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The boy who could fly, p.1
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       The Boy Who Could Fly, p.1

           Laura Ruby
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The Boy Who Could Fly


  For Steve, for making order out of chaos.

  - Laura

  “I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories.”

  Washington Irving,

  from Tales of a Traveller, 1824

  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Mr Fuss Makes A Fuss

  Chapter One: The Saddest Little Rich Girl In The Universe

  Chapter Two: Eight Arms To Hold You

  Chapter Three: Pinkwater’S Momentary Lapse Of Concentration

  Chapter Four: Bad

  Chapter Five: Punk Rock

  Chapter Six: Patience And Fortitude

  Chapter Seven: The It Club

  Chapter Eight: Good Dog

  Chapter Nine: How Much Is That Demon In The Window?

  Chapter Ten: Mega Megatherium

  Chapter Eleven: Hero

  Chapter Twelve: Maybe It’S The Fangs

  Chapter Thirteen: Old Crow

  Chapter Fourteen: Mandelbrot

  Chapter Fifteen: Running Amuck

  Chapter Sixteen: The Queen Says “Stupid!”

  Chapter Seventeen: Hitting The Books

  Chapter Eighteen: Woof

  Chapter Nineteen: Ok, Potato

  Chapter Twenty: Hello, Hewitt

  Chapter Twenty One: The Book Of The Undead

  Chapter Twenty Two: Like You, Like You

  Chapter Twenty Three: Art Appreciation

  Chapter Twenty Four: Hangman

  Chapter Twenty Five: The Temple Of Dendur

  Chapter Twenty Six: Goddess Worship

  Chapter Twenty Seven: Chaos

  Fussy

  Also By Laura Ruby

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  The Chapter Before the First

  Mr Fuss Makes a Fuss

  He was too old for this, far too old. The storm drain was cold and damp and smelled of mildew. A thin trickle of water that wended its way down the concrete tunnel splashed each time he planted one of his feet. At first, he’d tried flying, but found it too exhausting to do for very long. Instead, he’d settled for this ungainly shuffle-run. The floor was slippery and he’d already fallen once, his knee bleeding through a tear in one trouser leg. (Lord, how he hated wearing trousers.)

  Still, he struggled on. In one arm, he held what looked like a human hand mounted on a black marble base; in the other, a tiny gilded birdcage in which a blue budgie twittered and sang. Various other items bulged in the pockets of his jacket. A white kitten popped her head from his breast pocket, saw where she was, squeaked, and pulled her head back in.

  Where are we going? The Answer Hand said, using sign language.

  The Professor grunted. “I hate it when you ask questions you know the answers to.”

  The cats aren’t happy.

  Behind The Professor, more than a hundred cats hopped daintily around the trickle of water and wrinkled their noses at the mouldy smell.

  “Are cats ever happy?”

  You’d be surprised, said The Answer Hand. Sun spots on carpets make them happy. A good long nap. Chewing on the houseplants. Sitting on the laps of people who can’t stand them. The Answer Hand pointed accusingly with its index finger before beginning again: Cats don’t like wet things. They don’t like stinky things. The cats, The Hand said, are very annoyed.

  The Professor glanced back and had to agree, though he would never say so. “I thought you weren’t supposed to give any answers unless I asked you a specific question?”

  You asked if cats were ever happy and I told you. As for the rest, maybe I’m getting tired of waiting to be asked.

  “Perfect,” The Professor replied. “That’s just what I need.”

  What you need is to move faster.

  “You are so helpful. Where’s the man now?”

  He’s still a few kilometres back, The Answer Hand signed. But gaining. He dislikes you intensely.

  “I figured that out myself.”

  Amazing! Well, that’s something to celebrate. Which we could do if we were back at home instead of running through the bowels of the city because we lost the most powerful object we’d ever invented.

  “Who’s this ‘we’ that you’re talking about? I invented the pen.”

  And then you lost it. And that’s not the only thing you lost. I wouldn’t be so proud of myself if I were you.

  “I’m not proud of myself,” The Professor snapped.

