فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER Six

Bad circumstances have a way of ruining things that would otherwise be pleasant. So it was with the Baudelaire orphans and the movie Zombies in the Snow. All afternoon, the three children had sat and worried in the Reptile Room, under the mocking stare of Stephano and the oblivious—the word “oblivious” here means “not aware that Stephano was really Count Olaf and thus being in a great deal of danger”—chatter of Uncle Monty. So by the time it was evening, the siblings were in no mood for cinematic entertainment. Uncle Monty’s jeep was really too small to hold him, Stephano, and the three orphans, so Klaus and Violet shared a seat, and poor Sunny had to sit on Stephano’s filthy lap, but the Baudelaires were too preoccupied to even notice their discomfort.

The children sat all in a row at the multiplex, with Uncle Monty to one side, while Stephano sat in the middle and hogged the popcorn. But the children were too anxious to eat any snacks, and too busy trying to figure out what Stephano planned to do to enjoy Zombies in the Snow, which was a fine film. When the zombies first rose out of the snowbanks surrounding the tiny Alpine fishing village, Violet tried to imagine a way in which Stephano could get aboard the Prospero without a ticket and accompany them to Peru. When the town fathers constructed a barrier of sturdy oak, only to have the zombies chomp their way through it, Klaus was concerned with exactly what Stephano had meant when he spoke about accidents. And when Gerta, the little milkmaid, made friends with the zombies and asked them to please stop eating the villagers, Sunny, who was of course scarcely old enough to comprehend the orphans’ situation, tried to think up a way to defeat Stephano’s plans, whatever they were. In the final scene of the movie, the zombies and villagers celebrated May Day together, but the three Baudelaire orphans were too nervous and afraid to enjoy themselves one bit. On the way home, Uncle Monty tried to talk to the silent, worried children sitting in the back, but they hardly said a word in reply and eventually he fell silent.

When the jeep pulled up to the snake-shaped hedges, the Baudelaire children dashed out and ran to the front door without even saying good night to their puzzled guardian. With heavy hearts they climbed the stairs to their bedrooms, but when they reached their doors they could not bear to part.

“Could we all spend the night in the same room?” Klaus asked Violet timidly. “Last night I felt as if I were in a jail cell, worrying all by myself.”

“Me too,” Violet admitted. “Since we’re not going to sleep, we might as well not sleep in the same place.”

“Tikko,” Sunny agreed, and followed her siblings into Violet’s room. Violet looked around the bedroom and remembered how excited she had been to move into it just a short while ago. Now, the enormous window with the view of the snake-shaped hedges seemed depressing rather than inspiring, and the blank pages tacked to her wall, rather than being convenient, seemed only to remind her of how anxious she was.

“I see you haven’t worked much on your inventions,” Klaus said gently. “I haven’t been reading at all. When Count Olaf is around, it sure puts a damper on the imagination.”

“Not always,” Violet pointed out. “When we lived with him, you read all about nuptial law to find out about his plan, and I invented a grappling hook to put a stop to it.”

“In this situation, though,” Klaus said glumly, “we don’t even know what Count Olaf is up to. How can we formulate a plan if we don’t know his plan?”

“Well, let’s try to hash this out,” Violet said, using an expression which here means “talk about something at length until we completely understand it.” “Count Olaf, calling himself Stephano, has come to this house in disguise and is obviously after the Baudelaire fortune.”

“And,” Klaus continued, “once he gets his hands on it, he plans to kill us.”

“Tadu,” Sunny murmured solemnly, which probably meant something along the lines of “It’s a loathsome situation in which we find ourselves.”

“However,” Violet said, “if he harms us, there’s no way he can get to our fortune. That’s why he tried to marry me last time.”

“Thank God that didn’t work,” Klaus said, shivering. “Then Count Olaf would be my brother-in-law. But this time he’s not planning to marry you. He said something about an accident.”

“And about heading to a location where crimes are more difficult to trace,” Violet said, remembering his words. “That must mean Peru. But Stephano isn’t going to Peru. Uncle Monty tore up his ticket.”

“Doog!” Sunny shrieked, in a generic cry of frustration, and pounded her little fist on the floor. The word “generic” here means “when one is unable to think of anything else to say,” and Sunny was not alone in this. Violet and Klaus were of course too old to say things like “Doog!” but they wished they weren’t. They wished they could figure out Count Olaf’s plan. They wished their situation didn’t seem as mysterious and hopeless as it did, and they wished they were young enough to simply shriek “Doog!” and pound their fists on the floor. And most of all, of course, they wished that their parents were alive and that the Baudelaires were all safe in the home where they had been born.

