Cassiopeia Birnbaum was pretending to be a French painter. Not a painter of French things, but a painter that was also French. She had drawn a small mustache on her lip, and tossed a beret on her head and smock around her dress. She set up her easel by the river and began to paint. When the river turned out to be too difficult to paint, she painted the grass at her feet. And she also put her feet in there.

There was something so soothing about painting outdoors. The light breeze blowing through her straw fur. The babbling of the river as it coasted along the stones of its bank. The black smoke billowing through the air. The chugging of the river boat. The bleating blare of the boat’s horn. Wait, what? Apparently, there was a boat making its way down the river. Cassie couldn’t remember the last time she saw anything but a broken branch drift down the river. And this boat looked interesting, fun even!

As it pulled to a stop, a man in a cape and a comb over popped out from the cabin. He had a cigarette holder which held a cigarette between his lips. He stared down at Cassiopeia Birnbaum, who stared back up at him. They were both in awe of one another. Count Hawkula (remember him?) looked at Cassiopeia as if she were the Eighth Wonder of the World. “Ah, yes, Petunia,” he thought to himself (apparently his internal self is also named Petunia.) “I think I have discovered my latest and greatest star attraction. People will come from all over to see her. She must be an ape of some kind, but with straw-like fur. And to top it all off, she’s French!” He removed the cigarette holder and addressed Cassiopeia in the most French he could muster. “Bone jewer, Mad mwah sail, vooh savvy oh beaujelais ojerd hwe?” It was very unimpressive French.

“Say what now?” Cassie said. She thought the man must be one of those rich eccentrics she had read about, what with his dignified looks and unfortunate speech impediment.

“Ah, forgive me, wee lass, I thought you were a native of France. I can see now that you are just a simple farm girl.” He smiled greedily. “You look so worldly, though. Probably can’t wait to grow up and see the world.”

“Yes, sir, when I’m old enough I’m traveling all over the globe. And when I’ve seen all four corners, I’m going to hop on a rocket ship and explore the stars. I was named after a constellation, you know.”

“Ah, don’t tell me, let me guess. Eugene!”

“No, Cassiopeia!”

“That was my second guess. Miss Cassiopeia, if would like to see the world, or at least the most interesting aspects of it, I can show you what I have collected in my circus of oddities. I have shrunken heads, the feet of dragons, dinosaur mufflers, unicorn tears, treasure maps, moon rocks and lava from volcanoes that have laid dormant for centuries. Would you like to see them?” He gestured to the cabin of his boat.

Cassiopeia could not wait to see these treasures. She knew, deep down, that it wasn’t smart to trust a stranger, especially one with a comb over, but she had to see those dinosaur mufflers! What if she had an especially noisy dinosaur sometime in the near future? “Sure!” she said.

“Then, hop on up, young Cassiopeia, you will not be disappointed!” He lowered the gangplank and Cassie hurriedly rushed up. ‘Now, step this way, and I will show you my most valued treasure of all. An ape with fur made of straw.” He opened a door on the side of the cabin and led her inward.

“That’s a funny coincidence, I’m an ape with fu-” the door slammed behind her and the bolt snapped into place. Count Hawkula laughed and laughed.

“I know, my dear girl,” he said. “You are my most recent acquisition.”

And he pulled up anchor and chugged away, as the painting dried in the summer sun. But up in the trees, a familiar talking bird watched and followed. Something about this girl gave her pause. (For those reading aloud, the girl gave her p-a-u-s-e, not p-a-w-s. Being a bird, she has talons, not paws.) Anyhow, Becky followed the river boat, determined to free Cassiopeia and hopefully, set in course the chain of events that will save the world.

Because, seriously, we’re running out of time.


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