فصل 13

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فصل 13

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CHAPTER Thirteen

It is a well-known but curious fact that the first bite of an apple always tastes the best, which is why the heroine of a book much more suitable to read than this one spends an entire afternoon eating the first bite of a bushel of apples. But even this anarchic little girl—the word “anarchic” here means “apple-loving”—never tasted a bite as wonderful as the Baudelaire orphans’ first bite of the apple from the tree their parents had hybridized with horseradish. The apple was not as bitter as the Baudelaire orphans would have guessed, and the horseradish gave the juice of the apple a slight, sharp edge, like the air on a winter morning. But of course, the biggest appeal of the apple offered by the Incredibly Deadly Viper was its immediate effect on the deadly fungus growing inside them. From the moment the Baudelaire teeth bit down on the apple—first Violet’s, and then Klaus’s, and then Sunny’s—the stalks and caps of the Medusoid Mycelium began to shrink, and within moments all traces of the dreaded mushroom had withered away, and the children could breathe clearly and easily. Hugging one another in relief, the Baudelaires found themselves laughing, which is a common reaction among people who have narrowly escaped death, and the snake seemed to be laughing, too, although perhaps it was just appreciating the youngest Baudelaire scratching behind its tiny, hooded ears.

“We should each have another apple,” Violet said, standing up, “to make sure we’ve consumed enough horseradish.”

“And we should collect enough apples for all of the islanders,” Klaus said. “They must be just as desperate as we were.”

“Stockpot,” Sunny said, and walked to the rack of pots on the ceiling, where the snake helped her take down an enormous metal pot that could hold a great number of apples and in fact had been used to make an enormous vat of applesauce a number of years previously.

“You two start picking apples,” Violet said, walking to the periscope. “I want to check on Kit Snicket. The flooding of the coastal shelf must have begun by now, and she must be terrified.”

“I hope she avoided the Medusoid Mycelium,” Klaus said. “I hate to think of what that would do to her child.”

“Phearst,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “We should rescue her promptly.”

“The islanders are in worse shape than Kit,” Klaus said. “We should go to Ishmael’s tent first, and then go rescue Kit.”

Violet peered through the periscope and frowned. “We shouldn’t go to Ishmael’s tent,” she said. “We need to fill that stockpot with apples and get to the coastal shelf as quickly as we can.”

“What do you mean?” Klaus said.

“They’re leaving,” Violet said, and I’m sorry to say it was true. Through the periscope, the eldest Baudelaire could see the shape of the outrigger and the figures of its poisoned passengers, who were pushing it along the coastal shelf toward the library raft where Kit Snicket still lay. The three children each peered through the periscope, and then looked at one another. They knew they should be hurrying, but for a moment none of the Baudelaires could move, as if they were unwilling to travel any farther in their sad history, or see one more part of their story come to an end.

