Authors: Patrick Carman
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Fantasy & Magic, #Action & Adventure, #General
“Ready?” Leo asked.
“Not really,” Remi answered, but looking at Betty, he knew they were out of options.
Leo pulled the lever that opened the door, but only enough to see out through a small crack. He peered out, listening, watching. Whatever had been out there was either gone or hiding.
“Cool,” Leo said.
“Let me see,” Remi said, nudging Leo aside and pushing his face up against the crack in the elevator door.
“Leo?” he said.
“Yeah? It’s cool, right?”
“Something just touched my eyeball.”
Suddenly the doors flew open and Remi jumped back.
Two boys and a duck stared into the open space, where a monkey the size of a football stood staring at them. It had the brightest green eyes they’d ever seen, so bright they seemed to glow in the soft light.
“Is it just me or is that a really small monkey?” Remi asked.
As he was saying the words, another monkey — same size, same big green eyes — leaned its head upside down from above.
Betty was bigger than either of them and the bravest of anyone inside the elevator. She honked loudly, which sent the two monkeys scattering, and walked away in search of some privacy.
“How many do you think there are?” Leo asked.
Before Remi could answer, the two monkeys were back, and this time they weren’t alone. They had brought friends. Lots of them.
“They seem nice enough,” Leo said. They weren’t like any monkeys Leo had ever seen, and not just because of their size. These monkeys had elf ears, white brows, and dark furry faces that looked permanently startled because of the big eyes. They were covered in black body fur, but all the tails were long and orange, like the extension cords in the Whippet basement.
Thinking of the extension cords reminded Leo that technically he was still in the hotel, but it felt like a
different world underground. Remi took out an animal cracker and cracked it into four or five smaller parts, holding his hand out.
“Hey, they like me!” Remi said. The strange little monkeys gathered around and emptied Remi’s hand in a flash.
Leo looked past the group of seven or eight monkeys staring at Remi for more food. Out beyond the duck elevator, it was like a jungle under a full moon on a starry night. Vines hung from the canopy of a huge tree that covered the sky. The tree was full of sparkling white lights, like the carriage had been. Back and forth through the branches of the great tree there were rope bridges and ladders. A woman not that much bigger than the monkeys was standing far above on one of the rope bridges.
“Don’t feed the Leprechauns!” she yelled. She had a big voice for such a small person, and she was mad. Whoever it was rapidly descended the tree by way of a series of hanging rope ladders, long vines, and rope bridges.
“Leprechauns?” Remi asked Leo. Leo darted out of the elevator just before all the monkeys jumped onto Remi at once. Remi fell on his back and a dozen more monkeys showed up and jumped on top of the first bunch. Orange tails were tangled up everywhere, and
the small space was filled with shrieking and grabbing for animal crackers.
“I told him,” came a voice startlingly close to Leo. He looked to his left and then down about a foot, and there stood the woman who had been high up in the tree only moments ago.
“You’re fast,” Leo said.
“Not as fast as the Leprechauns. They’re like lightning. Only one way now,” she said.
Remi was actually laughing pretty hard, because the thing they later learned about Leprechaun monkeys was that they were completely harmless. They had no claws or teeth, so they could gum you to death, but that was about it. Mostly it just tickled when they clawed, scratched, or bit.
The pint-size woman reached into the duck elevator and started grabbing orange tails. Each time she got ahold of one, she flicked her arm over her head like she was cleaning out a closet. Leprechauns are also incredibly light, Leo soon discovered, because he was asked to help. They weighed about two pounds and didn’t have any claws to hold on with, so they really flew when they were tossed.
“Are they going to be okay?” Leo asked.
“Oh, sure, they love being tossed around. They live for this stuff,” the woman said. She had eyes too big for
her head, like the monkeys, and big teeth. They were down to the last four monkeys when she took one by the tail and spun it over her head like a lasso. When she let go, Leo was almost sure he heard the flying creature say “Wooooohooooooo!”
“Those little guys are
,” said Remi, sitting up as the last of the monkeys, who also happened to be the very smallest, burrowed down into the pocket of his red jacket. He saw the small woman and went right to work with the questions. “Who are you? And why aren’t you feeding these monkeys?”
