Unicorns are real.
At least, I think they are.
Dragons are definitely real. I have seen them. Chupacabras exist, too. Also Sasquatch. And mermaids—though they arenot what you think.
But back to unicorns. When I, Professor Mito Fauna, was a young man, I lived in the foothills of Peru. One day, there were rumors in my town of a unicorn in danger, far up in the mountains. At that instant I founded the Unicorn Rescue Society—I was the only member—and set off to save the unicorn. When I finally located it, though, I saw that it wasnot a unicorn, but rather a qarqacha, the legendary two-headed llama of the Andes. I was very slightly disappointed. I rescued it anyway. Of course.
Now, many years later, there are members of the Unicorn Rescue Society all around the world. We are sworn to protect all the creatures of myth and legend. Including unicorns! If we ever find them! Which I’m sure we will!
But our enemies are powerful and ruthless, and we are in desperate need of help. Help from someone brave and kind and curious, and brave. (Yes, I said “brave” twice. It’s important.)
Will you help us? Will you risk your very life to protect the world’s mythical creatures?
Will you join the Unicorn Rescue Society?
I hope so. The creatures need you.
Defende Fabulosa! Protege Mythica!
Prof. Mito Fauna
Mito Fauna, DVM, PhD, EdD, etc
Uchenna gazed over the tropical island. Palm trees studded green hillsides. Rivers meandered through valleys. It was the most beautiful island she had ever seen.
Unfortunately, it was only thirteen inches long and nine inches wide, because it had to fit in a baking pan. And it was made out of clay, dirt, twigs, and other materials she and Elliot had found around the playground. But it was way nicer than the landscapes of all the other kids in Ms. Vole’s class.
Pai Lu, with her black eyeliner and black nail polish and black pants and black shirt and black rings and black combat boots, had made a “blighted waste,” as she called it. “Nothing can grow in this cursed land!” she’d announced. “Except for shadows and despair!” Uchenna didn’t really get Pai Lu.
Shruti and Janey had made an arctic tundra—which just meant that they had filled their baking pan with ripped-up tissues. Uchenna found this ironic, because Janey constantly had a finger up her nose and Uchenna had never seen her use a tissue.
And then there was Jimmy. Jimmy and Jasper and Jhonna had made a big brown lump. Uchenna figured it was supposed to be a mountain, or a hill, or maybe a dung heap. (Which means a pile of poop; Jimmy wasvery into dung heaps.) For some reason, Jimmy was currently sticking pieces of brown clay up one of his nostrils.Definitely a dung heap, Uchenna thought.
Just then, Elliot returned to the table with a watering can, grinning. “Ready to see how fresh water systems function on tropical islands?!” he asked.
“I’m kind of more excited to see how Jimmy is going to get that clay out of his nose,” Uchenna replied.
“Don’t be silly! With these wells, lakes, and underground cave and tunnel systems we’ve created, we should be able to replicate the true behavior of a water table on a Caribbean island!” Elliot began to sprinkle water over one half of the landscape. Soon, the lakes they’d made began to fill up. He kept pouring the water—amazingly, the lakes didn’t overflow. Instead, water began to appear in tiny wells they’d dug on theother side of the island.
“Cool!” Uchenna exclaimed.
“Right?! The water is running through our hidden, subterranean—”
“No,” Uchenna interrupted. “Jimmy’s trying to shoot the clay out of his nostril by pouring water in theother nostril. I guess their project is a geyser?”
Jhonna and Jasper were clapping in rhythm, urging Jimmy on, as he leaned his head back and tried to angle the spout of a water pitcher up his nose. Ms. Vole finally noticed what was happening and hustled over to prevent Jimmy’s Nasal Geyser from erupting all over everything.
Just then, the door of the classroom burst open, revealing a tall man with a bushy beard, an enormous shock of black and white hair, and a disheveled tweed suit. His shoulders were rising and falling like he’d been running.
“Excuse me, Ms. Vole!” announced Professor Fauna, in a voice as rich and rocky as the mountains of his native Peru. “I need to borrow—”
Professor Fauna stopped speaking. Ms. Vole had Jimmy bent backwards over her knee, and she was reaching up his nose with her forefinger and thumb.
“Uh, Ms. Vole, what are you doing?”
