Abarat, p.1
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       Abarat, p.1

           Clive Barker
 
Abarat


  Abarat: Absolute Midnight

  Clive Barker

  Dedication

  Johnny 2.0 Raymond

  Mark Miller

  Robbie Humphreys

  Epigraph

  There’ll be no sun tomorrow morning.

  There’ll be no moon to bless the night.

  The stars will perish without warning.

  These lines proclaim the death of light.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Prologue: What the Blind Man Saw

  Part One: The Dark Hours

  Chapter 1. Toward Twilight

  Chapter 2. The Council Speaks its Minds

  Chapter 3. The Wisdom of the Mob

  Chapter 4. The Kid

  Chapter 5. Remnants of Wickedness

  Chapter 6. Under Jibarish

  Chapter 7. The Sorrows of the Bad Son

  Chapter 8. Laguna Munn

  Part Two: You, or Not I

  Chapter 9. A New Tyranny

  Chapter 10. The Sorrows of the Good Son

  Chapter 11. Severance

  Chapter 12. One Becomes Two

  Chapter 13. Boa

  Chapter 14. Empty

  Chapter 15. Face-to-Face

  Chapter 16. Laguna Munn Angered

  Chapter 17. Snake Talk

  Chapter 18. An EndGame

  Chapter 19. The Price of Freedom

  Part Three: Many Magics

  Chapter 20. Tomorrow, Today

  Chapter 21. Boa at Midnight

  Chapter 22. Turning Away

  Chapter 23. Cold Life

  Chapter 24. At the Preacher’s House

  Chapter 25. No More Lies

  Part Four: The Dawning of the Dark

  Chapter 26. The Church of the Children of Eden

  Chapter 27. Interrogation

  Chapter 28. Altarpiece

  Chapter 29. Midnight has Wings

  Chapter 30. Draining the Ghost

  Chapter 31. The Flock

  Chapter 32. Sacrilege

  Chapter 33. No Stranger Now

  Chapter 34. Unfinished

  Chapter 35. Stealing Away

  Chapter 36. The Shadow-Shroud

  Chapter 37. Love and War

  Chapter 38. An Old Trick

  Chapter 39. Looking Forward, Looking Back

  Chapter 40. Bones and Laughter

  Chapter 41. Dragon Dust

  Chapter 42. The Fiends

  Chapter 43. Dark Waters

  Chapter 44. Pariah

  Part Five: Stormwalker

  Chapter 45. The Business of Empire

  Chapter 46. Talking of Mysteries

  Chapter 47. Convergence

  Chapter 48. Smiles

  Chapter 49. Of Those Who Walk Behind the Stars

  Chapter 50. Out of the Deep

  Chapter 51. Father and Son

  Chapter 52. Atrocities

  Part Six: There is No Tomorrow

  Chapter 53. Forgiveness

  Chapter 54. The Empress in her Glory

  Chapter 55. Below

  Chapter 56. The Hand in Fire

  Chapter 57. A Knife for Every Heart

  Chapter 58. Now, Because

  Chapter 59. A Whisper of Infinitude

  Chapter 60. Abarataraba

  Part Seven: Oblivion’s Call

  Chapter 61. Missing

  Chapter 62. The Volcano and the Void

  Chapter 63. Pigs

  Chapter 64. No Plan B

  Chapter 65. Lullaby

  Chapter 66. Love, Too Late

  Chapter 67. Yat Yut Yah

  Chapter 68. Deliverance

  Chapter 69. For Every Knife, Five Hearts

  Chapter 70. Nothing But Stones

  Chapter 71. An Execution

  Chapter 72. Truth

  Chapter 73. Souls

  Chapter 74. The Hammer of the Nephauree

  Chapter 75. The End of the World

  Chapter 76. And Beyond

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  What the Blind Man Saw

  Dream!

  Forge yourself and rise

  Out of your mind and into others.

  Men, be women.

  Fish, be flies.

  Girls, take beards.

  Sons, be your mothers.

  The future of the world now lies

  In coral wombs behind our eyes.

  —A song sung in Paradise Street

  ON THE EARLY COAST of Idjit, where two a.m. looked south over the darkened straits toward the island of Gorgossium, there was a house, its facade much decorated, set high upon the cliffs. Its occupant went by the name of Mr. Kithit, and several others besides, but none of the names were truly his. He was known simply as the Card-Reader. The cards he read were not designed for games of chance. Far from it. He only ever used the Abaratian tarot deck, wherein a reader as expert as Mr. Kithit might find the past murmuring, the present in doubt, and the future barely opening its eyes. A decent living could be made from interpreting the way the cards fell.

