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 are not 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 was not 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!
Mito Fauna, DVM, PhD, EdD, etc.
Uchenna Devereaux looked around the classroom.
Something was wrong.
All the usual kids were there. Jimmy, the big boy with the crew cut, had learned to fart to the tune of “Happy Birthday” over the weekend, and was showing his new skill to his pals Jasper and Johnna. They were singing along. Janey was staring out the window, digging into her nose with a finger—no, now two fingers. Pai Lu was wearing black eyeshadow, black nail polish, and black lipstick, and she sighed heavily as she read from a book of poetry by Algernon Swinburne called A Ballad of Death.
All of this was normal.
And yet, there was definitely something wrong. . . .
Their teacher, Miss Vole, was trying to teach them about trees. “Do you children know what an oak tree is?”
Uchenna sighed. Miss Vole always treated them like they were in kindergarten.
“An oak tree is one of the tallest trees here in New Jersey. But on the West Coast, in states like California, Oregon, and Washington—” She paused. “Have you heard of the West Coast, children?”
The lesson made Uchenna want to stick a pencil through her ear canal and into her brain. Which meant Elliot, her best friend and an expert on pretty much everything, was probably ready to throw himself through one of the hermetically sealed classroom windows. Uchenna glanced at him. . . .
Elliot! That’s what was wrong. Where was Elliot?
Uchenna swiveled around in her chair, looking for Elliot Eisner, the only other kid in the school who was a member of the incredibly secret Unicorn Rescue Society. What happened to him? Why wasn’t he in school? Was he sick? Had there been an accident? Maybe one of their enemies had captured him! Or was it—
The door flew open, knocking three framed pictures off the wall.
Standing in the doorway was a tall man with a black-and-white beard, crazy hair, a threadbare tweed suit, and eyebrows that looked like something out of a science experiment.
“Buenos días, Miss Vole!” Professor Fauna exclaimed. Professor Fauna was the school social studies teacher. Everyone thought that he was a weirdo, and that he believed in unicorns, and that his office was a torture chamber under the school. Only Uchenna and Elliot knew the truth: that he was definitely a weirdo, that he did believe in unicorns, and that his office under the school was not a torture chamber, but rather the headquarters of the Unicorn Rescue Society. “I am so sorry to interrupt you,” Professor Fauna continued. “But I need to, ahem, borrow Elliot and Uchenna for a moment.” His eyes landed on Uchenna, and his face lit up. He whispered to her, “It’s about Bigfoot!” But because she was halfway across the room, his whisper was loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Did you just say it’s about Bigfoot?” Pai Lu demanded, her words dripping with sarcasm.
Professor Fauna suddenly straightened up and looked very awkward. “Er . . . ah . . . um . . .” Everyone was staring at him. “Yes!” he said at last. “I did say Bigfoot! My big foot. You see, my right foot is bigger than my left. On the bottom of that big foot I have a horrible wart.” The children all grimaced. “It is very painful,” the professor went on. “And . . . and infected! So I need Elliot and Uchenna to help me!”
Miss Vole looked confused. “Why do you need Elliot and Uchenna to help you with your wart?”
“Right. Well . . . um . . . because . . . ,” Professor Fauna stammered. “Because . . . I must drive to the doctor! But I cannot press upon the gas pedal because the wart is so painful! So one of them must do that for me while I drive. And . . . I have another wart on my thumb! So I cannot steer! So one of them will push the gas, and the other will steer, and I will sit in the driver’s seat, telling them what to do.”
Everyone stared at the professor, their mouths hanging open.
“It is no problem,” Professor Fauna added. “We have done it before.”
Finally, Miss Vole said, “Professor, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“¡Mala palabra! Am I not a teacher? Since when do teachers make sense? They are coming with me. Elliot, Uchenna, let’s go.” Then he looked around the room. “Wait, where is Elliot?”
“Come! ¡Vámonos! We will find him on the way!”
And with that, Professor Fauna turned and swept from the room. Uchenna hurried after him, glancing back at her class as she left.
Their mouths were still hanging open.
Then Jimmy farted the final two notes of “Happy Birthday.”
Elliot Eisner poked his head out of the cafeteria.
He looked to the right, in the direction of his classroom. There was no one in the hallway. Perfect.
By dawdling, hanging back, and, finally, hiding behind one of the big cafeteria doors, he had waited just long enough to avoid the crush of the morning crowd. Crowds made him nervous. Actually, everything made him nervous. Even his best friend, Uchenna, made him nervous sometimes.
