Waldo leapt to his feet, grabbed the machine off the floor, and stood it upright on the table. Then he dashed inside and brought back an armful of discarded pistachio-bug shells from the kitchen. He poured them into the top and turned the crank. He held a teaspoon under the spout, the machine churned, and a single drop of green oil dripped out.
Waldo fell to Mamma’s side and tipped the teaspoon into her mouth. He fidgeted and watched for signs of life. “Come on,” muttered Waldo, “this must be it! I drank the oil this morning, but nobody else did. That’s why I wasn’t paralyzed by the tarantula! And the wild man ate the pistachio-bug shells, but not the innards—the oil from pistachio-bug shells must be some kind of natural anti-poison. It’s the only logical answer!”
“Pfffppphhhhthhh,” sputtered Mamma in agreement.
Waldo yelped and hugged her around the neck. “Ha ha! I knew it! I knew it!”
The color returned to his mother’s face, and she sat up, blinking. She patted Waldo on the back. “Phhththhpppfffssbb,” she said.
“Don’t talk,” said Waldo excitedly, “you’re still partly paralyzed. I need to make more oil!”
He gathered all the pistachio-bug shells he could find and cranked them through the machine. He filled an egg cup with the green oil and administered a little to each of the family members in turn, dripping it into their mouths with an eyedropper. They all sputtered and came back to life like Mamma, shaking their heads and stretching, sore and a bit grouchy, but alive and well nevertheless. Waldo gave monstrous hugs to each of them as they woke, even tackling Fritz and Felix and shouting happily.
The family Wicklow was back.
* * *
Waldo and his family worked tirelessly through the rest of the night to cure the people of Marjoram. Luckily, since the population snacked constantly on pistachio-bugs, there were millions upon millions of discarded shells available for use. Verona and the twins took to the streets, sweeping the shells into sacks. Mamma set up a table on the pier and cranked the machine all night long, churning out the anti-poison drop by drop. Waldo attached a hose to the machine’s spout so it drained into a bowl. Pip filled eyedroppers from the bowl and handed them to Waldo and Pappa, who distributed them to the population. Soon hundreds of Marjorami were queuing up to get the cure for their paralyzed friends and relatives.
By the first light of dawn, everyone was utterly spent, but the paralysis of the poisonous flying tarantula had been banished from Marjoram. Grand Consular Magistrate Tarbush himself came down personally to thank Waldo and the Wicklows, and Waldo donated his pistachio-bug shell-press machine to the city. In return, the Magistrate and the Assembly of Administrators awarded Waldo the Medal of Ingenuity and Good Manners, their most prestigious honor.
Before long, the hustle and bustle returned to the streets of Marjoram, loud and lively, and the Wicklows went back aboard the Merry Mariner to get some well-earned rest.
“Very fine work today, Waldo,” said Mamma as they climbed up the ramp. “I’m proud of you.”
“Me too,” said Pappa, clapping his hand on Waldo’s back. “They’ll write books about you some day, my lad. Make no mistake!”
“This was all your fault,” laughed Fritz.
“From the start!” agreed Felix. “But being paralyzed is awfully boring.”
“Yeah, so thanks for un-paralyzing us, I guess,” said Fritz, and the two of them scampered away cackling before Waldo could hit them with his shoe.
“If we’d listened to you from the start,” said Verona, “none of this would have happened.”
Waldo shrugged. “It’s all okay now,” he said. “What are you going to do today?”
Verona yawned. “I’ll probably sleep for a week.”
“Yeah, me too,” replied Waldo. “But tell me when you all go out exploring again! I want to come with you this time.”
“All right,” said Verona.
They walked through the ship’s front door and shut it gently behind them.
It was dusk by the time Waldo made it back to Marjoram, and the City of Spires had lost its lively bustle. All the windows were shuttered, all the doors bolted. Market stalls were shut up tight, animals all locked in their pens. Not a bird twittered. Not a cat cried. The setting sun threw long, wicked shadows across the empty thoroughfare, and the wind rustling the trees sounded like the rattling of bones.
Waldo shivered. He could feel eyes watching him from every nook and corner, but saw no one. His footsteps echoed down the alleys as though someone were following him.
He made it finally to the docks and went up the ramp of the Merry Mariner, exhausted and desperate. He burst through the front door, ran across the foyer and up the back stairs. There he found his family just as he’d left them: paralyzed, sprawled out on the deck, motionless.
