“What the stinking maggot was I thinking?”
Izzy Mosquito buzzed across the countryside following the trail of scorched and smoking villages. He was tempted to stop at each town and look for survivors, but he didn’t—for two reasons.
First, if he found any humans, they might swat him.
Second, there was no time. He had to find the fire-breathing dragon FAST. The king was counting on him.
Only the day before, King Blackbottom had asked for volunteers to fight the huge, non-flying dragon that was stomping around the kingdom and burning up everything. All of his knights had tried to slay the monster: one by one, they had been scorched and torched, roasted and toasted.
With no knights left, the King was desperate. Very desperate.
“I’m begging you,” Blackbottom said in a speech to his subjects. “Please, please, please, pretty please, someone stop this horrible, nasty dragon before it burns up our entire kingdom—including me. Especially me! If you volunteer, I will make you a knight immediately and I will even put ‘sir’ in front of your name. So who will volunteer? Anyone? Anyone want to be a knight? Anyone at all?”
Dead silence. No volunteers.
Izzy buzzed up to the throne. He dodged an attempted swat by the king’s chief adviser and landed on top of the king’s scepter. “I’ll go,” he said.
“Did I hear something?” The king looked around.
Izzy yelled, “I’LL GO!”
“You?” Blackbottom looked down his crooked, wart-covered nose at the mosquito on his scepter. “You’re a speck, a bug. At best, you’re a pest!” All of the king’s advisors laughed.
“Good one, your majesty,” said the chief adviser.
“Please, your majesty,” Izzy said in his loudest voice. “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a knight. This is my only chance. And besides, what have you got to lose?”
Izzy had a point. It wasn’t much of a point, but it was a point. “Oh, all right,” the king said. “By royal decree I dub thee an official knight, which title you may wear for the rest of your short life, blah, blah, blah. Now, go slay that dragon!”
“I won’t let you down, your majesty.”
“We’ll see about that,” the king whispered to his chief advisor.
As Izzy took off, the advisors chuckled and the people cheered.
But now, as he flew across the countryside alone, there were no cheers or chuckles; only cries and moans and barking dogs and smoke rising from one smoldering village to another.
The thick morning fog mixed with smoke made it difficult to see. But then, through the haze, Izzy saw something that turned his thorax cold: a streak of fire slashed across the sky like a low-flying comet and crashed into a village at the base of a mountain, setting the huts ablaze. Then an ungodly dragon scream came out of the fog and smoke. It sounded as if the earth had split open to release a belching roar from the underworld.
Actually, it sounded something like: AAAUURRRGGGHHHEEEIIIIEEE!
Anyway, it didn’t sound good.
This was followed by an earth-shaking BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Izzy couldn’t see the dragon, but he could hear it just ahead, stomping up the slope that led to the beautiful city of Eternia that was built on top of the mountain.
“It’s a good thing it’s a non-flying dragon,” Izzy said to himself, trying to look on the bright side. “And it’s good that Eternia is protected by high walls.” Izzy followed the sound of the dragon’s screams up the mountain.
When he came to the top and neared the gates of the great city, Izzy got his first glimpse of the beast. It was black and slimy and fierce and HUGE—as tall as the walls that surrounded the city. Even without wings, the dragon was more terrifying than anything Izzy had ever imagined.
Izzy froze. “What the stinking maggot was I thinking?”
The beast let out another bone-chilling scream and unleashed a blast of fire against the city gates. The iron gates held. The dragon screamed again and battered the gates with its huge, powerful tail: BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
The gates creaked, the wall shook and began to crumble. Inside the walls, even the bravest men of the city were crying and running in every direction, looking for places to hide. But how do you hide from a giant, fire-breathing dragon?
The beast battered the gates again and again and again; they couldn’t last much longer. Izzy watched, feeling helpless. What could he do?
Then, he noticed something. Every time the dragon slammed his tail against the gates and they did not collapse, he screamed in anger and irritation.
“He gets irritated easily,” Izzy thought. “And when he gets irritated, he gets really upset and throws a tantrum. He’s a big baby!”
This gave Izzy an idea. He flew straight at the dragon’s head and started buzzing circles around his eyes and ears.
Now everyone knows that the sound of a mosquito buzzing is the most irritating sound on planet earth. No creature can stand it, not even a dragon. The evil beast whirled around and around, snapping at Izzy. But Izzy was too quick for him, and he was careful to stay away from the fiery mouth.
This drove the dragon absolutely berserk. He kept whirling around and around, faster and faster, as Izzy circled his head again and again.
When Izzy saw that the dragon was very irritated and very dizzy, he flew over the edge of a cliff just beyond the city wall and taunted the dragon. “Come and get me you grumpy gas bag!”
