Bunnicula Strikes Again!'

STORY TIME

September 22, 1999|By James Howe

Editor's note: Harold, the family dog, describes the seemingly normal world he and Bunnicula inhabit. Author James Howe will appear Saturday at the Baltimore Book Festival.

How unexpectedly the end can come.

I was stretched out on the bed next to my master, Toby.

His hand rested on my head, which in turn rested on his outstretched legs. The warm spring breeze wafted through the open window, gently carrying Toby's voice as he read to me.

I remember thinking how perfect my life seemed at that moment. My best friend, Chester, had undoubtedly settled himself in on the brown velvet armchair in the living room below and was now contentedly sleeping or shedding or reading. He, like Toby, is a voracious reader, which may surprise you, given that he's a cat; but, in the world of fiction, anything is possible. Consider the other two members of the Monroe menagerie: Howie, a wirehaired dachshund puppy who Chester maintains is part werewolf, and Bunnicula, a rabbit with fangs. While Chester doesn't concern himself much with Howie's howling, seeing it as irritating but harmless, he does work himself up into a fancy frenzy from time to time over the dangers he imagines Bunnicula poses to our vegetables, our family, the town in which we live, and, when he's really on a roll, Civilization as we know it.

I had been only vaguely listening to the story Toby was reading. I knew that it was about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Watson because those stories were all that Toby had been reading for weeks. I had grown fond of Holmes and had often thought that his friendship with Watson was something like mine with Chester. I was therefore unprepared for the terrible event that concluded this particular tale, in which Watson tells of the final confrontation between Holmes and his archenemy, the evil Professor Moriarty.

I lifted my head and woofed. Was it possible? Would Holmes perish? Could an author be so cruel as to kill off his most beloved character?

I began to whimper and Toby, whose own eyes were glistening, bent over me and crooned, "There, there, boy. It's only a story." But Toby is a sensitive lad, and I knew that for him, as for me, there was something more here than a story. There was the painful recognition that all too quickly things can change. I didn't like it. I wanted my world to go on as it always had.

I jumped down from Toby's bed with an urgent need to check downstairs and be sure that everything was in proper place. "Chester!" I cried out as I turned the corner from the hall into the living room. His chair was empty! "Chester! Where are you?" I called into the darkened room.

The door to the kitchen creaked open just then and through it appeared Chester, licking his chops. "Where were you?" I said. "I called you and called you." "For heaven's sake, Harold, get a grip on yourself. I was in the kitchen having a little snack. Now what's all the excitement about?"

Before I could answer, Howie came skipping down the stairs, his toenails clicking wildly. "Boy," he said breathlessly, "that was so scary!" "What happened?" I asked. "I was reading this spooky book over Pete's shoulder -- The Potato Has a Thousand Eyes. Vegetables can be dangerous." "I've always said that about spinach," I interjected. "Don't you remember when you were worried that Bunnicula was attacking vegetables all over town, draining them of their juices, and you said the vegetables would turn into vampires, too?" Howie asked Chester. "You do still think Bunnicula's a vampire, don't you?" "Of course," Chester said. "But, Chester," I said, "Bunnicula hasn't attacked any vegetables since he escaped that time. Surely you're no longer worried about him."

Chester's face took on an odd expression. "Let's just say the matter is under control, Harold. At last."

And with that, he jumped up on the brown velvet armchair and proceeded to fall into a deep and seemingly untroubled sleep. "What do you think he meant about everything being under control?" Howie asked. "Chester just likes to hear himself talk," I told Howie.

But did I really believe Chester would do Bunnicula no harm? After all, he had tried to destroy Bunnicula once. How far would he have gone? How far would he go now? Could this be the end of Bunnicula?

Excerpted from BUNNICULA STRIKES AGAIN! by James Howe. Text copyright c 1999 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright c 1999 by Alan Daniel. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

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