Inkheart, p.12
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       Inkheart, p.12

         Part #1 of Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke
 

  well then either. You had bad dreams, however much I tried to keep them away with my stories. I was just packing the tools in my workshop when there was a knock on the front door, a very soft, almost furtive knock. Dustfinger emerged from the dark as suddenly as he did when he came to our house four days ago – heavens, was it really only four days? Well, when he came back that first time he looked as if it had been too long since he’d eaten. He was thin as a stray cat and his eyes were dull. “Send me back,” he begged, “send me back! This world will be the death of me. It’s too fast, too crowded, too noisy. If I don’t die of homesickness I shall starve to death. I don’t know how to make a living. I don’t know anything. I’m like a fish out of water,” he said. And he refused to believe that I couldn’t do it. He wanted to see the book and try for himself, even though he could scarcely read, but there was no way I could let him have it. It would have been like giving away the very last part I still had of your mother. Luckily, I’d hidden it well. I let Dustfinger sleep on the sofa, and came down next morning to find him still searching the bookshelves. Over the next few years he kept on turning up, following us wherever we went, until I got sick and tired of it and made off with you in secret like a thief in the night. After that I saw no more of him for five years. Until four days ago.’

  Meggie looked at him. ‘You still feel sorry for him,’ she said.

  Mo was silent. At last, he said, ‘Sometimes.’

  Elinor’s comment on that was a snort of contempt. ‘You’re even crazier than I thought,’ she said. ‘It’s that idiot’s fault we’re in this hole, it’s his fault if they cut our throats, and you still feel sorry for him?’

  Mo shrugged his shoulders and looked up at the ceiling, where a few moths were fluttering around the naked light bulb. ‘No doubt Capricorn has promised to take him back,’ he said. ‘Unlike me, he realised that Dustfinger would do anything in return for such a promise. All he wants is to go back to his own world. He doesn’t even stop to ask if his story there has a happy ending!’

  ‘Well, that’s no different from real life,’ remarked Elinor gloomily. ‘You never know if things will turn out well. Just now our own story looks like coming to a bad end.’

  Meggie sat with her arms clasped round her legs, her chin on her knees, staring at the dirty white walls. In her mind’s eye she saw the ‘N’ in front of her, the ‘N’ with the horned marten sitting on it, and felt as if her mother were looking out from beyond the big capital letter, her mother as she was in the faded photograph under Mo’s pillow. So she hadn’t run away after all. Did she like it in that other world? Did she still remember her daughter? Or were Meggie and Mo just a fading picture for her too? Did she long to be back in her own world, just as Dustfinger did?

  And did Capricorn long to be back in his own world as well? Was that what he wanted – for Mo to read him back again? What would happen when Capricorn realised that Mo simply couldn’t do it? Meggie shuddered.

  ‘It seems Capricorn has someone else to read aloud to him now,’ Mo went on, as if he had guessed her thoughts. ‘Basta told me about the man, probably to show me I’m not by any means indispensable. Apparently he’s read several useful assistants for Capricorn out of a book already.’

  ‘Oh yes? Then why does he want you?’ Elinor sat up, rubbing her behind and groaning. ‘I don’t understand any of this. I just hope it’s all a bad dream, the kind you wake up from with a stiff neck and a bad taste in your mouth.’

  Meggie doubted whether Elinor really had any such hope. The damp straw felt too real, and so did the cold wall behind them. She leaned against Mo’s shoulder again and closed her eyes. She was very sorry she had scarcely read a line of Inkheart. She knew nothing at all about the story into which her mother had disappeared. All she knew was Mo’s other stories, about the fabulous exploits that had kept her mother away, tales of the adventures she was having in distant lands, of fearsome enemies who kept preventing her from coming home, and of a box she was filling for Meggie, putting something new and wonderful in it at every enchanted place she visited.

  ‘Mo,’ she asked, ‘do you think she likes being in that story?’

  It took Mo quite a long time to answer. ‘She’d certainly like the fairies,’ he said at last, ‘although they’re deceitful little things. And if I know her she’ll be putting out bowls of milk for the brownies. Yes, I think she’d like that part of it …’

  ‘So … so what wouldn’t she like?’ Meggie looked at him anxiously.

  Mo hesitated. ‘The evil in it,’ he finally said. ‘So many bad things happen in that book, and she never found out that it all ends reasonably well – after all, I never finished reading her the whole story. That’s what she wouldn’t like.’

  ‘No, of course not,’ said Elinor. ‘But how do you know the story hasn’t changed anyway? After you read Capricorn and his friend out of it. And now we’re lumbered with them here.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Mo, ‘but they’re still in the book too. Believe me, I’ve read it often enough since they came out of it, and the story’s still about them: Dustfinger, Basta and Capricorn. Doesn’t that mean everything is still the way it was? Capricorn is still there, and we’re only up against a shadow of him in this world.’

