Read an Excerpt
The Adopters Are Coming! The Adopters Are Coming!
“Cheyenne, Wally, fabulous news!” cried Hortense Jolly, owner of the Jolly Days Orphanage. “I have people in the visiting room who might be willing to adopt you. And guess what! They even live in Dripping Fang Forest, a place you already know and love!”
The Shluffmuffin twins were on their hands and knees on the kitchen floor, scrubbing mung from between the tiles with ammonia and boiling water.
“We know Dripping Fang Forest,” said Wally, his eyes smarting from ammonia fumes, “but we don’t love it, Miss Jolly. And we don’t need anyone to adopt us. We already have a perfectly good father.”
“But, darling, you know how the Child Welfare Bureau feels about vampire dads who can’t support their children,” said Hortense. “Why do you think they took you away from him and brought you back here? And why won’t anybody give your father a job?”
“Employers have a stupid prejudice against the living dead,” said Cheyenne. “Poor Dad. It’s not his fault he doesn’t have a pulse. He didn’t ask to drown in a Porta Potti.” She sneezed and blew her nose into a tissue.
“We can talk about all this later, children,” said Hortense, shepherding them briskly out of the kitchen. “Right now I want you to get into that visiting room and charm the Stumpfs.”
“What if we hate the Stumpfs?” asked Wally. “Will you force us to let them adopt us?”
“Of course not,” said Hortense. “Not if you hate them.”
“You promise?” asked Cheyenne, sneezing again. “On your word of honor?”
“I promise on my word of honor, okay?” said Hortense with a weary smile. “Now get into that visiting room and be charming.”
The first thing Cheyenne and Wally noticed about the couple in the visiting room was their teeth. They were yellow and triangular, like a shark’s, and extremely sharp looking. Did their teeth grow that way naturally, Wally wondered, or did they file them into points?
The second thing they noticed about the couple was how fat they were. Not pleasantly chubby like The Pillsbury Doughboy, but grossly, waddlingly obese, like hippos. It looked as though heavy bags of water had been glued to their bodies under their clothes.
“Mr. and Mrs. Stumpf,” said Hortense, “may I present the Shluffmuffin twins, Cheyenne and Wally. They’re excellent dishwashers, pot scrubbers, and floor waxers. They do windows, and they’ve had all their shots.”
“Oh my,” said Mrs. Stumpf, “they look lovely. But so skinny. What do you feed these poor things?”
Mrs. Stumpf had greasy skin, especially around her mouth, and she smelled vaguely of rancid cooking oil.
“Madam,” said Hortense, “our chef, Maurice—who, I’m proud to say, was trained at the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, France—prepares these orphans only the finest of gourmet meals. For example, for breakfast today he made them fluffy soufflés with caramelized apples, hot cocoa topped with crème fraîche, and individual puff pastries with amusing little faces made out of chocolate chips, which he began preparing before the sun was even up.”
Wally had to force his lips together to keep from laughing. Breakfast was the usual—stale bread crusts and gruel the color of mucus, with little green floaty things that looked like boogers. The orphanage had never had a chef, and Maurice was the name of a mangy rat that hung around the kitchen and snatched whatever food wasn’t locked up.
“I wish we could come here for breakfast sometime,” said Mr. Stumpf dreamily. The talk of all that gourmet food was making him drool down several chins onto his shirtfront. “Tell me, have the twins ever had major surgery? We don’t want to adopt kids who’ve had any bodily organs removed.”
“Oh no, no surgery,” said Hortense, looking at the twins. “Am I right, children?”
“We had our tonsils out when we were two,” said Cheyenne. “It didn’t hurt much, and afterward they gave us ice cream. Chocolate peanut-butter swirl, I think.”
Mr. and Mrs. Stumpf exchanged a look.
“Tonsils aren’t important to us, are they, Poopsie?” said Mrs. Stumpf.
“Not really, Dumpling,” said Mr. Stumpf.
“As long as they’re not missing any other organs,” said Mrs. Stumpf. “We do like to get all the parts they came with. Heh-heh.” She giggled and impulsively grabbed Cheyenne for a fast squeeze. “Oooh, these children are just delicious, aren’t they, Wolfgang?”
“Truly delicious,” said Mr. Stumpf. “I could just eat them right up.” He gave Wally’s arm a pinch. “You a football player, young man?”
“Not at all,” said Wally.
Mr. Stumpf stank from stale cigarettes and perspiration. “When I was in the fifth grade,” he said, “I played fullback. Weighed in at barely two-eighty in those days. If we fattened you up a little, I bet we could make a fullback out of you yet. Feed you fried pork chops with lots of fat, deep-fried ham hocks, grits floating in lard—that sort of thing. Like to put on fifty or sixty pounds, young fella?”