  Also something to celebrate, signed The Answer Hand. The Professor was astonished that something that didn’t even have its own face could achieve such magnificent sarcasm.

  “At least we know the crows have the pen,” said The Professor.

  I told you who had the pen. But that’s not going to help much if we can’t get to them before they do something stupid. You know how they are about shiny things. I think you need to reconsider my plan.

  “It’s too complicated. It will never work. Besides, you also told me that the book is in the library. It’s safe.”

  Is it? said The Hand.

  “Of course it is,” The Professor huffed. “Nobody can awaken the book unless they use the pen, and then only if they write precisely the correct thing. Only if the pen wants it to happen. And the odds of that are—”

  Fifteen trillion to one, The Hand said.

  “See? Impossible.”

  For once, The Answer Hand didn’t answer. Thoughtfully, it rubbed its thumb and middle finger together. Then: In this city, nothing is impossible. For example, take a look behind you. The Professor turned to see a large dark figure moving obscenely fast through the tunnel. The figure wasn’t flying. He was walking briskly on the side of the tunnel, his body perfectly parallel to the wet floor. As The Professor watched, the figure strode around to the top of the tunnel, so that he was walking upside down.

  How does he keep his trench coat from flopping around his ears? The Answer Hand asked.

  “I thought you knew the answer to everything,” The Professor said.

  I don’t know the answer to that.

  “You’re scaring me,” said The Professor.

  It’s about time.

  The budgie stopped twittering. Some of the cats began to growl.

  “Is he afraid of cats?” The Professor asked hopefully.

  No, signed The Answer Hand. Not even a little.

  “Darn,” whispered The Professor.

  Things were getting out of control, thought Mr Fuss. And Mr Fuss didn’t like when things were out of control. What made Mr Fuss fussy: messes, troubles, unruliness, vexation or chaos.

  In short, Mr Fuss didn’t like fuss.

  Odd, then, that he had chosen to live and work in this vast and sparkling city, this city at the centre of the universe, the city that was the very definition of messes, troubles, unruliness, vexation, and chaos. Odder still that it was his job to tidy things up.

  What we do for money, thought Mr Fuss.

  He could see the little man with his ridiculous green hair and his pathetic army of felines up ahead. Good. One thing he could cross off his list for the day. As Mr Fuss walked, he pulled his day planner and a tiny pencil from his pocket. He read through his list:

  Bull in china shop.

  Runaway carousel horses.

  “Magic” pretzels for sale on the corner of Sixth and Thirty-third (if you ate one, you could understand any language spoken to you, though effects were temporary).

  Fortune-teller on Upper East Side telling actual fortunes.

  The Professor.

  Mr Fuss put a check mark next to this last line and tucked the day planner and pencil back in his pocket.

  The Professor started to run, if you co
uld call the awkward hobbling of an ancient man running. Really. Such a waste of time and effort. Where was the man going to go? This storm drain went on for kilometres. Plus, high tide was coming. Any minute now The Professor and his nasty little menagerie would be washed out to sea. If it had been up to Mr Fuss, that’s exactly what he’d want to happen, too, a tidy ending to an untidy person. But his employer had other ideas.

  Mr Fuss’s phone rang. Sighing, Mr Fuss flipped it open. “Fuss here,” he said. “Yes, I have him. Well, nearly. He’s about fifty metres ahead of me. I won’t lose him.” There was a pause and Mr Fuss rolled his queer, amber-coloured eyes. “Of course I won’t hurt the man. Why would I hurt the man?” Another pause. “But that was an accident.” More eye rolling. “And that was an accident too. Well, perhaps that wasn’t entirely an accident, but… Yes, yes. I promise, no more accidents. Yes, sir, we are clear. Clear as glass. Clear as water. Clear as air. Clear as….” He looked at the phone, frowning. His employer had hung up.

  That was another thing about this city that Mr Fuss couldn’t stand: everyone was so unspeakably rude.

  The Professor had sped up a bit, the awkward hobbling now a sort of crazed shambling.

  Funny that he still gets reception even seventy floors below ground, signed The Answer Hand.

  “Yes,” said The Professor. “Funny.”

