Read The Order of Odd-Fish Online

Authors: James Kennedy

The Order of Odd-Fish (7 page)

BOOK: The Order of Odd-Fish
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The entire building lurched.

“Whoa!” said Colonel Korsakov, grabbing on to the counter. “What was that?”

Sir Oliver said something, but Jo couldn’t hear—the lodge shook again and everyone yelled as tables and chairs slid across the room and plates crashed to the floor. For a moment, Sir Oliver stood motionless; then he ran out the door, calling over his shoulder.

“What did he say?” shouted Jo.

“It was something about a good view!” said Sefino, ducking a flying chair.

They all dashed after Sir Oliver as he bounded barefoot down the twisting, tilting hallways. The building tipped on its side, and then it turned upside down, and then it righted itself again, and yet Sir Oliver managed to sprint down the walls or ceilings as if they were the floors, his scarf billowing behind. The others struggled after him through the tumbling rooms, where bookshelves poured out rivers of books, couches slid around as though possessed, and chairs bounced off the walls at frightening velocities.

“Marvelous!” said Sir Oliver. “Just up these stairs! Watch your step! Come on now!”

Jo glanced out a window. The lodge was surging forward through a fleshy tunnel, swerving, bucking, and jolting. A yellow-orange foaming liquid had engulfed the bottom of the lodge, sweeping the entire building along—to where?

“No time!” called Sir Oliver. “Up the stairs! Come on, let’s go!”

He leaped, sprinted, tore up the stairs, and burst out the trapdoor on top.

“Grab on to something! There you go! Wooo!”

Aunt Lily pointed ahead: “Look!”

At the end of the tunnel a hole was opening up, getting wider every second—and outside were pale stars, the twilit sky, a plump white moon—

The lodge burst out of the mouth of the fish and crashed onto a sandy beach. Jo was astonished to see hundreds of torches, a crowd of people; a great cheer went up; fireworks exploded, and a chant started all around them. Through it all, Jo heard two words in the din, again and again, though she could hardly believe it:

“LILY LAROUCHE! LILY LAROUCHE!” they shouted.

People swarmed the bottom of the building. Jo looked back, flabbergasted; the giant fish was still on the shore, its wide mouth gasping.

“All together now! LIFT!”

The building lurched again. Jo looked down: the people below had lifted the lodge.

“FORWARD!”

Grunting, sweating, shouting, the people heaved the great building forward.

“MARCH!”

Jo looked out onto the mad scene. They had landed on a sandy beach, thick with mossy trees twisted in weird shapes; she glanced back and saw the fish wriggle backward into the water and disappear; looked forward again, at the campfires on the beach amid the jumbled rocks, and in the distance, beyond the forest, a city—a mountain that climbed straight into the sky, covered with a maze of glittering buildings and crowned by a great golden tree. Terraced streets spiraled down the mountain, with little lights and fires and flickering torches and crowds of people looking out from windows and bridges, waving, pointing, and shouting.

The sun was dipping below the lavender ocean, tinting the clouds purple in a sky like a wall of dark gold. Even in the desert, Jo had never seen anything like this sunset; it looked like the sky at the end of the world.

Singing songs and waving torches, the crowd carried the lodge up the beach, through a jungle of crooked trees, over a foaming river, and through the city gates. A whoop went up from all sides as the crowd carried the lodge up the mountain, pitching and tilting through the streets.

Aunt Lily smiled. “I’m finally home.
We’re
home.”

“You make quite an entrance,” said Jo.

Aunt Lily flinched and turned to Jo with panicked eyes.

“What…what’s wrong?” said Jo.

Korsakov and Sefino gasped and backed away from her.

Sir Oliver said sharply, “I would’ve expected more from you, Korsakov. After all you’ve been through, that’s how you’re going to treat her?”

Colonel Korsakov seemed to be looking at Jo for the first time. “I’m sorry, Oliver.” He averted his eyes. “It’s that I just
now
remembered.”

“Should we hide her?” said Aunt Lily.

“LILY LAROUCHE! LILY LAROUCHE!” shouted the crowd.

“No. Follow me,” said Sir Oliver.

Jo ran after them. “What are you talking about, hide me?”

