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“The Little Terror” by Will F. Jenkins

Published: January 24, 2017

Family stare in terror at a little, evil girl.Originally published on August 22, 1953 

 

There was no crashing roll of thunder when the principles of psychological acosmistic idealism became practicalities in the world inhabited by Nancy. Her mother had no twinge of uneasiness, and her father was reading his newspaper. There was no breathless hush over the earth at the bloodcurdling instant, though possibly Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753), up in heaven, was pleasantly interested. Joe Holt, who was a practicing psychiatrist and might be presumed to have a feeling for such things, hadn’t the trace of an intuition of it. The skies did not darken suddenly, nor were there deep rumblings underground. There was not even an unnatural gray twilight in which birds chirped faintly and cattle affrightedly rolled their eyes. There was no sign whatever that the most alarming moment in history was at hand. But still —

Nancy went to the gate with her grandfather. She was six and he was sixty, and they were very congenial. Nancy skipped, because she never walked when she could skip or, preferably, run. It was nearing dusk, but there was still a ruddy sunshine in the air, yet the sky was perceptibly darkening.

At the gate Nancy permitted her grandfather to kiss her good-by, in the benign, smug condescension of little girls who know they are irresistible.

Then she said, “Make a penny go away, granddaddy.”

Her grandfather obediently took a copper penny from his pocket. He put it between his thumb and middle finger and offered it gravely for Nancy’s inspection. She held her breath. Her grandfather snapped his fingers. The penny vanished.

Nancy beamed. “Do it again, granddaddy!”

Her grandfather prepared to repeat. Nancy put her eyes within inches of the coin. She watched with rapt fascination.

The penny vanished a second time.

“It’s real magic?” asked Nancy hopefully. She was beginning to discover that one could not count on fairy godmothers — not confidently, at any rate — in moments of despair. But still she hoped.

“It’s real magic,” agreed her grandfather.

“Show me how!” begged Nancy. “Please!”

Her grandfather whispered confidentially in her ear, “I say oogledeboo’ and it vanishes. Can you say that?”

Nancy whispered, “Oogledeboo.”

“Splendid!” said her grandfather. He straightened up. “Now you say oogledeboo’ at this penny, and see what happens!” He held the penny as before, between thumb and middle finger.

Nancy giggled at it. She said, “Oogledeboo!”

Her grandfather’s fingers snapped. The penny vanished.

Nancy beamed. “Again, granddaddy?”

“Once more,” conceded her grandfather. He proffered the penny. It was the same one, but Nancy did not reflect upon that. He took it in his fingers. Her eyes sparkled. She said, “Oogledeboo!”

The penny vanished. Her grandfather looked slightly surprised. But it was natural. He had never heard of Bishop Berkeley’s dictum that esse is percipi, nor drawn inferences from the statement. However, he beamed at Nancy.

“Now I have to go, Nancy. Good night.”

Nancy waved cheerfully as he walked down the street. When he was out of sight, she skipped back to where she had been playing. She did not notice that her grandfather was shaking his coat sleeve absently, as if to make something come out of it — something that did not come.

Nancy settled down placidly to play alone. There was a caterpillar on the doll she had neglected for her grandfather. Nancy regarded it with disfavor. She said sternly, “Oogledeboo!”

The caterpillar vanished. Nancy played with her doll. The sunset proceeded. Twilight fell. Nancy’s mother called her, and she went in cheerfully, dragging the doll by one arm. She ate her supper with excellent appetite and beamed at her father and mother. There was only one alarming incident, and it happened to pass unnoticed. Nancy did not want to finish her milk. Her mother said firmly that she must. Then the telephone rang, and her mother got up to answer it.

Nancy looked confidently at the milk in her glass and said, “Oogledeboo.”

The milk vanished.

Nancy went happily to bed later, after kissing her father and mother with extravagant affection. She went dreamlessly and placidly to sleep. She slept blissfully all night long.

All was serene through all the cosmos. There was no hint of the appalling thing that had happened. Nobody cringed in nameless horror. Nobody trembled in justified apprehension. Nobody, it appears, happened to be thinking of the Right Reverend George Berkeley, of the Anglican Church, who wrote books of philosophy and died in 1753.