Ms. Vole looked up like she’d been caught. “Well . . . uh . . . it’s a science experiment. . . .”
“Ah. I see. Anywhat, I need to borrow Elliot and Uchenna for the rest of the day.”
“For the rest of the day?!” exclaimed Ms. Vole.
“Urgk!” said Jimmy, who still had Ms. Vole’s fingers up his nose.
“It is very important,” Professor Fauna assured her. “It’s a . . .” He looked at Elliot and Uchenna. They both shrugged. “A science experiment!” he continued. “Like yours! I also have something stuck in my nose-holes! Elliot, Uchenna, follow me!”
As Elliot and Uchenna followed the professor out of the classroom, they heard Janey say, “They get to skip classagain?”
Shruti replied, “Yeah, but it’s always to do weird stuff with that weirdo Professor Fauna. They’re going to spendall day picking his nose!”
Pai Lu made a gagging face. Janey, whose finger had found its way back up her nose, said, “Yeah, totally gross.” Shruti gave her a look. “What?” said Janey. “I don’t pickother people’s noses!”
Jimmy started screaming as Ms. Vole switched to a pipe cleaner to get the clay out of his nasal cavity.
"Pronto, chibolos! There is no time to waste!” Professor Fauna led them down the hallway at a brisk pace. Elliot and Uchenna had to hurry to keep up, firing questions as they went.
“Where are we going?” Uchenna had a spring in her step.
Elliot followed her, decidedly less enthusiastic. Professor Fauna was the founder of the Unicorn Rescue Society, a secret organization devoted to keeping the world’s mythical creatures safe from danger. Elliot and Uchenna were two of the youngest, and newest, members. They regularly accompanied the professor on his creature-saving missions. Usually, they all almost died. Which was why Elliot was not enthusiastic.
Professor Fauna led the children down two sets of stairs, into the subbasement of the school, and continued striding down a dark hallway, toward a door that used to sayjanitorial supplies, but now had a sign taped on it that read,mito fauna, dvm, phd, edd, social studies department.
In the few months that they’d been members of the Unicorn Rescue Society, Elliot and Uchenna had already missed a great deal of school in order to travel to distant locations to save dragons and chupacabras and—
“JERSEY!” Elliot yelled. A blue blur bolted out of Professor Fauna’s office and slammed into Elliot’s chest. Jersey was a blue Jersey Devil with red wings. He was the first mythical creature that Elliot and Uchenna had ever rescued, and he had adopted them. “Come on, little guy, let the sweater live!” Elliot said as he tried to pull Jersey’s sharp talons off the cable-knit sweater his grandmother had knit for him. “Bubbe will kill me if this unravels. . . .”
While Elliot wrestled with Jersey in the hallway, Professor Fauna was in his office, gathering up armfuls of old papers from his desk. He even unpinned one from the wall, rolled it up, and shoved it under his armpit. Then, arms overflowing with documents and maps, Professor Fauna pulled the door to his office closed behind him with his shoe.
“Come, come!” he said, “¡El avión nos espera!” And, completely blinded by the papers, he made his way down the dark corridor. He walked directly into a large trash can.“¡Palabrota!” he muttered and changed course slightly.
“What is going on?” Uchenna asked Elliot, gesturing at Professor Fauna.
Elliot was still trying to get Jersey off his sweater. “What do you mean?” he said. “He’s taking us on another reckless mission, in violation of school regulations and probably many national and international child protection laws. . . .” Elliot managed to get Jersey to cling to his face instead of his sweater. “What else is new?”
“No. He’s acting even weirder than usual. Professor!” Uchenna called, hurrying after their wiry, wiry-haired mentor. “And what’s with all those papers?”
At the end of the hallway, two steps led to a door markedemergency exit only. do not open. alarm will sound. Professor Fauna pushed the door open with his hip. No alarm went off. They emerged into the faculty parking lot.
“Looks like it might rain,” said Uchenna, stopping and looking at the sky, which was heavy with low-hanging clouds.
“Twenty-five percent chance of a massive storm,” Elliot told her. “Up and down the East Coast. It’s been all over the weather reports.”
“Twenty-five percent chance,” said Uchenna. “That’s not too bad.”