“I’m so sorry!” said Waldo, falling on Mamma’s big bosom. “I tried everything, and I just don’t know what to do anymore!” Past Mamma lay the twins, Fritz and Felix. They didn’t seem so mean anymore—they just looked scared.
Under the table huddled Pappa and Pip, hugging each other. Beyond them was Verona, stock-still, shocked and appalled. “This is all my fault,” he whispered, holding Mamma’s big hand in his. “This is all my fault. I wish…I wish I hadn’t said what I said. I don’t hate you. I…I love you. All of you.” He sniffled and tried his hardest to hold back tears. “And I miss you,” he muttered. “A lot.”
He sighed. Mamma’s face was still frozen in horror and pain. Waldo couldn’t look. He turned away, and his eyes fell upon the broken glass jar and his pistachio-bug shell-press machine, lying on the deck where he’d left them.
Waldo stared at the shell-press machine. He felt the gears in his brain start moving. Two puzzle pieces were here, rubbing against one another, almost fitting…but what?
“Arrghh!” Waldo cried out in pain. He fell to the ground. “Oh no, oh no,” he muttered. “Stay awake! Don’t go paralyzed, or you can’t help anyone! Stay…awake…!”
He staggered to his feet. He felt dizzy. The wild man was laughing and chasing the flying tarantula around in circles. Waldo wanted to speak, but words didn’t come. His vision blurred. His arm went numb. He watched everything happening as if in a dream, soft and puffy, squishy around the edges.
The wild man finally succeeded in clapping his hands around the tarantula. “Give it…” mumbled Waldo. His lips felt drowsy. “Give it…to me…”
But the wild man grinned madly, stuffed the poisonous flying tarantula into his mouth, and swallowed the whole thing down in a single gulp.
Waldo’s mouth opened and closed in shock. “What…what did you do that for?” he cried. “Now it’s all ruined! Now everything is lost! I needed that tarantula, you wild dummy! You nincompoop! I needed it to make the anti-poison! Now I’m going to go green in the face and be paralyzed and we’re all going to die!”
The wild man patted his belly and licked his lips. “You don’t look green in the face,” he said mildly.
Waldo frowned and rubbed his arm on the spot where he’d been stung. The wild man was entirely correct—he was not paralyzed at all. In fact, the dizzy feeling had completely gone away. His arm was sore, but he felt none of the effects of the poison.
Neither did the wild man, Waldo noticed. Certainly the spider must have stung the man on the inside multiple times on the way down to his belly, yet he shimmied back up the side of the ruin, took his position, and resumed shrieking and shaking his fist down at distant Marjoram as though nothing had happened.
“Why?” Waldo said. He furrowed his brow. “What could I possibly have in common with that cracked old man? It doesn’t make any sense!” He frowned and thought very hard. He paced back and forth and rubbed his forehead until it hurt. The sun dipped low in the sky. He needed answers, and fast, but none came.
“Well, it’s useless staying here,” he muttered. He could think of no way of getting the venom out of the tarantula now that it was being digested in the wild man’s stomach. He had no choice but to return home and hope an idea would come to him along the way. He felt a twist in his gut. “I’m not giving up,” he promised.
He hurried along the path he’d come up, back down the valley to Marjoram, trying to persuade himself with each step that it hadn’t been a day completely wasted.
On top of one of the ruins there stood a wild old man, shaking his fist and shrieking gibberish down into the valley. It looked as though he’d never combed or cut his hair in his entire life, and aside from the enormous bushy beard trailing down between his ankles, he was stark naked.
“Er, excuse me, sir,” called Waldo. “I’m looking for a flying tarantula. I believe it came this way recently. Did you see it?”
“Ah!” cried the wild man, peering down at Waldo. “I know you!”
Waldo frowned. “You do?”
“Yes, why yes I do!” said the wild man. He shimmied down the side of the ruin like a monkey and hopped over, grinning toothlessly. Waldo wrinkled his nose. The man smelled like a sweaty goat. “You’re the boy who hates his family!”
“Oh, that’s just great,” groaned Waldo, throwing up his hands. “I suppose you heard me shouting from all the way up here, too, and now you’re going to tell me you think I should be locked up, or publically humiliated, or tied to a cannonball and drowned in the sea!”
“Why, no, not one bit!” said the wild man. “No way in never! In fact, the reverse is quite the opposite: I’m proud of you!”
“You are?” said Waldo.
The wild man grinned again and clapped a hand on Waldo’s shoulder. His odor was so powerful it brought tears to Waldo’s eyes. He could see ants in the man’s beard.