  ‘He’s pretty frightening for a shadow,’ said Elinor.

  ‘Yes, you’re right,’ agreed Mo. ‘Perhaps things have changed there after all. Perhaps there’s another, much larger story behind the printed one, a story that changes just as our own world does. And the letters on the page tell us only as much as we’d see peering through a keyhole. Perhaps the story in the book is just the lid on a pan; it always stays the same, but underneath there’s a whole world that goes on developing and changing like our own.’

  Elinor groaned. ‘For heaven’s sake, Mortimer!’ she said. ‘Stop it, do. You’re giving me a headache.’

  ‘It made my own head feel like bursting when I tried to make sense of it all,’ replied Mo gloomily.

  After that they said nothing for quite a long time, all three of them absorbed in their own thoughts. Elinor was the first to speak again, although it sounded almost as if she were talking to herself. ‘Heavens above,’ she murmured, taking off her shoes. ‘To think of all the times I’ve wished I could slip right into one of my favourite books. But that’s the advantage of reading – you can shut the book whenever you want.’

  Groaning, she wriggled her toes and began walking up and down. Meggie had to suppress a giggle. Elinor looked so funny hobbling from the wall to the door and back again with her aching feet, back and forth like a clockwork toy.

  ‘Elinor, you’re driving me bonkers! Do sit down again,’ said Mo.

  ‘No, I won’t!’ she snapped back. ‘I’ll go mad myself if I stay sitting down.’

  Mo made a face and put his arm round Meggie’s shoulders. ‘All right, let’s leave her to it!’ he whispered. ‘By the time she’s covered ten kilometres she’ll fall down exhausted. But you ought to get some sleep now. You can have my bed. It’s not as bad as it looks. If you close your eyes very tight you can imagine you’re Wilbur the pig sleeping comfortably in his sty …’

  ‘Or Wart sleeping in the grass with the wild geese.’ Meggie couldn’t help yawning. How often she and Mo had played this game! ‘Which book can you think of? Which part have we forgotten? Oh yes, that one! It’s ages since I thought about that story …!’ Wearily, she lay down on the prickly straw.

  Mo pulled his sweater off over his head and covered her up with it. ‘You need a blanket all the same,’ he said. ‘Even if you’re a pig or a goose.’

  ‘But you’ll freeze.’

  ‘Nonsense.’

  ‘And where will you and Elinor sleep?’ Meggie yawned again. She hadn’t realised how tired she was.

  Elinor was still pacing from wall to wall. ‘What’s all this about sleeping?’ she said. ‘We’re going to keep watch, of course.’

  ‘All right,’ murmured Meggie, burying her nose in Mo’s sweater. He’s back with me, s
he thought, as drowsiness weighed down her eyelids. Nothing else matters. And then she thought: Oh, if only I could read some more of that book! But Inkheart was in Capricorn’s hands – and she didn’t want to think of him now, or she would never get to sleep. Never …

  Later, she didn’t know how long she had slept. Perhaps her cold feet woke her, or the itchy straw under her head. Her watch said four o’clock. There was nothing in the windowless room to tell her whether it was night or day, but Meggie couldn’t imagine that the night was over yet. Mo was sitting near the door with Elinor. They both looked tired and anxious, and they were talking in low voices.

  ‘Yes, they still think I’m a magician,’ Mo was saying. ‘They gave me that ridiculous name – Silvertongue. And Capricorn is firmly convinced I can repeat the trick any time, with any book at all.’

  ‘And … and can you?’ asked Elinor. ‘You weren’t telling us the whole story earlier, were you?’

  Mo didn’t answer for a long time. ‘No,’ he said at last. ‘Because I don’t want Meggie thinking I’m some kind of a magician too.’

  ‘So you’ve – well, read things out of a book quite often?’

  Mo nodded. ‘I always liked reading aloud, even as a boy, and one day, when I was reading Tom Sawyer to a friend, a dead cat suddenly appeared on the carpet, lying there stiff as a board. I only noticed later that one of my soft toys had vanished. I think both our hearts missed a beat, and my friend and I swore to each other, sealing the oath with blood like Tom and Huck, that we’d never tell anyone about the cat. After that, of course, I kept trying again in secret, without any witnesses, but it never seemed to happen when I wanted. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any rules at all, except that it only happened with stories I liked. Of course I kept everything that came out of books, except for the snozzcumber I got out of the book about the friendly giant. It stank too much. When Meggie was still very small, things sometimes came out of her picture books: a feather, a tiny shoe. We put them in her book-box, without telling her where they came from, otherwise she’d never have picked up a book again for fear the giant serpent with toothache or some other alarming creature might appear! But I’d never, never managed to bring anything living out of a book, Elinor. Until that night.’ Mo looked at the palms of his hands, as if seeing there all the things his voice had lured out of books. ‘Why couldn’t it have been some nice creature if it had to happen? Something like – oh, Babar the elephant. Meggie would have been enchanted.’