Elliot stared up at the clouds. “Twenty-five percent is a lot! It’s the likelihood that a baseball player gets a hit, or that you flip heads in a row two times, or that you step in dog poop in any given year.”
Uchenna shot Elliot a look. “You made that last one up.”
“I did. But it feels right, doesn’t it?”
“¡Vámonos! Time is of the essence!” Professor Fauna called from thePhoenix. His rickety single-propeller plane was parked, as always, between Ms. Vole’s motorcycle and Principal Kowalski’s hatchback. The plane was held together by duct tape and, it seemed, good luck. Climbing into the small cabin always made Elliot feel slightly nauseous, whereas taking off and landing always made him feel violently nauseous—and scared for his life.
Uchenna pulled open one of the doors. Professor Fauna had flung his load of papers onto thePhoenix’s steel floor. Uchenna clambered over them and into her customary seat. Elliot, cursing the day he had joined the Unicorn Rescue Society, climbed in after her, Jersey now clinging to the back of his head. Professor Fauna swung himself in, slammed the door closed behind him, and started the engine. The propeller began to spin.
“Ahora, mis amigos, off we go to Miami!”
“Miami?” Uchenna asked. “Is there a magical creature there?”
“No doubt there are many,” Professor Fauna answered. “But Miami is just a stop where we will be picking up my dear friend Yoenis. Together, we all shall fly into the Caribbean, to the largest and nearest Caribbean island of them all: Cuba!”
Elliot put his head in his hands.“Dios mío,” he sighed.
Professor Fauna turned to him. “Nice use ofespañol, amiguito.” He gunned the engine of the Phoenix and looked up into the heavy clouds. “Now, I recommend that you fasten your seat belts especially well today.”
As Professor Fauna steered the Phoenix toward the end of the school’s long driveway, Elliot gripped Uchenna with one hand and his seat belt with the other. “So,” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, “what’s happening in Cubaaaaaaaaaaah!”
Professor Fauna had yanked back on the yoke and the plane was flying up at an extreme and unsafe angle.
“It is complicated,” said Professor Fauna.
The back of Elliot’s head was buried in the headrest, Jersey was now wrapped around his neck like a scarf, and the plane was still flying straight up into the air. The ominous clouds were now directly ahead of them.
“More complicated than usual?” Uchenna managed to say as the plane finally began to level off. “Rescuing missing dragons and reuniting bloodsucking creatures with their families is pretty complicated. . . .”
“Yes, claro,” agreed Professor Fauna. “But there are actually three reasons we are going to Cuba. First, there is a very badsequía there. A drought. Without enough clean water, people are thirsty, and farms dry up. This is reason number one.”
The Phoenix entered the clouds and immediately began to jolt and dip—up and down, like a broken carnival ride. Jersey gave Elliot and Uchenna his most pathetic puppy dog expression. His skin was particularly blue.
“He looks airsick,” Uchenna said.
The plane jerked up and then dropped down again. Jersey’s eyes bulged. He moaned. Then he crawled down to the floor between Elliot’s legs.
“Poor little guy,” Elliot said, rubbing Jersey’s furry blue head.
Uchenna turned back to the professor. “So, what’s reason number two?”
“Ah yes! Reason number two for visiting Cuba,” Professor Fauna announced, “is that Yoenis’s mother, Rosa, has not seen a friend of hers in many weeks.”
Uchenna cocked an eyebrow. “Uh . . . is this friend someone special or important?” The Unicorn Rescue Society didn’t typically go looking for people’s missing friends.
“I would say so,” Professor Fauna replied. “Her friend, after all, is a sea serpent.”
Uchenna said, “Oh! Cool!”
Elliot moaned, “I have a feeling that this isn’t somenice, small, SAFE sea serpent. Am I right?”
Professor Fauna shrugged.
“And what’s the third reason we’re going to Cuba?” Uchenna asked.
Professor Fauna grinned at her mysteriously.
“Eyes on the sky, Professor,” Uchenna reminded him.
He looked back out the window. The plane dipped violently again.
Elliot screamed, “No!”
“It’s okay,” Uchenna reassured him. “We’re not crashing. Yet.”
“It’s not that,” Elliot replied.
Elliot pointed at his shoes.
Jersey had thrown up all over them.
Copyright © 2020 by Adam Gidwitz. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.