Excerpted from The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau; illustrated by Jason Beene Copyright © 2012 by Julie Bourbeau. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Halfway up the steep slope of Mount Tibidabo was a very small village where very strange things happened . . . but only on Wednesdays.
The rest of the week was quite normal, as far as small villages in this day and age go. It was only on Wednesdays that the villagers shuttered their windows, locked their doors, and hunkered down to wait out the oddness, which always ended promptly at midnight.
In addition to being punctual, the strange Wednesday happenings were also mostly harmless. Oh, occasionally people stubbed their toes on a piece of furniture that was mysteriously rearranged or lost their footing on suddenly slippery surfaces; once Polly Simmons had to go to the hospital in the city to have her stomach pumped when her tea was unexpectedly switched with her perfume. But even then, Polly was all right in the end, and she later confessed that she had often thought about trying a sip of perfume just to see if it tasted as lovely as it smelled.
So, overall, it wasn’t really much of a bother, and since the rest of the week in the village was pleasant enough, the people just shrugged their shoulders and stayed indoors one day out of seven.
It was on one of these Wednesdays, which started out no stranger than any other, that things started to become much, much stranger than usual for one boy in particular.
Max V. Bernard did not like to stay indoors on Wednesdays. He had no siblings to play with, since his baby brother, Leland, was too young and too ill-tempered to be any fun, and the family pet was a grumpy old cat who did nothing but sleep on the guest room bed. His mother and father spent their Wednesdays drinking lots of coffee, mopping up baby spit, and playing canasta, which in Max’s opinion was truly the world’s most boring card game. Max thought Wednesdays were dreadfully dull.
Because Wednesdays in the house were so boring, Max often found the need to bend the rules here and there. As far as he was concerned, being scolded was at least more interesting than playing canasta. So it was that on this particular Wednesday, he was breaking the rules by peeking out of a secret peephole. Although his father carefully sealed up the windows and doors each Tuesday night before bedtime, Max had a few tricks up his sleeve. At the moment, for example, he was hiding in the attic, where he had discovered that one of the slats in the shutters was loose and could be pried open just enough for proper spying.
Max was peering through this secret slat with wicked glee as a confused group of tourists wandered about through the center of the village. Tourists often caught the worst of the Wednesday weirdness, since they, of course, weren’t aware that they really ought to be indoors. There was a large amusement park at the top of Mount Tibidabo and a popular seaside city at the base, so it was only natural for travelers to assume that the village halfway between the two would make for a pleasant stop. Six days out of the week they were correct: the local cafe served lovely lunches, and old Mr. Fife’s shop displayed beautifully carved wooden butterflies that sold by the dozens to cheerful visitors.
Travelers who arrived on Wednesdays, however, always left in a hurry--more often than not in a manner quite different from the way they had arrived.
Max watched as the group of tourists paced up and down the street, scratching their heads in confusion as they passed one business after another that was shuttered, locked, and dark. The group consisted of two men, both wearing plaid pants, two women--one of whom was enormously fat--and one frizzy-haired teenage boy who looked every bit as bored as Max felt. One of the men, a red-faced sort who had an enormous camera slung around his neck, had taken it upon himself to try to rouse the town. He marched up to the city hall building and rapped loudly on the ornate metal door. No one answered, of course, but he insisted on pounding furiously on the doors of three neighboring buildings before finally giving up. He was clearly unaware that no one in the village ever answered their door on a Wednesday.
The man’s face grew redder and redder as he rattled on the doors, and the rotund woman, who Max guessed was probably his wife, yoo-hooed and hallooed shrilly. Finally, the man erupted. “What’s the matter with this lunatic town? It’s the middle of the day on a Wednesday--you can’t just lock up the whole confounded place! I know that you can hear me!” he bellowed at no one in particular.
“We’d just like to buy some sandwiches for the road,” trilled the second woman hopefully.
“And some sodas!” the teenager demanded in a sulky tone.
They were met--naturally--with silence.
Max grinned as he watched the group get into their minivan to drive away. He, of course, knew that cars rarely started on Wednesdays.