If you have read this far in the chronicle of the Baudelaire orphans—and I certainly hope you have not—then you know we have reached the thirteenth chapter of the thirteenth volume in this sad history, and so you know the end is near, even though this chapter is so lengthy that you might never reach the end of it. But perhaps you do not yet know what the end really means. “The end” is a phrase which refers to the completion of a story, or the final moment of some accomplishment, such as a secret errand, or a great deal of research, and indeed this thirteenth volume marks the completion of my investigation into the Baudelaire case, which required much research, a great many secret errands, and the accomplishments of a number of my comrades, from a trolley driver to a botanical hybridization expert, with many, many typewriter repairpeople in between. But it cannot be said that The End contains the end of the Baudelaires’ story, any more than The Bad Beginning contained its beginning. The children’s story began long before that terrible day on Briny Beach, but there would have to be another volume to chronicle when the Baudelaires were born, and when their parents married, and who was playing the violin in the candlelit restaurant when the Baudelaire parents first laid eyes on one another, and what was hidden inside that violin, and the childhood of the man who orphaned the girl who put it there, and even then it could not be said that the Baudelaires’ story had not begun, because you would still need to know about a certain tea party held in a penthouse suite, and the baker who made the scones served at the tea party, and the baker’s assistant who smuggled the secret ingredient into the scone batter through a very narrow drainpipe, and how a crafty volunteer created the illusion of a fire in the kitchen simply by wearing a certain dress and jumping around, and even then the beginning of the story would be as far away as the shipwreck that left the Baudelaire parents as castaways on the coastal shelf is far away from the outrigger on which the islanders would depart. One could say, in fact, that no story really has a beginning, and that no story really has an end, as all of the world’s stories are as jumbled as the items in the arboretum, with their details and secrets all heaped together so that the whole story, from beginning to end, depends on how you look at it. We might even say that the world is always in medias res—a Latin phrase which means “in the midst of things” or “in the middle of a narrative”—and that it is impossible to solve any mystery, or find the root of any trouble, and so The End is really the middle of the story, as many people in this history will live long past the close of Chapter Thirteen, or even the beginning of the story, as a new child arrives in the world at the chapter’s close. But one cannot sit in the midst of things forever. Eventually one must face that the end is near, and the end of The End is quite near indeed, so if I were you I would not read the end of The End, as it contains the end of a notorious villain but also the end of a brave and noble sibling, and the end of the colonists’ stay on the island, as they sail off the end of the coastal shelf. The end of The End contains all these ends, and that does not depend on how you look at it, so it might be best for you to stop looking at The End before the end of The End arrives, and to stop reading The End before you read the end, as the stories that end in The End that began in The Bad Beginning are beginning to end now.

The Baudelaires hurriedly filled their stockpot with apples and ran to the coastal shelf, hurrying over the brae as quickly as they could. It was past lunchtime, and the waters of the sea were already flooding the shelf, so the water was much deeper than it had been since the children’s arrival. Violet and Klaus had to hold the stockpot high in the air, and Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper climbed up on the elder Baudelaires’ shoulders to ride along with the bitter apples. The children could see Kit Snicket on the horizon, still lying on the library raft as the waters rose to soak the first few layers of books, and alongside the strange cube was the outrigger. As they drew closer, they saw that the islanders had stopped pushing the boat and were climbing aboard, pausing from time to time to cough, while at the head of the outrigger was the figure of Ishmael, seated in his clay chair, gazing at his poisoned colonists and watching the children approach.

“Stop!” Violet cried, when they were close enough to be heard. “We’ve discovered a way to dilute the poison!”

“Baudelaires!” came the faint cry of Kit high atop the library raft. “Thank goodness you’re here! I think I’m going into labor!”

As I’m sure you know, “labor” is the term for the process by which a woman gives birth, and it is a Herculean task, a phrase which here means “something you would rather not do on a library raft floating on a flooding coastal shelf.” Sunny could see, from her stockpot perch, Kit holding her belly and giving the youngest Baudelaire a painful grimace.

“We’ll help you,” Violet promised, “but we need to get these apples to the islanders.”

“They won’t take them!” Kit said. “I tried to tell them how the poison could be diluted, but they insist on leaving!”

“No one’s forcing them,” said Ishmael calmly. “I merely suggested that the island was no longer a safe place, and that we should set sail for another one.”

“You and the Baudelaires are the ones who got us into this mess,” came the drowsy voice of Mr. Pitcairn, thick with fungus and coconut cordial, “but Ishmael is going to get us out.”

“This island used to be a safe place,” said Professor Fletcher, “far from the treachery of the world. But since you’ve arrived it’s become dangerous and complicated.”

“That’s not our fault,” Klaus said, walking closer and closer to the outrigger as the water continued to rise. “You can’t live far from the treachery of the world, because eventually the treachery will wash up on your shores.”

“Exactly,” said Alonso, who yawned. “You washed up and spoiled the island forever.”

“So we’re leaving it to you,” said Ariel, who coughed violently. “You can have this dangerous place. We’re going to sail to safety.”

“Safe here!” Sunny cried, holding up an apple.

“You’ve poisoned us enough,” said Erewhon, and the islanders wheezed in agreement “We don’t want to hear any more of your treacherous ideas.”

“But you were ready to mutiny,” Violet said. “You didn’t want to take Ishmael’s suggestions.”