Standing at the edge of the cliff, the dragon unleashed a furious volley of fire—but he was so dizzy that his aim was off. He missed Izzy completely.
Izzy flew a little farther out and taunted the beast again. “What’s the matter, afraid to fight a tiny mosquito? You’re no dragon; you’re just a big drag!”
By now, the world was spinning wildly for the dragon. He shook his head and tried to focus. He saw the mosquito dancing in mid-air just out of reach—but with his blurry vision, it looked like three or four mosquitoes, all mocking him.
Beside himself with anger and frustration, the dragon lunged at Izzy—and fell over the cliff! Down, down, down the wicked beast plunged, screaming all the way until he crashed far below in a puff of smoke. The screaming stopped.
Soldiers who had been watching from the top of the city walls saw what happened and reported it to the people. The city leaders opened the gates and the crowds welcomed Izzy as a hero, chanting, “Izzy! Izzy! Izzy!”
“You’ll find out on the Fourth of July”
“Izzy, Izzy, wake up!”
Izzy Mosquito opened his eyes; it was his mother.
“Get up, dear. It’s time to go pester some animals.”
It’s that crazy dream again, Izzy thought. He’d had the dragon dream before, but he’d never told anyone except his beloved grandmother, Gitche Manito Mosquito.
Gitche was the oldest mosquito in the tribe—over three months old! She was highly respected among the mosquitoes because she had been swatted nine times and survived—three times by humans, twice by a cow, once by a donkey, twice by a dog, and once by a llama. Unfortunately, these swats left Gitche a little addled and very hard of hearing. Still, Izzy loved talking with her.
“Gitche, can you help me understand my dream?” Izzy asked her one time.
“Cream? There is not much to understand about cream, Izzy. It’s not as tasty as cow’s blood or daisy nectar, but it’ll do in a pinch.”
Izzy raised his voice. “Excuse me, Gitche, I mean DREAM! I keep having a DREAM about a DRAGON!” Izzy explained the dream to Gitche as loud as he could. “What do you think it means, Gitche?”
Gitche sighed and smiled. “I think it means you are going to do something very special someday. But I could be wrong. I’m just an old grandmother.”
“But … but what am I going to do?”
Gitche closed her eyes, smiled, and said the words that would change Izzy’s life: “You’ll find out on the fourth of July.”
The Secret Report on Izzy Mosquito,
As Certified by the Fly Spies of the CIA
(Covert Insect Activity)
“You’ll find out on the Fourth of July.”
Those were Gitche’s fateful words in the incident you just read, taken from the early life of Izzy Mosquito. But what really happened on the Fourth of July? What did Izzy actually do? There has been much speculation about that.
Some say Izzy single-handedly defeated a fierce, one-eyed lizard, outwitted a gang of hungry bats, and rode a bucking grasshopper. Some say he stopped a war and even saved Pickle Pond Farm.
But many think that these are impossible, preposterous claims for such a puny pest. So what are we to believe? What is fact, and what is fiction?
Fortunately, it is now possible to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Izzy Mosquito—thanks to an official report which was compiled by a secret source and certified by the Fly Spies of the CIA (Covert Insect Activity). Can this report be trusted? The answer is yes, and there are three reasons why.
First, if you’ve ever visited a farm, you know that flies are everywhere—inside and outside. Fly Spies are well positioned to know everything that is going on.
Second, since flies have five eyes, they see everything. They make excellent spies.
Third, the report is very thorough and it starts at the very beginning—the day of Izzy Mosquito’s birth. But let me warn you: the facts you are about to read are even stranger than any fiction you might imagine.
Born Under a Super Moon
In far-off northeastern Maine—so far away you can’t possibly get there from where you are now—there is a small town named Galaxy.
Actually, the locals call their town The Galaxy. The welcome sign at the edge of town reads: “Welcome to The Galaxy Far, Far Away.” (Apparently, they think this is clever and amusing.)
What do folks do in that small, faraway town? They make pickles. Most of the folks who live in The Galaxy work at Piper’s Pickle Plant, the home of Piper’s Puckeringly Pleasurable Pickles.
Here is their slogan: Piper’s Pickle Plant Packs its Puckeringly Pleasurable Pickles off to Particular Places all over the Planet. Every employee must repeat the slogan five times quickly every morning.
And it’s true. In good times, they do ship their pickles all over the planet.
Unfortunately, this report begins at a time that was not so good.
And it begins down the road from The Galaxy at Pickle Pond Farm which, despite its name, does not grow pickles. It does, however, grow the cucumbers that Piper’s Pickle Plant uses to make its Puckeringly Pleasurable Pickles.