Nancy woke next morning in her customary ebullient mood. She sang lustily as she was dressed, and there was no hint of disturbance until breakfast was served. Then there was a slight collision of wills over Nancy’s reluctance to eat her cereal. But just then the milkman came to collect, and her mother went to pay him. When her mother came back, the cereal bowl was quite empty. Nancy’s mother praised her warmly. Nancy giggled.

It was a charming morning. Nancy, scrubbed to radiance and wearing a playsuit of healthful brevity, went out to play in her sand box behind the house. She sang as she played. She was a delightfully happy child. Presently Charles, the little boy next door, came over to play with her. She greeted him with that cordial suspicion with which little girls regard little boys. He stepped on a sand house she had decorated with small stray sticks and cherished bottle caps. She scolded.

“Huh!” said Charles scornfully. “That’s no fun! Let’s play going to the moon. Let’s fight the cat men. Rnnnnnnnh! Bang-bang!”

Nancy demurred.

“Let’s play space ship,” insisted Charles. He began to hop excitedly. He shouted, “Whoooooooom! Three grays! Four! Turn on the stern rockets! Whooooooooooom! There come the space pirates! Warm up the disintegrators! Shoot the space warp! Bang! Bang! Rnnnnnnnnnnh! Bang!”

He rushed about madly, fighting a splendid space battle with space pirates from the rings of Saturn, while Nancy placidly practiced interior decoration in her sand pile. She set a wilted buttercup on a dab of sand which to her represented a sideboard — undoubtedly Sheraton. She reflectively arranged another dab of sand into a luxurious sofa. She began to smooth out wall-to-wall carpeting, with the intent to add a grandfather’s clock next to her sandpile scheme for gracious living.

Charles got into difficulties. A fleet of black space ships from Sirius winked into existence from the fourth dimension over by the back-porch steps. They sped toward him, disintegrator rays flaming. He flashed into faster-than-light attack, throwing out atomic bombs and with tractor and pressor beams busy. Then came a despairing call from an Earth passenger space liner under attack by pirates near the hydrangea bush.

“Whoooooooom!” shouted Charles ferociously. “Coming, Earthship, with all jets firing! Rnnnnnnnnh! Take that! And that! Bang! Bang! Here’s an H-bomb for you! Boom!”

Disaster struck. Charles, rushing to the defense of the helpless passenger craft, cut across the sand pile. One sandaled foot landed in the kitchen of Nancy’s ranch-type sand house. Kitchen sink, dishwasher and breakfast nook — they were marked by rather wobbly lines of pebbles — were obliterated as if by collision with a giant meteor in space. Sand sprayed on Nancy.

“Bang, bang!” roared Charles in his high treble. “Rnnnnnnnh! Take that, you old pirates! Calling Earth! Space-patrol ship reporting pirates wiped out! I’m taking off for Pluto!”

Nancy trembled with indignation. She said sternly, “You go home!”

“Huh?” said Charles. He stopped short. “I’m Captain Space! I’ve got to fight space pirates and things, haven’t I?”

“You go home!” said Nancy sternly. “You stepped on my house! You go home or I’ll say something at you!”

If she had threatened to tell her mother on him, it might have been effective. But this threat had no meaning to Charles. He shouted, “Whooooooom! Taking off for Pluto! Invaders from space! Coming, Earth garrison! Hold on, I’m coming with all jets firing! Whooooom!”

He started for Pluto. Unfortunately, it appeared that Pluto lay somewhere in the general direction of a yellow tea rose bush at the edge of the lawn. Charles’ orbit would coincide with the sand pile again.

Nancy said vengefully, “Oogledeboo!”

Charles vanished.

Silence fell, and Nancy returned to the building of a sand-pile ranch house. Presently she sang happily as she worked. Presently, again, she went into the house and asked for cookies. Having skipped her breakfast cereal, she was hungry.

Her mother said, “Where’s Charles? Didn’t I hear him playing with you?”