“That was before the Medusoid Mycelium arrived,” Finn said hoarsely. “He’s been here the longest, so he knows how to keep us safe. At his suggestion, we all drank quite a bit of cordial while he figured out the root of the trouble.” She paused to catch her breath as the sinister fungus continued to grow. “And the root of the trouble, Baudelaires, is you.”

By now the children had reached the outrigger, and they looked up at Ishmael, who raised his eyebrows and stared back at the frantic Baudelaires. “Why are you doing this?” Klaus asked the facilitator. “You know we’re not the root of the problem.”

“In medias res!” Sunny cried.

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “The Medusoid Mycelium was around before we were born, and our parents prepared for its arrival by adding horseradish to the roots of the apple tree.”

“If they don’t eat these bitter apples,” Klaus pleaded, “they’ll come to a bitter end. Tell the islanders the whole story, Ishmael, so they can save themselves.”

“The whole story?” Ishmael said, and leaned down from his chair so he could talk to the Baudelaires without the others hearing. “If I told the islanders the whole story, I wouldn’t be keeping them safe from the world’s terrible secrets. They almost learned the whole story this morning, and began to mutiny over breakfast. If they knew all these island’s secrets there’d be a schism in no time at all.”

“Better a schism than a death,” Violet said.

Ishmael shook his head, and fingered the wild strands of his woolly beard. “No one is going to die,” he said. “This outrigger can take us to a beach near Lousy Lane, where we can travel to a horseradish factory.”

“You don’t have time for such a long voyage,” Klaus said.

“I think we do,” Ishmael said. “Even without a compass, I think I can get us to a safe place.”

“You need a moral compass,” Violet said. “The spores of the Medusoid Mycelium can kill within the hour. The entire colony could be poisoned, and even if you make it to shore, the fungus could spread to anyone you meet. You’re not keeping anyone safe. You’re endangering the whole world, just to keep a few of your secrets. That’s not parenting! That’s horrid and wrong!”

“I guess it depends on how you look at it,” Ishmael said. “Good-bye, Baudelaires.” He sat up straight and called out to the wheezing islanders. “I suggest you start rowing,” he said, and the colonists reached their arms into the water and began to paddle the outrigger away from the children. The Baudelaires hung on to the side of the boat, and called to the islander who had first found them on the coastal shelf.

“Friday!” Sunny cried. “Take apple!”

“Don’t succumb to peer pressure,” Violet begged.

Friday turned to face the children, and the siblings could see she was terribly frightened. Klaus quickly grabbed an apple from the stockpot, and the young girl leaned out of the boat to touch his hand.

“I’m sorry to leave you behind, Baudelaires,” she said, “but I must go with my family. I’ve already lost my father, and I couldn’t stand to lose anyone else.”

“But your father—” Klaus started to say, but Mrs. Caliban gave him a terrible look and pulled her daughter away from the edge of the outrigger.

“Don’t rock the boat,” she said. “Come here and drink your cordial.”

“Your mother is right, Friday,” Ishmael said firmly. “You should respect your parent’s wishes. It’s more than the Baudelaires ever did.”

“We are respecting our parents’ wishes,” Violet said, hoisting the apples as high as she could. “They didn’t want to shelter us from the world’s treacheries. They wanted us to survive them.”

Ishmael put his hand on the stockpot of apples. “What do your parents know,” he asked, “about surviving?” and with one firm, cruel gesture the old orphan pushed against the stockpot, and the outrigger moved out of the children’s grasp. Violet and Klaus tried to take another step closer to the islanders, but the water had risen too far, and the Baudelaire feet slipped off the surface of the coastal shelf, and the siblings found themselves swimming. The stockpot tipped, and Sunny gave a small shriek and climbed down to Violet’s shoulders as several apples from the pot dropped into the water with a splash. At the sound of the splash, the Baudelaires remembered the apple core that Ishmael had dropped, and realized why the facilitator was so calm in the face of the deadly fungus, and why his voice was the only one of the islanders’ that wasn’t clogged with stalks and caps.

“We have to go after them,” Violet said. “We may be their only chance!”

“We can’t go after them,” Klaus said, still holding the apple. “We have to help Kit.”