“Oh, yes, indeed absolutely!” said the man. “For you see, for example, I myself hate my family, I detest them! In fact I hate everyone in Marjoram. I find them simply despicable, utterly loathsome. I’ll tell you why. Let me explain! Thirty-three years ago, three and thirty of them, in the past, I was walking along the city street, the avenue, the boulevard, like a normal chap, just your regular—you know, your simply normal fellow, do you see? I was eating a soup, a stew of some kind, a brewed stewed lunchtime edible, and it spilled! I made a false move of some kind, of some sort, and the soup spilled on my coat. Everyone laughed! They all made fun! They pointed at me and chuckled and guffawed and snickered at me, and by the Seventh Sea, that was the last straw! That was that! No more! I hated them all that day, and I hate them all today!”
Waldo frowned. “You hate them because they laughed because you spilled soup on yourself?”
“Yes, correct, that is exactly on the—that’s right!” cackled the wild man, hopping from one foot to the other. “I hate them ever so utterly! Every one of them! Now I live here, you see, don’t you? And every day from dawn till dusk I give them a piece of my mind! Like this!” He shook his fist and screamed at the city below.
“That must be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Waldo.
“Nonsense! Balderdash!” grinned the wild man. “You can be like me, if you like, if it please you, if you like! Live in a wonderful old city and hate them all for what they’ve done, for what they’ve said, for what they’ve made you do! Oh yes. But find your own city! This one is taken.”
The wild man grabbed a handful of pistachio-bug shells and stuffed them into his mouth, crunching loudly. Waldo lifted his foot and noticed he was stepping on millions of discarded pistachio-bug innards. “You’re eating the shells and throwing away the insides?” Waldo shook his head. “You’ve lost your marbles! I don’t want to be like you, and I don’t hate my family.” He sighed. “Not even a little. I just got angry and…and I said it. I wish I could take it back.”
Somewhere, something was buzzing.
“I know that sound,” thought Waldo.
Before he could do a single thing about it, the poisonous flying tarantula descended from the sky in a surprise attack and stung him right on the arm.
Waldo tried not to look down as he bounded across the rooftops of Marjoram. He was already at a dizzying height, and he found it difficult to calculate where he would land while still keeping an eye on the tarantula, buzzing away with his net. Once he fell through a hole in someone’s roof, and then he missed a landing and nearly plummeted to the ground.
But he kept the tarantula in his sight, and followed after it. The chase took him bouncing down the smaller spires on the outskirts of the city, then finally out of Marjoram altogether and up into the rocky hills beyond.
It was there that Waldo’s spring finally broke, and he only narrowly escaped being mangled on the rocks by falling into a thorny bush. When he emerged from the bush, scratched and badly bruised, the flying tarantula was just a speck in the distance. Finally it went over the side of a tall hill and disappeared completely.
“Just great,” grumbled Waldo. He rubbed his eyeglasses on his shirt and sighed. He looked around for something he could use to build, something he could invent to get him there faster. “Nothing around here but sticks, rocks, and grass,” he muttered. Even he couldn’t think of anything to invent out of that.
So Waldo set out on foot. He climbed an ancient, winding trail up the hillside, feeling exhausted, forcing himself to put one foot in front of the other. The countryside was dry and not entirely interesting. Dotted here and there between the stones and scrub grass grew the twisting trunks of olive trees. In the shade rested clumps of brown big-horned sheep and their sleepy shepherds. The odd ancient stone column or ruined archway made for brief curiosity, but otherwise there was little to look at.
Waldo began to reflect on things. It had not taken very long for a perfect day to turn into easily the worst day of his whole life. He wondered why it was so devilishly difficult to catch the tarantula this time—he didn’t remember having any troubles when he caught it originally, on that island in the Ivory Sea. He’d simply snuck up and put an overturned jar on top of it.
“Some days are just lucky, I guess,” he said to himself. “Today is not one of those days.”
He began planning how he was going to extract the venom from the spider (he had several delicate syringes back on the Merry Mariner that ought to do the trick), and how he would brew up the anti-poison (a drop of poison per serving of anti-poison, boil to release the vapors, then mix with calculoxide and some sort of natural solvent), when he realized he wouldn’t be able to make enough. The tarantula only had a limited amount of venom. After all the poison it had already spent that day, Waldo wasn’t even sure he’d have enough left over to cure everyone in the family. But to also cure everyone who’d been stung in Marjoram? Out of the question!
“I’ll worry about that later,” he huffed. He climbed over a crumbling stone column which had fallen across the path.
