A hat full of sky, p.15
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.15

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 15


  O-K. It hadnt been a dream. She was certain of that. Something . . . strange had happened. The tips of her fingers were tingling. She felt . . . different. But not, now she took stock, in a bad way. No. Last night shed felt awful, but now, now she felt. . . full of life. Actually, she felt happy. She was going to take charge. She was going to take control of her life. Get-up-and-go had got up and come. The green dress was rumpled and really it needed a wash. Shed got her old blue one in the chest of drawers but, somehow, it didnt seem right to wear it now. Shed have to make do with the green until she could get another one. She went to put on her boots, then stopped and stared at them. They just wouldnt do, not now. She got the new shiny ones out of her case and wore them instead. She found both of Miss Level was out in the wet garden in her nighties, sadly picking up bits of dreamcatcher and fallen apples. Even some of the garden ornaments had been smashed, although the madly grinning gnomes had unfortunately escaped destruction. Miss Level brushed her hair out of one pair of her eyes and said: Very, very strange. All the curse-nets seem to have exploded. Even the boredom stones are discharged! Did you notice anything?

  No, Miss Level, said Tiffany meekly. And all the old shambles in the workroom are in pieces! I mean, I know they are really only ornamental and have next to no power left, but something really strange must have happened. Both of her gave Tiffany a look that Miss Level probably thought was very sly and cunning, but it made her look slightly ill. The storm seemed a touch magical to me. I suppose you girls werent doing anything . . . odd last night, were you, dear? she said. No, Miss Level. I thought they were a bit silly.

  Because, you see, Oswald seems to have gone, said Miss Level. Hes very sensitive to atmospheres It took Tiffany a moment to understand what she was talking about. Then she said: But hes always here!

  Yes, ever since I can remember! said Miss Level. Have you tried putting a spoon in the knife drawer?

  Yes, of course! Not so much as a rattle!

  Dropped an apple core? He always-

  That was the first thing I tried!

  How about the salt and sugar trick? Miss Level hesitated. Well, no . . . She brightened up. He does love that one, so hes bound to turn up, yes? Tiffany found the big bag of salt and another of sugar, and poured both of them into a bowl. Then she stirred up the fine white crystals with her hand. Shed found this was the ideal away of keeping Oswald occupied while they did the cooking. Sorting the salt and sugar grains back into the right bags could take him an entire happy afternoon. But now the mixture just lay there, Oswaldless.

  Oh, well. . . Ill search the house, said Miss Level, as if that was a good way of finding an invisible person. Go and see to the goats, will you, dear? And then well have to try to remember how to do the washing up! Tiffany let the goats out of the shed. Usually, Black Meg immediately went and stood on the milking platform and gave her an expectant look as if to say: Ive thought up a new trick. But not today. When Tiffany looked inside the shed the goats were huddled in the dark at the far end. They panicked, nostrils flaring, and scampered around as she went towards them, but she managed to grab Black Meg by her collar. The goat twisted and fought her as she dragged it out towards the milking stand. It climbed up because it was either that or having its head pulled off, then stood there snorting and bleating. Tiffany stared at the goat. Her bones felt as though they were itching. She wanted to . . . do things, climb the highest mountain, leap into the sky, run around the world. And she thought: This is silly, I start every day with a battle of wits with an animal! Well, lets show this creature who is in charge . . . She picked up the broom that was used for sweeping out the milking parlour. Black Megs slot eyes widened in fear, and wham! went the broom. It hit the milking stand. Tiffany hadnt intended to miss like that. Shed wanted to give Meg the wallop the creature richly deserved but, somehow, the stick had twisted in her hand. She raised it again, but the look in her eye and the whack on the wood had achieved the right effect. Meg cowered. No more games! hissed Tiffany, lowering the stick. The goat stood as still as a log. Tiffany milked her out, took the pail back into the dairy, weighed it, chalked up the amount on the slate by the door, and tipped the milk into a big bowl. The rest of the goats were nearly as bad, but a herd learns fast. Altogether they gave three gallons, which was pretty pitiful for ten goats. Tiffany chalked this up without enthusiasm and stood staring at it, fiddling with the chalk. What was the point of this? Yesterday shed been full of plans for experimental cheeses, but now cheese was dull. Why was she here, doing silly chores, helping people too stupid to help themselves? She could be doing . . . anything! She looked down at the scrubbed wooden table. Someone had written on the wood in chalk. And the piece of chalk was still in her hand- Tetulias come to see you, dear, said Miss Level, behind her. Tiffany quickly shifted a milking bucket over the words and turned round guiltily. What? she said. Why?

  Just to see if youre all right, I think, said Miss Level, watching Tiffany carefully. The dumpy girl stood very nervously on the doorstep, her pointy hat in her hands. Um, I just thought I ought to see how you, um, are . . . she muttered, looking Tiffany squarely in the boots. Um, I dont think anyone really wanted to be unkind . . .