To be clear: Uchenna was awesome. She knew a ton about music, she always dressed like the lead singer in a punk rock band, and she didn’t even mind that he obsessively read books like Deadly Beasts of Kazakhstan. And Scottish Poisonous Snakes. And The Ten Thousand Worst Ways to Die, volumes 1, 2, and 4 (volume 3 was missing from the public library).
Of all the things that made Elliot nervous, though, there was something that made him more nervous than anything else.
Actually, not something. Someone.
Elliot looked to the right again, down the hall, and then to the left, in the direction of the stairs that led to the subbasement. It was all clear. That certain someone was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it was going to be a good day. Perhaps he was finally going to do only normal stuff. Learn about something boring, like commas or trees. Not about supposedly mythical creatures that turn out to be real, like Jersey Devils and vicious dragons with magical saliva.
Not today, Elliot thought. Please let this be a boring day.
He shouldered his backpack and stepped cautiously out into the hall. Still nothing.
He began to walk toward the classroom. His shoes squeaked on the newly waxed floor.
No mythical creatures, he thought. No evil billionaires, no hazardous quests, no plane crashes. And not him. Please, not him.
Elliot glanced behind, at the stairs to the subbasement. Still clear. He turned toward the door of his classroom—
Elliot blinked. He was now staring at the ceiling, lying flat on the floor.
And he was looking down at Elliot. The one person in the world Elliot really did not want to see this morning. It was a wild-haired, black-and-white-bearded man with a very intense look on his face.
No, Elliot thought. Let this just be a bad dream. He closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them again he would be waking up at home.
“Elliot!” Professor Fauna whispered. “This is no time for a nap! Come on!”
Elliot opened his eyes. Uchenna was grinning down at him.
She said, “We’re going to rescue Bigfoot.”
Elliot closed his eyes again, sighed, and said, “Of course.”
Professor Fauna pushed open the doors of the school and marched toward the parking lot.
“Bigfoot?!” Elliot said, trying to keep up. “Seriously? Bigfoot doesn’t even exist! That myth has been debunked hundreds of times!”
Uchenna was singing softly to herself:
What is a Bigfoot?
Do we even know?
In the deepest winter,
Is it white as fallen snow?
Living in the jungle,
Is it orange like an ape?
Hiding in your lunch box,
Is it purple like a grape?
Elliot looked at her. “I have to admit,” he said, “that was one of your better songs.”
“If Bigfoot is a myth, Elliot,” Professor Fauna was saying, “why did I just get a call from Mack geqideb?”
“Mack guh-kay-dub?” said Uchenna, trying to pronounce the unfamiliar word. “That’s an unusual name.”
The professor raised an eyebrow. “You think so? I have known a number of people named Mack! There is even a tasty sandwich named that. Have you never heard of the Large Mack Donald?”
“I don’t think that’s what it’s called.”
“Anyway, Mack is a member of the Muckleshoot Indian Nation. His name, geqideb, in Muckleshoot means ‘bright minded.’ His people live in the state of Washington. Now that is an unusual name, is it not? Washington? Why would someone name anything after two thousand pounds of laundry?” Professor Fauna shook his head. “Anyway, Mack and his family, like many of the Muckleshoot, are concerned about protecting the natural world . . . including creatures unrecognized by science!”
They had come to Professor Fauna’s blue-and-white airplane, the Phoenix. It was in its usual three parking spots, between Principal Kowalski’s seafoam-green hatchback and Miss Vole’s Harley motorcycle.
A shiver skittered down Elliot’s back. It was not just that the Phoenix was scarred with rust and dents, or that its front window was spider-webbed with cracks. It wasn’t even that on their last flight, the plane had crashed. It was that, as Professor Fauna happily admitted, the Phoenix crashed on every flight. But somehow the professor and his friends always got it flying again. Elliot wished they would stop doing that.
Professor Fauna flung open the passenger door of the small plane and helped Uchenna in. Elliot hung back. Inside the plane, Uchenna picked up a camouflage backpack with holes poked all over the main compartment. She unzipped it. A small blue creature popped out. Its head looked like the head of a tiny deer. A tiny blue deer.
“Hey, Jersey,” said Uchenna.
Jersey, the Jersey Devil, stood up in the bag and spread his bright red wings. Then he licked Uchenna’s face.
Uchenna looked through the open airplane door at Elliot. “Aren’t you coming?”
Elliot was staring at the Phoenix like it was trying to kill him. Which, as far as he was concerned, it was.
Suddenly, Jersey leaped from Uchenna’s arms and glided on outstretched wings over to Elliot. The little blue creature dug his claws into Elliot’s shirt. Then he licked Elliot on the nose.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this thing.”