“Split up,” Sunny said, staring after the departing outrigger.

Klaus shook his head. “All of us need to stay if we’re going to help Kit give birth.” He gazed at the islanders and listened to the wheezing and coughing coming from the boat fashioned from wild grasses and the limbs of trees. “They made their decision,” he said finally.

“Kontiki,” Sunny said. She meant something along the lines of, “There’s no way they’ll survive the journey,” but the youngest Baudelaire was wrong. There was a way. There was a way to bring the islanders a single apple that they could share, each taking a bite of the precious bitter fruit that might tide them over—the phrase “tide them over,” as you probably know, means “help deal with a difficult situation”—until they reached someplace or someone who could help them, just as the three Baudelaires shared an apple in the secret space where their parents had enabled them to survive one of the most deadly unfortunate events ever to wash up on the island’s shores. Whoever brought the apple to the islanders, of course, would need to swim very stealthily to the outrigger, and it would help if they were quite small and slender, so they might escape the watchful eye of the outrigger’s facilitator. The Baudelaires would not notice the disappearance of the Incredibly Deadly Viper for quite some time, as they would be focused on helping Kit, and so they could never say for sure what happened to the snake, and my research into the reptile’s story is incomplete, so I do not know what other chapters occurred in its history, as Ink, as some prefer to call the snake, slithered from one place to the next, sometimes taking shelter from the treachery of the world and sometimes committing treacherous acts of its own—a history not unlike that of the Baudelaire orphans, which some have called little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. Unless you have investigated the islanders’ case yourself, there is no way of knowing what happened to them as they sailed away from the colony that had been their home. But there was a way they could have survived their journey, a way that may seem fantastic, but is no less fantastic than three children helping a woman give birth. The Baudelaires hurried to the library raft, and lifted Sunny and the stockpot to the top of the raft where Kit lay, so the youngest Baudelaire could hold the wheezing woman’s gloved hand and the bitter apples could dilute the poison inside her as Violet and Klaus pushed the raft back toward shore.

“Have an apple,” Sunny offered, but Kit shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said.

“But you’ve been poisoned,” Violet said. “You must have caught a spore or two from the islanders as they floated by.”

“The apples will harm the baby,” Kit said. “There’s something in the hybrid that’s bad for people who haven’t been born yet. That’s why your mother never tasted one of her own bitter apples. She was pregnant with you, Violet.” One of Kit’s gloved hands drifted down over the top of the raft and patted the hair of the eldest Baudelaire. “I hope I’m half as good a mother as yours was, Violet,” she said.

“You will be,” Klaus said.

“I don’t know,” Kit said. “I was supposed to help you children on that day when you finally reached Briny Beach. I wanted nothing more than to take you away in my taxi to someplace safe. Instead, I threw you into a world of treachery at the Hotel Denouement. And I wanted nothing more than to reunite you with your friends the Quagmires. Instead, I left them behind.” She uttered a wheezy sigh, and fell silent.

Violet continued to guide the raft toward the island, and noticed for the first time that her hands were pushing against the spine of a book whose title she recognized from the library Aunt Josephine kept underneath her bed—Ivan Lachrymose—Lake Explorer—while her brother was pushing against Mushroom Minutiae, a book that had been part of Fiona’s mycological library. “What happened?” she asked, trying to imagine what strange events would have brought these books to these shores.

“I failed you,” Kit said sadly, and coughed. “Quigley managed to reach the self-sustaining hot air mobile home, just as I hoped he would, and helped his siblings and Hector catch the treacherous eagles in an enormous net, while I met Captain Widdershins and his stepchildren.”

“Fernald and Fiona?” Klaus said, referring to the hook-handed man who had once worked for Count Olaf, and the young woman who had broken his heart. “But they betrayed him—and us.”

“The captain had forgiven the failures of those he had loved,” Kit said, “as I hope you will forgive mine, Baudelaires. We made a desperate attempt to repair the Queequeg and reach the Quagmires as their aerial battle continued, and arrived just in time to see the balloons of the self-sustaining hot air mobile home pop under the cruel beaks of the escaping eagles. They tumbled down to the surface of the sea, and crashed into the Queequeg. In moments we were all castaways, treading water in the midst of all the items that survived the wreck.” She was silent for a moment. “Fiona was so desperate to reach you, Klaus,” she said. “She wanted you to forgive her as well.”