Actually, the report begins behind the farmhouse, beyond the barn and barnyard, across the large cucumber fields, beyond the pasture and through the woods. For there lies Pickle Pond, so named because it is shaped—you guessed it—like a giant pickle.
Pickle Pond plays an important role in this report for two reasons. First, it provided the name for Pickle Pond Farm. Second, it was there, on the banks of Pickle Pond, that Izzy Mosquito was born under a super moon.
Now a super moon, as you may know, is a full moon that looks bigger than usual because it is as close to the earth as it can possibly get; it is at the lowest point in its orbit—the point that is called the perigee.
Throughout history, super moons have been blamed for causing all kinds of strange happenings: volcano eruptions, earthquakes, bears dancing in the woods, huge fish crawling on land, and birds flying upside down—just to name a few.
Did the super moon give Izzy Mosquito special powers? Perhaps.
But here’s what we do know. When Izzy hatched on the night of the super moon, he had six normal legs, a normal pair of wings, a normal thorax, a normal abdomen—but two very abnormal glowing antennae.
“Oh dear,” whispered Izzy’s mother, Minnie Mosquito.
“What the maggot?” whispered Izzy’s father, Max Mosquito.
“His head will probably explode!”
This was troubling. None of the other mosquitoes at Pickle Pond had ever seen anything like it. The tips of Izzy’s antennae were glowing like two tiny lighthouses.
Relatives, who came to visit, shook their heads and said, “Oh my!” and “Goodness gracious!” and other insensitive things.
“When he hatched out of the pupa, he must have fallen on his head and messed up the wiring in his brain,” said Aunt Tattle, frowning at the child. “His head will probably explode!”
“He looks like a firefly,” said her sister, Aunt Prattle. “You should drop him off with a firefly family. He’ll fit right in.”
“Hmmm,” said Uncle Humbug, Aunt Prattle’s husband (he hummed a lot). After humming a bit longer, he said, “You can get them antennae fixed. I know a guy can do it. Clip ‘em right off, snip-snap!”
Well, as you can imagine, Izzy’s parents were not at all comforted or encouraged by such comments. So, they sought advice from other mosquitoes they respected.
Doctor Hokey Mosquito examined Izzy, muttering to himself under his breath, “Ticks and tapeworms, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
But to Izzy’s parents he said: “Uh, sure, I know exactly what to do. Dip his antennae in stinkweed pollen and the glow will go away.”
Unfortunately, the stinkweed pollen didn’t help one bit; it just made Izzy smell so horrible that relatives gagged when they looked at him.
Next, Izzy’s parents brought in Colonel Rancor, the mosquito in charge of training young mosquitoes at his Bite and Pester Boot Camp. Students at the camp called him Cranky Rancor behind his back because he was very strict and never smiled.
Colonel Rancor glared at baby Izzy. “Don’t like the looks of this. Weird antennae lead to weird thoughts. And weird thoughts lead to weird actions. Plus, he stinks to high heaven—ugghh!”
Seeing the worried looks on Izzy’s parents’ faces, the Colonel added, “But if you have any problems, send him to me. I’ll whip him into shape! I’ll make sure he learns to pester animals and humans and drive them crazy. You’ll be very proud.”
This made Izzy’s parents feel better. After all, every mosquito parent hopes their children will become terrific pests.
Finally, Izzy’s grandmother, Gitche Manito, came to visit. She looked at the baby for the first time and said, “Glowing antennae! Isn’t that something!”
“Don’t you think that’s an issue?” said Minnie.
“Bless you!” said Gitche, thinking Minnie had sneezed.
Minnie raised her voice. “You don’t think the glowing antennae will be an ISSUE?”
“Thank you dear, but I don’t need a tissue. You’re the one who sneezed.”
Izzy’s mother spoke even louder. “YOU DON’T THINK THE GLOWING ANTENNAE WILL CAUSE PROBLEMS?”
Gitche smiled. “Oh, yes, of course they will cause problems. Many problems. Big problems.”
“Big problems?” said Izzy’s mother and father.
“Yes, but they will be special problems. Izzy is going to do something very special. And naturally, whenever anyone does something special, that always means special problems.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Izzy’s father muttered.
“You must stop doing everything you love to do!”
As time passed, Izzy’s parents hoped their son would outgrow his glowing antennae. But he didn’t.
So they took him to doctor after doctor, trying to solve the problem. The doctors poked Izzy in the thorax and pulled on his antennae and performed many tests, but the conclusion was always the same: they all shook their heads. They were stumped.
“It’s in his head!” one doctor finally said.
“Well, I can see it’s in his head!” said Izzy’s father. “I didn’t pay you to tell me what I already know!”
“No, I mean you should send him to a therapist. A psychiatrist. A shrink.”