Nancy bit into a cookie and said placidly, “I said ‘oogledeboo’ at him and he went away.”

Nancy’s mother smiled absently and went about what she thought were more important affairs. Which was a mistake. There were no more important affairs. According to the principles laid down by Bishop Berkeley between 1685 and 1753, things exist because a mind thinks of them as existing. Nancy had acquired the ability to think confidently of things as ceasing to exist — a gift no adult can acquire. So — by a natural extrapolation of Bishop Berkeley’s principle — when she thought of something as ceasing to exist, it did. All of us have wished for such a talent at some time or another, but Nancy had it.

When she was at lunch, the voice of Charles’ mother could be heard, calling him. He did not answer, and presently she was at the door. Nancy had arrived at the custard-with-strawberry- jam stage of her lunch then, and she worked zestfully with a spoon. Her mother went to confer with Charles’ mother about his whereabouts.

“Why, no, “Nancy heard her say. “He was playing with Nancy, but he left.” She called, “Nancy! Do you know where Charles went?”

“No, mother-r!” Nancy sang out happily. She worked further on the custard. She was absorbed.

There was talk at the door. Nancy got some strawberry jam on the large napkin her mother spread over her at mealtime. She was enjoyably licking it off when her mother returned.

“Charles’ mother is worried,” said Nancy’s mother. She frowned a little. “He doesn’t usually wander away. You’re sure you didn’t notice which way he went?” Nancy shook her head. “He didn’t go with anybody?” her mother asked uneasily.

Nancy got a big spoonful of custard. “No,” she said placidly. “I said ‘oogledeboo’ at him and he went away.”

Her mother did not inquire further. But she looked unhappy. A parent of a small child always shares the anguish of another parent when a small child can’t be found. But it didn’t occur to Nancy’s mother that she might have heard a complete and accurate description of Charles’ disappearance.

Immediately after lunch, Nancy’s mother dressed her up to go downtown. There was to be a parade, and Nancy’s mother was making the sacrifice of an afternoon to Nancy’s pleasure. Of course Nancy loathed being dragged through stores, but since her mother was devoting an entire afternoon to her, it was only reasonable that they should start early, to do some shopping, and do more shopping later. This is what is called thinking only of one’s children.

Nancy had no forebodings. She adored being dressed up, and wriggled with pleasure as her mother attired her in a very frilly dress, a very frilly hat, a smart little coat and tiny white gloves which to Nancy were the ultimate of bliss. She sang and paraded before a mirror as her mother prepared for the outing.

She sang, also, as her mother drove downtown. When the traffic grew thick and they stopped at traffic lights, Nancy continued to sing lustily and without self-consciousness. People looked at her and smiled, thinking of innocent and happy childhood.

There were mobs in every store. Other self-sacrificing mothers were out to show their children the parade. They constituted an outrageous crush by a ladies’-purse counter. A fat woman jammed Nancy against a counter. She was enraged. Somebody protested, and the fat woman turned indignantly, and in pivoting, that protruding part of her body which was at the height of Nancy’s six-year-old head sent Nancy reeling.

Nancy said wrathfully, “Oogledeboo!”

There was no fat woman.

Somebody screamed in a stifled fashion. But nobody believed it. There was a surging of bodies to fill the space where a fat woman had been, and Nancy was banged again and wailed, and grabbed her mother hysterically by the legs.

Her mother completed the purchase of a handbag and harassedly got Nancy out of the crowd. Nancy’s frilly hat was dangling and she was very unhappy.

“There, darling!” said her mother penitently. “I shouldn’t have brought you into such a crowded place! We’ll go upstairs where there won’t be so many people.”

They got into an elevator. Then a mob charged it. A horde of women resolutely thrust and pushed and shoved, while small children howled. Women are less than ladylike when there are no men around. The elevator operator tried to stem the flood, to no avail.

Nancy was crushed ruthlessly. She became terrified. She gasped, “Oogledeboo!”

There were only five people in the elevator. There was not even a crowd trying to push in.