Reeling and tilting from side to side, the lodge staggered forward, aloft on a parade of torches, chants, and songs. More fireworks exploded overhead, and a marching band led the building through the winding boulevards, booming and trumpeting. The crowd carried the lodge up the circling streets, scraping buildings on either side; sometimes the lodge almost tilted too far, nearly tumbling off the mountain entirely; but the crowd held on.

Jo, Sefino, Korsakov, and Aunt Lily followed Sir Oliver downstairs to a small library. The lodge bucked and jounced all around them as the city jerkily passed outside the window.

“I’m glad to have you back in Eldritch City,” said Sir Oliver. “It’s been rather dull since you left.”

“It’s awkward, though, isn’t it?” said Aunt Lily. “We were exiled, after all.”

“Why are you exiled?” said Jo.

“Uh, it’s a long story,” said Aunt Lily. “It has to do with you.”

Jo stared. “You were exiled because of me?”

“No time to explain. Oliver, we have to think of something, quick.”

“Are we going to tell everyone who Jo is?” said Colonel Korsakov.

“Absolutely not,” said Sir Oliver. “We would be run out of town.”

“Are you going to tell
me
who I am?” said Jo.

“She can be my squire,” said Aunt Lily.

“Capital idea. That should divert attention from her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Jo. She was starting to feel less like a person and more like an unspeakable medical condition.

Aunt Lily turned to Jo. “Give me your ring. Quick now!”

“Why?” said Jo—but Aunt Lily grabbed her hand and wrenched the ring off her finger. Seconds later, a man’s face appeared at the window.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” puffed the man, running alongside the lodge. He had a handlebar mustache and a crooked smile and wore a suit of armor of mismatched brass and silver plates. “Fantastic,
wonderful
to have you back in town!”

“Sir Festus!” Aunt Lily pocketed Jo’s ring and stood up. “Is it really you?”

“We’re all here!” panted the man. He was having a hard time keeping up. “Isabel said Oliver wouldn’t be back in time for the feast, but I just said, you wait and see! But we didn’t expect this! And—good gravy, is that old Korsakov? And Sefino? Korsakov, old boy!”

Korsakov grinned. “You seem in fine fettle, Festus!”

“My fettle has never been finer!” puffed Sir Festus; then he ran out of breath and fell behind.

“Who was that?” said Jo, clutching her finger; it rather hurt.

“Sir Festus Bartleby,” said Sefino. “One of the knights of the Order of Odd-Fish. Lily, Korsakov, and Sir Oliver—they’re all knights, too. Just like your parents were.”

Jo shouted, “You knew my
parents
?”

“Shush! You’ll give us all away!” said Aunt Lily.

“What’s the big secret?” said Jo.

“We’re almost there. We don’t have any time,” said Aunt Lily.

Sir Oliver said, “If those people knew that we were bringing the Hazelwood child back into Eldritch City, this parade would turn into a riot.”

The lodge careened around the final corner, and with a loud shout and a final heave the crowd dropped it down between two other buildings. The applause outside was tremendous.

“A riot over
me
?” said Jo.

CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! Jo heard a hammering at the front door, and people streamed into the lodge, whooping and hollering.

“Yes,” said Aunt Lily. “You’re the reason we were in exile.”

“Wait!” said Jo. “Does this have something to do with that note? That said I was…”

“Dangerous? Yes,” said Sir Oliver. “Actually, I wrote that note.”

Jo gaped at Sir Oliver.

“But for now, the less you know, the better,” said Aunt Lily quickly. “Don’t worry—it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

Silence fell. It became clear to Jo that it
was
as bad as it sounded; maybe worse than she could guess.

“What…what happens now?” she said.

There was a mounting tumult in the lodge: the clomp of boots, the screech of grinding metal, laughter and carousing, coming closer. Aunt Lily, Sir Oliver, and Sefino brightened, and a deep, pleased rumble came from Korsakov’s digestion.

“The Grand Feast of the Odd-Fish,” said Aunt Lily. “And I, for one, intend to stuff myself until I can’t move.”

B
EFORE
Jo knew what was happening, Aunt Lily, Korsakov, and Sir Oliver all disappeared upstairs to dress for the feast, and Sefino hustled her off to the lodge’s banquet hall.