So they sent little Izzy to Doctor Figment Mosquito. “Do your antennae glow all the time?” the doctor asked.
“No, not all the time,” Izzy said. “Sometimes there is no glow. Sometimes they glow just a little. Sometimes the glow is very bright.”
“Ah hah!” said Doctor Figment. “And when, may I ask, do your antennae glow very, very brightly?”
Izzy thought about this. “Usually when I’m doing something I love to do.”
“Ah hah!” said the doctor (who very much enjoyed saying ‘Ah hah!’). “Then the answer is quite simple, you see: you must stop doing everything you love to do. Then you will be cured. You are welcome.”
Well, of course, that was impossible because there were so many things Izzy loved to do!
For example, Izzy loved to race around the flower garden with the bumblebees. (Compared to bumblebees, Izzy was quite speedy.) In an interview conducted by the Fly Spies, Baron von Bumble said: “Vee call him Izzy za Whiz because he so fast, yah? He zigzags between flowers like ski racer going down za mountain, never missing a turn, yah? I try keeping up wiss him, but I keep bumping into petals until za whole flower garden is yelling nasty curses at me. You think flowers are sweet and innocent? Hah! Za things zay say would make a garbage rat blush. But zay love Izzy. He goes buzzing through za garden and never bumps into one flower, yah?”
Izzy also loved to do aerial acrobatics with the dragonflies. Del Delucca Dragonfly, coach of the Daring Deluccas, filed this report: “Izzy learned faster than any dragonfly I ever worked with. On the first day, he was doing the quintuple Sowkow with a quadruple twist. By the second day, he performed an upside-down, reverse Munchausen perfectly. Quite remarkable! It’s a shame he’s not a dragonfly. He could have had a brilliant career.”
At nightfall, Izzy loved to join the crickets and cicadas drinking daisy nectar, singing songs, and telling stories. Bo Cicada reported: “Izzy Mosquito? Bug could party hearty, man. What can I say, he loved a good time. And he always told the best stories, man. I say, bug, where do you get this stuff? He just winks at me, all mysterious like, you know? Yeah, Izzy—he’s all right.”
Izzy also loved to go exploring with the ants, cheer on the grasshoppers in their long-jumping contests, and join the ladybugs at poetry recitals. All of these activities made his antennae glow brighter. And this, of course, was a big problem. Because no other mosquito had ever done things like these before.
The other mosquitoes at Pickle Pond spent all of their waking hours pestering and biting animals and humans, but not Izzy. He could hardly remember to pester at all.
And that’s how the trouble began.
“Did you pester a cow today?”
One day, when Izzy returned home, his father, Max, was waiting.
“Izzy, did you pester a cow today?” Max demanded.
“Uh, not exactly, Father. I … I guess I forgot.”
“You’ve been out having fun when you should have been pestering, haven’t you? Tell me the truth now! I can see your antennae glowing.” Izzy’s antennae were always giving him away.
“But you should have seen it, Father. The grasshoppers had a jumping contest and Armstrong Grasshopper jumped over eleven beetles and thirteen praying mantises—all lined up. You have to admit, that was one giant leap for a grasshopper!”
Max sighed. “Izzy, Izzy, Izzy, what are we going to do with you? Why can’t you just pester animals like the other mosquitoes? That’s your only job!”
“But Father, the animals are always cursing at us and calling us names and trying to swat us. It’s not much fun.”
At this, Max started pacing. “Fun? Fun? You think this is supposed to be fun? Every day, I get up and go pester animals whether I feel like it or not. Do you ever see me complain? Of course not, because that’s my job! It’s called being a mature mosquito and it’s not supposed to be fun. Izzy, it’s time you learned to be responsible and miserable like the rest of us!”
“But I don’t want to be miserable, Father. I want to go on adventures and see the world and learn new things and do new things. Pestering is just so … so BORING!”
Max stared at Izzy; he couldn’t believe what he just heard. “Izzy, listen to me. For millions of years, we mosquitoes have been the world’s greatest pests. Pestering animals is our sacred tradition—and you should be proud of that!”
At this, Max Mosquito stood at attention and began singing The Mosquito Anthem as Minnie joined in:
Bite and pester! Bite and pester!
Be a nuisance and a goad!
Trace the path of our ancestors,
Follow the Mosquito Code!
With every buzz we heed the quest,
With every bite we meet the test,
And every day we will not rest
From work that makes us galling.
We’ll be a bother, blight and bane,
We’ll be an irritating pain
Until we drive them all insane—
For that is our true calling.
When they finished, both Max and Minnie were moved to tears.
Izzy knew that when his parents sang The Mosquito Anthem, there was no use arguing any further. “Okay,” he sighed, reluctantly. “I’ll try harder to … to pester something.”
