The latest Al's Book Club pick is "A Whole Nother Story" by Dr. Cuthbert Soup. In this adventure novel, the three Cheeseman children, their father and their psychic dog are all on the run from the CIA. Read an excerpt.
If you’re anything like me, and most of you are by virtue of cell structure, you’ll agree that there’s nothing quite so sad as a child with no friends.
The children of Mr. Ethan Cheeseman found themselves in a near-constant state of friendlessness through absolutely no fault of their own. By all accounts the three youngsters were smart, pleasant, witty, attractive, polite, and relatively odor-free. All traits that generally result in one having plenty of friends.
Their state of perennial friendlessness could be attributed solely to the fact that they were never in one place long enough to form any lasting relationships. You see, Ethan Cheeseman was a scientist and inventor by trade and, when he moved closer to perfecting a device so incredible, a device that could be used for either immense good or unspeakable evil, he found that suddenly everyone—from corporate criminals to top secret government agencies to international super spies—desired to get their hands on his brilliant new creation.
Ethan realized that this remarkable device would only ever be safe in his own hands. And so, one night he made a decision. He would disassemble the partially completed machine, load it into the family station wagon along with his three sleepy children, and disappear. And he would remain in a state of disappearedness until this device, known simply as the LVR, could be completed, perfected, and used to reclaim the life of Olivia, his beautiful wife and mother of his three smart, polite, and relatively odor-free children.
That was nearly two years ago, and since then Mr. Cheeseman and his children have been on the run, scarcely keeping one step ahead of these corporate villains, foreign intelligence operatives, and members of government agencies so secretive that no one, not even those who work for them, knows their names.
Of course there is much more to be told about all that, but it will have to wait because, at this very moment, Mr. Cheeseman is busy waking his children so that he can once again hurry them into the family station wagon, along with all of their earthly possessions, and move them to yet another town, far away from those who have designs on his wonderfully useful yet incomplete invention.
“Let's go now,” said Mr. Cheeseman, bursting into the room where his two boys slept peacefully and completely unaware. “We must be out of here in less than an hour.”
“It’s three in the morning,” groaned fourteen-year-old Barton, the eldest of Mr. Cheeseman's three bright children. “Can’t we sleep a little longer? I was having this great dream about pitching a no-hitter in the World Series.”
“Big deal,” came a voice from across the room. “You always have that dream.” The voice belonged to Barton's eight-year-old brother, Crandall, who had a habit of waking up in a very grumpy state regardless of the time.
“Yes, but the dream is always ruined when I suddenly realize that I'm not wearing pants,” said Barton. “This is the first time I remembered to wear pants and I'm not even allowed to enjoy it. It's not every day you get to pitch a no-hitter in the World Series with your pants on.”
Mr. Cheeseman flipped on the light, an action that resulted in even more groaning.
“One day you will pitch a no-hitter in the World Series for real,” said Mr. Cheeseman, always supportive of his children's ambitions. “But not if we don't get out of here ahead of the coats.”
Coats was the term Mr. Cheeseman used to refer to all spies, corporate hoodlums, and members of hypersecret government agencies that would make the CIA seem very much like a church choir.
“Why won't they leave us alone?” asked Crandall.
Actually, the question was posed by Crandall's sock puppet, which Crandall had named Steve and was never without.
It was a gift from his mother, and Crandall and Steve the sock puppet were virtually inseparable. Ever since she passed away from a mysterious illness, practically no one had seen Crandall's left forearm, not even Crandall himself. It was constantly covered by the snarky sock puppet, which, over the years, had become marbled with various unidentifiable stains and was missing its left eye.
This is worth mentioning because, after all, when you think about it, a sock puppet is really nothing more than a sock with a couple of plastic eyeballs glued on. This meant that Steve the sock puppet was only one eyeball away from being a mere sock, a condition that may have contributed to his overall snarkiness.