At the top of the column, he saw he’d reached the top of the hill. Behind him, the valley swept down to the bay, where the mighty stone spires of Marjoram jabbed into the air like stalagmites. It all looked so small and insignificant from here.
In front of Waldo, the skeleton of an entire ruined city lay spread across the hillside. Ranks of decaying columns supported empty air, archways which once no doubt led to lavish halls now struggled against the advancing roots of olive trees, and everywhere were scattered crushed white bricks, the ancient bones of a demolished civilization. A city so old, even its ghosts had been forgotten. It made Waldo uneasy somehow.
He vaguely recalled Pappa telling him something about an ancient ruined city earlier that day, before the accident, but his thoughts were interrupted by a frenzied screaming.
“What in the name of the Seventh Sea—” started the Magistrate, but before he could move a muscle, the tarantula stung him right between the eyes. Grand Consular Magistrate Tarbush the Untainted went green in the face and collapsed on the bench.
“Oh, great,” muttered Waldo, and the room exploded in panic.
For a moment, he could only stand and watch dumbfounded as the horror unfolded before his eyes. The Assembly of Administrators fell over themselves trying frantically to reach the exit, climbing atop one another, jabbing each other with elbows and knees, even biting and yanking each other’s beards. Some scrambled up the walls, reaching for the windows, but the tarantula stung them first. Others hid under their seats, stepped on by their colleagues. Many burst into tears and tore out their hair in despair as the exit became clogged by fleeing Administrators. The flying tarantula attacked them all without mercy.
When the captain of the guard fell, green-faced and foaming at the mouth, Waldo snatched his keys and unlocked the chains around his wrists. He looked desperately for his grappling hook, trying to avoid being trampled by the frenzied horde, but found it smashed to pieces on the floor.
“There’s no time for repairs,” he said to himself. “I’ll just have to simplify things.” He removed the large spring from the machine’s ruin and fixed it to the bottom of his feet. Then he took his butterfly net in hand, hoped for the best, and jumped.
Waldo sprang into the air like a grasshopper, high over the heads of the crowd, almost reaching the iron chandeliers. Then he fell back to earth and the spring recoiled, shooting him into the air once more. After a few near-disastrous bounces against the wall, he got a feel for it. Soon he could more or less control where he jumped.
“I’ve got you now!” cried Waldo, and he chased after the flying tarantula, springing and swiping his net. The tarantula tried to loop out of the way, but Waldo moved swiftly. He vaulted off a wall, swung up and around, and snagged the monster in his net.
“Ha ha!” Waldo cried.
But the flying tarantula was stronger than he thought. It pulled at the net, buzzing its wings harder than ever. “Hey!” said Waldo. “Stop that!”
With a ferocious yank, the tarantula pulled the net straight out of Waldo’s grip, then flew up into the air and out the window with it.
“Oh no you don’t, not this time!” Waldo shouted, and he sprang up as hard as he could, sailing up and out of the broken courtroom window.
“Why does everything bad always happen to me?” thought Waldo. He stared at the floor and shuffled his feet as the city guards brought him to the High Court of Marjoram. “Verona always gets to go on regular adventures that are fun and interesting. Nothing bad ever happens to Fritz and Felix. This never would have happened to Mamma or Pappa or Pip.”
His heart sank into his stomach as he thought of his poor family, still lying paralyzed on the deck of the Merry Mariner, slowly suffering. “This whole stupid thing could have been avoided if they hadn’t made me so angry!” he thought, clenching his fists. “See what happens? It serves them right!” He immediately felt awful for even thinking such a thing.
The guards pushed aside two enormous wooden doors, and Waldo was led into a mighty chamber beyond. The huge room had been carved out of the peak of the very largest of Marjoram’s stone spires. The stone walls, pocked with uneven glass windows, tapered far up above to a point, from which hung a series of immense iron chandeliers. Every step Waldo took echoed across the chamber. Lined on either side of him were rows and rows of seats, upon which sat rows and rows of scowling men in robes. All eyes followed Waldo as he walked past. In front of him towered a bench which held several important-looking bearded men in elaborate hats, and a small wooden podium. Waldo guessed he was going to have to stand there and say something. Suddenly he very much wanted to go home.
“All rise for his Honorable Grand Consular Magistrate, Tarbush the Untainted!” shouted a voice, and everyone stood up. An imposing old man in the most elaborate hat and most important-looking beard took his seat at the top of the bench, and everyone sat down once more.
