Soul music, p.8
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       Soul Music, p.8

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 8


  Theres no such person. I mean . . . I didnt know, I thought thats just a . . . story. Like the Sandman or the Hogfather. [8] Ah, said the raven. Changing our tone, yes? Not so much of the emphatic declarative, yes? A bit less of the “Theres no such thing” and a bit more of the “I didnt know”, yes?

  Everyone knows - I mean, its not logical that theres an old man in a beard who gives everyone sausages and chitterlings on Hogswatchnight, is it?

  I dont know about logic. Never learned about logic, said the raven. Living on a skull aint exactly logical, but thats what I do.

  And there cant be a Sandman who goes around throwing sand in childrens eyes, said Susan, but in tones of uncertainty. Youd . . . never get enough sand in one bag.

  Could be. Could be.

  Id better be going, said Susan. Miss Butts always checks the dorms on the stroke of midnight.

  How many dormitories are there? said the raven.

  About thirty, I think.

  You believe she checks them all at midnight and you dont believe in the Hogfather?

  Id better be going anyway, said Susan. Um. Thank you.

  Lock up behind you and chuck the key through the window, said the raven. The room was silent after shed gone, except for the crackle as coals settled in the furnace. Then the skull said: Kids today, eh?

  I blame education, said the raven. A lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing said the skull. A lot more dangerous than just a little. I always used to say that, when I was alive.

  When was that, exactly?

  Cant remember. I think I was pretty knowledgeable. Probably a teacher or philosopher, something of that kidney. And now Im on a bench with a bird crapping on my head.

  Very allegorical, said the raven. No-one had taught Susan about the power of belief, or at least about the power of belief in a combination of high magical potential and low reality stability such as existed on the Discworld. Belief makes a hollow place. Something has to roll in to fill it. Which is not to say that belief denies logic. For example, its fairly obvious that the Sandman needs only a small sack. On the Discworld, he doesnt bother to take the sand out first. It was almost midnight. Susan crept into the stables. She was one of those people who will not leave a mystery unsolved. The ponies were silent in the presence of Binky. The horse glowed in the darkness. Susan heaved a saddle down from the rack, and then thought better of it. If she was going to fall off, a saddle wouldnt be any help. And reins would be about as much use as a rudder on a rock. She opened the door to the loose-box. Most horses wont walk backwards voluntarily, because what they cant see doesnt exist. But Binky shuffled out by himself and walked over to the mounting block, where he turned and watched her expectantly. Susan climbed on to his back. It was like sitting on a table. All right, she whispered. I dont have to believe any of this, mind you. Binky lowered his head and whinnied. Then he trotted out into the yard and headed for the field. At the gate he broke into a canter, and turned towards the fence. Susan shut her eyes. She felt muscles bunch under the velvet skin and then the horse was rising, over the fence, over the field. Behind it, in the turf, two fiery hoofprints burned for a second or two. As she passed above the school she saw a light flicker in a window. Miss Butts was on her rounds. Theres going to be trouble over this, Susan told herself. And then she thought: Im on the back of a horse a hundred feet up in the air, being taken somewhere mysterious thats a bit like a magic land with goblins and talking animals. Theres only so much more trouble I could get into . . . Besides, is riding a flying horse against school rules? I bet its not written down anywhere. Quirm vanished behind her, and the world opened up in a pattern of darkness and moonlight silver. A chequer-board pattern of fields strobed by in the moonlight, with the occasional light of an isolated farm. Ragged clouds whipped past and away. Away on her left the Ramtop Mountains were a cold white wall. On her right, the Rim Ocean carried a pathway to the moon. There was no wind, or even a great sensation of speed - just

