Authors: Ellen Potter
An Imprint of Macmillan
THE KNEEBONE BOY
. Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Potter. All rights reserved.
Distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd.
Printed in August 2010 in the United States of America by R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Harrisonburg, Virginia. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Kneebone boy / Ellen Potter. — 1st ed.
Summary: Otto, Lucia, and Max Hardscrabble, whose mother has been missing for many years, have unexpected and illuminating adventures in the village of Snoring-by-the-Sea after their father, who paints portraits of deposed monarchs, goes away on a business trip.
[1. Eccentrics and eccentricities—Fiction. 2. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 3. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 4. Mothers—Fiction. 5. England—Fiction.] I. Title.
Book design by Patrick Collins
Feiwel and Friends logo designed by Filomena Tuosto
First Edition: 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Adam and Ian, my happily ever after
In which we meet the Hardscrabbles, unearth a triceratops bone, and begin to like Lucia even more
There were three of them. Otto was the oldest, and the oddest. Then there was Lucia, who wished something interesting would happen. Last of all was Max, who always thought he knew better. They lived in a small town in England called Little Tunks. There is no Big Tunks. One Tunks was more than enough for everyone. It was the most uninteresting town imaginable, except for the fact that the Such Fun Chewing Gum factory was on its west end, so that the air almost always smelled of peppermint. When the wind blew just right you could think you had been sucked down a tube of toothpaste.
I was the one voted to tell this story because I read the most novels, so I know how a story should be told. Plus I’m very observant and have a nice way of putting things; that’s what my teacher Mr. Dupuis told me. I can’t tell
you which Hardscrabble I am—Otto, Lucia, or Max—because I’ve sworn on pain of torture not to. They said it’s because the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they’re right, but it seems unfair since I’m doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing though.
The story will begin on a sparkling, sun-drenched afternoon in July. I think that’s a good time to start because everything is so nice and pleasant at that time, with flowers blooming and birds singing and all that rubbish. You have to start nice and pleasant before you get to the more heart-thumping bits, in which the weather turns nasty and so do the people. And also, the story actually
start on a sparkling, sun-drenched afternoon in July, so I wouldn’t be lying.
On a sparkling, sun-drenched afternoon in July, when the flowers were blooming and the birds were singing, Otto and Lucia were walking home from school arguing about what they were going to do when they grew up.
“We’ll open up a tattoo parlour in Little Tunks,” Otto said.
“Well, that’s fine for you.
be the one drawing skeletons and tigers on people’s bums,” said Lucia, who incidentally looked exactly like her name. If you don’t know what I mean, just picture long, thick, black hair that needs loads of shampoo to make a lather; a delicate, proud nose; and beneath two unapologetically thick eyebrows, dark eyes that were endlessly searching for something interesting to happen. If you think she sounds suspiciously heroine-like, be advised that she has flaws. She had a
terrible sense of direction, fought quite a lot with Max, and was on the short side.
“I won’t tattoo bums,” Otto said staunchly.
“You would if someone paid you loads of money,” Lucia declared.
“Not even then,” he said.
“Well . . . you would if the Queen came in and asked to have her bum tattooed,” Lucia said, since she hated to lose an argument.
Otto and Lucia both silently contemplated this for a few moments.
“I might,” Otto admitted, “just to say that I did.”
Here’s what Otto looked like, because I know you’re going to wonder pretty soon: He was a tall, thin, slippery-jointed thirteen-year-old. His posture was appalling. His shoulders humped and his head drooped down, so that he always looked like he was up to no good. He had shiny, pale blond hair that always swung over his pale blue eyes. Wrapped twice around his neck was a long black cloth scarf embroidered with twisting oak leaves in silver thread. He wore the scarf all the time, in winter and summer. Even to bed. His front tooth was chipped, due to an incident in which he was up to no good.
The other very important thing you should know about Otto is that he didn’t speak. I know I’ve already written that Otto spoke to Lucia, and it’s not a lie really. He spoke with his hands, using a sign language that he and Lucia had devised long ago, after he suddenly stopped speaking at the age of eight. Their younger brother, Max,
understood quite a bit of it, because he was fairly clever and extremely nosy; their father had tried very hard to decipher it but rarely could. The teachers never understood him at all but they didn’t make a fuss over it. Truth be told, they were a little bit afraid of Otto. Most people in Little Tunks were.