  Youre not very clever and youre too fat, said Tiffany. She stared at the round pink

  face for a moment and knew things. And you still have a teddy bear help me and you believe in fairies. She slammed the door, went back to the dairy and stared at the bowls of milk and curds as if she were seeing them for the first time. Good with Cheese. That was one of the things everyone remembered about her: Tiffany Aching, brown hair, Good with Cheese. But now the dairy looked all wrong and unfamiliar. She gritted her teeth. Good with Cheese. Was that really what she wanted to be? Of all the things people could be in the world, did she want to be known just as a dependable person to have around rotted milk? Did she really want to spend all day scrubbing slabs and washing pails and plates and . . . and . . . and that weird wire thing just there, that- . . . cheese-cutter . . . - that cheese-cutter? Did she want her whole life to- Hold on . . . Whos there? said Tiffany. Did someone just say “cheese-cutter”? She peered around the room, as if someone could be hiding behind the bundles of dried herbs. It couldnt have been Oswald. Hed gone, and he never spoke in any case. Tiffany grabbed the pail, spat on her hand and rubbed out the chalked HELP ME - tried to rub it out. But her hand gripped the edge of the table and held it firmly, no matter how much she pulled. She flailed with her left hand, managing to knock over a pail of milk, which washed across the letters . . . and her right hand let go suddenly The door was pushed open. Both of Miss Level was there. When she pulled herself together like that, standing side by side, it was because she felt she had something important to say. I have to say, Tiffany, that I think -

  - you were very nasty to Petulia just -

  - now. She went off crying. She stared at Tiffanys face. Are you all right, child? Tiffany shuddered. Er . . . yes. Fine. Feel a bit odd. Heard a voice in my head. Gone now. Miss Level looked at her with her heads on one side, right and left in different directions. If youre sure, then. Ill get changed. Wed better leave soon. Theres a lot to do today.

  A lot to do, said Tiffany weakly. Well, yes. Theres Slapwicks leg, and Ive got to see to the sick Grimly baby, and its been a week since Ive visited Surleigh Bottom, and, lets see, Mr Plovers got Gnats again, and Id better just find a moment to have a word with Mistress Slopes . . . then

  theres Mr Weavalls lunch to cook, I think Ill have to do that here and run down with it for him, and of course Mrs Fanlight is near her time and, she sighed, so is Miss Hobblow, again . . . Its going to be a full day. Its really hard to fit it all in, really it is. Tiffany thought: You stupid woman, standing there looking worried because you just havent got time to give people everything they demand! Do you think you could ever give them enough help? Greedy, lazy, dumb people, always wanting all the time! The Grimly baby? Mrs Grimlys got eleven children! Whod miss one? Mr Weavalls dead already! He just wont go!
You think theyre grateful, but all they are doing is making sure you come round again! Thats not gratitude, thats just insurance! The thought horrified part of her, but it had turned up and it flamed there in her head, just itching to escape from her mouth. Things need tidying up here, she muttered. Oh, I can do that while were gone, said Miss Level cheerfully. Come on, lets have a smile! Theres lots to do! There was always lots to do, Tiffany growled in her head as she trailed after Miss Level to the first village. Lots and lots. And it never made any difference. There was no end to the wanting. They went from one grubby, smelly cottage to another, ministering to people too stupid to use soap, drinking tea from cracked cups, gossiping with old women with fewer teeth than toes. It made her feel ill. It was a bright day, but it seemed dark as they walked on. The feeling was like a thunderstorm inside her head. Then the daydreams began. She was helping to splint the arm of some dull child whod broken it when she glanced up and saw her reflection in the glass of the cottage window. She was a tiger, with huge fangs. She yelped, and stood up. Oh, do be careful, said Miss Level, and then saw her face. Is there something wrong? she said. I . . . I . . . something bit me! lied Tiffany. That was a safe bet in these places. The fleas bit the rats and the rats bit the children. She managed to get out into the daylight, her head spinning. Miss Level came out a few minutes later and found her leaning against the wall, shaking. You look dreadful, she said. Ferns! said Tiffany. Everywhere! Big ferns! And big things, like cows made out of lizards! She turned a wide, mirthless smile onto Miss Level, who took a step back. You can eat them! She blinked. Whats happening? she whispered. I dont know but Im coming right down here this minute to fetch you, said Miss Level. Im on the broomstick right now!

  They laughed at me when I said I could trap one. Well, whos laughing now, tell me that, eh? Miss Levels expression of concern turned into something close to panic. That didnt sound like your voice. That sounded like a man! Do you feel all right?

  Feel. . . crowded, murmured Tiffany. Crowded? said Miss Level. Strange . . . memories. . . help me. . . Tiffany looked at her arm. It had scales on. Now it had hair on it. Now it was smooth and brown, and holding- A scorpion sandwich? she said. Can you hear me? said Miss Tick, her voice a long way away. Youre delirious. Are you sure you girls havent been playing with potions or anything like that? The broomstick dropped out of the sky and the other part of Miss Level nearly fell off. Without speaking, both of Miss Level got Tiffany onto the stick and part of Miss Level got on behind her. It didnt take long to fly back to the cottage. Tiffany spent the flight with her mind full of hot cotton-wool and wasnt at all certain where she was, although her body did know and threw up again. Miss Level helped her off the stick and sat her on the garden seat just outside the cottage door. Now just you wait there, said Miss Level, who dealt with emergencies by talking incessantly and using the word just too often because its a calming word, and Ill just get you a drink and then well just see what the matter is . . . There was a pause and then the stream of words came out of the house again, dragging Miss Level after them and Ill just check o n . . . things. Just drink this, please! Tiffany drank the water and, out of the corner of her eye, saw Miss Level weaving string around an egg. She was trying to make a shamble without Tiffany noticing. Strange images were floating around Tiffanys mind. There were scraps of voices, fragments of memories . . . and one little voice that was her own, small and defiant and getting fainter: Youre not me. You just think you are! Someone help me! Now, then, said Miss Level, lets just see what we can see- The shamble exploded, not just into pieces but into fire and smoke. Oh, Tiffany, said Miss Level, frantically waving smoke away. Are you all right? Tiffany stood up slowly. It seemed to Miss Level that she was slightly taller than she remembered. Yes, I think I am, said Tiffany. I think Ive been all wrong, but now Im all right. And Ive been wasting my time, Miss Level.

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