Sure enough, mere seconds later the red-faced man burst angrily from the driver’s seat, this time to pound on the door and windows of the village mechanic shop. He must have been feeling defeated, though, because he gave up after only a few irritable knocks and rattles. Instead, he glumly organized his fellow travelers to push the silent car while he steered. The steep roads of Mount Tibidabo made it easy for stranded travelers to coast downhill to the city at the bottom of the mountain, and before long the car picked up speed and the unfortunate travelers hopped back in.
“One, two, three, four . . .” Max gleefully began to count in his head.
He never even got to five. CLANG! The car’s bumper fell off and bounced loudly on the pavement--an entirely predictable event for anyone who had lived in the village long enough. Bits and pieces fell off absolutely everything on Wednesdays.
Max didn’t get a chance to see whether the tourists would stop to retrieve the bumper, though, because his fun was interrupted--rather abruptly--by an angry howl from downstairs.
“MAXWELL VALENTINO BERNARD! You’d better not be up there letting the wednesdays in!”
Max hastily tried to close the shutters, but it being Wednesday and all, the slat stuck and then broke off in his hand. His mother and father burst into the attic at the same time; his dad was carrying baby Leland under his arm like a football.
“You let the wednesdays in, and they made my cake fall! It’s completely ruined,” screeched his mother angrily.
“And they broke my television again,” said his father dejectedly. “Now I’ll never know who made it to the semifinals.”
Baby Leland just sneered at him.
Max felt sorry for his father, who he knew had spent the whole week looking forward to watching an important table tennis tournament on TV. But he felt sorrier for himself about the ruined cake. It was supposed to be his birthday cake, after all.
Baby Leland chose that moment to launch into his sixth screaming fit of the afternoon. He glared at Max while he howled, clearly demonstrating that he, too, thought Max was a careless nitwit.
“Oh, come to Mommy, my poor colicky little darling,” Max’s mother cooed, reaching for the baby. Leland settled contentedly into her arms, looked Max directly in the eyes as if to say “watch this,” and then hiccuped up a torrential flood of baby spit-up.
Max and his father simultaneously stepped back, not only to avoid the mess dripping onto the floor, but also because Max’s mom was growing redder and redder in the face, as if she, too, might erupt.
“That’s it, Maxwell Valentino!” his mother finally bellowed once she had reached peak redness. “I’ve had quite enough of your Wednesday thoughtlessness! Last week you opened the back door to let the cat out, and the week before that you opened the fireplace flue because you swore you heard an owl stuck inside. If you like the wednesdays so much, then you might as well just go outside and play with them!” She thrust baby Leland back into his father’s arms with a squishy, splatting sound and then pointed down the stairs.
Max’s father gasped. He seemed to be equally startled by the dramatic proclamation and the wet, smelly baby now squirming in his arms. For a moment it looked as if he was about to disagree with his wife, but then he reconsidered as he remembered that Max had spoiled his beloved television watching for several weeks in a row. And the fact that he was now also covered with baby spit-up did nothing at all to elevate his mood. With a sharp elbow of encouragement from Max’s mother, he nodded in solemn agreement. “That’s right. And don’t let me hear you complaining about them turning your trousers inside out again, or crying if your bicycle tire goes flat, or . . .” He trailed off. “You’ll just have to manage the wednesdays on your own,” he concluded, and slunk off with baby Leland to see if, by some miracle, his television had unbroken itself.
Max sighed melodramatically as his mother marched him to the door, but he wasn’t actually upset at all. He wasn’t afraid of the wednesdays. It was a beautiful spring day--his birthday, no less--and he was free to roam!
His mother hesitated with her hand on the doorknob, though. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to go out there after all,” she said, beginning to doubt her earlier haste. “Perhaps you could stay in and help me get a new cake started instead.”
Max wouldn’t hear of it, though; he wanted OUT. “No! You said I could go outside!” he reminded her in a pleading tone. His mind worked quickly as he saw from his mother’s expression that she remained unconvinced. “Besides, it’s my birthday. Birthdays are lucky days, so the wednesdays can’t do anything to me today!”
“Hmph. I sincerely doubt that, but go on with you,” she relented.
She opened the door just wide enough for him to scoot out, and by the time she had pulled it shut and latched it tightly, he was already running down the front path at full steam.