Nancy’s mother trembled for a considerable time after that. Of course it could not possibly be true. Even the elevator operator merely stammered unintelligibly when a floorwalker questioned him. There was nothing to tell. The elevator had been crowded, and suddenly it wasn’t. There had been no outcry. The crowd hadn’t even visibly faded. It just was — and then it wasn’t. So the elevator operator, completely overwrought, was relieved of duty and the floorwalker apologized to the few passengers remaining. They were all remarkably pale, and they all went quickly out of the store. But of course they didn’t believe it either. Not even Nancy’s mother.

But Nancy felt much better. More confident. Now, she knew placidly, she could always get room around her if people pushed. Her mother drank a cup of tea in the nearest tea room, and tried tremblingly to remember the psychiatric meaning of the delusion that people vanished before one’s eyes. But while her mother trembled, Nancy ate a small plate of vanilla ice cream, with relish.

Nancy’s mother really wanted to go straight home then. Already she had made up her mind to ask Joe Holt about the experience. He was the only psychiatrist she knew personally, but he and his wife were fairly close friends. She could mention it in an offhand manner, perhaps. But Nancy had been promised the parade. So they saw it.

It began appropriately with motorcycle policemen, at whom Nancy waved enthusiastically. Her mother had been able to get a place at the very curb, so nothing would interfere with Nancy’s view. There came a high school band, with drum-majorettes strutting in costumes which would have caused their great-grandmothers to die of heart failure. There came a cadet corps. And then the floats.

Nancy was thrilled by a float in the shape of a swan, decorated by young girls in tinsel dresses and fixed smiles. There was a float showing embarrassed Boy Scouts about a campfire. A float resembling a battleship. A Girl Scout float.

There came a traveling squealing down the street. Children’s shrill voices shrieked and shouted. Nancy squirmed to look. Her mother held her tightly. But Nancy’s mother was thinking desperately that she’d never expected to call on Joe Holt professionally, but, after all, he was a psychiatrist and he played golf with —

Nancy squealed in pure excitement. Her mother looked numbly at the float which caused all the high-pitched tumult. It represented a dragon. It was a very ambitious job. The body of the beast completely hid the truck on which it was built, and a long and ungainly hooped-canvas tail trailed three car lengths behind. But it was what went on before that caused the excitement.

The dragon had a twenty-foot movable neck of hooped canvas painted red, with a five-foot head at the end of it. The head had short, blunt horns. It had eyes the size of saucers, and an expression of imbecilic amiability, and smoke came lavishly out of its nostrils. And its head moved from side to side on the movable neck, and it turned coquettishly and seemed to gaze at the spectators wherever it turned with an admirable look of benign imbecility.

Children squealed and shrieked and cheered as the dragon proceeded down the main street. Those at whom it seemed to look shrank back in delighted terror. Those from whom it looked away yelled in sheer excitement.

Nancy trembled in delicious thrill. She jumped up and down. She squealed.

Opposite her, the long, articulated neck swung in her direction. The dragon’s head turned toward her. It seemed to look directly at her, in a sort of walleyed cordiality. Smoke welled from its nostrils. It swung still closer, as if to take an even closer and even more admiring look.

Nancy said zestfully, “Oogledeboo!”

A smoke pot fell to the pavement and smashed. It scattered strangling, smoldering stuff over five yards of asphalt. A man fell with a clank, landing astride the hood of a battered motor truck which had been hidden by the dragon’s body. His expression was that of stunned bewilderment, and he stared at his hands. They had held ropes by which he moved the dragon’s neck and head. Now they were empty. There were four men in their undershirts, riding in the truck, and they regarded their public incredulously. Because there was no longer a dragon to hide them.

There was, though, an impressive smoldering conflagration on the street. It called for fire engines. They came.

Nancy’s mother was in a chaotic state of mind when she managed to fight her way, with Nancy, to where her car was parked. Her expression tended to be on the wild-eyed side, but she got Nancy into the car and herself behind the wheel. Then she doubted frenziedly whether she was in a fit state to drive. She started off, finally, on the dubious premise that somebody who is really crazy never suspects it.

