Diet Lime Fizzy Drinks
Fern was looking out her bedroom window in her grandmother's house for a runaway rhinoceros. Ridiculous, you might be muttering to yourself. Well, it might be ridiculous, but it's true. (And didn't your mother tell you not to mutter to yourself! My mother told me that if I muttered to myself all the time, I might end up spending my days shuffling through the bus depot wearing my pajamas. And so I've made a little life out of muttering on paperjust like so.)
Fern had been sent to her bedroom by Dorathea and the Bone, who were steamed about the rhinoceros that Howard and Fern had accidentally shaken from a book containing an entire stampede. They'd been shaking the book together, but once Fern heard the stampede pounding in the book, she had dropped it. She'd told Howard to shut it, quick, but he hadn't. Howard! Fern could see him now in her mind's eye, gripping onto the roaring, thundering book, his whole body rattling while the rhino muscled its way out, bursting forth with its horn and thick armored sides! Why hadn't he listened to her? Howard, with his love of spray starch and ironing boards and wristwatches, was the most boring kid she knew. Well, Fern thought, he sure picked a fine time to be drawn to excitement!
Howard had been sent to his bedroom too, which was wedged up in the attic. Fern hoped that he was feeling miserable up there and very hot.
Really, all Fern wanted now was to go to campwhich would happen tomorrow. Camp Happy Sunshine Good Times was a camp for young Anybodies. It wasn't called Camp Anybody, because Anybodies don't want to be known. So it disguised itself in the sappy brochures as an inspirational camp built on the sentimental notions of hand-holding, sing-alongs and crafts where campers color in pictures of kids in baseball caps under the caption "I am so special!" It weeded out the non-Anybodies by a questionnaire and, if in person, by a wink. (You see, if an Anybody winks at another Anybody, they have to wink back. It's unavoidable.) At camp Fern was sure she'd find kids more like hernot like Howard, a clumsy Anybody hugging his math books, Howard, who was always dull except when he should be dull!
The Drudgers had dropped Howard off the week before camp, an entire week ahead of schedule. Why? Fern had wondered. The Drudgers said it was so that Fern and Howard could spend time together before camp. But Fern now thought that the Drudgers were a little afraid of Howard. (He'd hypnotized them into monkeys for the first half of the summer, all to impress his new friend, Milton Beige, and when Fern saw the Drudgers as they dropped Howard off, she noticed that they still had some leftover monkey tendencieseyeing the treetops and occasionally flaring their nostrils.) Fern didn't blame the Drudgers for dumping Howard earlier than planned. She wished she could dump him right back.
Fern had been trying to ignore Howard as best as she could, but it wasn't easy. Ever since Howard first showed up at Fern's grandmother's house, he walked around like a sad dog, kicked out of the house for chewing the carpet. He missed the Drudgers and especially Milton Beige, whom he called on the phone daily to talk about math equations and his dread of the upcoming camp. (Fern sometimes eavesdropped on these conversations. She could tell that even Milton Beigewho was supposed to be extremely dullwas actually more interested in talking about Fern's grandmother's house and Anybody camp and Anybody business in general than Howard was.) When not on the phone with Milton, Howard was complaining. He didn't like Fern's grandmother's houseits strange landscape dotted with chimneys, the big house roofed with books. He complained about the books, books, books . . . everywhere!
"The house is crammed nearly solid!" Howard whined. "Who can breathe with all this dust?"
It was true. Dusty books lined every wall and were fitted into every small spacecupboards, drawers, kneeholes of desks. They were sewn into the stuffing of the sofa cushions, even crammed into the paintings hung on the walla little trick that Fern's mother had invented when she was a girl about Fern's age. To get around in the house, everyone was forced to careen along narrow, book-lined paths. Fern loved this! Each book contained worlds and adventures. Sometimes she could feel the energy of the books radiating out from them.
Howard, however, was simply annoyed.
Howard didn't like the creatures who lived on the premises either. He shooed the hobbits in the yard. He scolded the Borrowers for stealing his toothbrush and buttons. And he shushed the crows when they started fightingloudly and with great convictionabout the best places to find bloated worms. Fern went around apologizing to the creatures for Howard's grumpiness.
And he certainly didn't enjoy living with the Miser, who used to be quite evil but now wore a soft, meek expression. Here Fern couldn't really blame Howard. He'd grown up in fear of the Miser, and no matter how many times Fern told Howard that the Miser had changed, Howard couldn't quite believe it. Fern had to forgive this, because of Howard's past associations with the Miser.
But she couldn't forgive the fact that Howard thought Fern's grandmother, Dorathea, was a nut, even though this was a bit true. Fern made him help her read to Dorathea at night. Dorathea liked to read as many books as possible, all at the same time, a sentence from one book, then the next, then the next. With Howard and Fern, she could juggle six stories at once.
"Impossible!" Howard would say later on. "She can't possibly keep them all straight! She's just showing off! What's wrong with reading one book at a time? Like normal people!"