  Yes, I certainly would, thought Meggie. She remembered the little shoe, and the feather as well. It had been emerald green, like the plumage of Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia.

  ‘Well, it could have been worse.’ Typical Elinor! As if it wasn’t bad enough to be locked up in a tumbledown house far away from ordinary life, surrounded by black-clad men with faces like birds of prey and knives in their belts. But obviously Elinor really could imagine something worse. ‘Suppose Long John Silver had suddenly appeared in your living room, striking out with his wooden crutch?’ she whispered. ‘I think I prefer this Capricorn after all. You know what? When we’re home again – in my house, I mean – I’ll give you a really nice book. Winnie the Pooh, for instance, or maybe Where the Wild Things Are. I really wouldn’t mind one of those monsters. I’ll sit you down in my most comfortable armchair, make you a coffee, and then you can read aloud. How about it?’

  Mo laughed quietly, and for a moment his face didn’t look quite so careworn. ‘No, Elinor, I shall do no such thing. Although it sounds very tempting. But I swore never to read aloud again. Who knows who might disappear next time? And perhaps there’s some unpleasant character we never noticed even in the Pooh books. Or suppose I read Pooh himself out of his book? What would he do here without his friends and the Thousand-Acre-Wood? His poor little heart would break, like Dustfinger’s.’

  ‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ Elinor impatiently dismissed this idea. ‘How often do I have to tell you that fool has no heart? Very well, then. Let me ask you another question, because I’d very much like to know the answer.’ Elinor lowered her voice, and Meggie had to strain her ears to make out what she was saying. ‘Who was this Capricorn in his own story? The villain of the piece, I suppose, but can you tell me any more about him?’

  Meggie would have liked to know more about Capricorn too, but Mo was suddenly not very forthcoming. All he would say was, ‘The less you know about him, the better.’ Then he fell silent. Elinor kept on at him for a while, but Mo evaded all her questions. He simply did not seem to want to talk about Capricorn. Meggie could see from his face that his thoughts were somewhere else entirely. At some point Elinor nodded off, curled up on the cold floor as if trying to keep herself warm with her own body. But Mo went on sitting there with his back against the wall.

  As Meggie felt herself drift off to sleep again, Mo’s face stayed with her in her slumbers. It emerged in her dreams like a dark moon with figures leaping from its mouth, living creatures – fat, thin, large, small, they hopped out and ran away in a long line. A woman, scarcely more than a shadow, was dancing on the moon’s nose – and suddenly the moon smiled.

  17

  The Betrayer Betrayed

  It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed … He wanted … to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls, and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

  Ray Bradbury,

  Fahrenheit 451

  Some time near daybreak the feeble light from the electric bulb that had helped them through the night flickered out. Mo and Elinor were asleep near the locked door, but Meggie lay in the dark with her eyes open, feeling fear ooze out of the cold walls. She listened to Elinor’s breathing, and her father’s, and more than anything wished for a candle – and a book to keep the fear away. It seemed to be everywhere, a malicious, disembodied creature that had just been waiting for the light to go out so that it could steal close to her in the darkness and take her in its cold arms. Meggie sat up, fought for breath, and crawled over to Mo on all fours. She curled up in a ball beside him the way she used to when she was little, and waited for the light of dawn to come in under the door.

  With the light came two of Capricorn’s men. Mo had only just sat up, wearily, and Elinor was rubbing her aching back and muttering crossly when they heard the footsteps.

  They weren’t Basta’s footsteps. One of the two men, a great tall beanpole, looked as if a giant had pressed his face flat with his thumb. The other was small and thin, with a goatee beard on his receding chin. He kept fiddling with his shotgun, and glowered unpleasantly at the three of them, as if he felt like shooting them on the spot.

  ‘Come on, then. Get a move on!’ he snapped as they stumbled out into the bright light of day, blinking. Meggie tried to remember whether his voice was one of those she had heard in Elinor’s library, but she wasn’t sure. Capricorn had many men.