They were late getting home, and Nancy’s father was beginning to be worried. He’d been informed of the disappearance of Charles, next door, and of the feverish hunt for him by police and all the neighbors.

He was relieved when Nancy and her mother turned up, but Nancy’s mother got out of the car and said tautly, “Get Joe Holt to come here at once. “Nancy’s mother spoke in the level, tense tone of one who is likely to scream in another split second. “He’s a psychiatrist. I have to see a psychiatrist. Everything’s happened today! Charles disappeared. An elevatorful of people vanished before my eyes and a dragon faded to nothingness while I was looking at it. Things like that don’t happen! I’m going crazy, but maybe Joe Holt can do something! Get him, quick!”

Then she collapsed, blubbering. She was thinking of Nancy. Already she envisioned a broken home, herself a madwoman and divorced, Nancy’s father remarried to someone who would be cruel to Nancy, and Nancy haunted by the specter of madness looming ever before her. Nancy’s mother did not worry about her husband. Perhaps that was significant.

But Nancy’s father knew when not to try to be reasonable. Also, he was frightened. He grabbed the telephone and spoke with such desperate urgency that in five minutes Joe Holt, that rising young psychiatrist, had got into his car, raced the necessary five blocks, and was looking anxiously at Nancy’s mother, in his house slippers and without a necktie.

“What the hell?” asked Joe Holt unprofessionally.

Nobody noticed Nancy. Her mother began to tell her wholly incredible story. Her tone was pure desperation. She suddenly remembered the fat woman. She told about it, shrilly.

Nancy said reassuringly, “But that was all right, mother-r! I said ‘oogledeboo’ at her!”

Her mother paid no heed. Nancy’s father moved to take her out of the room. She clung convulsively to her mother, and her mother to her. Nancy’s father was in an unenviable spot for a moment, there.

“Don’t take her away!” panted her mother despairingly. “Not yet! Wait! . . . And five minutes later an elevatorful of people vanished before my eyes!”

She sobbed suddenly. Nancy’s father ran his hands through his hair.

Nancy’s voice said consolingly, “But mother-r, they were crowding us! That’s why I said ‘oogledeboo’ at them. Like Charles was bothering me and I said ‘oogledeboo’ at him and made him go away.”

Her mother’s whole body jerked. She stared at Nancy. And then her anguished face smoothed out suddenly. She said in a quiet and interested tone, “Did you, darling?” But she turned tragic eyes upon Joe Holt. “You see, Joe? Listen to her! The things that’ve happened have turned her little brain too! Don’t bother about me, Joe! Do something for Nancy!”

Joe breathed a small sigh of professional relief. All this business was com- pletely bewildering, but he did know that sometimes a woman will do anything for her child — even stay sane, if necessary.

So he said cheerfully to Nancy, “So you made things go away? That’s interesting, Nancy. Tell us about it.”

Nancy beamed at him. She liked people. They found her irresistible. So she told how her granddaddy had told her how to do magic. One said “oogledeboo” at things and they went away.

“I said it to the penny,” she finished happily, “and to a caterpillar on my doll, and my milk last night, and my cereal this morning, and Charles, and a fat woman, and the people in the elevator, and the dragon. It’s easy,” she finished generously. “Want me to show you?”

Her mother gasped. But Joe Holt noticed that she wasn’t thinking of her- self any longer but of Nancy. And as a practical matter, nobody is neurotic who sincerely cares about anybody else. Joe didn’t understand anything, but he began to have hope.

“Why, yes, Nancy!” he said blithely. “Make this — h’m — this vase of flowers go away, will you?”

Nancy’s mother said involuntarily, “That’s my best vase.” But then she said calmly, “Yes, darling, make that go away.”

So Nancy, blithe and beaming and six years old, looked at her mother’s most-prized almost-Ming vase and said happily, “Oogledeboo.”

And of course the vase went away.

It was two o’clock in the morning and raining heavily when they got Nancy’s grandfather out of bed to answer the bell. Then Nancy’s father and Joe Holt crowded inside the door to talk desperately to him with rain-wet, disheveled faces. He stared.