The woman, her button nose having turned a little red with the effort, laughed.
“You two must have parents with a million shares of Google stock. I haven’t had a guest down here in two years.”
“Oh, we’re not guests,” Leo said. “I own the hotel now. I’m Leo. This is Remi; he’s the bellboy.”
“And I’m Leo’s brother,” Remi said, getting up and finally all the way out of the duck elevator. “So technically, I think I’m like an heir to the throne or something like that. What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” the woman said. She had turned more cautious and curious, like maybe Leo and Remi couldn’t be trusted. Betty quacked a couple of times and came
out from behind a glob of hanging vines as Leprechauns moved out of her way.
“Betty!” the woman said, softening noticeably. “You’re back!”
She turned to the boys, the ice melting off her mood. “I haven’t seen this duck in a long time.”
She finally said her name was Ingrid and waved Leo and Remi toward the great tree in the center of the underground room. Leo had never seen a tree as big or so full of monkeys; they were everywhere, their glowing green eyes staring down at them.
“If he sent the duck, this must be serious,” Ingrid said when they arrived at the wide trunk. “Come on up, tell old Ingrid what’s going on. We’ll get it figured out.”
“Is this really happening?” Leo asked Remi in a half whisper. Remi nodded, and both boys remembered how Merganzer had told them they would meet a person named Ingrid. Remi, for one, was glad that Merganzer had assured them Ingrid could help, but he was
excited about climbing the tree. Its roots alone presented a challenge, swarming all over the ground like boa constrictors. He tripped twice just getting to the first rung of the rope ladder.
“How far up are we going?” Remi asked nervously. “Couldn’t we just talk down here where it’s safe?”
“I think you’ll like it better up there. Best view in the whole place.”
Ingrid tapped Betty on the head and laughed, then started up the rope ladder like she was related to the monkeys hanging in the trees. She could really move.
An orange tail wrapped around Remi’s arm affectionately as he pet the little monkey in his pocket.
“Looks like you found another small friend,” Leo said as he put his foot on the first rung.
Remi looked down at the face staring back up at him — incredibly cute, the kind of face that makes you smile and feel better after a hard day.
“Will you catch me if I fall?” Remi asked the Leprechaun. But the monkey didn’t understand. It looked up at Remi with those big green eyes and smiled. A monkey loves attention almost as much as it loves animal crackers.
It was some work getting to the top, but mostly it was a blast. Twice they swung on ropes from one side of the tree to the other, landing on vine-covered platforms. At one point the tree limbs became so thick, it was like crawling up through a tangled cave of leaves. When the limbs and leaves opened up again, they found that they’d climbed higher than the tree house by thirty feet. It was nestled against the wide trunk, and it appeared
the only way to the front door was by way of a steep zip line.
Ingrid grabbed three zip-line rollers out of a wooden box nailed to a limb and gave brief and harrowing instructions on how to proceed. She set the roller over the line, grabbed the two handles, and was gone before either of them could say no.
“Forget it,” Remi said, glancing at Leo. “You can’t make me.”
Six or seven Leprechaun monkeys glided down the zip line by their curled tails, smiling back at Remi and Leo. The tails seemed to rise and fall loosely, like they were made of rubber. Other monkeys followed, riding down the line and jumping off at the bottom. They were a very playful bunch. Leo couldn’t help himself — he was dying to fly down to the tree house. It looked like a ton of fun, but the tree house itself was also stirring all the magic places in his imagination. It was SO not what he expected, mostly because it was made entirely of copper and rivets and pipes.
There were three sections to the tree house, different sizes, but all with roofs that looked like the tops of mushrooms, round and curved at the sides. Thick, vine-like pipes ran every which way over and through the three roofs.
“I gotta get down there,” Leo said. Looping the roller over the top of the wire, he was gone in a flash. When he reached the tree house, he let go and crash-landed into a clanging metal table. The table sat on a deck of wire grating that ran all the way around the structures. The table hit a metal chair and the chair went skidding off the grating, tumbling down the side of the tree.
“Don’t worry about it,” Leo heard Ingrid say. “Happens all the time. The Leprechauns will bring it back.”