“We, the Esteemed Assembly of Administrators and his Honor the Grand Consular Magistrate,” droned one of the men at the end of the bench, “are collected here today to hear the pleas of one Waldo Wicklow, present, accused of disturbing the peace and—”
“Hold it,” said Grand Consular Magistrate Tarbush, silencing the Administrator with a wave. He leaned over the bench and peered down at Waldo. “Aren’t you the boy who hates his family?”
Grave mutterings and murmurs fluttered through the chambers.
“I…no!” said Waldo. He felt queasy. “I mean, I am who you think I am, I think, but I don’t really hate my family! I just…”
“Out with it!” boomed the Magistrate.
Waldo trembled. “I just said it. It just came out because they made me angry! It’s not my fault! But now they’re paralyzed, so I have to help them. If you just let me go out to find my flying tarantula—”
More mutters rumbled through the Assembly, and disapproving shaking of heads followed.
“I’ve heard enough!” thundered Magistrate Tarbush. “Waldo Wicklow, I hereby sentence you to a thousand days of public humiliation, for cruel speech to your kin!” He slammed his gavel on the bench with a crack!
At precisely the same moment, there came a shattering of glass from above, and a hideous buzzing. All eyes turned up to see the poisonous flying tarantula diving down, straight for the Magistrate himself.
Waldo stopped to reload the grappling hook and catch his breath, and wondered why the tarantula wasn’t attacking him. “Probably because I’m the only one chasing it,” he thought, and fired again.
Finally, after zipping up, down, and across half of Marjoram, the poisonous flying tarantula perched atop the peak of one of the spires and just sat there. It almost appeared to be taking a moment to appreciate the misery and confusion.
Waldo snuck up along the highest catwalk, which wrapped around the top of the spire like a vine, trying quietly and cautiously to approach the tarantula. Keeping his eyes glued on the spider, he removed the hook from the end of his grappling hook’s chain. This he replaced with the butterfly net, then cranked and wound up the machine as tight as it would go. “If my aim is true,” he thought to himself, “I’ll snag it and just reel it back in like a fish!”
He steadied himself and took careful aim. “Escape this, you devil!” he whispered.
“Halt!” barked a voice.
The flying tarantula took to the air and buzzed away, out of sight.
“No!” cried Waldo. He spun around, and found himself face to face with a troop of stern-looking city guards. They loomed over him in severe black fezzes and long cloaks, brandishing threatening muskets and even more threatening mustaches. “What did you do that for?” he said.
“You are under arrest,” growled the captain of the guard, “for suspicious connection with the mass paralyzings which occur even this very moment as we speak. Surrender your weapon!” He wrenched the grappling hook from Waldo’s hands, then bound his wrists in chains and padlocked them.
“What…? But—no! I’m trying to catch the tarantula!” sputtered Waldo. “You can’t just—you have to let me catch it. My family’s been poisoned too!”
“Tell it to the Magistrate,” snarled the captain. Waldo kicked and screamed and shouted for help, but the city guards dragged him away.
Waldo twisted tight the final screw in his apparatus and wasted no time. He took aim straight up and fired.
The chain unspooled, the hook snagged a ledge, and Waldo was yanked up into the air, over the heads of the shrieking mob. He landed, hung to the ledge and wound up the chain, carefully keeping one eye on the flying tarantula. Then he fired again, launching himself up the side of the very spire itself. Anyone who peered out their window to see the monstrous flying spider was doubly shocked to see its pursuer, the little boy propelling himself up the spire from balcony to rooftop to catwalk.
About halfway to the top of the spire, the tarantula flew through an open window into a house, and Waldo followed close behind. A local family screamed and leapt up from their dinner table as Waldo came shooting through their home on his spring-powered line, scattering dishes and books and bowls of discarded pistachio-bug shells. The tarantula zoomed out, up, and back into another house above, weaving a dizzy path through the tunnels, always two steps ahead of Waldo and leaving behind a trail of paralyzed victims for him to follow.
First it stung the old woman, whose face turned green and she fell to the ground, paralyzed and foaming at the mouth like the Wicklows. The old men leapt up from their game tables, but the tarantula stung them, too. It hopped from victim to victim, evading every attempt to snatch or squash it.
Instantly, pandemonium broke loose among the Marjorami populace, spreading through the crowd like an infection. They trampled over one another, desperate to get out of the tarantula’s path. Tables splintered, tea-glasses shattered, and children screeched. Panicked mules overturned their carts, while mothers stuffed their infants into baskets for safety. Some hid in barrels, others under tarps, but the tarantula was ruthless and cunning in its hunt. No one was safe.
