Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior by Eric Laster and Max Graenitz - Read Online
Welfy Q. Deederhoth
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Summary

Sometimes you have to go off-planet to discover where you belong.

In the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes “Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior,” a heartwarming story of friendship, adventure, and luncheon meats.

Orphan, product of the foster care system, Welfy is a homeless runaway struggling to survive, uncertainly navigating the streets of New York City with his only friend Harlan Mills. Soon after he finds work at Gramercy Deli, he stumbles into an alternate universe where he’s believed to be “The One in a dirty apron” prophesied to lead the Brundeedle race out of Woe Time. Understandably, Welfy has his doubts.

“Reach into your apron pocket!” urges Princess Nnnn of the Brundeedles, as Ceparids—a violent species bent on Brundeedle destruction—surround them. More than a little perplexed, Welfy swivels, rears, miraculously avoids getting killed by Ceparid missiles as he fumbles in his apron’s front pocket, and pulls out—a slice of baloney.

Can a homeless teen from New York City, armed mostly with deli foods, save an alien race from extinction? The answer is not what you might think.

For ages 9 and up.
Published: BookBaby on
ISBN: 9780985043735
List price: $4.99
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Welfy Q. Deederhoth - Eric Laster

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HIS THIRD WEEK IN NEW YORK CITY, with only seventy-nine cents in his pocket and a stomach that hasn’t known food for a day and a half, Welfy Q. Deederhoth walks block after block, hoping for something to eat. Delis, grocery stores, coffee shops, pizza places, Chinese restaurants, falafel counters, French bistros—Welfy enters all of these and more, offering to sweep and mop the floor, to clean out the basement or storage room, to dust shelves, to do any kind of work at all for a cheeseburger, slice of pepperoni pizza, egg roll, sandwich or half-sandwich, for whatever sweeping and mopping a floor, cleaning out a basement, or dusting shelves might be worth to the person in charge.

Gramercy Deli—one of New York City’s last holdouts from a bygone era of avenues lined with family-owned businesses—is little more than an oversized shoebox filled with meatstuff, cheesestuff, and other stuff. Its two aisles stock the sort of merchandise we might buy on our way home from work, when we need toilet paper or milk but don’t want to visit a supermarket so gigantic it requires a GPS to navigate. Its sandwich counter offers only the most conventional of meats and cheeses—roast beef, ham, turkey, chicken; American, Swiss, cheddar. Its refrigerators house colorful regiments of only the most popular sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices, and flavored waters.

Welfy enters Gramercy Deli fearing it will be just another in a long line of unfriendly food retailers. Not needing to embarrass himself in front of more people than necessary, he decides to wait until the store is empty of customers before asking the aproned man behind the counter for work.

He pretends to be interested in the breakfast cereals. The man behind the counter flicks a glance his way. Welfy feigns interest in the canned vegetables. Again the counterman glances at him.

Probably thinks I’m going to steal something.

Welfy is no longer sure how he looks to other people. He sometimes glimpses his reflection in a window, and although he never thinks he looks too bad, maybe he’s just getting used to looking bad—which is to say, grubby. Maybe grubby doesn’t seem so grubby to him anymore, while to others his grubbiness is obvious—evidence that he has to steal in order to survive.

And if I don’t get work soon…

A bell above the door signals the last customer’s departure. Determined not to let past rejections show in tone or demeanor, Welfy approaches the man behind the counter.

Are you the manager? he asks.

Manager, owner, stockboy, janitor, bookkeeper, the man answers, gesturing vaguely, you name it.

This is already better than Welfy expected. The way the man’s been training a wary eye on him, he had braced himself to hear that he’ll find no help in Gramercy Deli, whatever he wants. The optimism that’s been dammed up within his heart, stoppered by hardships and disappointments—an optimism Welfy thought he no longer possessed—floods through him.

If you need any kind of work done, he says, mopping your floor or any kind of cleaning up, things like that, I can do it for you. All I ask is that if you approve of the job I do, you give me something to eat. Whatever you think is fair.