Remi was petrified as he listened to the metal chair bounce all the way to the bottom. He could imagine each and every impact, all the broken bones and, more than likely, a lot of peeing his pants. It would not be pretty.
“Come on, Remi, it’s easy!”
It looked for a while like Remi wasn’t ever going to make the trip, but the monkeys were nothing if not intuitive, and they liked having company. They wanted to be helpful.
“Loopa!” Ingrid yelled, and the Leprechaun monkey in Remi’s pocket popped its head up obediently. “Gather your friends — he’s going to need some help.”
Loopa was off in a split second, screeching like monkeys do when they’re giving orders. Before long, a group of them had taken out another roller and placed it on
the line. One of them held it firmly in place while more monkeys than Leo could count started glomming on to the handles. They weaved their small arms and legs around one another, forming a wide loop Remi could sit on.
They all looked at Remi at once and didn’t make a sound. They stared so patiently and so forcefully that Remi couldn’t stand it.
“You guys have done this before, haven’t you?” Remi asked, inching one step closer to the zip line. He should have paid more attention. All at once, dozens of monkeys jumped on Remi’s back from the tree limbs behind him.
He didn’t have a chance.
The force of many small monkeys landing on him shoved Remi face-first into the loop, and then Remi and about fifty Leprechaun monkeys raced toward the tree house, screaming and screeching. Remi was yelling with fear, but all the monkeys were laughing, or so it seemed to Leo, who was also laughing from where he stood below.
There was a crash at the bottom, like a barrel full of monkeys had blown open, but Remi was fine.
“They’ll want to do it again,” Ingrid said. “Better get inside and give them a chance to calm down. You’ve got them riled up good.”
She passed through a door, but no monkeys followed, and Leo and Remi went inside. They gathered at an egg-shaped table and got down to business.
“I’m what you might call a gatekeeper,” Ingrid said. “No one gets any lower in the Whippet Hotel without going through me. So let’s hear it. Why’d Merganzer send you?”
“Can I let her in here?” Remi asked. Loopa was sitting alone at the door, staring in with pleading eyes.
“If I let her in, they’ll all think they can follow. Trust me, that’s a bad idea. They’ll break something. I
let a monkey in the house.”
“How long have you been down here?” asked Leo. “And how far
Ingrid laughed. “I thought I was asking the questions! But I can see that’s not going to work. You two are either very shrewd or super dumb. I’m withholding judgment.”
She stepped across the room on short, stubby legs and opened the lid on a wooden box not unlike the one Leo had seen attached to the tree above. Reaching down inside, she pulled out three glass bottles.
“I get them from Dr. Flart,” she said, closing the lid and returning to the table. “He’s madly in love with me, but I’ve got my heart set on someone else.”
Ingrid set two of the soda bottles on the table and said something about how a girl wants flowers and dates and more gross stuff Remi and Leo had no interest in. They stole a glance at each other as Ingrid set the top of the third bottle against the edge of the table. She smacked it with the top of her hand and the cap flew off, landing on the floor. There were a lot of caps on the floor, like peanut shells at a ball game, so it was clear she drank a lot of whatever Dr. Flart was sending her.
She held the bottle out to Remi, then opened the other two in the same manner.
“Here’s to Remi,” she toasted, and they all tapped their bottles together. “For riding the zip line against his better judgment.”
There was a commotion outside on the metal grate, where the Leprechauns were putting the chair back in place. Looking into the bottle, Leo got a little nervous. Whatever was in there had started to bubble up orange and frothy.
“Drink up before it starts to disintegrate!” Ingrid shouted. She tipped her bottle back and guzzled all the contents down in six giant swallows. The lady could chug, no doubt.
Ingrid let loose a burp that was so loud and long, both boys were actually a little bit jealous as they stared
at their own drinks. The liquid was half gone in both bottles, bubbling and frothing into thin air right before their eyes. Thinking they were already down to half a monster burp, they started gulping.
Seconds later the bottles were empty, and the two boys looked at each other, smiling. They had that feeling of the best burp ever rising up from their guts and, wow, when they let them rip, they were magnificent.