“Did she—” Klaus could not bear to finish his question. “I mean, what happened next?”

“I don’t know,” Kit admitted. “From the depths of the sea a mysterious figure approached—almost like a question mark, rising out of the water.”

“We saw that on a radar screen,” Violet remembered. “Captain Widdershins refused to tell us what it was.”

“My brother used to call it ‘The Great Unknown,’” Kit said, clasping her belly as the baby kicked violently. “I was terrified, Baudelaires. Quickly I fashioned a Vaporetto of Favorite Detritus, as I’d been trained to do.”

“‘Vaporetto’?” Sunny asked.

“It’s an Italian term for ‘boat,’” Kit said. “It was one of many Italian phrases Monty taught me. A Vaporetto of Favorite Detritus is a way of saving yourself and your favorite things at the same time. I gathered all the books in reach that I enjoyed, tossing the boring ones into the sea, but everyone else wanted to take their chances with the great unknown. I begged the others to climb aboard as the question mark approached, but only Ink managed to reach me. The others…” Her voice trailed off, and for a moment Kit did nothing but wheeze. “In an instant they were gone—either swallowed up or rescued by that mysterious thing.”

“You don’t know what happened to them?” Klaus asked.

Kit shook her head. “All I heard,” she said, “was one of the Quagmires calling Violet’s name.”

Sunny looked into the face of the distraught woman. “Quigley,” the youngest Baudelaire could not help asking “or Duncan?”

“I don’t know,” Kit said again. “I’m sorry, Baudelaires. I failed you. You succeeded in your noble errands at the Hotel Denouement, and saved Dewey and the others, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see the Quagmires and their companions again. I hope you will forgive my failures, and when I see Dewey again I hope he will forgive me, too.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another sadly, realizing it was time at last to tell Kit Snicket the whole story, as she had told them. “We’ll forgive your failures,” Violet said, “if you’ll forgive ours.”

“We failed you, too,” Klaus said. “We had to burn down the Hotel Denouement, and we don’t know if anyone escaped to safety.”

Sunny gripped Kit’s hand in hers. “And Dewey is dead,” she said, and everyone burst into tears. There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don’t know and even the people you don’t want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face. Sunny held Kit, and Violet held Klaus, and for a minute the four castaways did nothing but weep, letting their tears run down their faces and into the sea, which some have said is nothing but a library of all the tears in history. Kit and the children let their sadness join the sadness of the world, and cried for all of the people who were lost to them. They cried for Dewey Denouement, and for the Quagmire triplets, and for all of their companions and guardians, friends and associates, and for all of the failures they could forgive and all of the treacheries they could endure. They cried for the world, and most of all, of course, the Baudelaire orphans cried for their parents, who they knew, finally, they would never see again. Even though Kit Snicket had not brought news of their parents, her story of the Great Unknown made them see at last that the people who had written all those chapters in A Series of Unfortunate Events were gone forever into the great unknown, and that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny would be orphans forever, too.

“Stop,” Kit said finally, through her fading tears. “Stop pushing the raft. I cannot go on.”

“We have to go on,” Violet said.

“We’re almost at the beach,” Klaus said.

“The shelf is flooding,” Sunny said.

“Let it flood,” Kit said. “I can’t do it, Baudelaires. I’ve lost too many people—my parents, my true love, and my brothers.”

At the mention of Kit’s brothers, Violet thought to reach into her pocket, and she retrieved the ornate ring, emblazoned with the initial R. “Sometimes the things you’ve lost can be found again in unexpected places,” she said, and held the ring up for Kit to see. The distraught woman removed her gloves, and held the ring in her bare and trembling hand.

“This isn’t mine,” she said. “It belonged to your mother.”

“Before it belonged to our mother,” Klaus said, “it belonged to you.”

“Its history began before we were born,” Kit said, “and it should continue after we die. Give it to my child, Baudelaires. Let my child be part of my history, even if the baby is an orphan, and all alone in the world.”

