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Pop's got this . . . um, what'd you call it again, Pop?"
"Theory," Chester said.
"Oh, yeah. He's got this theory, see, that "
"Howie, dear boy," Chester interjected, "why don't you let me tell it, hmm?"
"Oh, sure, Pop, whatever you say," replied the dachshund agreeably. He returned to chewing the corner of the rug.
Chester went on. "I have this theory, Harold, that these vegetables, once attacked, are not as harmless as one might think."
"I never thought of vegetables as harmless," I said. "Especially spinach."
"What do we know from the literature of vampirism?" he continued. Seeing that I knew nothing from the literature of vampirism, he persevered. "We know that once attacked, the vampire's victims become their master's slaves. In fact, they are transformed into zombie-vampires, the living dead, doomed to go out into the night seeking fresh bodies to satisfy their bloody cravings."
"Chester," I said softly, "is this necessary right after breakfast?"
"It can't wait," he snapped. "We have to act fast."
"To do what?" I asked. "Surely you're not saying that these vegetables . . . "
"Do they just lie there, useless, finished, dried up?" Chester interrupted. "Or does Bunnicula, like the vampires of old, have a further purpose for them? Are they his minions acting on his orders to turn the world into creatures like himself? When night falls, are they out there waiting to lure innocent victims into taking a bite? Just one bite and...BAM! You're a goner! Think of it, Harold, if Bunnicula got out last night, this entire neighborhood could be filled with killer parsnips, blood-thirsty string beans, homicidal heads of lettuce "
"Don't forget the minions," I said.
"The minions who are acting on his orders. Are minions like onions, Chester?"
"A minion isn't a vegetable, you dolt. A minion is a follower, a servant."
I reflected for a moment on Chester's new theory. That's when I noticed Howie's whimpering. The poor fellow was cowering under the coffee table.
"What's the matter, Howie?" I asked.
"I'm afraid," he answered. "What if those killer parsnips sneak up on me while I'm sleeping and sink their fangs into my neck?"
I turned to Chester. "You see where your stories are getting us? Poor Howie's scared out of his wits."
"And rightly so, if my thinking is correct."
"But it isn't correct, Chester," I replied. "It's nonsense."
"We shall see, we shall see," Chester said, pulling at the hair between his toes. "But if the people in this town start acting strangely, it could be because Bunnicula and his vegetables have succeeded in.... Sshh! Say no more."
Chester bathed himself with sudden vigor as the entire Monroe family, laden with bundles, entered the living room. It looked as if they were headed for an outing of some kind. Well, why not? I thought. It's a beautiful day for a little romp in the great out-of-doors; I was all set to join them when Chester nudged me.
"Come on," he said, "we've got some checking up to do."
"Goodbye, Chester. Goodbye, Harold," Mrs. Monroe said from where she stood by the front door. "Try to keep Howie and each other out of trouble while we're gone. If you want to go out, you can use the pet door. There's water in your dish and "
"Dear," Mr. Monroe said, touching his wife gently on the arm, "the boys will be fine. Besides, we won't be gone long. We'll be back this afternoon."
"Yeah," Pete said. "Anyway, how do they know what you're saying? They're just dumb animals. "
Dumb animals! I thought. Hmmph! Pete had never been above talking to us before. I wondered if he was going through a stage. These days, it seemed as if Pete went through stages faster than socks.
Toby kicked his brother in the shins. "They are not dumb animals," he cried. I made a mental note to give Toby's face the reward of a thorough licking later. "They're smarter than you are."
"Don't make me laugh." Pete snorted.
"They are too."
"Boys!" Mrs. Monroe cried. "Please. Let's go."
Still bickering, Pete and Toby were led out the front door by their parents.
"Goodbye, fellas," Mr. Monroe called out over his shoulder as the front door clicked shut.
"Do you think we're smarter than Pete?" I asked Chester.
"I think we are, Uncle Harold," said Howie. "Why, just last week, Toby threw a stick in the backyard and Pete didn't even know enough to chase it and bring it back in his teeth. Even I know that."
Chester gazed at Howie through half-closed lids. "Well, there's your answer, Harold," he said. "Now, come on, we've got to move."
"Where are we going?" I asked as I followed Chester through the kitchen door.
"Outside," he answered. "We've got to find that rabbit and see what damage he's already done."
One after the other, we pushed through the pet door and onto the back porch.
"Ah!" I said, inhaling deeply. "What a day! Howie, I'll race you to that tree in the corner of the yard. Whoever falls asleep fastest wins."
"But how will we know?" Howie asked.
Chester cleared his throat. "Before you two tumble off into dreamland, remember what we came out here for. Wait a minute, what's that?"
Chester bounded down the stairs and headed in the direction of the garden. Howie and I followed closely behind. We stopped about ten feet from the garden's edge.
"There!" Chester exclaimed. "Do you see what I see?"
Squinting, I made out a round white object lying several feet away.
"What's so unusual about a rock?" I asked.
Chester's body hugged the ground as he slunk through the grass. Howie, whose body hugs the ground even when he doesn't slink, waddled behind. Chester came upon the object and batted at it tentatively.
As I drew closer, he pulled himself up to his full height and proclaimed dramatically, "A beet. A...drained...white...beet!