“You’ve got to come to the house, sir!” said Nancy’s father feverishly. “Nancy’s got a psychological acosmistic idea from you, and it’s got to be cured!”

Joe Holt said reprovingly, if harassedly, “Not idea. Ability. It’s a psychokinetic ability.” Nancy’s grandfather said in a rising tone, “Nancy’s sick? Sick? And you talk? Come on!”

He grabbed an overcoat and flung out of the house, pulling the coat on over his pajamas. Rain poured down. Lightning glinted on it as it fell. They piled into Joe’s convertible and he started it off at frantic speed.

Nancy’s grandfather snapped, “How’s she sick? When did it start?”

“She says ‘oogledeboo’ at things!” panted Nancy’s father. “And they vanish! We’ve got her to bed now, but she’s got to be cured! Think what she may do next! She says `oogledeboo’!”

Nancy’s grandfather barked, “Oogledeboo? What’s the matter with saying ‘oogledeboo’? I say ‘oogledeboo’ if I feel like it! I taught her to say it!”

“That’s just it,” said Joe Holt, swallowing. He turned to gesticulate. “You showed her that a penny vanished when she said it. She believed it! It’s — idealistic immaterialism! . . . Oops!”

He yanked at the wheel and pulled the car out of a skid as it headed for a telephone pole aglitter with wetness.

“It was Bishop Berkeley,” panted Nancy’s father. “Joe just showed me! In a book! Bishop Berkeley said that matter cannot exist without mind. A mind has to perceive something in order for it to exist. It’s been a big argument for years. Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel and all the rest.”

The car plunged through a black puddle on the pavement, pockmarked with falling rain under an arc light. Sheets of water, like shining wings, rose on either side of the car.

Esse,” said Joe Holt, gulping, “is percipi. If a thing isn’t perceived by some mind somewhere, it isn’t. But when we know something is, we have to let it go at that. Nancy doesn’t. You fixed it so she doesn’t. When she says ‘oogledeboo’ at something, she’s able to think of it as ceasing to exist. So it does cease to exist. Nobody else in the world, thank God, can do that! But Nancy can!”

In the racing, leaking car, Nancy’s grandfather stared suspiciously at the water-soaked and nerve-racked individuals beside him. His pajama collar rose out of his overcoat. His white hair bristled.

“And you’re telling me Nancy’s sick!” he roared. “You two lunatics!”

They babbled further details. Preposterous details. They explained what he had to do. Then, suddenly, Joe Holt swung into the driveway of the house Nancy lived in. As if on signal, the rain stopped. The two younger men piled out of the car and raced into the house. Nancy’s grandfather plodded after them. He entered to hear the chattered query, “She’s — still asleep?”

“Yes, the darling!” said Nancy’s mother in a warm, throaty voice. She hugged Nancy’s grandfather. “Daddy! I’m so glad — ”

The living room looked like a shambles. The piano was gone. The almost-Ming vase — of course. The picture over the mantel. Two chairs. A scatter rug.

“We experimented!” babbled Joe Holt desperately. “She made the vase vanish. We couldn’t believe it. So she said ‘oogledeboo’ at the piano. It wasn’t there. The picture over the fireplace! It got to be a happy game! She stood there beaming and saying oogledeboo.’ She looked at me once — ” He shuddered violently.

Nancy’s grandfather could not believe. Naturally! But Nancy’s mother pleaded with him. The three of them Nancy’s parents and the psychiatrist — argued hysterically. Their voices rose.

Then there was a delighted giggle from the doorway. Nancy stood there, smiling brightly at her grandfather. She wore her very favorite blue pajamas with Mickey Mouse figures printed on them.

She was sleepy-eyed, but very glad to see her grandfather.

“Hello, granddaddy!” she said happily. “You waked me up. I can do magic like you told me. Want to see?”

Her grandfather gulped suddenly. He had a moment of dreadful doubt. His daughter had turned wholly pale. Nancy’s father was speechless. Joe Holt wrung his hands.

“Wait, now,” said Nancy’s grandfather shakily. “Just try it on a little thing, Nancy. Just a little thing.”