  For many years the Card-Reader had served the countless customers who came there in search of wisdom. But tonight he was done with serving the curiosity of others. He was done with it forever. Tonight, it was not the future of others he was going to find in the cards. They had summoned him to show him his own destiny.

  He sat down and took one slow, calming breath. Then he proceeded to lay out a pattern of nineteen cards chosen by the will of his fingertips. Blind though he was, each image appeared in his mind’s eye, along with its name and numerical place in the pack.

  There was Fear. There was The Door to the Stars. There was The King of Fates and The Daughter of Curiosity. Each card was not only to be read for its own values, but also calibrated against the cards surrounding it: a piece of mythological mathematics, which most heads could not fathom.

  The Man Lit by Candles; Death’s Island; The Primal Form; The Tree of Knowing . . .

  And of course the entire arrangement had to be set against the card that his customer—in this case himself—had chosen as his Avatar. In this case, he had elected a card called The Threshold. He had put it back into the pack and then shuffled the cards twice before laying them out by instinct in the Naught Hereafter Spread, its name signifying that all things the Deck contained would be here displayed: all reparations (the past), all possibilities (now), and all risk (henceforth and ever).

  His fingers moved quickly, summoned by a call from the cards. There was something here they wanted to show him. He quickly understood that there was news of great consequence here, so he neglected the rules of reading, one of the first being that a Reader waited until each of the number of cards required for the Spread had been laid out.

  A war was coming; he saw it in the cards. The last of the plots were being laid, even now, the weapons loaded and polished, the armies assembled, all in readiness for the day when Abaratian history turned the final corner. Was this the cards’ way of telling him what part there was for him to play in this last, grim game? If so then he would attend to whatever he was being taught, trust to their wisdom as had so many who had come to him over the years, despairing of all other remedy, seeking that which the cards would show.

  He was not surprised to find that there were many Fire cards around his Threshold, laid out like gifts. He was a man whose life—and flesh—had been re-wrought by that unforgiving element. Touching the cards with his seared fingertip, it was impossible for him not to remember the merciless conflagration that had beaten him back as he tried to save his family. One of his children, the youngest, had survived, but the fire had claimed all the rest except his mother, and it had only granted her a reprieve because she had alwa
ys been as pitiless and all-consuming as a great fire; a fire large enough to reduce a mansion and most of a dynasty to ashes.

  In effect he’d lost everything, because his mother—crazed by what she’d witnessed, it was said—had taken the infant and disappeared into Day or Night, perhaps in her madness to hide the one survivor of her twenty-three grandchildren from the slightest hint of smoke on the wind. But the insanity plea had never been sufficient to quite calm the Card-Reader’s unease. His mother had never been a very wholesome woman. She’d liked—more than was good for an unbalanced spirit such as hers—tales of Deep Magic, of Earth-Blood Doing and worse. And it had troubled the Card-Reader more than a little that he had lost track of both his mother and son; it troubled him because he’d not known what they were up to. But even more because they—the one who had borne him, and the one he had fathered—were out there somewhere, a part of the powers assembling for the labors of destruction that were signaled everywhere in the lay of the cards.

  “Must I come and find you?” he said. “Is that what this is? Do you want a sentimental reunion, Mother?”

  He judged by weight how many of the cards he had so far laid down. A little over half, he guessed. It was possible the half he still held carried news of his last connection with Abaratian history but he doubted it. This was not a spread of specificities. It was the Hereafter Naught, the last apocalyptic gospel of the Abaratian tarot.

  He set the unplayed cards down, and went to the door of his house to bathe his scarred face in the cast of the silver starlight. The years when the children of the village of Eedo, which was at the bottom of the steep trail that zigzagged up the cliff to his house, had lived in fear of him had long since passed. Though they would playact terror to amuse each other, and he played the growling monster to feed the fiction, they knew he usually had a few paterzem to toss over the threshold for them to squabble over, especially when—as tonight—they brought him something they had found along the shore to give to him. Today, as he stood at the door of the house, one of his favorites, a sweet hybrid of Sea-Skipper and commonplace child, called Lupta, came squealing to find him with an entourage of children following closely behind her.

  “I have flotsammi jetsammi!” she boasted. “I have many. Lookazis! Lookazis! All thrown up by Our Gracious Lady Izabella.”

  “You want to see more?” said her brother, Kipthin.

  “Of course,” the Card-Reader said. “Always.”