  the land flashing by, and the long slow strides of Binky. And then someone spilled gold on the night. Clouds parted in front of her and there, spread below, was Ankh-Morpork - a city containing more Peril than even Miss Butts could imagine. Torchlight outlined a pattern of streets in which Quirm would have not only been lost, but mugged and pushed into the river as well. Binky cantered easily over the rooftops. Susan could hear the sounds of the streets, even individual voices, but there was also the great roar of the city, like some kind of insect hive. Upper windows drifted by, each one a glow of candlelight. The horse dropped through the smoky air and landed neatly and at the trot in an alley which was otherwise empty except for a closed door and a sign with a torch over it. Susan read: CURRY GARDENS Kitchren Entlance - Keep Out. Ris Means You. Binky seemed to be waiting for something. Susan had expected a more exotic destination. She knew about curry. They had curry at school, under the name of Bogey and Rice. It was yellow. There were soggy raisins and peas in it. Binky whinnied, and stamped a hoof. A hatch in the door flew open. Susan got a brief impression of a face against the fiery atmosphere of the kitchen. Ooorrh, nooorrrh! Binkorrr! The hatch slammed shut again. Obviously something was meant to happen. She stared at a menu nailed to the wall. It was misspelled, of course, because the menu of the folkier kind of restaurant always has to have misspellings in it, so that customers can be lured into a false sense of superiority. She couldnt recognize the names of most of the dishes, which included: Curry with Vegetable 8p Curry with Sweat, and Sore Balls of Pig 10p Curry with Sweer and Sour, Ball of Fish 10p Curry with Meat 10p Curry with Named Meat 15p Extra Curry 5p Porn cracker 4p Eat It Here Or, Take It Away The hatch snapped open again and a large brown bag of allegedly but not really waterproof paper was dumped on the little ledge in front of it. Then the hatch slammed shut again. Susan reached out carefully. The smell rising from the bag had a sort of thermic lance quality that warned against metal cutlery. But tea had been a long time ago. She realized she didnt have any money on her. On the other hand, no-one had asked her for any. But the world would go to wrack and ruin if people didnt recognize their responsibilities. She leaned forward and knocked on the door. Excuse me . . . dont you want anything-? There was shouting and a crash from inside, as if half a dozen people were fighting to get under the same table. Oh. How nice. Thank you. Thank you very much, said Susan, politely. Binky walked away, slowly. This time there was no bunched leap of muscle power - he trotted into the air carefully, as if some time in the past hed been scolded for spilling

  something. Susan tried the curry several hundred feet above the speeding landscape, and then threw it away as politely as possible. It was very . . . unusual, she said. And thats it? You carried me all the way up here for takeaway food? The ground skimmed past faster, and it crept over her that the horse was going a lot faster now, a full gallop instead of the easy canter. A bunching of muscle . . . . . . and then the sky ahead of her erupted blue for a moment. Behind her, unseen because light was standing around red with embarrassment asking itself what had happened, a pair of hoofprints burned in the air for a moment. It was a landscape, hanging in space. There was a squat little house, with a garden around it. There were fields, and distant mountains. Susan stared at it as Binky slowed. There was no depth. As the horse swung around for a landing, the landscape was revealed as a mere surface, a thin-shaped film of . . . existence . . . imposed on nothingness. She expected it to tear when the horse landed, but there was only a faint crunch and a scatter of gravel. Binky trotted around the house and into the stableyard, where he stood and waited. Susan got off, gingerly. The ground felt solid enough under her feet. She reached down and scratched at the gravel; there was more gravel underneath. Shed heard that the Tooth Fairy collected teeth. Think about it logically . . . the only other people who collected any bits of bodies did so for very suspicious purposes, and usually to harm or control other people. The Tooth Fairies must have half the children in the world under their control. And this didnt look like the house of that sort o
f person. The Hogfather apparently lived in some kind of horrible slaughterhouse in the mountains, festooned with sausages and black puddings and painted a terrible blood-red. Which suggested style. A nasty style, but at least style of a sort. This place didnt have style of any sort. The Soul Cake Tuesday Duck didnt apparently have any kind of a home. Nor did Old Man Trouble or the Sandman, as far as she knew. She walked around the house, which wasnt much larger than a cottage. Definitely. Whoever lived here had no taste at all. She found the front door. It was black, with a knocker in the shape of an omega. Susan reached for it, but the door opened by itself. And the hall stretched away in front of her, far bigger than the outside of the house could possibly contain. She could distantly make out a stairway wide enough for the tap-dancing finale in a musical. There was something else wrong with the perspective. There clearly was a wall a long way off but, at the same time, it looked as though it was painted in the air a mere fifteen feet or so away. It was as if distance was optional. There was a large clock against one wall. Its slow tick filled the immense space. Theres a room, she thought. I remember the room of whispers. Doors lined the hall at wide intervals. Or short intervals, if you looked at it another way. She tried to walk towards the nearest one, and gave up after a few wildly teetering steps. Finally she managed to reach it by taking aim and then shutting her eyes. The door was at one and the same time about normal human size and immensely big. There was a highly ornate frame around it, with a skulls-and-bones motif. She pushed the door open. This room could have housed a small town. A small area of carpet occupied the middle distance, no more than a hectare in size. It took