“You’ve got to do more than try, Izzy,” said his father. “If you don’t start pestering right away—” Max hesitated. He looked at Izzy’s mother and nodded soberly. “We’ll have to send you to Colonel Rancor’s Bite and Pester Boot Camp.”
Izzy was stunned. “You would send me to Cranky Rancor?”
“Have some respect, son. Colonel Rancor is training the young mosquitoes of today to be the leaders in biting and pestering for tomorrow. He is a model of courage.”
“More like a model of grouchiness,” Izzy muttered under his breath.
“What’s that? What did you say?” said Max.
Izzy had heard stories about Colonel Rancor and his camp. Some mosquitoes came back from camp and were never quite the same. They had a glassy look in their eyes and they buzzed around in circles like a moth with a broken wing.
“All right, I’ll start pestering tomorrow,” Izzy said. “I’ll take Lizzy with me.”
Flat Friends and Relatives
Izzy’s little sister, Lizzy, had six dainty ballet-dancer’s legs and delicate, lacy angel’s wings. To Izzy, she looked like a fairy princess; with all of his mosquito heart he wanted to protect her. When she flew around the pond at night, he flew ahead of her with his antennae glowing to light the way. When she flew to the barn for a snack, he went along to keep her safe.
Early the next morning, Izzy woke Lizzy up. “Hey, sleepyhead, get up. I told Father I would take you to the barnyard for some biting and pestering.”
“Sounds great,” said Lizzy, yawning and stretching her six legs and her antennae.
They got to the barnyard as the sun was coming up. “Yummy,” said Lizzy. “I’ll start with the cow. Cow’s blood is so scrumptious. It’s almost as good as human blood.”
“Be careful! Stay away from the tail!” Izzy yelled as she took off. He perched on a sunflower nearby to watch. Lizzy landed on a cow’s back and took a dainty bite. The cow looked around with her big brown eyes, twitching her ears and waving her tail: “One more bite and you’re a dead bug! A pulverized pest! A massacred mosquito! Now, moooove it!”
Lizzy flew from animal to animal, taking a bite here, a nibble there, until she was done. Then she flew back and joined Izzy on the sunflower.
“Aren’t you going to do any pestering, Brother?”
“I guess I should.” Izzy flew to Reginald Horse and started buzzing his eyes and ears. “Nay, nay, get away you buzzing, blithering blot!” said Reginald, shaking his head. “Leave me be you dastardly, disgusting speck of degradation!”
Izzy flew back to Lizzy. “Well, that was a lot of fun!” he said sarcastically. “Honestly, I don’t see why I have to pester animals. They don’t like it and, to tell the truth, neither do I.”
“It’s the Mosquito Code, Izzy. You know that.”
“Mosquito Code, my abdomen! I think they just make that stuff up to keep us from having a good time.”
“Izzy Mosquito, shut your proboscis! Do you know how much trouble you could get in for saying that?”
“But be honest, Lizzy. Don’t you sometimes wonder if there is more to life than just pestering and biting?”
“Uh, no. I like biting. In fact, I love it. Biting is the best!”
Izzy stared at his sister for a moment. “Look at the ground, Sister. Tell me what you see.”
Lizzy looked down. “Mostly dirt. And a lot of manure, ewwww!”
“Let’s fly closer.”
“Do we have to?”
“Yes, we have to. Follow me.” They flew down and buzzed across the barnyard just above the ground.
“What do you see now?” Izzy said.
Lizzy nodded. “Flat friends and relatives.”
“Right. There is our cousin Zigzag. He never could fly straight. One day he accidentally flew into a donkey’s thrashing tail. And look over there. Remember Morse?”
Lizzy giggled. “We called him Morse the Horse because he had such a big proboscis.”
“Funny thing, he was whacked by a horse. And over there is Aunt Saucy and Uncle Wag.”
Lizzy smiled. “Yeah, I miss them. Uncle Wag was so funny.”
“And that’s what did them in. They were on the cow’s back a little too close to the tail when Uncle Wag told Aunt Saucy a joke. They started laughing and the cow got them both with one swat.”
“At least they died happy,” said Lizzy. “And together.”
“Look, there is Rowdy, remember him?”
“Do I! He was such a jerk. He was always pulling on my antennae. And there’s Fifi who fell in love with a firefly. What a juicy scandal that was!”
Izzy and Lizzy flew along quietly for a while looking at all the flat friends and relatives. Then, without a word, they flew back to Pickle Pond.
“Lizzy, let me ask you something,” Izzy said as they flew. “Why do you think the farm animals hate us so much and want to kill us?”
“Well, duh! We pester and bite them all the time!”
