Free Zeuglodon by James P. Blaylock

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Authors: James P. Blaylock
scout for the Creeper.”
    “Creeper, the game’s afoot!” Perry said in a Peckworthy-like voice. “Sounds like arrant madness. Methinks you’ve lent your sanity to the apes.”
    “We’ve got to find out what’s in the notebook,” Brendan said. “We’ll lay in wait for her. We have to.”
    “I think you mean lie in wait,” Perry told him.
    “I know what I mean,” Brendan said. “Don’t always be telling me what I mean.”
    “Uncle Hedge told us not to give Ms Peckworthy any more things to write about,” I said, “so no one’s going to do any lying in wait.”
    Brendan shrugged and smiled, but before we could argue, the kitchen door opened and Uncle Hedge walked in, looking like a man in a hurry. “Pack your bags,” he said. “We haven’t a moment to lose.”
    The message had come in over the Smithfield on the sub-lunar frequency, which sometimes picks up radio talk from ships at sea. You can hear them yammering away in Russian or Australian or some other language. That’s just what had happened. Uncle Hedge got a call from a ship nearly four thousand miles away, although it wasn’t a Russian or an Australian. It was Dr. Hilario Frosticos himself, aboard his submarine, calling with a ransom demand.
    He wanted the missing pages from the Peach notebook, he said. And he wanted the Mermaid’s key. He would trade them for Lala, straight across. He had no use for the little girl, only for the maps and the key, but he was getting impatient. “This time you’ll come to me , Hedgepeth,” he said, and then told him that he would make the swap far out in the North Atlantic, where there would be no clever tricks. At the sign of clever tricks he would disappear like a ghost and Lala would find herself in deep water. “Literally,” he said, and that was the end of the message.
    Of course we didn’t have the key. Lala had the key, but that made no difference at all. It wasn’t something that Uncle Hedge would reveal to Frosticos. That would have to come out in the wash, Uncle Hedge told us.
    That morning was a holiday for students, what’s called an “in-service” day—the only day of the year when teachers have school and students don’t. We went to school anyway, except not to go to class, but to talk to our teachers and to the Principal, Mr. Diggler. Next week was spring break, you see, but we couldn’t be sure just when we’d return from our voyage. (Of course we couldn’t say why we were going.) Mr. Collier, my science teacher, said that I should put together a photographic diary of interesting scientific things that I saw during our sea voyage, and for my English class I had to write about it, which is part of what you’re reading now. Perry had to work on his lexicon of significant words. Brendan had a two-page list of assignments that was mostly make-up for things he hadn’t finished but should have, so he was dismal as we walked down to Mr. Diggler’s office to get his approval.
    We opened the door to Student Services, and who should we see walking out of the Principal’s office but Ms Henrietta Peckworthy herself, looking considerably pickled. She gave us a decisive look, like she had our number, and nodded slowly at us before passing on. It was the second worst moment in my life. Everything changed in the instant I saw her, like in movies where someone looks up and Death is standing there wearing a black robe and hood, reaching out to touch you.
    Mr. Diggler came out of his office then, and Uncle Hedge shook his hand. Mr. Diggler asked after Mr. Vegeley, and Uncle Hedge said that Mr. Vegeley was as hearty as an alligator, and Mr. Diggler said that he was happy to hear it. Mr. Diggler is a short man, thin and nervous and slow and newt-like. Sometimes unworthy students frighten him very badly by sneaking up behind him and exploding inflated lunch sacks, which causes him to leap into the air and shout. I’ve never done this, although other people I won’t mention have done it and have

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