  Susan several minutes to reach the edge. It was a room within a room. There was a large, heavy-looking desk on a raised dais, with a leather swivel chair behind it. There was a large model of the Discworld, on a sort of ornament made of four elephants standing on the shell of a turtle. There were several bookshelves, the large volumes piled in the haphazard fashion of people whore far too busy using the books ever to arrange them properly. There was even a window, hanging in the air a few feet above the ground. But there were no walls. There was nothing between the edge of the carpet and the walls of the greater room except floor, and even that was far too precise a word for it. It didnt look like rock and it certainly wasnt wood. It made no sound when Susan walked on it. It was simply surface, in the purely geometrical sense. The carpet had a skull-and-bones pattern. It was also black. Everything was black, or a shade of grey. Here and there a tint suggested a very deep purple or ocean-depth blue. In the distance, towards the walls of the greater room, the metaroom or whatever it was, there was the suggestion of . . . something. Something was casting complicated shadows, too far away to be clearly seen. Susan got up on to the dais. There was something odd about the things around her. Of course, there was everything odd about the things around her, but it was a huge major oddness that was simply in their nature. She could ignore it. But there was an oddness on a human level. Everything was just slightly wrong, as if it had been made by someone who hadnt fully comprehended its purpose. There was a blotter on the oversize desk but it was part of it, fused to the surface. The drawers were just raised areas of wood, impossible to open. Whoever had made the desk had seen desks, but hadnt understood deskishness. There was even some sort of desk ornament. It was just a slab of lead, with a thread hanging down one side and a shiny round metal ball on the end of the thread. If you raised the ball it swung down and thumped into the lead, just once. She didnt try to sit in the chair. There was a deep pit in the leather. Someone had spent a lot of time sitting there. She glanced at the spines of the books. They were in a language she couldnt understand. She trekked back to the distant door, went out into the hall, and tried the next door. A suspicion was beginning to form in her mind. The door led to another huge room, but this one was full of shelves, floor to distant, cloud- hung ceiling. Every shelf was lined with hourglasses. The sand pouring from the past to the future filled the room with a sound like surf, a noise made up of a billion small sounds. Susan walked between the shelves. It was like being in a crowd. Her eye was caught by a movement on a nearby shelf. In most of the hourglasses the falling sand was a solid silver line but in this one, just as she watched, the line vanished. The last grain of sand tumbled into the bottom bulb. The hourglass vanished with a small pop. A moment later another one appeared in its place, with the faintest of pings. In front of her eyes, sand began to fall . . . And she was aware that this process was going on all over the room. Old hourglasses vanished, new ones took their place. She knew about this, too. She reached out and picked up a glass, bit her lip thoughtfully, and started to turn the thing upside down . . . SQUEAK!

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