  It was a fine, warm morning. The sky arched blue and cloudless above Capricorn’s village, and a couple of finches were twittering in a rose bush growing wild among the old houses, as if there were no danger in the world but a hungry cat or two. Mo took Meggie’s arm as they stepped outside. Elinor had to get her shoes on first, and when the man with the goatee tried hauling her roughly out because she didn’t move fast enough for him, she pushed his hands away and fired a volley of bad language at him. That simply made the two men laugh, whereupon Elinor tightened her lips and confined herself to hostile glances.

  Capricorn’s men were in a hurry. They led Mo, Meggie and Elinor back the way Basta had brought them the night before. The flat-faced man went ahead of them and the man with the goatee brought up the rear, shotgun at the ready. He dragged one leg as he walked, but nonetheless he kept urging them on, as if to prove that he could move faster than they could even though he limped.

  Even by day Capricorn’s village appeared curiously dese
rted, and not just because of the many empty houses, which looked even more dismal in the sunlight. There was hardly anyone to be seen in the narrow alleys, only a few of the Black Jackets, as Meggie had secretly baptised them, with skinny boys following them like puppies. Meggie only twice saw a woman passing in a hurry. She could see no children playing or running after their mothers, only cats: black, white, ginger, tortoiseshell, tabby cats, lying in the warm sun on top of walls, in doorways, on lintels. It was deathly quiet among the houses of Capricorn’s village, and everything that went on seemed to be done in secret. Only the men with the guns didn’t hide. They hung around together in gateways and at the corners of buildings, leaning lovingly on their weapons as they talked. There were no flowers outside the houses, like the flowers Meggie had seen in the towns and villages all along the coast, instead roofs had fallen in and wild bushes were in bloom, growing out through glassless windows. Some were so heavy with scent that they made Meggie feel dizzy.

  When they reached the square outside the church, Meggie thought the two men were taking them to Capricorn’s house again, but they passed it on their left and went straight to the big church door. The tower of the church looked as if wind and weather had been wearing the masonry down for a dangerously long time. A rusty bell hung under the pointed roof, and scarcely a metre lower down a seed carried by the wind had grown into a stunted tree that now clung to the sand-coloured stone.

  There were eyes painted on the church door, narrow red eyes, and ugly stone demons the height of a man stood on either side of the entrance, their teeth bared like savage dogs.

  ‘Welcome to the Devil’s house!’ said the bearded man with a mocking bow before opening the heavy door.

  ‘Don’t do that, Cockerell!’ the flat-faced man snapped at him, spitting three times on the dusty paving stones at his feet. ‘It’s bad luck.’

  The man with the goatee just laughed and patted the fat belly of one of the stone figures. ‘Oh, come on, Flatnose. You’re almost as bad as Basta. Carry on like this and you’ll be hanging a stinking rabbit’s foot round your own neck too.’

  ‘I like to be on the safe side,’ growled Flatnose. ‘You hear strange tales.’

  ‘Yes, and who made them up? We did, you fool.’

  ‘Some of them date from before our time.’

  ‘Whatever happens,’ Mo whispered to Elinor and Meggie as the two men argued, ‘leave the talking to me. A sharp tongue can be dangerous here, believe me. Basta is quick to draw his knife, and he’ll use it too.’

  ‘Basta’s not the only one here with a knife, Silvertongue!’ said Cockerell, pushing Mo into the dark church. Meggie hurried after him.

  It was dim and chilly inside the church. The morning light made its way in only through a few windows, painting pale patches high up on the walls and columns. No doubt these had once been grey like the flagstone floor, but now there was only one colour in Capricorn’s church. Everything was red. The walls, the columns, even the ceiling, were vermilion, the colour of raw meat or dried blood. For a moment, Meggie felt as if she had stepped into the belly of some monster.

  In a corner near the entrance stood the statue of an angel. A wing was broken off, and the black jacket of one of Capricorn’s men had been hung over the other wing while someone had stuck a pair of fancy dress horns on its head, the kind children wear to parties. Its halo was still there between them. The angel had probably once stood on the stone plinth in front of the first column, now it had had to give way to another statue, whose gaunt, waxen face seemed to look down at Meggie with a supercilious expression. Whoever had carved it wasn’t very good at his trade; its features were painted like the face of a plastic doll, with oddly red lips and blue eyes that held none of the cold detachment the colourless eyes of the real Capricorn turned on the world. But, to make up for that, the statue was at least twice the height of its living model, and all who passed it had to tilt their head back to look up at its pale face.

  ‘Is that allowed, Mo?’ asked Meggie quietly. ‘Putting up a statue of yourself in a church?’

  ‘Oh, it’s a very old custom!’ Elinor whispered back. ‘Statues in churches aren’t often the statues of saints. Most saints couldn’t have paid the sculptor. In the cathedral of—’

  Cockerell prodded her in the back so roughly that she stumbled
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