What the Whumtroll had not seen, while its bulging eyes were so fixed on Brent’s tear stained face disappearing into its own mouth, was the Marshwallow. He was standing in the river, his fishing pole in one paw and the other over his mouth.
The Marshwallow was very young for a swamp monster, but he was very old compared to the rest of us, and the old and young parts of him exploded inside him like fireworks and grenades going off.
“WAAAAaaaaaAAAAAA!” wailed the Marshwallow. “YOU GREAT BIG MEANY!” (That was the young part of him, throwing a tantrum and panicking at the same time.)
The very old part of him reached one long strong arm down into the water and caught the Whumtroll by the foot so it couldn’t swim away and disappear forever. He knew, from decades of dealing with Whumtrolls, that he was no good at dealing with Whumtrolls. They confoundered him and hurt his feelings. No, you had to be assertive with them. Bossy. Maybe even a little mean. Who was the bossiest, meanest person that he knew?
The Marshwallow stuck out his lip. Now he remembered. “BOLLYGOGGLE! BOLLYGOGGLE! BOLLYGOGGLE!” roared the Marshwallow, so loudly that a few of the younger trees bent over to get out of the way.
Bollygoggle was nowhere near that part of Otherworld, but names have magic summoning powers. (Wouldn’t you come, if you heard your name rumbling in the distance like thunder, being called incessantly by a swamp monster? See, magic!)
Bollygoggle was very red faced when he arrived. He had to stand on the stump and rest his hands on his knees and pant for a few moments before he could even look up at the Marshwallower.
“Wha--what is being wrong?”
“Whumtroll,” said the Marshwallower. “Ate him, ate him up like a meany!”
“Ate who?!” cried Bollygoggle.
“The booooyyyyyyy!” wailed the Marshwallow. He wasn’t crying Whumtroll tears, either. He was a genuinely tenderhearted swamp monster and couldn’t stand the thought of anyone being eaten by the Whumtroll.
“Look here, you--you!” shouted Bollygoggle down into the water. “You be spitting him out RIGHT NOW!”
The Whumtroll started crying under the water. “Everyone is falsely accusing me! I didn’t do anything wrong! It’s all lies!”
“That boy!” shouted Bollygoggle. “Spit him out!”
“I did-didn’t eat anyone,” blubbered the Whumtroll.
Bollygoggle gave the Marshwallower a look. “Pull him up, that’s being a good giant monster.”
The Marshwallow snuffled, nodding, and pulled it up.
The Whumtroll was an ugly, ugly beast, dangling by one leg and kicking furiously with its three others. It was almost like a round, flat, yellow toad, but it was not nearly as dignified or as considerate as a toad. No, it was barbaric and ugly and had more teeth than was good for anyone.
“You, you are hurting me,” whimpered the Whumtroll. “You are not nice at all. You--you--”
“Oh, shut up,” said Bollygoggle.
“You’re insensitive!” shouted the Whumtroll.
“You bet your flat bottom I am being insensitive,” snapped Bollygoggle. “I’m being a selfish and cranky and sometimes out right MEAN imp.”
The Marshwallow was sucking his free paw and watching in awe. A Whumtroll had tried to eat him when he was little, and he was rather afraid of them. Of course, little by Marshwallower standards was still much too big for a Whumtroll to swallow, but it had hurt excruciatingly.
“How--how are you--” gasped the Whumtroll.
“Not being mind controlled?” sneered Bollygoggle. “Because I am being too wise and self-aware. Because I know that along with being insensitive and selfish and cranky and sometimes mean, I am also being loyal and wise and resourceful and forgiving.”
The Whumtroll started crying again, but this time they were real tears. “Stop!”
Bollygoggle crossed his arms.
The Marshwallower did, too, which meant that the Whumtroll, still hanging by one hind leg, went flying over Bollygoggle’s head and flopped despondently at the Marshwallower’s side. “I don’t like the Whumtroll,” said the Marshwallower. “He ate boy.”
“Ah, yes, we’re still having to get him out.” Bollygoggle tapped his lip. “We must make the Whumtroll sick, so he will be spitting the boy out.”