The hall was empty when they arrived, and homelier than Jo expected: a cramped, narrow gallery filled up by a long oak table and twenty-four chairs. An arched brass ceiling housed pots overflowing with vines, and dirty mirrors and old photographs in cracked frames crammed the walls. The table was crowded with candles, bowls of sauce, and plates of unidentifiable fruit, but none of the cups, bowls, or silverware matched; it was as if they had all been stolen from different places.

Sefino led Jo to a small side closet full of filthy black robes.

“Dining gowns,” he said, and gave her one.

“I’m supposed to wear this?” said Jo. Like all the other gowns, it was covered in stains, and bits of dried food clung to the sleeves.

“They’re never washed,” said Sefino. “Squires aren’t allowed to wash their dining gowns.”

“Why?”

“It’s a very honorable and pointless tradition,” said Sefino. “Just put it on.”

Sefino had changed into a smart waiter’s uniform, with a six-button black vest, precisely knotted bow tie, and crisp apron. Jo saw other cockroaches, too, rushing back and forth with teetering trays stacked with plates and saucers and cups. Sefino stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse, clicking his mandibles eagerly. Above, feet clumped down the stairs.

“Probably the other squires,” said Sefino.

Jo didn’t know where to start. “Sefino, what
is
a squire?”

“A knight’s assistant,” said Sefino. “Each knight has a squire and a butler to help them. That’s where we cockroaches come in. You’re Dame Lily’s squire. I, of course, am Korsakov’s butler.”

“Sefino,” said Jo cautiously, “what
is
this place?”

“Ah, that’s a bit of a metaphysical question, isn’t it? You’d be better off asking Sir Oort.”

“What?”

“Sir Oort Helmfozz. You’ll meet him. He’s the house expert on discredited metaphysics.”

“What’s—”

“Jo, I
do
have my own duties to attend to,” said Sefino. “And asking too many questions is a vulgar habit.”

Jo sat down on a bench. “It’s too much. I don’t know why I’m supposed to be dangerous, and I don’t know anything about squires, or knights, or…or ‘discredited metaphysics,’ or anything.”

“So?”

“So I don’t think I’ll fit in here.”

“You certainly won’t fit in if you keep hiding in this closet,” said Sefino. “Though you may become a beloved eccentric. They might even point you out on guided tours. ‘And here’s Jo Larouche,’ they’d announce. ‘Went into this closet years ago. Never left. Don’t worry, we do feed her from time to time. No flash photography, please.’”

“Thanks, Sefino, you’re a real help.”

“It could be a relaxing life.”

“I just need to catch my breath.”

“Suit yourself,” said Sefino, and scuttled off.

Jo sat on a wooden stool and tried to get her bearings. The lodge clamored with people, but Jo was in no state to meet anyone. She was exhausted, grungy, her nerves shot. Her pink waitress uniform (which she had always hated anyway) was a crumpled rag now, soaked in the stomach juices of the giant fish. Then she heard voices and footsteps in the hall. Jo remembered the dining gown and threw it on.

Three boys (one tall, one pudgy, and one weirdly birdlike) and a girl came into the closet. They all halted, staring at Jo in surprise.

“Who are you?” said the girl finally. She had red, curly hair and an unfortunate nose.

“Um…ah…Jo Larouche?” said Jo.

“Oh, so
you’re
Dame Lily’s squire.” The girl seemed unimpressed. “I’m Daphne Brockbank. Dame Delia’s squire.”

“Maurice Farrar. I’m Sir Festus’s.” Maurice was a burly, sleepy-looking boy who seemed to be in the middle of a growth spurt in which parts of his body were developing at different speeds, such that his legs were too short, his arms were too long, and his back was curled into a perpetual stoop. He barely glanced at Jo as he fiddled with his dining gown.

“Albert Blatch-Budgins. Sir Alasdair’s,” grunted the pudgy boy. Albert’s hair was neatly parted in the middle, and he wore big squarish glasses. He squinted at Jo with cold, fishy eyes.

“Phil Snurr. Sir Oort,” said the birdlike boy. He didn’t even look at Jo, but immediately snatched his dining gown and left the closet.

Jo still didn’t know what to say. There was another uncomfortable silence.

Daphne exhaled and turned to Jo again. “I heard you had a rough time coming in. You must be used to danger, though, squiring for Dame Lily.”

