There are many famous detectives in the world. There's Sherlock Holmes. There's Hercule Poirot. There's Slightly Jones. But the tale I'm going to tell you today is about a detective who is not quite so well-known - but she jolly well should be. Because she saved the day in one of our planet's darkest hours by solving the strangest and most awful - the most horrifying - the most mind-boggling - the most MYSTERIOUS case imaginable -
The Case of the Disappearing Books.
Meet MRS FOURARMS. As her name suggests, Mrs Fourarms had twice as many arms as you might expect. She had four arms, and one of the many advantages to having 4 arms - and 4 hands - is that Mrs Fourarms could stroke all 3 of her cats and read a book at the same time. Or she could stroke 2 cats, read a book and drink a mug of hot chocolate. Or she could stroke 1 cat, read a book and knit a jumper. Mrs Fourarms loved knitting, hot chocolate and her cats but she especially loved reading books. She read books of stories and poems and facts, and she used books to solve every problem that came her way.
Take choosing names for her cats, for example. When they first came to live with her, Mrs Fourarms just couldn't decide what names her cats should have. So she came up with an ingenious solution. She picked a book off her shelves at random, then she closed her eyes, opened the book and pointed at a word. Then she opened her eyes and - hey, presto - that word was her first cat's name. Two more times, and job done!
Fortunately, cats don't mind what you call them, as long as you say their names in a loving tone of voice. I say fortunately, because the 3 words Mrs Fourarms pointed at were NUMPTY, EEJIT and
SCANDINAVIA. 3 interesting
Mrs Fourarms lived a very happy and contented life with Numpty, Eejit and
Scandinavia until, one grey morning, she woke up to a
nightmare! On the radio and the
television and in the newspapers there was just one headline:
Shock! - Horror! - World Wide Disaster! - All of the Books Have Disappeared!!!
And it was true. In Mrs Fourarms' house all the books on the shelves and on the bedside table and on the coffee table and on the stairs were gone!
"Oh my prancing PONY!" exclaimed Mrs Fourarms. "Oh my hairy CATERPILLAR! This is awful!"
Her house felt empty and sad. She was halfway through a book on PHOTOSYNTHESIS - she was just getting to the exciting bit, where the tree was just about to give off oxygen, but now! Now she'd never know if that really happened! Maybe the tree decided to give off prussic acid instead. Or peanut butter. She wanted to know how it turned out! She sat and stroked her cats, but it wasn't enough. Her 4th hand wanted a book!
It was the most dreary, DREICH day you can imagine. The sky was full of grey clouds, it was drizzling down with rain, and all over the world, every face was sad, from the smallest baby to the oldest person alive, and there was nothing on the news except reports about the disappearance - which nobody could understand.
"Where on earth can all the books have gone?" wondered Mrs Fourarms.
But then she noticed something strange. All 3 of her cats had gone out into the garden, even though it was raining, and they were sitting there, staring fixedly up at the clouds in the sky. Mrs Fourarms went out to have a look too but all that there was, was, well, clouds and sky. But the cats went on staring. It was as if they could see something LURKING up there ...
"And maybe," thought Mrs Fourarms, "maybe they can."
And she started to think like a detective.
"Hmmm," thought Mrs Fourarms.
"I wonder ..." she thought.
And right then and there, Mrs Fourarms hatched a plan.
She went indoors and started to knit an enormous woollen net with two of her hands, and with her other two hands she started to make a stack of fake books out of cardboard. She didn't stop, not even for a mug of hot chocolate, and by the time the sun was starting to set, she was ready.
"Right," she said. "Let's go catch some book thieves."
She laid the pile of fake books enticingly on the grass of her garden and hid behind a bush. She didn't have long to wait.
She could hear rustling in the dark and then 2 voices whispering.
"I thought we got all the books - how did we miss these ones?"
"Who cares? Let's be having them!"
"Stop thief!" cried Mrs Fourarms and she jumped out from behind the bush and flung her woollen net. She turned on the torch she'd brought with her and there, tangled up in the woollen net, were 2 aliens! They had more arms and eyes than you could count, and all of their arms were flailing about and all of their eyes were blinking like crazy.
"What do you mean thief?" they cried. "Oh dear - are the books overdue already?!"
"What do you mean, overdue?" said Mrs Fourarms. "This isn't a library!"
"What do you mean, not a library?" the aliens said. "We've got our card - our library card - look - here it is! We put Earth names on it and everything!"
Mrs Fourarms scratched her head, totally puzzled. "I don't understand," she said. "Look, I'll take the net off and you come into the house and we'll have some hot chocolate and you can explain what on earth you're talking about."
And that's what they did. It took a bit of time and a lot of questions before Mrs Foursome could DIGEST their amazing story, but at last she understood.
The aliens were Readers. They travelled the universe in a spaceship shaped like a cloud, in search of things to read. When they scanned Earth, they thought they'd come to the best library ever - a whole world full of books!
"Though, to be honest, it's not the most organised of libraries we've ever visited," said the first alien.
"Positively HIGGLEDY-PIGGEDLY," the second alien agreed.
"But lovely, though - really!" they hastened to add, for they were very polite.
They came at night because they were nocturnal aliens, so night was their day, and they'd beamed all the books in the world up onto their spaceship shaped like a cloud.
"We chose Earth names," said the first alien, "to go on our ILCs - our Intergalactic Library Cards."
"Yes," said the second alien. "I'm Catherine CANTANKEROUS Cartwheel, and this is George BLOODY Gobbets the 3rd."
"Oh," said Mrs Fourarms. "Those are, um, interesting names. How did you go about choosing them?"
Catherine Cantankerous Cartwheel looked proud. "That's the ingenious bit. What we did was, we took a book at random out of the piles of Earth books we borrowed, see, and we closed all of our eyes and opened the book at a page and pointed at a word and then did it again until we had all the words we needed to make ourselves Earth names."
Mrs Fourarms agreed that this was really cunning!
"We couldn't help but notice that you have 4 arms," said Catherine Cantankerous Cartwheel. "Are you perhaps an alien too?"
"No," said Mrs Fourarms. "I'm just different."
"Fair enough," said George Bloody Gobbets the 3rd.
"So, now, could we all have our books back?" asked Mrs Fourarms gently.
The two aliens looked sad. "Of course, only, we've not finished reading them all. Almost, but not quite. We've only just got to a really exciting bit in a book about photosynthesis and trees ... Could we have just a teeny, tiny extension ...?"
"One more night, then," said Mrs Fourarms. "And then you beam every one of the books back to where you found them, and we'll say no more about it." And she wrote the next day's date down on their library card.
"Thank you very much," said Catherine Cantankerous Cartwheel and George Bloody Gobbets the 3rd. "We'll just beam back to our spaceship now and get on with our reading. Thank you for the hot chocolate."
And they were true to their word. The next morning, when Mrs Fourarms woke up, there was just one headline on the radio and the television and in the newspapers:
Joy! - Delight! - World Wide Celebration! - All of the Books Have Reappeared!!!
"I think they should name a day after this wonderful event," someone suggested, and everyone agreed that this was an excellent idea. And they decided to call it World Book Day.
Mrs Fourarms celebrated World Book Day by doing some of the things she loved - stroking Eejit, Numpty and
Scandinavia with 3
of her hands and holding the exciting book on photosynthesis with the 4th. She heaved a big sigh of relief.
"Case closed," she murmured with a smile.