“No, sir,” said Wally. “I like the way I am.”
“Good boy,” said Mr. Stumpf.
“Well, Mrs. Jolly,” said Mrs. Stumpf, “we’ve seen enough. We’ll take ’em—as is. Where do we sign?”
“Just make out a check for twelve hundred dollars, and I’ll get the papers,” said Hortense.
Cheyenne and Wally looked panicky.
“Miss Jolly, can we talk to you a moment?” Wally asked.
“Certainly, dear,” said Hortense. When she left the visiting room, the twins ran after her.
“You aren’t really going to make us go with those people, are you, Miss Jolly?” said Cheyenne.
“Why not?” said Hortense, rummaging through a desk in the adjoining room, looking for adoption papers. “They seem like decent people.”
“We hate them,” said Wally.
“Oh, you’ll get used to them after a while,” said Hortense. “Don’t be such a baby.”
“But you said you wouldn’t force us to go with anybody we hated,” said Cheyenne. “You promised. On your word of honor.”
“I never said that,” said Hortense, finding the forms and shutting the drawer smartly.
“You did so,” said Cheyenne. “Didn’t she, Wally?”
“She sure did,” said Wally.
“Well, I changed my mind,” said Hortense. “What do you have against the Stumpfs, anyway? They look like lovely people. And they certainly seem to like the two of you.” “Sure, they like us,” said Wally. “They want to eat us. Didn’t you hear what they said? ‘Oooh, these children are just delicious.’ ‘I could just eat them right up.’ Didn’t you hear that?”
“Oh, Wally, those are just figures of speech,” said Hortense. “Lots of people say those kinds of things when they think somebody’s cute.”
“No, Miss Jolly, they were serious,” said Cheyenne, sneezing and then blowing her nose. “Didn’t you hear all that stuff about operations and surgery? They don’t want to get cheated out of any of our body parts.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Hortense. “They just want to be sure you are healthy, just like you would if you were buying a cow.”
“They want to fatten us up,” said Wally. “They want to feed us fried ham hocks and lard. They want us to be fat so there’ll be more of us to eat. Did you see how fat they are and what sharp teeth they have?”
“Now, now, children,” said Hortense, gathering up the papers and grabbing a ballpoint pen. “We mustn’t be prejudiced against people because they happen to be a little overweight.”
“A little overweight?” said Wally. “Miss Jolly, these people aren’t overweight, they’re hippos. They’re whales. They weigh more than eighteen-wheel tractor-trailers.”
“Sssshhh! They’ll hear you,” warned Hortense harshly.
“Who cares?” said Cheyenne. “We don’t want to be adopted by them. You can’t make us!”
“Oh, can’t I?” said Hortense. She laughed unpleasantly. “We’ll see about that.”
She strode out of the room.
“Wally, what are we going to do?” cried Cheyenne. “Can we call Dad?”
“I’ll call him,” said Wally. He took the phone off Hortense’s desk and dialed the number of their friends the Spydelles’ house.
After four rings Shirley Spydelle answered. “Hello?” she said.
“Shirley, it’s me, Wally. We’re in terrible trouble!”
“Again?” asked Shirley. “What is it this time?” Shirley was Edgar Spydelle’s wife, and she was terrific, better than most humans. Over the phone, you couldn’t even tell she was an enormous spider.
“Some people named the Stumpfs are going to adopt us,” said Wally. “They’re really creepy, and we don’t want to go with them, but Miss Jolly is going to make us. They live in Dripping Fang Forest. Do you know them?”
“The Stumpfs?” Shirley repeated. “Mmm. Oh yes, Wolfgang and Fritzi. They’re . . . a little strange.”
“A little strange?” said Wally. “Shirley, they’re gigantic, hippo-sized ghouls.”
“Oh my, I don’t think they’re ghouls, dear.”
“They are,” said Wally. “We can’t let them adopt us. But Hortense says we have nothing to say about it. What can we do, Shirley? Is Dad there?”
“I’ll put him right on, dear. Just a minute.”
Dad got on the phone. “Hi, sweetheart,” he said, “what’s this about being adopted by ghouls?”
“It’s true, Dad,” said Wally. “Hortense is letting them adopt us, even though she promised she wouldn’t make us go with anybody we hate. She’s in there right now, helping them fill out the adoption papers. Can you help us?”
“I’m on my way,” said Dad, his voice shifting into grim. “I’ll be there as fast as I can. Try and stall them.”
Text copyright © 2007 by Dan Greenburg
Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Scott M. Fischer
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