Waldo tried his best to push his way through the stampeding crowd, swinging his butterfly net at every opportunity. It was no use—the creature was too fast, and flew too high. “I’ve got to be more clever,” he thought to himself. He looked around him for what materials he might be able to use to construct something ingenious, and the gears of his mind churned quickly, processing possibilities.
Finally, he had it.
Elbowing through the screaming crowd, Waldo came to a discarded bicycle and stripped it of its chain. He then cracked open a large clock which a merchant had dropped during the panic and extracted from within several gears, cogs, and a very large spring. Gathering up a fisherman’s line, he sliced off the oversized hook at the end and spooled the bicycle chain through its eye. He made use of the tools he always carried in his pockets—various wrenches and pliers and clamps—to re-assemble the bits and pieces inside an oversized boot, inventing for himself something quite practical: a spring-powered grappling hook.
Dozens of people now lay sprawled in the thoroughfare, green-faced and paralyzed, and the cruel creature began working its way up the side of the stone spire, far out of reach. It stung passers-by on the catwalks, onlookers on balconies, even an old woman who simply leaned out of her window to bring in the wash.
It stung Verona before she could get out of her seat. Immediately, her face turned a sickly green and foam came bubbling from her mouth. She fell down to the deck, paralyzed. Pappa yelped and dove under the table with Pip, but the tarantula found and stung them both. Mamma bellowed and swatted at the monster with her huge hands while Fritz and Felix cowered behind her. The flying tarantula flew behind, stung the twins, then stung Mamma on the neck. It all happened in a heartbeat.
Then the creature flew up into the air and out into the city of Marjoram.
Waldo still stood on his chair, frozen in utter shock. He was the only Wicklow left. The others all lay splayed out on the deck, paralyzed, with sickly-green faces and frothy mouths. The air was still and deadly quiet.
“Oh no,” was all he could think to say. “Oh, no.”
What had he done?
He wanted to panic and scream and run about, but he calmed himself and commanded himself to think very carefully. “If I act quickly, I can make an anti-poison,” he thought. “But I’ve got to catch that tarantula and extract the pure venom for the mixture, or it won’t work.”
“Don’t worry!” he said aloud to his motionless family. “I’ve got a plan. I’ll get you back to normal as soon as I can. I promise!”
With that, he dashed into the ship and down the spiral stairs to his room. He grabbed his butterfly net and a spare jar, then raced back upstairs, out the front door and down the Merry Mariner’s ramp into the city of Marjoram to look for his runaway pet.
Marjoram had another, older name: the City of Spires. Any traveler who knew this name would immediately recognize the city from leagues away, even by sea. Marjoram was made up of about a dozen tall, majestic conical stone structures, like a series of enormous pointy hats placed on the curve of Temple Bay. They were natural formations, a product of wind erosion. The city’s inhabitants had carved their homes into the very stone itself, tunneling through the rock much like termites through wood, though the dwellings themselves were cozy and modern. Some had constructed wood-plank buildings which hung precariously off the sides of the stone spires, and the whole mess was made accessible by a network of ramps, catwalks, and wooden bridges which stretched across the gap between spires.
Waldo gazed upward, uninterested in the web of wood and rope above. He looked only for his escaped flying tarantula. Along the way, he passed shops selling clocks of every size, barbershops filled with bearded men waiting their turn for a trim, and robed holy men pontificating from atop overturned boxes. Mule carts stuffed with bolts of cloth and firewood trundled past, and he was almost hit by a postman careening by on a rattling bicycle. Old men huddled around tables in the shade, playing dominos or card games over powerful glasses of peppercorn tea, and somewhere, someone played a merry tune on a fiddle. Nearly every single Marjorami person in sight carried a handful of roasted pistachio-bugs, snapping them open, popping the crisp innards into their mouths, and tossing the shells aside. The discarded shells crunched under Waldo’s feet as he walked, littering the thoroughfare.
Waldo approached a crowd of men watching a particularly suspenseful game of cards. “Excuse me,” he said, pushing his way through. “There’s a very dangerous flying tarantula on the loose. Have you seen it? It’s about this big, yellow and black, with a big stinger and orange wings.”
The men frowned and stroked their mustaches and shook their heads, muttering to one another, but an old woman shouted up from the back.
“You there, boy!” She leaned forward on her broomstick and pointed at him with a claw-like finger. “Are you the little boy that hates his family?”
All eyes turned to Waldo. He went red as a cabbage.
“I…what are you talking about?” he stammered.