“The baby will not be alone,” Violet said fiercely. “If you die, Kit, we will raise this child as our own.”

“I could not ask for better,” Kit said quietly. “Name the baby after one of your parents, Baudelaires. The custom of my family is to name a baby for someone who has died.”

“Ours too,” Sunny said, remembering something her father had told her when she had inquired about her own name.

“Our families have always been close,” Kit said, “even if we had to stay apart from one another. Now, finally, we are all together, as if we are one family.”

“Then let us help you,” Sunny said, and with a weepy, wheezy nod, Kit Snicket let the Baudelaires push her Vaporetto of Favorite Detritus off the coastal shelf and onto the shores of the island, where eventually everything arrives, just as the outrigger disappeared on the horizon. The children gazed at the islanders for the last time—at least as far as I know—and then at the cube of books, and tried to imagine how the injured, pregnant, and distraught woman could get to a safe place to birth a child.

“Can you lower yourself down?” Violet asked.

Kit shook her head. “It hurts,” she said, her voice thick with the poisonous fungus.

“We can carry her,” Klaus said, but Kit shook her head again.

“I’m too heavy,” she said weakly. “I could fall from your grasp and hurt the baby.”

“We can invent a way to get you to the shore,” Violet said.

“Yes,” Klaus said. “We’ll just run to the arboretum to find what we need.”

“No time,” Sunny said, and Kit nodded in agreement.

“The baby’s coming quickly,” she said. “Find someone to help you.”

“We’re alone,” Violet said, but then she and her siblings gazed out at the beach where the raft had arrived, and the Baudelaires saw, crawling out of Ishmael’s tent, the one person for whom they had not shed a tear. Sunny slid down to the sand, bringing the stockpot with her, and the three children hurried up the slope to the struggling figure of Count Olaf.

“Hello, orphans,” he said, his voice even wheezier and rougher from the spreading poison of the Medusoid Mycelium. Esmé’s dress had fallen away from his skinny body, and he was crawling on the sand in his regular clothes, with one hand holding a seashell of cordial and the other clutching at his chest. “Are you here to bow before the king of Olaf-Land?”

“We don’t have time for your nonsense,” Violet said. “We need your help.”

Count Olaf’s eyebrow raised, and he gave the children an astonished glare. “You need my help?” he asked. “What happened to all those island fools?”

“They abandoned us,” Klaus said.

Olaf wheezed horridly, and it took the siblings a moment to realize he was laughing. “How do you like them apples?” he sputtered, using an expression which means “I find this situation quite remarkable.”

“We’ll give you apples,” Sunny said, gesturing to the stockpot, “if you help.”

“I don’t want fruit,” Olaf snarled, and tried to sit up, his hand still clutching his chest. “I want the fortune your parents left behind.”

“The fortune isn’t here,” Violet said. “None of us may ever see a penny of that money.”

“Even if it were here,” Klaus said, “you might not live to enjoy it.”

“Mcguffin,” Sunny said, which meant “Your scheming means nothing in this place.”

Count Olaf raised the seashell to his lips, and the Baudelaires could see that he was trembling. “Then maybe I’ll just stay here,” he said hoarsely. “I’ve lost too much to go on—my parents, my true love, my henchfolk, an enormous amount of money I didn’t earn, even the boat with my name on it.”

The three children looked at one another, remembering their time on that boat and recalling that they had considered throwing him overboard. If Olaf had drowned in the sea, the Medusoid Mycelium might never have threatened the island, although the deadly fungus eventually would have washed up on its shores, and if the villain were dead then there would be no one on the beach who might help Kit Snicket and her child.

Violet knelt on the sand, and grabbed the villain’s shoulders with both hands. “We have to go on,” she said. “Do one good thing in your life, Olaf.”

“I’ve done lots of good things in my life,” he snarled. “I once took in three orphans, and I’ve been considered for several prestigious theatrical awards.”

Klaus knelt down beside his sister, and stared into the villain’s shiny eyes. “You’re the one who made us orphans in the first place,” he said, uttering out loud for the first time a secret all three Baudelaires had kept in their hearts for almost as long as they could remember. Olaf closed his eyes for a moment, grimacing in pain, and then stared slowly at each of the three children in turn.