This is where the man is supposed to say he can mop his own floor, thank you very much. But Gramercy’s manager / owner / stockboy / janitor / bookkeeper funnels his lips a thoughtful moment, then waves for Welfy to follow him to an alcove at the back of the store, where he keeps a broom, mop, and bucket of rags and cleaning supplies.

You might want to put that on, Gramercy’s manager / owner / stockboy / janitor / bookkeeper says, indicating an old deli apron splotched with stains, hanging from a hook.

Welfy’s not about to argue. He ties on the apron and for the next several hours cleans as he has never cleaned in his life, bending low to sweep under the bottommost shelves, mopping neglected corners, and thoroughly dusting merchandise. He wants Gramercy’s metal shelves to gleam, and gleam they do—as much as decades-old metal shelves can gleam. He wants Gramercy’s floor to shine, and shine it does—as much as linoleum scuffed and dirtied by thousands of pavement-battered shoes can shine.

The afternoon passes into night and Gramercy’s manager / owner / stockboy / janitor / bookkeeper checks Welfy’s work from time to time. But he says nothing until half an hour after closing, when Welfy, carrying a ham sandwich wrapped in wax paper, bag of Doritos, and sixteen-ounce bottle of Evian, but already worried about how he might secure food tomorrow, is about to leave.

My name’s Morton, by the way, the man says.

Welfy. Welfy Deederhoth.

Stupid. Should have given a phony name.

Really?

Uh huh.

Well…good job today, Mr. Deederhoth. You can come back tomorrow if you want and I’ll see what I can find for you to do. I open at six.

Welfy nods, noncommittal, and hurries out to the street. Around the corner, he rips his sandwich from its bag and stands in the middle of the sidewalk, swallowing greedy mouthfuls of ham and bread and lettuce.

He’s heard people say that food tastes better after you haven’t eaten in a while, but not at first it doesn’t. His Adam’s apple bobbing like a piston, Welfy eats too quickly to taste anything.

Gonna throw up if I keep attacking the sandwich like this.

A kid can’t go a day and a half without food—the three days before that eating only scraps scavenged from garbage cans—and then stuff his face. Welfy knows from experience: the stomach will rebel.

Save some for later.

He forces himself to stop eating and wrap up what remains. He should be happy. He’s got food, after all. And he’s been offered employment, which means more food. He’s just not sure he can accept the job since he told Morton his real name.

Maybe talk the situation over with Harlan.

Why not? Harlan’s been living on the streets forever. Harlan is super smart. If anyone can help Welfy figure out what to do, it’s Harlan. But when he gets to the East 77th Street subway station, Harlan isn’t under the uptown-side platform, as expected, and Welfy doesn’t much feel like waiting around in case the kid shows up. The weather is warm and mild. Why not sleep outside instead of in that sooty tunnel where rats and clattering trains will wake him every hour?

Not devouring his entire ham sandwich in one go was hard, but this is way harder—leaving what’s left of the sandwich for Harlan. Welfy surrounds and covers the sandwich with rocks, which he hopes will be enough to protect it from the rats.

Exiting the subway station, he walks to Central Park and beds down within sight of the 72nd Street boat pond. But sleep is impossible. He lies awake, eating the occasional Dorito and trying to convince himself that, having confessed his birth name to Morton, it will be too compromising for him to show up at Gramercy Deli in the morning.

But if I don’t show up…?

If he doesn’t show up, he’ll have to search for work again, and he hates going from block to block, humbling himself before unsympathetic store managers who treat him like some third-class kid, as if he’s asking for charity.

At 5:45 a.m. Welfy is waiting for Morton on the sidewalk outside Gramercy Deli.

And so it goes for a week—every night after closing, Morton says, Come back tomorrow if you want and I’ll see what I can find for you to do, and every night Welfy strips off the apron he wears while working, then steps to the street with a bag of Doritos, sixteen-ounce Evian, and sandwich wrapped in wax paper. Every night, beneath the platform at the 77th Street subway station, Welfy leaves half his sandwich and a note for Harlan. On alternate days he leaves the Doritos, too. But he always writes the same note: that Harlan can meet him outside the 76th Street entrance to Central Park at 9:00 p.m. the following night. Harlan never shows up on the corner the following night, although in the 77th Street subway station, Welfy always finds the half-sandwich and Doritos gone.