  Almost high tide, said The Answer Hand. What are you going to do?

  “You know the answer to that.” The Professor looked to his right, where a rusted grate sealed off another tunnel. “Can you open it?”

  No, The Hand replied. But the budgie can get through the openings in the grate. And so can the cats. The tunnel goes all the way to the surface. They’ll be fine.

  The Professor nodded. He heard the distant roar of water rushing. He unlatched the door on the gilded birdcage. The budgie flew in circles around The Professor’s head. “Go,” he told the bird. “Find Gurl. Find Bug. Do what you can.”

  The budgie, who spoke English, French, Italian, German, Polish, pig Latin, and could request a cab in Croatian, said, “Ood-gay uck-lay!” before darting through the grate. The army of cats followed suit, shrinking their seemingly boneless bodies through the slats, mewling their farewells as they did. Last to leave was the tiny white kitten, who licked The Professor’s face before disappearing.

  The Professor watched them go. “Well,” he said to The Answer Hand. “It looks like it’s just you and me.”

  Yep, signed The Answer Hand.

  “That guy’s going to be really mad,” said The Professor mildly. Mr Fuss was still upside down in the tunnel, but now he was the one running. Underneath the man, a frothing wall of water surged towards The Professor.

  He’s mad all right, signed The Answer Hand, just before the water hit them.

  Mr Fuss punched open the manhole cover and climbed up on to the street, ignoring the cars that swerved to avoid him. As The Professor had predicted, Mr Fuss was mad. More than mad. He was irked, vexed, and most definitely put out. He had never thought that the crazy old man would just allow the tide to sweep him out to sea, and with him The Answer Hand, the location of the pen, and certain other items of interest. His employer would not be happy, that was certain. Even if it was an accident. (And it absolutely was an accident.)

  Pushing through the crowds of would-be flyers – fools! – he strode across the street and found a bench. He sat, pulled his phone from his pocket and hit speed dial. “It’s me,” he said. “He’s gone.” Pause. “No! High tide rolled in and took The Professor with it.” Another long pause. “What do you mean, forget about it?” Mr Fuss’s eyes widened. “What about the pen?” His fingers scratched at the wood of the bench, dragging up paint and slivers of wood. “Yes, sir, but what if the pen isn’t at The Professor’s apartment? What if he gave it to someone else to hold for him? What if he’s invented other things? There’s no telling how much chaos—” The splinters of wood bit into the tips of Mr Fuss’s fingers, but he didn’t seem to notice. “I know there are plenty of other things to do, but-”

  He rifled through his pockets with his free hand and found his day planner, in which several newspaper articles were clipped. These he unfolded. “There were two children he spent some time with several months ago. Maybe he told them something. Maybe—” He made a fist and pounded the seat of the bench, but didn’t change his tone. “Yes, I understand. I won’t approach the children.” He shook his head no while saying, “Yes, I will move on to the next item on my list. I will not jeopardise my employment. I won’t—” He looked at the phone. His employer had hung up. Again.

  Mr Fuss squeezed the phone so hard that he crushed the metal. Then he tossed the phone over his shoulder. His employer was losing his touch. How were they supposed to keep control of this city if there was no follow-up? No follow through?

  No, thought Mr Fuss. This would not do at all. If his employer was not willing to step up to the plate, then Mr Fuss would have to take matters into his own hands. And he wouldn’t have to jeopardise his employment, either. As a matter of fact, if Mr Fuss were to find the pen on his own, he was certain that he would be compensated handsomely. Perhaps he’d even take his employer’s job.

  A small, unpleasant smile played at Mr Fuss’s lips as he consulted his notes and the newspaper clippings. The girl was living with her ludicrously wealthy parents now, and the boy was starring in television adverts. Wasn’t that special? There was a chance that one or the other had information about The Professor and his various inventions and could be convinced to give that information up. It was a small chance, but it was one that must be taken.

  But the children would be difficult to get to. Freelancers, unfortunately, would have to be hired. Mr Fuss could not afford to be associated with the plan until the mission was completed.