“Is that what you think?” he said finally.

“We know it,” Sunny said.

“You don’t know anything,” Count Olaf said. “You three children are the same as when I first laid eyes on you. You think you can triumph in this world with nothing more than a keen mind, a pile of books, and the occasional gourmet meal.” He poured one last gulp of cordial into his poisoned mouth before throwing the seashell into the sand. “You’re just like your parents,” he said, and from the shore the children heard Kit Snicket moan.

“You have to help Kit,” Violet said. “The baby is arriving.”

“Kit?” Count Olaf asked, and in one swift gesture he grabbed an apple from the stockpot and took a savage bite. He chewed, wincing in pain, and the Baudelaires listened as his wheezing settled and the poisonous fungus was diluted by their parents’ invention. He took another bite, and another, and then, with a horrible groan, the villain rose to his feet, and the children saw that his chest was soaked with blood.

“You’re hurt,” Klaus said.

“I’ve been hurt before,” Count Olaf said, and he staggered down the slope and waded into the waters of the flooded coastal shelf. In one smooth gesture he lifted Kit from the raft and carried her onto the shores of the island. The distraught woman’s eyes were closed, and as the Baudelaires hurried down to her they were not sure she was alive until Olaf laid her carefully down on the white sands of the beach, and the children saw her chest heaving with breath. The villain stared at Kit for one long moment, and then he leaned down and did a strange thing. As the Baudelaire orphans looked on, Count Olaf gave Kit Snicket a gentle kiss on her trembling mouth.

“Yuck,” said Sunny, as Kit’s eyes fluttered open.

“I told you,” Count Olaf said weakly. “I told you I’d do that one last time.”

“You’re a wicked man,” Kit said. “Do you think one kind act will make me forgive you for your failings?”

The villain stumbled a few steps away, and then sat down on the sand and uttered a deep sigh. “I haven’t apologized,” he said, looking first at the pregnant woman and then at the Baudelaires. Kit reached out and touched the man’s ankle, right on the tattoo of an eye that had haunted the children since they had first seen it. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at the tattoo, remembering all of the times it had been disguised and all the times it had been revealed, and they thought of all the other places they had seen it, for if you looked carefully, the drawing of an eye also spelled out the initials V.F.D., and as the children had investigated the Volunteer Fire Department, first trying to decode the organization’s sinister mysteries and then trying to participate in its noble errands, it seemed that these eyes were watching them, though whether the eyes were noble or treacherous, good or evil, seemed even now to be a mystery. The whole story of these eyes, it seemed, might always be hidden from the children, kept in darkness along with all the other eyes watching all the other orphans every day and every night.

“‘The night has a thousand eyes,’” Kit said hoarsely, and lifted her head to face the villain. The Baudelaires could tell by her voice that she was reciting the words of someone else. “‘And the day but one; yet the light of the bright world dies with the dying sun. The mind has a thousand eyes, and the heart but one: yet the light of a whole life dies when love is done.’”

Count Olaf gave Kit a faint smile. “You’re not the only one who can recite the words of our associates,” he said, and then gazed out at the sea. The afternoon was nearly over, and soon the island would be covered in darkness. “‘Man hands on misery to man,’” the villain said. “‘It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can—’” Here he coughed, a ghastly sound, and his hands clutched his chest. “‘And don’t have any kids yourself,’” he finished, and uttered a short, sharp laugh. Then the villain’s story came to an end. Olaf lay back on the sand, far from the treachery of the world, and the children stood on the beach and stared into his face. His eyes shone brightly, and his mouth opened as if he wanted to tell them something, but the Baudelaire orphans never heard Count Olaf say another word.