From here on in, when I write “Otto said” you’ll understand that he was signing the words with his hands. Lucia, on the other hand, usually spoke to him out loud. He could hear perfectly well, after all.
“And anyway,” Lucia said, frowning, “what am
supposed to do at the tattoo parlour?”
“You can console the people who are crying and mop up the blood,” Otto answered promptly.
“Oh, that’s appealing.” Lucia puffed out her nostrils. It was a lovely gesture of contempt that she used quite often. “And anyway, I don’t think there’s much blood involved if you do it properly.”
They travelled through the narrow, winding streets, passing the brick terrace houses, the town park with its small pond and its three bad-tempered swans, and the sweet shop, which was owned by the Pakistani man who gave you back your change in little coin towers, the biggest coins on the bottom. Occasionally, they walked by other kids, also on their way home from school. The kids nodded at Otto and Lucia warily, but none of them stopped to toss them a friendly word, or even a filthy one. As a rule, no one in Little Tunks meddled with the Hardscrabble children. This was 75 percent due to the suspicious disappearance
of their mother several years before, 20 percent due to the fact that the people in Little Tunks thought that the Hardscrabbles were strange, and 5 percent due to the Hardscrabble children—the two eldest, at least—being happiest in each other’s company.
“Well, I say we buy a fully rigged ship and sail around the Pacific Rim. We’ll navigate by the Orion constellation, and we’ll search for people who’ve been shipwrecked on islands, then rescue them,” Lucia said. (I’m beginning to think that you are pronouncing Lucia’s name as though it were
at the end of it. That’s wrong. You pronounce it Lu-CHEE-a. Say it a few times out loud and you’ll forget about
“You won’t need to navigate by the Orion constellation,” Otto said. “You can use radar equipment.”
“Yes, but maybe I’ll
to navigate by the Orion constellation.”
“And people generally don’t get shipwrecked on desert islands anymore,” Otto said.
that,” Lucia said, her nostrils puffing again, although not very widely since she hadn’t really thought of that. “But back in the old days, ladies travelled on those ships sometimes. If they got shipwrecked on an island with everyone else, don’t you think they might eventually have children? And then their children might have children, and then there might be a whole pack of them by now, living on seaweed and mud, just waiting for someone to come rescue them. Imagine how excited they’d be to see our white sails fluttering on the horizon.” Lucia’s
glittering black eyes were now fixed on the horizon of Little Tunks, which consisted of some grimy terrace-house roofs, the Such Fun Chewing Gum factory’s chimneys pumping out peppermint smoke, and a cow pasture beyond that. “After we rescued them, we’d be on all the telly news shows and they’d put up plaques about us on park benches.”
She glanced over at Otto. He’d shoved his hands in his pockets and looked markedly unimpressed. She frowned, considered, then added, “Of course, it’s likely that there’d be some strange deformities among the stranded people. Inbreeding being such a problem.”
Beneath his overgrown hair, his pale, interested eyes slid toward his sister. “What kind of deformities?”
“Oh, children with hair growing on their faces, people with twelve toes. Like that.”
Otto was an avid collector of the strange and unusual. In fact, he hoped one day to open a museum of abnormalities right in Little Tunks, but he needed to enlarge his collection first. Thus far, he owned three specimens: a two-headed cornsnake; a one-eyed frog; and a lobster with an extra claw on one side, all of which he’d purchased from a catalogue.
“Well,” Otto said, “that’s all right then. But I still think a tattoo parlour is better.”
Suddenly Otto stopped walking. His body stiffened and his hand reflexively yanked his scarf tighter around his neck, something he always did when he was nervous. Lucia looked at him questioningly, then followed his gaze across
the street. A thin woman with a cap of thick grey hair was prodding at a small object on the sidewalk with a stick.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Lucia hissed. She grabbed Otto by the elbow and quickened their pace. But it was no use. Mrs. Carnival had spotted them.
“Hoo! Hoo, Hardscrabbles!” Mrs. Carnival called to them, waving her stick.