  Mr Fuss refolded the articles and clipped them into the planner. The planner then went back into the coat pocket. Suddenly, Mr Fuss was very tired. And in addition to formulating some sort of plan to find the pen, he still had four other unfinished tasks on his list for today. Ah well. He could go get himself a “magic” pretzel first. And he would take the subway uptown. Unlike most people who lived in the city, Mr Fuss enjoyed the subway. It was quiet and gloomy and most of the idiots who thought they could fly didn’t bother with it. He didn’t even mind the alligators. Sweet, really, when you got to know them. Mr Fuss took a moment to admire his own alligator-skin boots.

  Mr Fuss stood up from the bench, walked over to the Bleecker Street subway station and trudged down the steps.

  There, at the bottom of the steps, was a leather-clad, Mohawk-haired, combat boot–wearing Punk spray-painting a message on the wall: SID WAS HERE. Next to this, the Punk had painted something that looked like a beetle or maybe a happy face with a birthday hat. It was difficult to tell. Still, the Punk was concentrating on this bit of nonsense as if it were the finest work of art that had ever been painted.

  Hmmm, thought Mr Fuss. This could work.

  After about ten minutes, the Punk noticed Mr Fuss. “Whatcha lookin’ at?” he snarled, his wolfish eyes black as, er, black.

  Mr Fuss smiled politely. “You’re quite the artist.”

  The Punk blinked. “Not that anyone appreciates it.”

  “Oh,” said Mr Fuss, “I am a great appreciator of art like yours. Outsider art – art produced by those people outside the traditional art establishment.”

  “I’m not in any tradition,” the Punk barked. “I’m not in any establishment.”

  “Of course you’re not,” said Mr Fuss smoothly. “You know, I believe you could make a lot of money. If you knew the right people.”

  “I could?”

  “Oh, absolutely.”

  The Punk set his spray can on the ground. “Are you the right people?”

  Mr Fuss smiled. “I am exactly the right people.”

  Chapter 1

  The Saddest Little Rich Girl in the Universe

  Her given name was Georgetta Rose Aster Bloomington,
and she was, literally, The Richest Girl in the Universe. Most people would find this to be a pleasant situation involving lots of shopping and diamonds and yachting around the Mediterranean, but not Georgetta Rose Aster Bloomington. She didn’t care much about having more money than everyone else.

  But other people cared.

  A lot.

  People like Roma Radisson.

  Roma Radisson was officially The Second-richest Girl in the Universe. And she was not happy about it. Roma was doing her very best to make sure that everybody, especially Georgetta Rose Aster Bloomington, knew it.

  “I hope you all found the dinosaurs as fascinating as I did! Next up is the Hall of Primitive Mammals,” said Ms Storia as she led the girls of the Prince School through the American Museum of Natural History.

  “Primitive Mammals,” Roma repeated. “Well, Georgetta Bloomington should be right at home.”

  As the other girls snickered, Georgetta, or Georgie, as her parents called her, flushed angrily and looked down at the floor. She had been at the Prince School for just three weeks, but she had already spent many days flushing angrily and staring at the floors. And now here she was, on her very first school trip, counting dots in the tiles while she tried to follow her parents’ advice. Just ignore it. But just ignoring it wasn’t going so well.

  “I hear that those ancient mammals were giants, too,” Roma said. “Maybe there’s a giant monkey in there. Maybe it’s your long-lost aunt.”

  You’re the monkey, thought Georgie. Except that was too stupid to say. Also, an insult to monkeys. Dunkleosteus, a vicious sea predator with jaws so sharp they could cut through bone – now that was more like Roma. Georgie almost said so, but she knew that just saying the word Dunkleosteus would get her labelled the worst sort of egghead-nerd-freak. At the Prince School, it was not cool to know things.

  “That’s enough, Roma,” said Ms Storia, as if that was going to stop Roma. Roma had been keeping up a steady stream of insults since they came to the museum. Georgie was related to the walrus. Georgie was related to the squid (which Roma had wrongly called an octopus. Georgie made the mistake of pointing out the obvious differences between a squid and an octopus, something that Roma said only proved her point).

 
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