“But we are so tiny and they are so huge. Why don’t they pick on someone their own size?”
“I don’t know, Izzy. I never think about that.”
“Look at it this way: When you females bite, you only take the teensiest bit of blood. I’m sure they never miss it. And yet, they try to murder you. Is that fair?”
“When you put it that way, I guess it doesn’t sound very fair.”
“And we males don’t even bite! We just annoy them a little, and for that they want to kill us! Why?”
“I don’t know, Izzy. Maybe no one does.”
“Well, I’m going to find out! I’m going to talk to them, and I’m going to find out and I’m going to do something about it.”
“Izzy, you can’t do that! Father says that talking to the farm animals is against the Mosquito Code.”
“But the animals have been swatting us for millions of years and no one has ever bothered to ask them why. What harm would it do?”
“I don’t know, Izzy. But what good would it do?”
“Well, maybe if we talked to them and got to know them better and they got to know us better—maybe they wouldn’t hate us so much.”
Lizzy shrugged. “I just want to bite them; I don’t really want to know them better.”
“Well, I do! I want to know about everyone and everything!”
They landed on a rock near the pond. The sun was setting, turning the pond golden as the crickets sang their evening song which was both cheerful and sad.
“Probably best not to tell mother and father about what we saw,” said Izzy.
Lizzy agreed. “They don’t like to talk about flat relatives.”
Izzy looked at Lizzy. “At least I have you to talk to. I’m glad about that.”
“Me too,” Lizzy grinned. “Two bug-buddies against the world, right?”
“Right. Two bug-buddies against the world.” They touched antennae.
The Question No Mosquito Had Ever Asked
“Why do the animals hate us so much and want to kill us?”
Izzy became obsessed with that question. He woke up thinking about it and went to sleep thinking about it. No mosquito had ever dared to talk to the farm animals and ask them that question and he was determined to be the first.
But there was a problem: he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. It’s not hard to understand why. Imagine trying to talk to someone who is about ten million times bigger than you are—someone who has flattened many of your friends and relatives and wants to flatten you. It’s very scary, to say the least.
Every day, Izzy flew to the barnyard to ask his question. But when he got there and stared at the gigantic animals, he thought, I’ll do it tomorrow. And the next day, it was the same thing all over again.
Then, one day—a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky—Izzy woke up feeling fresh and alive and confident as only a beautiful day can make you feel. He stretched all six legs and said: “Today is the day. Today, I’ll do it!” Then he flew straight to the barnyard before he could chicken out.
He buzzed right up to Malarkey Donkey. “Hello, my name is Izzy Mosquito—”
“HeeeHAWWW!” brayed the donkey, shaking his head when he heard that annoying buzz.
“I was hoping we might—”
“I just want to ask—”
“Why do you animals hate—”
“And want to kill—”
“Can you say anything besides—”
“HeeeHAWWW! HeeeHAWWW! HeeeHAWWW! HeeeHAWWW!”
“He should learn some new vocabulary words,” muttered Izzy as he flew away.
Grimace Hog was rolling around in the mud when Izzy buzzed up to him. “Excuse me, can you tell me why you animals hate us mosquitoes so much?”
Looking up from the mud, Grimace said, “Why do we hate mosquitoes?” Then he started laughing. He rolled around in the mud, laughing and laughing until the tears came and he was out of breath. Then he looked up at Izzy. “Did you really ask me why we hate mosquitoes?” Then he laughed some more.
Reginald Horse was standing nearby. “Hey Reg,” said Grimace.
“What, Grim?” said Reginald.
“Get a load of this. Some mosquito wants to know why we hate mosquitoes.” Then Grimace and Reginald both laughed for a long time.
After they stopped laughing, Grimace glared at Izzy and his eyes weren’t laughing any more. “Come a little closer and I’ll show you how much we hate mosquitoes.”
Izzy thought it wise to end the conversation right there and make a quick exit, telling himself, “This is harder than I thought.”
The Ninja Goat
Izzy had about decided to give up talking to the animals, but as he flew back across the barnyard he saw Jabber Goat balanced on the roof of his goat house like a tight-rope walker.
Izzy remembered that Jabber had a reputation around the farm as a big talker. In fact, he talked so much that the other animals avoided him. Once, Mathilda Cow made the mistake of saying good morning to Jabber. For the rest of the morning she was stuck listening to him rattle on and on about the best ways to chew on a tin can.
“Surely Jabber will talk to me,” Izzy thought as he buzzed toward the goat.
“Hello, I am Izzy Mosquito, and I was just wondering—”
When Jabber heard Izzy buzzing, he started twitching his ears and whiskers and swishing his tail. For once in his life, he had no desire to strike up a conversation. He just wanted the annoying bug to go away! In fact, he only spoke three words:
“Baaaah! Get away!”