The Marshwallower grinned. “I could play catch with him. I like to play catch.” He got ready to toss the Whumtroll straight up into the air as far as it would go.
The Marswhallower’s lip quivered.
“It is being a--a goodish idea,” said Bollygoggle. “But we are not wanting to be hurting the boy inside the Whumtroll.”
“Oh,” said the Marshwallower. “Okay. No catch.”
“We need someone who is being an expert at making people sick,” said Bollygoggle. “I will call Harnswiggle. She is having the most experience of anyone I know.”
The Marshwallower expected Bollygoggle to start shouting, just as he had done, but Bollygoggle got a little grey box out of his pocket. “It’s a Phone,” said Bollygoggle proudly. “Of the Cell variety. King Dehn got it for me, when he was being at the mall. A present.”
The Marshwallower was very impressed.
Bollygoggle bit his lip, and pulled his ears, and stomped his feet, and then, finally, he remembered how to turn the phone on and dial Harnswiggle’s number.
There was a very loud, very shrill ring.
“Hello?!” shouted Harnswiggle through the phone. “You’ve reached Harnswiggle! I am using a PHONE!”
“Hello, Harnswiggle, I am needing your help,” said Bollygoggle.
“Who is this?” asked Harnswiggle.
“Oh! Bollygoggle, I can’t hear you… breaking… flying with… didn’t die, thanking good…”
“HARNSWIGGLE!” shouted Bollygoggle. “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU.”
“Redwood, and then Pinkletina said…”
“HARNSWIGGLE, I NEED YOUR HELP!”
“Dish soap is not good for… and he says… welp, that was exciting! Got to go, Bollygoggle, it was great to talk to you on a PHONE!”
Bollygoggle and the Marshwallower looked at each other.
Even the Whumtroll rolled its eyes.
“Well,” said Bollygoggle.
“I feel a little sick,” offered the Marwhallower.
“We need to work faster,” said Bollygoggle, poking the Whumtroll in the belly with his stick. “There’s no telling who Brent will be meeting in there.”
The Whumtroll started crying again, but Bollygoggle just bopped it on the head with his stick, and it stopped.
Bollygoggle’s phone dinged, and it startled him so much he dropped it. Luckily, it landed on his foot. Cautiously, as if afraid it might bite, he picked it up with two fingers.
“I have received A TEXT.”
The Marswallower’s eyes welled up with tears. “That sounds frightennnnnniiiinnnnnggg!”
“It is,” said Bollygoggle. “But I think I’m up to the task.”
There was more foot stomping and ear pulling before Bollygoggle remembered how to read his texts. “Here is what it is saying: WHY IS HARNSWIGGLE YELLING IN THE KITCHEN? And it is being from the human girl, LINDA.”
“Oh,” said the Marshwallower.
“I will send her A TEXT back,” said Bollygoggle. “Dear,” he typed, and then deleted it again quickly. “To whom it may be concerning,” he typed, and then nodded to himself. Excellent start. “I was needing Harnswiggle’s help in making the Whumtroll sick. We are needing it to throw up, before it is being TOO LATE and the boy BRENT is being digested.” He rubbed his hat brim. “TYFYCRAAIWABCTHNI.”
“What does TYFYCRAAIWABCTHNI mean?” whispered the Marshwallower.
“Oh, that’s how people are speaking when they send A TEXT,” said Bollygoggle. “It means Thank You for Your Considerate Reply All Advice Is Welcome We Are Being Close to Having No Ideas.”
“Wow,” said the Marshwallow.
The Whumtroll laughed. It was an ugly laugh, that someone would laugh after they had just eaten one of the sweetest teenage boys who had ever lived. “I have an idea. You could let me go.”
“That is being a horrible idea,” said Bollygoggle.
“But, you, darling--”
“NO!” said the Marshwallower.
“I have received A REPLY TEXT!” cried Bollygoggle. “It is saying ‘OHMYGOSH where are you I am coming don’t move is Brent okay do I need to get an ambulance does Grandpa I mean the Chronicler know about this?!?!?!?!?!?!?” Bollygoggle blinked. “I was not knowing that you save all of the punctuation for the ending when you are sending A REPLY TEXT.”