“We heard you shout it, all the way from your ship!” cried the old woman, and she pointed now to the bay, where the white windmill-sails of the docked Merry Mariner could be seen among the local fishing boats.
“That—huh? That’s not important!” said Waldo. The Marjorami whispered and glared and clicked their tongues. “This is an emergency,” he continued. “If we don’t find the tarantula in time—”
“We’re not interested in speaking to someone like you,” said a stern-looking man who smelled of tobacco. “Please be on your way.”
“You’re not listening to me!” cried Waldo, but they all turned their backs. “Well, then don’t blame me if you all get—oh, no, look out!”
A great buzzing announced the arrival of the poisonous flying tarantula. It descended upon the crowd, and before Waldo could do a thing about it, attacked without mercy.
Despite his quickly worsening temper, Waldo gritted his teeth and helped Pip spread the tablecloth. Verona set the plates and Pappa laid the spoons, while Fritz and Felix dusted off the seat cushions by whacking each other with them. Soon Mamma arrived with an enormous steaming dish of roasted pistachio-bugs, figs, and spiced grain.
“Make room, hot plate!” she barked. She set down the dish and frowned. “Waldo! How many times do I have to tell you to put your things away?” She pointed at the glass jar holding the flying tarantula, which sat on the table next to Waldo.
“It’s a very rare megarachnis toxicus-volantius!” protested Waldo. “It needs to eat too!”
Whack! A spoonful of pistachio-bugs hit Waldo in the face.
“There’s some food for you!” said Fritz. Felix gleefully joined in, flinging figs across the table. Even Pappa laughed, despite himself.
“Stop it!” cried Waldo, rubbing a kernel of grain out of his eye. He was so angry his knees shook.
“That’s enough, you two!” Mamma roared at the twins, “or no pudding! Waldo, I don’t care if it’s the world’s smartest cockroach, no creatures at the table!”
“But—” started Waldo.
“Come on,” said Verona, “put it away! We just want to eat lunch.” Pappa joined in the scolding, and soon everyone was pointing fingers and shouting. When another oily pistachio-bug sailed over the table and landed on his forehead, Waldo simply cracked.
He stood up on his chair and screamed:
“I hate you!I hate all of you!”
Silence fell. Mouths hung open. Waldo’s words echoed up and over the hills surrounding the bay.
Verona looked at Pappa, who looked at Mamma.
“Waldo—” started Mamma.
“Arrrggghhhh!” cried Waldo. In a blind fury, he swept everything in front of him off the table. His plate, the silverware, his pistachio-bug shell-press machine, and the jar holding the poisonous flying tarantula all went crashing down to the deck. The glass jar shattered into a thousand pieces. Before Waldo realized what he’d done, it was too late.
With a horrific buzzing, the flying tarantula rose into the air above the table. It was an enormous, hairy, yellow-and-black devil with wings of fearsome orange. Its eight spiny, wicked legs dangled on either side of a wasp-like stinger. It looked at them each in turn with eight skull-white eyes and gnashed its gruesome fangs.
“Hello Waldo,” said Mamma, tying her apron. “I’m starting lunch right away, we’re famished. Help set the table, please.”
“I wanted to show you—” started Waldo, but the twins cut him off.
“Look out! It’s a cave creature, hideously pale from lack of sun!” said Fritz.
“It’s come from the putrid swamps below to mangle us!” cried Felix, and they both collapsed on the floor, writhing and pretending to be mangled.
“I’ve been working,” Waldo muttered. He tried to step over them, but Fritz grabbed his ankle and he tripped. Everything went tumbling across the floor—his eyeglasses, the pistachio-bug shell-press, and a large jar holding the poisonous flying tarantula.
“Hey, that hurt!” cried Waldo. He checked his glasses for scratches. The twins just cackled and ran off.
“Waldo, please, pick up your things!” said Mamma, stepping over him.
“It wasn’t my fault! It was…” started Waldo, but Mamma wasn’t listening. Waldo gathered up his machine. “So much for ‘best day ever,’” he grumbled to himself.
Pip wandered over and picked up the jar with the flying tarantula. It buzzed against the glass and hissed.
“Careful, Pip,” said Waldo, taking it from him. “That’s dangerous.”
“You sure missed a lot this morning,” said Verona, passing by with plates in her hands. “We climbed the tallest spire and drank tea at the top, and there was fiddle music, and a man swallowed fire! Then Fritz and Felix found an old basement with a skeleton in it, and a man asked Mamma to marry her—”
“Let’s forget that ever happened,” frowned Mamma, bustling by. “Waldo! Make yourself useful, won’t you? You’re right in the way.” She dumped a tablecloth on his head.
