STRING

    String is very important when you are going to explore a secret passage. The trouble was, I couldn't find any. I had every- thing else ready from my Secret Passage Kit--my big flashlight, cheese and onion chips, and a can of Coke--but the string was gone. I figured Aunt Tabby had taken it. Wanda kept asking me irritating questions about my Plan, but I said there was no point telling her anything, as it wasn't going to hap- pen unless we found some string--and lots of it.

    So Wanda went to find some, and I sat on the attic stairs and thought through my Q Plan. It was a really brilliant Plan, but then my Plans always are. We were going to go and get the sword in the grotto and give it to Sir Horace for his birthday. And how were we going to do that? Yes--you've guessed it. We would get to the grotto through the smug- glers' secret passage. How about that for a great idea? The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that Aunt Tabby was wrong about smugglers not wanting to come to our house. It was really a great house for smugglers-- lots of rooms to hide stuff in, and far enough away from the sea so that no one would sus- pect anything.

    When I had first discovered the secret passage to Sir Horace's room, I had followed it all the way down to behind the boiler room in the basement. Edmund lives in that part of the passage. I hadn't gone any farther, but I could see that it carried on. And where else would it go but to the grotto? It was obvious, really. Then Wanda turned up with a huge ball of green string. "Mom let me borrow this from her prizewinning string collection, " she said. "She wants it back, though. " I smiled. Wanda can be quite nice at times. "Now will you tell me your Plan?" she said.

    Soon we were climbing down the rickety old ladder that leads from Sir Horace's room.

    Wanda didn't like it one bit. She was saying stuff like, "But horrible things might be living down there" and "How do you know it leads to the grotto?" which I was answering very patiently, con- sidering that every time she said something the lad- der wobbled, and I was holding on to it with only one hand, since I was the one with the flashlight.

    But when we were halfway down the ladder, Wanda suddenly stopped and wailed, "Suppose we get lost and we never find our way out again and we spend the rest of our lives just wandering around in the dark forever?" And the ladder shook so much that I practically fell off. "Oh, be quiet, Wanda, " I said. She didn't say anything else. Soon we got to the bottom of the ladder, which I was really pleased about, but Wanda still looked miserable. "Look, Wanda, " I said very patiently. "We tied the end of the green string to the secret door, didn't we?" Wanda nodded. "And you've got the string, haven't you?" Wanda nodded again.

    "So all we have to do is unwind your mom's green string as we go until we get to the grotto. Then we just pick up the sword and follow the string home again. Easy peasy. There's no way we can get lost, is there?" "I suppose not, " said Wanda. And then she thought for a bit. "Unless something eats the string. " "Don't be silly, Wanda. " "And if something started to eat the string, then the string would lead it straight to us and it would eat us, too!" Wanda wailed. "Oh, shut up, Wanda. "

    Now the secret passage was more like a reg- ular tunnel. The walls were made of bricks, and the ceiling was tall enough for Wanda and me to stand up easily. It was arched and made of brick, too. The floor was quite hard, like earth, and was covered with sand.

    It was pretty warm down there because we were getting close to where the passage runs behind the boiler room. I was looking out for Edmund, but it was Wanda who saw him first. "Hello, Edmund, " said Wanda. Edmund floated around the corner and came toward us. Unlike Sir Horace, who just looks like an old suit of armor, Edmund looks like a real ghost. He is a boy of about ten, I guess, but he is an almost transparent boy with a green- ish glow around him. He has a pudding-bowl haircut, wears a medieval tunic with a long hood, and carries a really neat dagger in his belt. "Good Day, Wanda. Good Day, Araminta, " said Edmund in his funny old-fashioned accent.

    The hair on the back of my neck stood up, like it always does when Edmund speaks. His voice has a hollow sound to it, and it's hard to tell where it is coming from. "Hello, Edmund, " said Wanda. Edmund was floating around in front of us in a rather annoying fashion and was gen- erally getting in the way. I could see what an irritating boy he must have once been.

    "Excuse me, Edmund, " I said, "we'd like to get past. Do you mind moving out of the way? We don't want to walk through you. " "Where are you going?" asked Edmund. I was about to tell him it was none of his business, but Wanda piped up and said, "We're going to the smugglers' grotto to get the sword. You can come too if you want, Edmund. "

    "No he can't, " I told Wanda. "We're in a hurry, and Edmund only floats very slowly. " Besides that, considering he's a ghost, Edmund is boring and a bit of a goody-goody, but I was too polite to say that. "You must go back. You may not come any closer, " said Edmund in his spooky voice. "Don't be silly, " I told him, and I tried to push him out of the way. It was horrible. My hand went right through him and out the other side. Suddenly I felt frozen. I shivered so hard that my teeth chattered, and when I snatched my arm back all the hairs on it were covered in ice. "Arrgh!" I screamed. "What?" squeaked Wanda, looking scared. "What is it?" "It's Edmund. He's freezing. It's horrible. Brrr. " I shivered again.

    I just couldn't help it. When Wanda saw all the icicles on my Q arm, her eyes opened so wide that I thought they might fall out. Any minute now, I thought,Wanda is going to panic big-time. But she didn't. She put her hand in her pocket and took something out and then really fast, like a flash of light, she threw a shower of sparkly dust over Edmund. Whhoooosh. The dust settled over him like snow. Edmund looked confused for a moment, then he yawned, lay down on the sandy floor, and went to sleep. I was impressed. "What was that?" I asked Wanda. "Soporific Snow, " she said. "Dad gave me some from his magic bag. Good, isn't it?" "Good? It's amazing. Wow. " Barry is a con- jurer, and sometimes he does tricks for us, -67- but I had never seen one as good as this. "Come on then, " said Wanda, "we'd better get going. " And she strode off, unwinding the ball of green string as she went. "Hey, Wanda, " I yelled, "wait for me!"

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