“Excuse me, but I just wanted to ask you—”
Suddenly, Jabber did a back flip, kicking Izzy with one hind foot and landing on the roof of the goat house again—all in one motion. Izzy went flying across the barnyard end over end and landed in a huge, fresh, steaming, stinking pile of you-know-what.
Izzy stood up, covered in smelly manure from his proboscis to his abdomen. He checked his legs and his antennae—amazingly, nothing was broken. He was so surprised and happy to still be alive that his antennae actually glowed. That’s when he heard two mosquitoes laughing.
Drek and Drivel, assistants to Colonel Rancor—the head of the Bite and Pester Boot Camp—had watched this whole scene from a nearby stinkweed. (It was their job to keep an eye on all young mosquitoes and make sure they were following the Mosquito Code.) They approached Izzy.
“Look Drivel. It’s that weird mosquito with the freaky antennae,” said Drek.
“You picked a fight with a Ninja Goat, dude,” said Drivel.
“What should we call this guy,” said Drek. “How about the Freakin’ Beacon.”
“Did you make that up by yourself,” said Izzy. “Or did you get help?”
“Shut up, Drivel!” said Drek. He said to Izzy: “Why don’t you go play with some fireflies and get yourself stuck in a bottle.”
“Your mind never stops working, does it?” said Izzy. “It must be exhausting.”
“Shut up, Drivel.”
“But he’s funny!”
Drek turned to Izzy. “You talk pretty big for a bug covered in poop. Hey, I bet I know what makes your stupid antennae light up. I bet it’s because you eat maggots. You’re a poop-covered maggot eater.”
“Interesting theory,” said Izzy. “The truth is, my antennae are moron-activated.”
“Moron what? What’s that?”
“They light up when I’m talking to a low-intelligence life form.”
Drivel laughed. “That’s a good one, dude. He got you there.”
“Shut up, maggot!” said Drek.
“Well, I hate to break up this delightful conversation,” said Izzy. “We must do it again some time.” He flew away.
Drek watched him go. “What we have here is the case of a mosquito who is in violation of the Mosquito Code.”
“Dude, I don’t think it’s against the code to be stinky.”
“He was trying to talk to animals, maggot! Colonel Rancor is going to be very interested to hear about this.”
“Dude, don’t call me a maggot,” said Drivel, as they took off.
A Devious, Dastardly Plan Develops
Colonel Rancor was admiring his reflection in the pond while practicing his infamous Death Glare—the look he gave young mosquitoes at camp who were misbehaving or not biting and pestering as aggressively as they should.
Stories of Rancor’s Death Glare were legendary. When the Colonel aimed the glare at offending mosquitoes, some of them turned into quivering blobs of fear and others fainted dead away. Once, Rancor knocked Franklin Mosquito clean out of the air just by aiming the Death Glare at him. Poor Franklin didn’t get up off the ground all day.
But as fearsome as the Death Glare was, it was nothing compared to the punishments Colonel Rancor dished out at his Bite and Pester Boot Camp. The Colonel’s favorite pastime was dreaming up more excruciating ways to punish offending bugs.
For example, Rancor had ordered misbehaving mosquitoes to bite a live maggot; to land on a donkey’s butt (where the risk of getting swatted was greatest); to dive into the pig trough (while the pigs were eating); and even to crawl through fresh, steaming piles of manure.
Then there was the time Rancor caught Sheldon Mosquito goofing around. The Colonel had him tied up by his six legs and hung upside down from a tree branch just above a bird’s nest—barely out of reach of five wide-mouth baby birds who were screeching and stretching up to try to swallow him. Sheldon was left hanging there all day and all night—and he was never the same. For the rest of his life, he had horrible nightmares about baby birds.
As the Colonel stared into the pond thinking about those punishments, he was so happy that he almost smiled. “I must use those again soon!” he told himself.
Just then, Drek and Drivel landed next to Rancor. “You remember Izzy, boss?” said Drek. “The mosquito with the glowing antennae? I call him the Freakin’ Beacon.”
“The Ninja Goat knocked him into a pile of cow poop!” said Drivel.
“Forget the poop,” Drek said. “Izzy was trying to talk to animals. That’s against the Mosquito Code, right boss?”
Suddenly the Colonel was very interested. “You saw Izzy talking to animals?”
“Yeah, yeah. He tried talking to the donkey and the hog and the goat.”
“I’m telling you, it’s a Ninja Goat,” said Drivel.
“Whatever,” said Drek. “The point is, he’s breaking the code, right boss?”