“I’m trying to show you—” started Waldo, but Pappa arrived holding a large old book.
“Hullo, Waldo!” he said. “I say, we’ve had the most enchanting morning. Have you heard of the ancient city of Levant? Let me show you, have a look here.” He shoved the book in Waldo’s hands and pointed to various passages. “Could you build a contraption to locate persons or individuals? There’s a devilish rumor of a mad saint who lives in the ruins of the old city, guarding a treasure of some sort. Maybe a device to detect treasure would be better, eh? Waldo, my lad, are you listening?”
Waldo groaned. His pleasant mood was quickly boiling off. “I don’t have time right now, Pappa!” He pushed the book back into Pappa’s hands and went to the kitchen, where Mamma was popping pistachio-bugs out of their shells and tossing them into a sizzling pan.
“Spice-fried pistachio-bugs again,” she said, making a pile of the discarded shells. “We bought bags and bags of them at the bazaar. It’s all they eat around these parts! Good thing they’re tasty with pepper and honey.”
“Speaking of pistachio-bugs, look what I made!” said Waldo. He cleared some space on the counter and hoisted his machine onto it. “You just put the leftover shells in the top part here, then turn the crank like this, and…Mamma, watch!”
He put a teaspoon under the machine’s spout. After a serious amount of cranking and churning, a drop of green oil dripped out. Waldo sipped it off the spoon and smacked his lips.
“See?” said Waldo, but Mamma was rummaging through her spices. “Mamma! The device presses pistachio-bug shells and squeezes out an edible oil which you can also use to—”
“One whole drop?” snickered Felix from behind him.
“Help! We’ll be flooded!” laughed Fritz.
“Can you invent us a floating anchor next?” chuckled Felix. “That’s even more useful.”
“Shut up!” said Waldo. “You don’t know anything!”
“Boys, quiet!” said Mamma. “Go set the table! Please, Waldo, I’m very busy. Show me your floating anchor after lunch.”
“Arrrghh!” cried Waldo. He grabbed his machine and the tarantula jar and stomped out to the rear deck.
It had so far been a wonderful morning for Waldo Wicklow. Unusual though it was, he was in the best of spirits.
The Wicklow family’s adventuring windmill-ship, the Merry Mariner, was docked in the port of Marjoram, a large and important city on the Fertile Coast. Waldo’s older siblings, Verona and the twins, Fritz and Felix, had left before breakfast to do some exploring. Soon thereafter, Mamma and Pappa had departed down the ramp as well, taking little Pip along with them. At first, Mamma had insisted that Waldo join them. Waldo had begged and pleaded to be allowed to stay behind aboard the ship. He had already wandered Marjoram the previous day, and anyway he was in the middle of several important inventions and experiments down in his workshop.
“Can’t I stay here, please Mamma?” Waldo had asked. “I’ll just stay right in my room the whole time.”
Mamma sighed. “Well…oh, all right.”
Waldo thanked her and raced down to his room before she could change her mind.
Finally alone and undisturbed by noise or interruption, Waldo had spent the morning gleefully engrossed in his work. He concocted a sweet-smelling salve from jungle tree sap which could soothe insect stings and bites—useful, as Waldo kept a wide variety of stinging creatures in his collection. The prize among these was his poisonous flying tarantula, which he had found on an island in the Ivory Sea and had so far been unable to identify. Today, however, after much careful research, observation, and study, he was able to classify it as megarachnis toxicus-volantius: extremely rare and exceedingly dangerous. He then drafted a letter to the Royal Society of Taxonomists, of which he was a Junior Member, to report his find.
Finally, he completed work on his pistachio-bug shell-press, an invention of his own devising. The common pistachio-bug was a small, tasty edible insect, native to the Fertile Coast region but popular across the Seven Seas. One simply had to roast it and pop off its shell to enjoy the crunchy innards. As a snack, they were awfully addictive, but Waldo noticed that the discarded pistachio-bug shells piled up and were simply thrown out. He wondered if he could make use of them, and thought up the shell-press machine.
It had been such a productive morning that Waldo was tempted to declare it the best day ever.
When he heard the front door burst open and the family Wicklow tumble aboard the ship, kicking off their shoes, chattering all at once, and banging around, his heart sank just a centimeter or two. Nevertheless he gathered his things and went up the ship’s spiral staircase to show them what he’d accomplished.