Jo almost laughed. “Danger? Aunt Lily? What’s so dangerous about
her
?”

Daphne, Maurice, and Albert looked at Jo with startled disbelief.

“Whoa,” said Maurice.

Before Jo could ask what this meant, another boy and girl crowded into the closet. The girl, a tiny, frantic creature with wild black hair and huge eyes, was babbling: “I’m telling you it all fits together. If you’d seen last week’s episode you’d
see
it all fits together. Dame Lily actually came back. It’s the beginning of the end!”

“I paid you, stop going on about it,” groaned the boy.

“Thirteen years, just like the show,
exactly.
It’s like living the show, isn’t it just like
living
it?”

“For God’s sake shut up.”

“It’s all the work of the Silent Sisters.”

“Nora, you think your bad skin is the work of the Silent Sisters.”

“Hey, Nora, Ian,” said Daphne. “This is Dame Lily’s squire.”

Nora’s eyes bulged even wider.
“Really?”

There were many introductions, but the names went by so quickly that Jo couldn’t keep track. The excitable girl was Nora McGunn, and she became quiet when introduced, staring at Jo with cautious fascination. The boy was Ian Barrows. He had sandy blond hair and wore a tattered tan corduroy jacket, and he had the wispy beginnings of a mustache, which did not suit him.

After a minute of jostling in the crowded closet, the rest of the squires had changed and hurried out. Only Jo and Ian were left behind.

“So you’re the new girl, huh?” said Ian, wriggling into his gown. “In case nobody else has said it, welcome to Eldritch City.”

“Actually, nobody has.”

“Oh, the other squires?” Ian shrugged. “Don’t mind them. They just want to show they’re not impressed by you. It’s not every day that—”

But Ian was cut short by an elderly cockroach, who marched into the closet and hit them with his walking stick until they left for the banquet hall.

         

Another cockroach dressed in tails directed Jo to her seat, pulling it out for her and scooting it back in as she sat down. Jo looked around for Ian, but yet another cockroach was seating him all the way at the other end of the table.

Then someone whispered in her ear, high-pitched, breathy, and intense:

“This has all been foretold, you know.”

Jo turned and was startled to find Nora right behind her. Up close, Nora’s face seemed much too small, half hidden under streams of unkempt black hair. Somewhere under all the hair Jo could just glimpse a tiny nose, tiny mouth, and alarmingly tiny teeth.

“Foretold?” said Jo.

“Everything.” Nora looked around significantly. “With Dame Lily back, the wheels will only move faster. Eye of the storm, Jo.”

“Eye of…what are you talking about?”

Nora sucked air through her teeth, leaned in, and said, “All of this. We’re all running down a path of doom laid down by the Silent Sisters.”

“Who?”

Nora looked shocked. “Don’t you know? About the—”

But Nora was drowned out by a blare of trumpets, a great shout went up—Jo turned to see what was going on—the knights were marching in.

All the knights, including Aunt Lily and Colonel Korsakov, had changed into ceremonial feast robes of gold, scarlet, and blazing purple, festooned with epaulettes, sashes, shining spurs, an ornamental sword, a bejeweled bib, and a trailing cape that looked like a doily gone berserk for seven feet. Crowning all was a towering turban clasped with a ruby in the shape of a fish. The turbans swayed wildly as the knights came tramping in, their weapons and jewelry and medals clinking and jangling, all of them singing and shouting at each other. Every knight and squire wore a ring on his or her left little finger, just like the rings Aunt Lily had found in the black box. Jo still didn’t understand—why had she had to give hers up?

The trumpets died down, the knights settled into their seats, and Jo felt a tug on her sleeve—Nora again. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“It’s—” said Nora, but again she was drowned out by a blare of trumpets. Everyone stood up.

“What?” said Jo, scrambling to her feet.

“I
said
—” started Nora, but then a cockroach steered her off to a different part of the table, even as she frantically mouthed something at Jo; then everybody yelled “HUZZAH!” and something extraordinary rolled into the banquet hall.

It was Sir Oliver.