“Yes, yes, of course he is,” said the Colonel—and for a moment he was lost in thought as the dim outlines of a devious, dastardly plan began to take shape in his brain.
“Boss? Boss? You okay?” said Drek.
The Colonel turned and looked at Drek. “What? Oh, yes, fine. I was just remembering when I first saw Izzy as a child; even then I knew he was going to cause trouble. What did you call him? The Freakin’ Beacon?”
“I made it up myself, boss.”
“The Freakin’ Beacon. That’s good.”
“Do you want us to report him to the High Mosquito Council, boss? Maybe they’ll send him to your camp so you can put the Death Glare on him.”
“Yeah, boss,” said Drivel. “Your Death Glare will fix that stinky dude!”
“Not a bad idea. But let’s not report him just yet. I think I may have something special in mind for this Freakin’ Beacon. I want you two to follow him and tell me everything he does. Everything!”
“You got it boss!” They took off.
Colonel Rancor rubbed his two front legs together. “Yes, indeed, Freakin’ Beacon. I think I may have something very, very special planned for you.”
The Garbage Can Expert
Izzy climbed out of the pile of manure and flew back to Pickle Pond to get himself cleaned up. When he landed on the bank, he heard a noise and looked up to see Winston Raccoon humming and chewing on the fat stub of a cigar. Winston was wearing an elegant black vest that complemented his natural black mask, giving him a distinguished look.
Around Pickle Pond Farm, Winston had a reputation for being rich because he was always finding treasures in the garbage can; this explained the cigar and the vest. He also found plenty of food there; this explained why he was as plump as an award-winning watermelon.
“Greetings,” said Izzy.
A startled Winston waved his paw at Izzy and spoke out of the side of his mouth, talking around the cigar. “Hey, don’t bug me kid! Get away! Out of here!”
“I don’t want to pester you. I just want to say I really like your black mask.”
Winston took out his cigar and grinned. “It scares the feathers off the chickens. Heh-heh-heh.”
“I’ll bet it does.”
Winston took a closer look. “I have to say kid, you look a little frazzled. And that smell, whew! Like a piece of road kill the vultures wouldn’t touch!”
“It’s been a rough day.”
“You could say that.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, kid. Old Winston specializes in problem-solving. Tell you what, if you’ll put a hold on that annoying buzz, you can tell me all about it. That sound gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
At last, an animal who will talk to me, Izzy thought. “I’ve been trying to ask some of the farm animals why they hate us mosquitoes and want to kill us.”
“Oh, that’s easy. It’s because you’re so annoying. You’re more annoying than a big itch in a place you can’t scratch. You’re more annoying than getting bombed by bird poop. You’re more annoying than an empty garbage can. You’re more annoying than biting into an apple and finding half a worm. You’re more—”
“Okay, okay, I get it. We’re kind of annoying. But does that make it right to murder us? Is that fair?”
Winston took out his cigar and examined it. “That’s a tough one, kid. But I know where you can find the answer.”
“Sure” Winston leaned closer: “LOOK. IN. THE. GARBAGE. CAN.”
Izzy stared at Winston. “Is this is a joke?”
Winston raised an eyebrow. “I never joke about the garbage can. It holds the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.”
“I don’t understand.”
Winston put the cigar back in his mouth. “You need to take my class, Secrets from the Garbage Can. I’ll teach you everything you need to know. And you’re in luck because the next class starts—let me check my schedule. Ah, yes, you’re in luck. The next class starts now! And the price is one pastrami sandwich.”
“Where am I going to find a pastrami sandwich?”
“In the garbage can. Tell you what, I’ll give you a special deal: just half a sandwich, any kind of sandwich, for the first class.”
“How many classes are there?”
“Uh, eleven. But the more advanced course is, uh, seventeen classes. And if you act now, I’ll give you an even better deal—one bite of sandwich per class. Or one egg from the hen house. You’ve got to admit, that’s a killer offer. But it’s only for a limited time.”
“As you can see, I’m too small to bring you an egg or a sandwich.”
“All right, all right, tell you what I’m going to do. I like you, kid. You’ve got spunk and imagination. So I’m going to give you the first lesson absolutely free. Here it is: Every animal is like a garbage can: full of secrets.”
Izzy shrugged. “I don’t think I understand that either.”
“You want the animals to talk to you, right? Well, you can’t just go barging in. That’s a good way to get yourself swatted. First, you have to figure out their secret—and everyone has one. You’ve got to dig around a little, watch them, listen to them. Finding someone’s secret is like finding the key that unlocks the door. Or like finding a fresh pastrami sandwich in the garbage can.”
With that, Winston threw the cigar into the pond. “Good luck, kid. All this talk has made me hungry. Gotta go check out the garbage can.” He waddled away.