid. “Your memories were confiscated when you were exiled from Eldritch City. I held on to them for sentimental reasons. Never thought it would come to this…. You first, Korsakov.”

Sir Oliver sprang up and seized Colonel Korsakov’s nose. Jo was stunned—violence was the last thing she expected from the kind-looking old man. The colossal Russian bellowed in outrage, but the lanky gentleman held fast, even as Korsakov staggered around the kitchen, crashing over tables and breaking chairs, waving his arms and trying to pry the man from his nose. Sir Oliver, still firmly grasping Korsakov’s nose, clambered onto his back and opened a jar with his teeth, grabbing a twitching bit of brain; with the other hand he pulled Korsakov’s nostrils apart and stuffed the brain up his nose. Halfway in, the wormlike strand of brain took on a life of its own and squirmed with furious energy up into Korsakov’s nostrils until it had disappeared.

This was all very shocking for the spectators.

Korsakov, dazed, stood still for a few seconds. Then he grinned at Sir Oliver as though he was an old friend and not a stranger who had just pushed something questionable up his nose.

“Why all the trouble, old chap?” said Korsakov. “I would have consented to do that myself.”

“Perhaps,” said Sir Oliver. “But it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.”

“Er, quite,” said Sefino.

With much less fuss, Sir Oliver handed the other two jars to Sefino and Aunt Lily. Sefino distastefully eyed the contents of his jar but opened it with a sigh, poking at the swirling clumps. Aunt Lily wrenched the lid off and grabbed at the brains, stuffing them up her nose with gusto.

“Has everyone gone nuts?” said Jo.

“Just the opposite,” said Aunt Lily, brains dangling from her nostril. “I’ve been waiting for this for years! Do you know how frustrating it is, not to remember half of your life? For the past thirteen years I’ve wondered about those missing forty years. Now, if it had been anyone other than Sir Oliver who suggested I put this crap up my nose, I would’ve hesitated. But if there’s anyone I trust, it’s Sir Oliver. Although I still don’t quite remember who he is…”

“Perfectly normal. It’ll take a few minutes for all the old memories to kick in,” said Sir Oliver. He turned to Jo. “I’m sorry I don’t have any for you, Miss Hazelwood, but you were too young to remember anything.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Jo. “And my name isn’t Hazelwood. I have her ring, though.”

“Ah! But you see—”

BOOK: The Order of Odd-Fish
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