That’s how it is with kids like him and Harlan. Sometimes you hang around together, other times you don’t.

And all week, while Harlan is off doing who knows what, Welfy sleeps alone in Central Park, usually near the boat pond or Sheep Meadow. And every night, unsure whether or not to show up at Gramercy in the morning, he repeatedly wakes until, with the faintest hint of daylight in the sky, he gets up, brushes the clinging leaves and grass from his clothes, and checks the time on the electronic billboard high above Central Park South. By 5:45 every morning, Welfy is again standing outside the shuttered Gramercy Deli.

Those the only clothes you have? Morton asks after a week.

Welfy has been expecting this question. He’s tried to keep clean, to look presentable, normal. He routinely washes up in the deli’s bathroom, which is so tiny its walls pick fights with his elbows while he splashes water on himself and dries off with scratchy brown paper towels. Welfy’s pretty sure he doesn’t stink. He doesn’t smell anything, but who knows? Maybe he’s gotten used to his own stink. Still, his clothes are a problem. There is only so much he can do wearing the same clothes to work all the time. Not even the deli apron hides them, even though he dons it as quickly as he can every morning.

Yeah, he shrugs.

Where are you living? Do you have a place?

How to answer? Welfy feels like saying that he has the city, the state, the whole country.

Parents? Morton asks. Or other family?

In the ensuing silence, Welfy almost runs, bolts out the door into the hustle of New York where he doesn’t have to answer questions.

What about a shelter? Don’t you have anywhere you can go?

If I had somewhere to go, you think I’d be here? Welfy answers, his voice sounding more hostile than he intended.

Morton eases off. All right, I’m not asking because I want to get into your business. You’re a good worker and I have a proposition for you. I’ll give you a roof over your head, food in your belly, and seventy-five dollars a week cash if you work here. The days are fourteen hours long and not at all glamorous, as you already know. I wouldn’t exactly call it slave labor, but you’d be cheaper than anyone else I can get. What do you say? You’d be doing me a favor and, from what I can tell, I’d be doing you one.

Welfy knows that Morton might try to lull him into complacency, might wait until he relaxes into routine and then report him to the police—a boy living alone on the streets who should be home with his family, attending school, doing all the typical kid stuff. The police will ask questions about his past—a past Welfy feels has never belonged to him but has instead been mistakenly thrust on him by whatever forces organize the universe.

Why not? he says to Morton, because risky as it might be, he has to take a chance.

ELSEWHERE.

She shouldn’t be doing this—visiting the same underground stream she’s visited three times already. Princess Nnnn’s been told: she can have no behavioral habits that will allow enemy patrols to ambush her.

Not that her hunted, nomadic existence generally allows for habits to develop other than those of defense, such as vigilance and stealth.

And not that anyone ever wants to let the princess venture anywhere alone.

Which is why she deceived Prince Ffff and her uncle.

Pretending to go off as part of a reconnaissance team whose soldiers had no idea she was to accompany them, Nnnn came here, for the fourth time in as many days, to sit on the stream’s damp bank, the murmuring water a soundtrack to her thoughts.

Princess Nnnn must live, her uncle often tells her, as if speaking to another. Being one of the last royals of the decimated Brundeedle population, it is the princess’s duty to stay alive.

She must live, he means, not so much for herself but because she’s a symbol of hope—for an end to Woe Time, for a future that, however faintly, might resemble the well-being and peace of the past. She’s supposed to embody the resilience of the Brundeedle race.

But how can she manage such a burden if she feels bled of all hope? To represent the fortitude of the Brundeedle race, their stubborn refusal to succumb for all time to enemy violence…for that the princess needs inner strength. And being alone for a short while somehow helps; she’s able to shrug off hopelessness and despair and reinvigorate her mind, her will.

Maybe why it helps has to do with remembering.

Because the Ceparids have annihilated everything of importance—not every building in every former city, but all literature, art, and historical archives. As if to say, Brundeedle culture has no past, so it will have no