And as fervently as the Baudelaire orphans wished their circumstances were different, I wish that I could somehow change the circumstances of this story for you. Even as I sit here, safe as can be and so very far from Count Olaf, I can scarcely bear to write another word. Perhaps it would be best if you shut this book right now and never read the rest of this horrifying story. You can imagine, if you wish, that an hour later, the Baudelaire orphans suddenly figured out what Stephano was up to and were able to save Uncle Monty’s life. You can picture the police arriving with all their flashing lights and sirens, and dragging Stephano away to jail for the rest of his life. You can pretend, even though it is not so, that the Baudelaires are living happily with Uncle Monty to this day. Or best of all, you can conjure up the illusion that the Baudelaire parents have not been killed, and that the terrible fire and Count Olaf and Uncle Monty and all the other unfortunate events are nothing more than a dream, a figment of the imagination.

But this story is not a happy one, and I am not happy to tell you that the Baudelaire orphans sat dumbly in Violet’s room—the word “dumbly” here means “without speaking,” rather than “in a stupid way”—for the rest of the night. Had someone peeped through the bedroom window as the morning sun rose, they would have seen the three children huddled together on the bed, their eyes wide open and dark with worry. But nobody peeped through the window. Somebody knocked on the door, four loud knocks as if something were being nailed shut.

The children blinked and looked at one another. “Who is it?” Klaus called out, his voice crackly from being silent so long.

Instead of an answer, whoever it was simply turned the knob and the door swung slowly open. There stood Stephano, with his clothes all rumpled and his eyes shining brighter than they ever had before.

“Good morning,” he said. “It’s time to leave for Peru. There is just room for three orphans and myself in the jeep, so get a move on.”

“We told you yesterday that you weren’t going,” Violet said. She hoped her voice sounded braver than she felt.

“It is your Uncle Monty who isn’t going,” Stephano said, and raised the part of his forehead where his eyebrow should have been.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Klaus said. “Uncle Monty wouldn’t miss this expedition for the world.”

“Ask him,” Stephano said, and the Baudelaires saw a familiar expression on his face. His mouth scarcely moved, but his eyes were shining as if he’d just told a joke. “Why don’t you ask him? He’s down in the Reptile Room.”

“We will ask him,” Violet said. “Uncle Monty has no intention of letting you take us to Peru alone.” She rose from the bed, took the hands of her siblings, and walked quickly past Stephano who was smirking in the doorway. “We will ask him,” Violet said again, and Stephano gave a little bow as the children walked out of the room.

The hallway was strangely quiet, and blank as the eyes of a skull. “Uncle Monty?” Violet called, at the end of the hallway. Nobody answered.

Aside from a few creaks on the steps, the whole house was eerily quiet, as if it had been deserted for many years. “Uncle Monty?” Klaus called, at the bottom of the stairs. They heard nothing.

Standing on tiptoe, Violet opened the enormous door of the Reptile Room and for a moment, the orphans stared into the room as if hypnotized, entranced by the odd blue light which the sunrise made as it shone through the glass ceiling and walls. In the dim glow, they could see only silhouettes of the various reptiles as they moved around in their cages, or slept, curled into shapeless dark masses.

Their footsteps echoing off the glimmering walls, the three siblings walked through the Reptile Room, toward the far end, where Uncle Monty’s library lay waiting for them. Even though the dark room felt mysterious and strange, it was a comforting mystery, and a safe strangeness. They remembered Uncle Monty’s promise: that if they took time to learn the facts, no harm would come to them here in the Reptile Room. However, you and I remember that Uncle Monty’s promise was laden with dramatic irony, and now, here in the early-morning gloom of the Reptile Room, that irony was going to come to fruition, a phrase which here means “the Baudelaires were finally to learn of it.” For just as they reached the books, the three siblings could see a large, shadowy mass huddled in the far corner. Nervously, Klaus switched on one of the reading lamps to get a better look. The shadowy mass was Uncle Monty. His mouth was slightly agape, as if he were surprised, and his eyes were wide open, but he didn’t appear to see them. His face, usually so rosy, was very, very pale, and under his left eye were two small holes, right in a line, the sort of mark made by the two fangs of a snake.

“Divo soom?” Sunny asked, and tugged at his pants leg. Uncle Monty did not move. As he had promised, no harm had come to the Baudelaire orphans in the Reptile Room, but great harm had come to Uncle Monty.

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