“We are being at the Marshwallower’s river Brent is being fine except for being eaten he probably will want to go home once he is saved but otherwise being eaten is not usually lasting unless one is eaten permanently?!?!?!?!”
“Do you think that’s enough punctuation?” Bollygoggle asked the Marswhallower. “I don’t want to seem chintzy.”
“I think you should say bring human food,” said the Marshwallower.
“Do you think it would make the Whumtroll sick?”
The Marshwallower looked guilty. “I was going to eat it. YUM.”
Bollygoggle sighed. “We have a human being DIGESTED here.” Shaking his head, he pressed SEND.
Literally five seconds later, Linda appeared. “Grandpa went into town with Grandma,” she panted. “I wrote me here in the book, because--EEEEEKKKK!”
The Marshwallower and the Whumtroll both looked at her, unsure of which she was screaming at.
“WHAT IS THAT THING?!”
“Whumtroll,” said the Marshwallower. “He’s a meany!”
“He ate your--”
“THAT THING ATE BRENT?!”
Linda almost attacked the Whumtroll with her bare hands. She got right up to it, close enough for it to see its miserable lying life flash before its eyes, before she took a few deep breaths.
“Bollygoggle,” she said, in her calmest, I-am-NOT-going-to-rip-anything-limb-from-limb-until-I-know-all-of-the-details-voice. “Are you sure that Brent was eaten by this thing?”
“Very,” said Bollygoggle.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” said the Marshwallower. He started crying again at just the memory.
“And how do we get Brent out?”
“We are needing to make the Whumtroll sick so he will be spitting Brent out.”
“But they’re out of ideas,” said the Whumtroll, flashing a wicked smile through its wicked teeth.
It was the worst thing it could have done.
Linda walked the two steps closer so she could jab it under the chin. “You listen to me, you freak. You’re going to throw my friend up right now, or I’m going to give you something to feel sick about, you understand?”
“You can’t hurt me,” said the Whumtroll. “Nice people don’t hurt innocent creatures.”
“Innocent creatures don’t swallow people whole,” said Linda. “So let me make myself very clear. My grandfather is the Chronicler, which means he has all of these amazing, magical books.” Linda ran the point of her finger downwards, to where there was a suspicious bulge in the Whumtroll’s stomach. “That means that all I have to do is write Brent uneaten. And then--” she smiled wickedly. “Then I’m--”
“But why would you want to help Brent,” interrupted the Whumtroll, to try and distract her.
“He’s my friend,” said Linda. “Why would I possibly not want to help him?”
The Whumtroll turned the lightest shade of green.
“Marshwallow,” said Linda, thinking. “Do you think you could pry the Whumtroll’s mouth open? Then I could put my arm down--”
“You would put your arm down in that thing’s mouth?!” shrieked Bollygoggle. “That is being unsanitary and disgusting me!”
“Brent is down there!” yelled Linda. “Being digested! So yes, I think I would put my arm down that freak’s throat if that’s what it takes!”
“We will just be writing him out,” said Bollygoggle.
“That means we have to take him all the way back to Grandpa’s house. What if it takes too long?”
“We have to get the boy oooouuuuuttt!” The Marshwallow was crying so hard that it sounded like a small rainstorm. “He’s too nice to be eeeaaatteeen!”
“Please stop,” murmured the Whumtroll, looking queasy.
Linda got an evil, evil grin on her face, almost as evil as the one Roger would get when he got A Grand Idea. “You don’t like it when we say nice things about Brent? Why? You don’t like it that he’s about the most considerate guy on the planet?”
“Oh dear,” sighed Bollygoggle. “Saying nice things about people isn’t being my strongest suit.” Then he got an evil grin that more than matched Linda’s. “Lucky that it is Brent we are of. He is being easy to think of nice things to say about.”
Linda high fived him as the Whumtroll moaned. “It’s like the whole word is spinning.”
“Brent is a good boy,” said the Marshwallow. “He is always polite and friendly, even if I am a giant swamp monster!”
“Please,” whimpered the Whumtroll.
Linda took a deep breath. It was time for her final onslaught. Looking the Whumtroll straight in his greasy green eyes, she squared her shoulders. “Brent is my best friend.”