Steve never missed an opportunity to comment on anything and everything in his annoyingly squeaky voice, which sounded not unlike a dolphin with laryngitis, if you can imagine such horrible squeaking.
“I think we should stay and fight them instead of running all the time,” said Steve, with an unintentional wink.
“We've been over this a hundred times, Steve,” said Mr. Cheeseman, using all the patience he could muster. “Now boys, please hurry. Both of you.”
Steve the sock puppet cleared his throat.
“Sorry,” said Mr. Cheeseman. “I mean all three of you.”
The boys dragged themselves from their beds with the most sorrowful sounds imaginable. Crandall reached up to the top of the bedpost and where a large wad of pink, dust-covered goo rested. He tugged at the puttylike substance but it absolutely refused to budge.
“My gum won’t come off,” he whined. “It’s stuck.”
“Borrow your sister’s hair dryer,” said Mr. Cheeseman, who seemed to have an answer for just about everything. “Scientifically speaking, the heat will increase the speed of the atomic particles that make up the gum and should loosen it up nicely. Now let’s move it. And Barton?”
“Don't forget your pants.”
In the bathroom down the hall, the boys' sister, Saffron, was already up, standing before the mirror and combing her long, wavy, auburn hair.
In these situations, Mr. Cheeseman always woke Saffron first, giving her a little extra time with her hair, which she washed each morning with her specially formulated wheat germ, honey, strawberry, coconut, apple pectin shampoo with pineapple and Canadian bacon.
After a lengthy lathering, her hair would be treated with cream rinse, followed by a conditioner, special split-end repair, and four hundred strokes from a brush made of imported porcupine quills.
Her attention to her hair should in no way be taken to mean that she was what is known as a girlie-girl. In fact, she was quite adept at very non-girlie-girl things such as running, jumping, archery, and putting her little brother into a headlock whenever it became necessary to do so. It should also be noted that her extensive hair-care regimen was carried out not of vanity but out of fondness for her mother, Olivia. Young Saffron was, at twelve years old, the spitting image of her late mother, who had the most beautiful auburn hair that has ever grown on any head, human or otherwise.
When Saffron looked into the mirror, she felt as though she was looking at the soft and pretty face of her mother, in a way. This gave Saffron comfort and hope that she might one day see her mother alive again.
Of course there would be absolutely no chance of that ever happening if the LVR, which incidentally stands for Luminal Velocity Regulator, were to fall into the wrong hands.
As Saffron continued to groom her shimmery locks, Pinky, the family dog, trotted into the bathroom, put her front paws up onto the toilet seat, leaned in as far as she could, and began lapping at the water. This was something Pinky did every day, except for two weeks in December when she chose instead to drink from the Christmas tree stand. Other than that, drinking from the toilet was a daily routine for the amiable fox terrier.
This, you would think, should be a practice that most dog owners would attempt to discourage. But if not for their dog's peculiar habit, Mr. Cheeseman and his three children would certainly have been nabbed by any one of their many pursuers. Simply put, Pinky’s bad behavior had, on numerous occasions, saved their lives.
Allow me a moment of your time to explain.
By the time Olivia had finally succumbed to her mysterious illness, she had been taking many, many different medications. So many that the various bottles barely fit into the medicine chest above the sink in the bathroom.
When Ethan made the decision to go into hiding with his family so he could safely complete work on the LVR, he packed up all of their belongings. A notorious neat freak, he cleaned the house from top to bottom. This included getting rid of his late wife's many bottles of medicine.
Which brings us back to Pinky, the family dog.
Now, everyone knows you cannot dispose of prescription medication simply by throwing it into the trash. It could be discovered by young children who might mistake the brightly colored pills for candy. Thus, as I'm sure you already know, the medicine must always be flushed.