  Lupta grunted out instructions to her little gang, who noisily un-netted their catch onto the ground in front of the Card-Reader’s house. He listened with a practiced ear to the noise the find gave off: the objects were large. Some clattered and clanged, others rang like sour-noted bells.

  “Describe them to me, will you, child?”

  Lupta proceeded to do so, but—as was so often the case for haggling in the weeks since the persuasive currents of the Izabella had invaded the Hereafter, flooded Chickentown in Minnesota, and returned carrying some trophies of that other dimension with them—the objects that the tide had thrown up on the rocky beach below were not easily described or pictured, having no equivalent in the Abarat. Still the Card-Reader listened intently, knowing that if he was to understand the significance of the deck half spread in the darkened room behind him then he would need to understand the nature of the mysterious Humaniticks, some of whose artifacts, their details hard to make sense of when a man had no sight, surely offered profound clues to the nature of those who might unmake the world. Little Lupta perhaps knew more than she thought she knew. And behind her guesses, she was plucking up truths.

  “What were these things made for?” he asked her. “Are they engines? Or toys? Are they to be eaten? Or maybe to kill?”

  There was some frantic whispering among Lupta’s gang, but finally the girl said with absolute confidence:

  “We don’t know.”

  “They’re much beaten by the sea,” Kipthin said.

  “I would expect nothing less,” the Card-Reader said. “Even so, let me put my hands upon them. Guide me, Lupta. You needn’t hesitate, child. I’m not a monster.”

  “I know that. If you were, you wouldn’t look like one.”

  “Who told you that?”

  “I did.”

  “Hm. Well, is there something here you think I might understand?”

  “Yes. Here. Put out your hands.”

  Lupta put one of the objects into his proffered palms. As soon as his fingers made contact with whatever it was, his legs gave way beneath him, and he fell to the ground dumping the piece of trash Lupta had given him. He reached down and searched for it, seized by the same fervor that caught hold of him whenever he was reading the cards. There was one significant difference, however. When he read the cards his mind was able to make a pattern of the signs he was seeing. But there was no pattern here. Only chaos upon chaos. He saw a monstrous ship of war, with his mother, aged but still as much a harridan as ever, commanding the waters of the Izabella to burst through the divide between its natural bed and into the Hereafter, its crazed flood ripping apart what lay on the other side.

  “Chickentown,” he murmured.

  “You see it?” said Lupta’s brother.

  The Card-Reader nodded. “Being ripped apart.” He closed his eyes more tightly, as though he might blot out with a willed blindness the horrors he saw.

  “Have any of you heard any stories concerning the people of the Hereafter?” he asked the children.

  As before, there was frantic whispering. But he caught one of his visitors urging Lupta to tell him.

  “Tell me what?” the blind man said.

  “About people from a place called Chickentown. They’re just stories,” Lupta said. “I don’t know if any of them are true.”

  “Tell me anyway.”

  “Tell him about the girl. She’s the one everyone talks about,” said a third member of Lupta’s gang.

  “Candy . . . Quackenbush . . .” the blind man said, half to himself.

  “Have you seen her in your cards?” Lupta asked. “Do you know where she is?”

  “Why?”

  “You have, haven’t you?”

  “What would it matter if I had?”

  “I need to talk with her! I want to be like her! Everything she does people talk about.”

  “Like what?”

  Lupta’s voice became a whisper. “Our priest says it’s a sin to talk about her. Is he right?”

  “No, Lupta, I don’t believe he is.”

  “I’m going to run away one day. I am! I want to find her.”

  “You be careful,” the Card-Reader said. “It’s a dangerous time and it’s going to get worse.”

  “I don’t care.”

  “Well, at least come and say good-bye, child,” the Card-Reader said. He dug into his pocket and brought out a few paterzem.

  “Here,” he said, handing the coins over to Lupta. “Thank you for bringing the stuff up from the shore. Will you divide this between you? Fairly, now.”

  “Of course!” Lupta said. And happy with their reward she and her friends went off down the road to the village, leaving the Card-Reader with his thoughts and the collection of objects the current, the children, and circumstance had brought before him.

  The urchin and her gang had arrived at an opportune moment. Perhaps with the remnants they’d brought he could make better sense of the Spread. The cards and the trash had much in common: they were both collections of clues connecting what the world had been like in a better age. He went back into the house and sat at the table again, picking up the un-spread cards. He had only laid down another two when the card representing Candy Quackenbush appeared. It was easily identified. I Am They, the card was called. He could not recall having ever seen it before.

 
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