The Whumtroll’s eyeballs rolled back and it gave a great gurgling heave. With that, and a little extra help in the form of a shake from the Marshwallower, Brent fell right out.
“UUUUUUuuuggggHHHH!” bellowed Brent, the little fish darting away from his flailing arms.
“Are you all right?” cried Linda.
“THAT THING ATE ME!” shouted Brent, still in shock.
“Yes, it did!” Linda whirled on it, her relief at seeing Brent all in one piece being transformed into fury. “I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU SORRY!”
“AAAAaaaahhhHHH!” screamed the Whumtroll. And then it bit the Marshwallow on the leg.
“GGrrrrUUUfff!” shouted the Marshwallower.
Bollygoggle thwacked the Whumtroll with his stick, and Linda socked it a solid punch with her left, and the Marshwallower pulled until the Whumtroll looked strangely stretched.
Brent smacked it right in the eye.
That made it let go, all right, but the Marshwallow in a combination of agony and anger hurled it as hard as it could over its head.
Unfortunately, that meant the Whumtroll went flying over the trees for the length of several football fields, soccer fields, and even a hockey field.
It was long gone.
“You let it get away!” shouted Bollygoggle.
“What was that creepy thing?” asked Linda, wiping her hands carefully on her paints to get the goo off.
“It was being a Whumtroll.”
“I thought Otherworld only had the best of everything!” raged Linda.
“Invasive species,” said Bollygoggle, scrunching his face up with disgust.
“Blech,” said Brent. “I’ve got slimy green guts all over me!”
Linda knelt down beside him and started splashing water over him. The good brown swamp water was only too happy to help.
“I have never heard of a Whumtroll,” said Brent. “And I wish I had never met one.” He curled up in a little ball, which was most certainly not his usual way of handling things.
“Whumtrolls are being very persuasive,” said Bollygoggle. “But they are all being terrible liars. You must not be believing anything Whumtrolls say.”
“I can’t help it. It all sounded--true.”
Linda scrunched up her face. “That thing literally swallowed you whole. I doubt it had any interest at all in the truth.”
“It said I wasn’t a good friend,” whispered Brent. “That I ruined people’s days. That I never should have come to Otherworld, that I was a mistake. That I was a wet blanket and…” a tear dripped down his cheek. “That no one wanted to be around me.”
“Brent, none of that was true.” Linda looked him in the eyes. “Don’t you think I’d have told you if I thought any of that?! You know me--I just say whatever I want!”
Brent tried to smile, but he was still too sad.
“I am not liking people,” said Bollygoggle. “Like, any people. And even I am liking you.”
“You’re a good boy,” added the Marshwallower, who had been sucking his paw and crying the whole time.
Brent blinked up at him. “You’re the good boy, Marshwallower. If it wasn’t for you, I would probably have never been heard from again.” He patted him on a giant mossy paw. “Thanks.”
The Marshwallower turned pink, which is very hard for a giant green moss-covered monster to do. “Awww--”
“No, I mean it,” said Brent. “You did absolutely the right thing. I’m very grateful.”
“Me, too,” said Linda. “Without you, my best friend would still be eaten.”
Brent gaped, his mouth hanging open.
“What?” She cocked her head at him.
“I’m your best friend?!”
She blushed and pushed him playfully on the shoulder. “Nah, I was talking about the Whumtroll. Of course I met you!”
Brent’s grin spread from ear to ear. “Thanks, Linda.”
“Don’t get all mushy on me, I’ll probably throw up like he did. Come on, you need a shower.”
“Yeah, I do,” said Brent, trying not to look at himself so he wouldn’t turn green.
“I’ll walk you home,” said Linda. “Make sure nothing else takes a bite out of you.”
“I think I’ll be walking with you,” volunteered Bollygoggle. “In case you are needing someone with my skills and--”
The Marshwallower scooped them all up and set them on his back. “Not lonely anymore.”
“You’re lonely?” Brent asked the Marshwallower, placing his hand on the nubby green shoulder he was sitting on.
“Not when you’re around.”
“I’m glad,” said Brent. “I’ll come around more often, okay?”
The Marshwallower didn’t feel like crying anymore.
And neither did Brent.