Sir Oliver’s costume was so massive and ornate that he literally could not move. Three wheezing cockroaches had to push him in on a cart. Sir Oliver’s face just barely poked out of the monumental cavalcade of frippery, a multitiered mountain of buttons and bows and collars and jewelry and bustles and seven different hats, one on top of the other and each one more outlandish than the last, piled upon a billowing, flapping, teetering mass of crepe and silk and velvet. He looked like he had been imprisoned in a gigantic, nightmarish wedding cake.

“The Grand Bebisoy of the Order of Odd-Fish, Sir Oliver Mulcahy!” bellowed a cockroach.

Prolonged applause. Sir Oliver smiled and nodded, everyone sat down, and he began, “Welcome home, Odd-Fish! It’s a relief to have almost everyone back at the lodge—”

“Hear, hear!” shouted the knights and squires.

“It’s been a difficult year,” said Sir Oliver. “Money’s been tight, as usual. I won’t dwell on the woes of the past months—including, of course, that this lodge was stolen—”

“Boo! For shame!”

“And for three months we’ve had nowhere to live. Now, before we start the feast, I will tell you this: in my search for the lodge, I
did
discover who had stolen it—”

A general gasp around the table—

“But I won’t tell you who until after dessert,” said Sir Oliver.

“No!” came the protests. “Tell us now!”

“You will need a full stomach,” said Sir Oliver firmly. “I will say no more. On to happier matters. We also have back in Eldritch City, after a thirteen-year exile, Dame Lily Larouche, Colonel Anatoly Korsakov, and Sefino—as well as a new addition to the Order of Odd-Fish, Dame Lily’s niece and squire, Jo Larouche.”

Jo flinched as all eyes turned to her, and she looked down, embarrassed. Nobody was staring at her the horrified way Korsakov and Sefino had; still, she was relieved when Sir Oliver spoke again and attention shifted away from her.

“You squires never knew Dame Lily, Colonel Korsakov, or Sefino personally, of course—a bit before your time—but I trust everyone shall make both our new and returning Odd-Fish welcome. I see our soup is becoming tepid. Let the feast begin!”

The cockroaches descended from all sides, bearing soup. Jo was starving, and luckily, the chunky, purple soup was delicious, with a mild pork-plum flavor. Glimpsing to the side, Jo noticed that Sir Oliver’s costume prevented him from moving his arms, and a cockroach had to feed him, spoonful by spoonful, as though he were a baby.

Aunt Lily sat on Jo’s right. She seemed like an entirely different woman now; or no, Aunt Lily was somehow more
herself
than she had ever been in Dust Creek. Her voice was clear, her body shimmered with renewed health, and even a few wrinkles seemed to have disappeared. It was as though Aunt Lily had grown up.

“So…what do knights do?” Jo asked.

“Oooh, tons,” said Aunt Lily over the noise. “There are quite a few orders of knights in Eldritch City, each with their own traditions and missions. The Order of Odd-Fish’s mission is to research an encyclopedia.”

“An encyclopedia?”

“The appendix to an encyclopedia, actually,” said Sir Oliver as a cockroach held a spoonful of soup near his mouth. “The project of writing an encyclopedia of
all
knowledge was abandoned centuries ago, but we’re still writing its appendix. It is a pleasantly futile task. Our archives take up the entire fifth floor—we’re adding new information all the time. For instance, Dame Lily might be amused to know that there’s now an entry on
her
in the Appendix.”

“Really!” said Aunt Lily. “What’s it say?”

“It says you’re dead.”

“What!”

“Probably should change that in the next edition,” said Sir Oliver.

“It doesn’t sound like much of an appendix,” said Jo.

“Oh, it’s usually wrong,” admitted Sir Oliver.

“But the Appendix isn’t known for its accuracy,” said Aunt Lily. “Accuracy isn’t the point.”

“‘It is an Appendix of dubious facts, rumors, and myths,’” recited Colonel Korsakov. “‘A repository of questionable knowledge, and an opportunity to dither about.’ That’s from our charter,” he said to Jo. “The bit about dithering is the most important. We are a society of ditherers.”

BOOK: The Order of Odd-Fish
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Just Lunch by Addisyn Jacobs
Primitive Secrets by Deborah Turrell Atkinson
Loving Her Softly by Joshua Mumphrey
El Gran Sol de Mercurio by Isaac Asimov
The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de La Cruz
Storm Child by Sharon Sant
Blood Line by Rex Burns