And so, one early, gray morning in February, as his children slept, Mr. Cheeseman stood at the medicine chest dumping bottle after bottle of pills into the toilet. The tablets plopped into the water like handfuls of pebbles on a calm, clear lake, albeit a very small lake, contained entirely within a porcelain bowl. Mixed in with the falling pills was a generous helping of Mr. Cheeseman’s tears. And as he stood there, weeping and turning the toilet water a murky grayish purple with the dissolving pills, the phone rang.
Because Mr. Cheeseman was expecting a very important call from the police, he stopped what he was doing and walked to the living room to find the phone resting in its cradle. He wiped his eyes, gave his nose a few good sniffs, and answered the phone. He was immediately annoyed to find that the person at the other end of the line was not the important phone call he had been expecting. In fact, it was someone with whom he had no desire to speak whatsoever.
This undesirable person was calling, he said, to see if Mr. Cheeseman was happy with his current long-distance telephone service and, if not, would he be willing to switch to another service that might save him up to fifty dollars a month.
When Mr. Cheeseman returned to the bathroom, he was horrified to see Pinky engaged in her early morning quench, lapping at the purplish gray water in the toilet.
“Pinky! No!” Mr. Cheeseman shouted.
But it was too late.
In the few seconds he had been gone, the dog had ingested, along with several hundred tears, the contents of numerous and various pills, liquefied and joined together in a sort of medicinal stew.
When Pinky heard Mr. Cheeseman holler, she spun around with a crazed look in her eyes, which seemed to move completely independent of each other. She growled something in what sounded like an ancient Viking dialect, then promptly completed a dozen spins in a counterclockwise direction as Mr. Cheeseman watched helplessly.
“Pinky, are you okay? Come here, girl,” he said, squatting down so that he could look directly into the dog’s spasmodic eyes.
As Ethan leaned closer to Pinky, speaking in soothing tones, she spun one last time and then suddenly bolted from the room between the stunned scientist’s legs.
From the bathroom, Pinky ran into the living room. That is not to say that she ran from the bathroom to the living room, but that she actually ran into the living room. Into the wall, knocking off several photos and leaving a fairly noticeable fox terrier-sized dent.
She then promptly turned around and ran head long into the opposite wall, creating much the same effect. She continued this frenetic exercise for a good five minutes, leaving no wall unscathed until, finally, the dog completed a dozen or more spins and collapsed onto the floor, looking very much like a drunken pirate. That is, if dogs could be pirates.
For days, Pinky lay in a coma and the children kept an around-the-clock vigil at her bedside, hoping and praying that she would one day come back to them. Then, on the very day they were to leave behind the only life they had ever known, Pinky suddenly stood up, yawned, and gave herself a shake, causing every last bit of her hair to fall out, leaving her completely bald and appropriately pink while leaving the carpet a hairy mess.
And though she would remain completely hairless, she seemed otherwise entirely back to normal, or as normal as a dog that drinks from the toilet can be.
But as the weeks and months went by and Mr. Cheeseman and his three children moved from one town to the next, always keeping one step ahead of the coats, it soon became apparent that there was something very different about Pinky.
Pinky, it seemed, had somehow developed psychic abilities, which enabled her to sense danger and warn of disaster long before it happened.
Her knack for identifying perilous situations and individuals with evil intent was uncanny. It was quite impossible to watch a whodunit on television with Pinky in the room because the minute the bad guy appeared on the screen Pinky would give it away by narrowing her eyes and growling through clenched teeth.
Her unique abilities had saved Mr. Cheeseman and his children from many a close call, including this very night when she burst into Mr. Cheeseman's room, jumped up onto the bed, and emitted a low growl that had become her trademark portent of doom.
“What is it, Pinky?” Mr. Cheeseman muttered.
“Grrrr,” Pinky answered.
“Are you sure?”
Once the children were up and dressed and had packed their suitcases, Mr. Cheeseman ordered them to gather in the boys’ room and wait there while he prepared the car for their escape.
Excerpted from "A Whole Nother Story" by Dr. Cuthbert Soup. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Bloomsbury USA Children's Books.