Kit gave a cry of pain, thick with poisonous fungus, and clutched her heaving belly, and the Baudelaires hurried to help her. They did not even notice when Count Olaf closed his eyes for the last time, and perhaps this is a good time for you to close your eyes, too, not just to avoid reading the end of the Baudelaires’ story, but to imagine the beginning of another. It is likely your own eyes were closed when you were born, so that you left the safe place of your mother’s womb—or, if you are a seahorse, your father’s yolk sac—and joined the treachery of the world without seeing exactly where you were going. You did not yet know the people who were helping you make your way here, or the people who would shelter you as your life began, when you were even smaller and more delicate and demanding than you are now. It seems strange that you would do such a thing, and leave yourself in the care of strangers for so long, only gradually opening your eyes to see what all the fuss was about, and yet this is the way nearly everyone comes into the world. Perhaps if we saw what was ahead of us, and glimpsed the crimes, follies, and misfortunes that would befall us later on, we would all stay in our mother’s wombs, and then there would be nobody in the world but a great number of very fat, very irritated women. In any case, this is how all our stories begin, in darkness with our eyes closed, and all our stories end the same way, too, with all of us uttering some last words—or perhaps someone else’s—before slipping back into darkness as our series of unfortunate events comes to an end. And in this way, with the journey taken by Kit Snicket’s baby, we reach the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events as well. For some time, Kit Snicket’s labor was very difficult, and it seemed to the children that things were moving in an aberrant—the word “aberrant” here means “very, very wrong, and causing much grief”—direction. But finally, into the world came a baby girl, just as, I’m very, very sorry to say, her mother, and my sister, slipped away from the world after a long night of suffering—but also a night of joy, as the birth of a baby is always good news, no matter how much bad news the baby will hear later. The sun rose over the coastal shelf, which would not flood again for another year, and the Baudelaire orphans held the baby on the shore and watched as her eyes opened for the first time. Kit Snicket’s daughter squinted at the sunrise, and tried to imagine where in the world she was, and of course as she wondered this she began to cry. The girl, named after the Baudelaires’ mother, howled and howled, and as her series of unfortunate events began, this history of the Baudelaire orphans ended.

This is not to say, of course, that the Baudelaire orphans died that day. They were far too busy. Although they were still children, the Baudelaires were parents now, and there was quite a lot to do. Violet designed and built the equipment necessary for raising an infant, using the library of detritus stored in the shade of the apple tree. Klaus searched the enormous bookcase for information on child care, and kept careful track of the baby’s progress. Sunny herded and milked the wild sheep, to provide nourishment for the baby, and used the whisk Friday had given her to make soft foods as the baby’s teeth came in. And all three Baudelaires planted seeds from the bitter apples all over the island, to chase away any traces of the Medusoid Mycelium—even though they remembered it grew best in small, enclosed spaces—so the deadly fungus had no chance to harm the child and so the island would remain as safe as it was on the day they arrived. These chores took all day, and at night, while the baby was learning to sleep, the Baudelaires would sit together in the two large reading chairs and take turns reading out loud from the book their parents had left behind, and sometimes they would flip to the back of the book, and add a few lines to the history themselves. While reading and writing, the siblings found many answers for which they had been looking, although each answer, of course, only brought forth another mystery, as there were many details of the Baudelaires’ lives that seemed like a strange, unreadable shape of some great unknown. But this did not concern them as much as you might think. One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one’s history, and no matter how much one reads, the whole story can never be told. But it was enough. Reading their parents’ words was, under the circumstances, the best for which the Baudelaire orphans could hope.

As the night grew later they would drop off to sleep, just as their parents did, in the chairs in the secret space beneath the roots of the bitter apple tree, in the arboretum on an island far, far from the treachery of the world. Several hours later, of course, the baby would wake up and fill the space with confused and hungry cries. The Baudelaires took turns, and while the other two children slept, one Baudelaire would carry the baby, in a sling Violet had designed, out of the arboretum and up to the top of the brae, where they would sit, infant and parent, and have breakfast while staring at the sea. Sometimes they would visit Kit Snicket’s grave, where they would lay a few wildflowers, or the grave of Count Olaf, where they would merely stand silent for a few moments. In many ways, the lives of the Baudelaire orphans that year is not unlike my own, now that I have concluded my investigation. Like Violet, like Klaus, and like Sunny, I visit certain graves, and often spend my mornings standing on a brae, staring out at the same sea. It is not the whole story, of course, but it is enough. Under the circumstances, it is the best for which you can hope.

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