THE MUSHROOM FARM

    It was totally horrible in the back of Uncle Drac's van. The trouble was, Barry and Wanda had shoveled up the wrong kind of bat poo. Uncle Drac always uses the old dry stuff, but they had put new stuff in the sacks. Which is not nice. The even worse trouble was that Barry is not a good driver. He doesn't like other cars, -36- and every time he sees one he slams on the brakes. Or speeds up really fast to get away from it. In about two seconds flat, I felt very sick. I leaned against the yucky, squidgy sacks and groaned--and one of the squidgy sacks poked me in the ribs. "Ow!" I yelled. I was so surprised that I jumped up and hit my head on the roof. "Ouch!" So I sat down fast and landed on the sack, which squeaked loudly. Just then the van went around a corner really fast and all the sacks slid over to the side, taking me with them. The pokey sack tipped over and spilled bat poo out all over the floor. It spilled out something else, too--Big Bat. Big Bat is like Uncle Drac, which is why they get along so well.

    He is a grumpy old bat who does not like being messed up--and seeing as Big Bat had recently been messed up big-time, I left him alone. He shook out his wings and then waddled over to the farthest corner of the van, hunched himself up, and looked mad. I understood how he felt. I was really glad that I had found Big Bat. Just as I was thinking how pleased Uncle Drac would be, Barry slammed on the brakes and the van skidded to a halt.

    Big Bat, me, and all the sacks slid up to the front of the van. We had arrived at the mushroom farm. Barry opened the doors and I fell out, gasping for fresh air. "You've made an awful mess in there, " Wanda said disapprovingly as I staggered to a patch of grass and threw myself to the ground. "Me?" I wheezed. "I've made a mess?" But Wanda, who is meant to be my best friend, showed no sympathy for the fact that I was possibly breathing my last breath. She just stomped off and went to help Barry get the sacks out of the van. Then Barry started shoveling all the poo back into the spilled sack--and I remembered Big Bat, who was sulking in the corner of the van.

    The back of that van was the last place I wanted to be, but I got in and rescued Big Bat just as Barry was about to shovel him back into the sack. Then I took Big Bat out and put him somewhere he would be safe--I hung him from the rearview mirror. The frogs did not look pleased. The mushroom farm was a weird place-- it looked like a load of old ruins with a few ramshackle sheds in the middle where the mushrooms lived. There was no one about. It was a bit creepy. "You're looking very pale, Araminta, " said Barry, who is a thoughtful person, unlike his daughter. "Why don't you and Wanda go and take a run on the beach while I go and find Old Morris. " The lane from the mushroom farm led to a low cliff.

    Wanda and I climbed down some old wooden steps and ran onto the beach. The tide was far out, and there was lots of wet sand to throw at Wanda. She soon got tired of that, though, and went off to look at the caves at the foot of the cliffs. There is an old story that they are smug- glers' caves and that one of them leads to our house. Once I asked Aunt Tabby if that was true, but she just said that you shouldn't believe everything you hear and why would smugglers want to come all the way to our house when there are plenty of houses nearer the beach? Why smugglers would want to come to a house with Aunt Tabby in it was more to the point, I thought. They would be just asking for trouble. Wanda had disappeared into a small cave.

    I waited for her to come out, but she didn't. It was boring on the beach on my own, so after a while I went to see what she was doing. The cave was very narrow and smelled like seaweed. It had a sandy floor and a high, rocky roof. I looked around for Wanda, but she wasn't there. I thought maybe she was hiding and planning to jump out at me, but I couldn't see anywhere to hide. "Wanda!" I called out. "Hey, Wan-da. " "Wanda Wanda Wanda Wan-da, " echoed back at me. I walked farther into the cave and switched on my flashlight (Uncle Drac gave me a key ring flashlight for my birthday, and I always carry it just in case). I thought maybe Wanda was lurking somewhere in the shad-ows.

    Wanda does that sometimes because she thinks it's funny--which it is not--so I shone the flashlight everywhere. But there was no Q sign of Wanda, and soon I had reached the end of the cave. Where was she? "Boo!" yelled Wanda. She suddenly jumped right out in front of me. "Ha-ha, got you, got you!" "Don't do that, " I told her. "Where were you?" Wanda looked really pleased with herself. "I was up there, " she said, pointing up to the ceiling of the cave. "Don't be silly, Wanda. How could you get up there?" "Come on, I'll show you, " she said, switch- ing on her flashlight. Wanda is such a copycat sometimes.

    I had been so busy expecting Wanda to jump out at me that I had not noticed some narrow steps cut into the wall of the cave. I followed Wanda up to a small ledge at the top. There was just about enough room for us both, but most of it was taken up by a mas- sive pile of rocks that reached right up to the roof of the cave. Wanda was really excited. "Look what I've found, " she said. She shone her flashlight through a narrow chink in the rocks, and I peered in. At first I couldn't see what Wanda was on about, but then, as she wiggled the flashlight beam around, I could see the light glinting off some metal. "It's a sword, " said Wanda. "How do you know?" I asked. "I've been looking at it forever.

    I'm sure it is. Go on, take another look. " "Well, how can I when you're stepping on my foot?" I told her. Wanda has surprisingly big feet for such a short person, and she wears big boots, too. Wanda got off my foot, and I looked again. I didn't want to admit it, but I thought Wanda was right. On the other side of the pile of rocks, I could see a small, round grotto. And in the middle of its sandy floor lay a sword. A really big, serious-looking sword. "It would make a great five-hundredth birthday present for Sir Horace, " said Wanda. Well, I had to admit that Wanda was right about that, too. "It would if we could get hold of it, " I said.

    "But there is no way we can squeeze through those rocks. "

    "No, I suppose not. " Wanda sounded dis- appointed. "Anyway, we ought to go now; Dad will be wondering where we are. " I was thinking about the sword and Sir Horace's birthday all the way back to the mushroom farm. And just before we got back to the van, I said to Wanda, "I know how we can get that sword for Sir Horace. " "How?" asked Wanda. "I'll tell you later, " I said. "I have a Plan. "

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