With the sure instinct of a grand- father, he remembered that his overcoat was wet. He put it down on a remaining chair before he took Nancy in his arms. Stout elderly man and beam- ing six-year-old, they made a pleasant picture in their pajamas.

“There, there,” said Nancy’s grandfather fondly.

“Su-su-suppose,” said Joe Holt, “you make your granddaddy’s overcoat go away, Nancy?”

Nancy giggled. Her soft, happy voice pronounced the fateful syllables. Her grandfather’s overcoat abruptly was not. Her grandfather sat down suddenly. Nancy slipped from his arms to his knee.

She said benignly, “Are you cold, granddaddy? You’re shivering!”

Nancy’s grandfather swallowed, loudly. Then he said with infinite care, “Why, yes, Nancy. I am cold. I shouldn’t have taken off my overcoat. I need it back. Will you get it back for me, Nancy?”

Nancy said fondly, “But I don’t know how, granddaddy!”

“Why — er — you say ‘oogledeboo’ backwards, Nancy. But you have to say it. You made my overcoat go away, so you have to make it come back. ‘Oogledeboo’ backwards is — ah is — ”

“Oobedelgoo,’” said Nancy’s father hoarsely. “Oogledeboo spelled backwards is ‘oobedelgoo.’ Oobedelgoo!”

Nancy considered, and snuggled against her grandfather. “You say it, granddaddy!”

“It’s no good when I say it,” said her grandfather, with false heartiness. “See? Oobedelgoo! But it will work for you! And — now — Wait a moment, Nancy! When you say it, don’t say it at just my overcoat. You say it at all the things you said ‘oogledeboo’ at, all at the same time, and they’ll all come back at once. Won’t that be nice?”

“No,” said Nancy. “Charles bothers me.”

Joe Holt moaned.

Nancy’s mother said softly, “But he won’t any more, darling! Just say ‘oobe — oobedelgoo’ nicely, darling, for mother, at all the things you said the other word to!”

Nancy considered again. Her mother stroked her hand. And presently Nancy said, without enthusiasm, without verve, but with a sort of resigned acquiescence, “Oobedelgoo.”

The almost-Ming vase came back, and her grandfather’s overcoat, and the piano, and the picture over the mantelpiece and a scatter rug and two chairs. Out on the lawn there was suddenly the howling wail of a scared small boy, “Wa-a-a-ah!” That was Charles, who found himself suddenly in the dark on a rain-wet lawn. He howled. Those in Nancy’s house heard doors open next door and shrieks of joy. Nancy’s mother closed her eyes and imagined other screams: A fat woman suddenly finding herself alone in the ladies’-purse department of a closed-up department store. An elevatorful of people finding themselves parked in the cellar of the same store, to wait for morning. The night watchman of that store would have a busy half hour.

The policeman who suddenly found a dragon in the middle of the street would be upset, too, as would the hard-working detectives now busily hunting for a small boy who would insist frantically that he hadn’t been anywhere. And he hadn’t. He’d been nowhere.

Even a caterpillar, which had been crawling on Nancy’s doll until she said “oogledeboo” at it, would have a difficult time finding a proper place to hide from the rain. It happened to be a diurnal caterpillar, not used to being out at night.

Then Nancy’s grandfather spoke with very great care and painstaking charm.

“I forgot to tell you, Nancy,” he said with seeming ruefulness, “that now you’ve said ‘oobedelgoo,’ saying oogledeboo’ won’t work for you any longer. That’s why I can’t work that magic any more myself. But you won’t mind things not going away when you say ‘oogledeboo,’ will you?”

“Won’t they?” asked Nancy disappointedly. She said loudly, “Oogledeboo!”

Her father and mother and Joe Holt jumped a foot.

But nothing happened. The four grownups sat still, weak with relief. Nancy cuddled against her grandfather. She sighed. Presently her eyelids drooped sleepily.

There had been no rolling of thunder or flashing of lightning, or earthquakes when the most bloodcurdling instant in history began. But, now that everything was all over, there was a blinding flash of lightning and a reverberating roar of thunder, and the rain began to pour down again.

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