The knife of never letti.., p.1
The Knife of Never Letting Go, p.1Part #1 of Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
Copyright 2008 by Patrick Ness
Cover photograph copyright 2009 by Brad Wilson/Stone/Getty Images (landscape)
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
First U.S. electronic edition 2010
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Ness, Patrick, date.
The knife of never letting go / Patrick Ness. — 1st U.S. ed.
p. cm. (Chaos walking ; [bk. 1])
Summary: Pursued by power-hungry Prentiss and mad minister Aaron, young Todd and Viola set out across New World searching for answers about his colony’s true past and seeking a way to warn the ship bringing hopeful settlers from Old World.
ISBN 978-0-7636-3931-0 (hardcover)
[1. Science fiction. 2. Social problems — Fiction. 3. Telepathy — Fiction. 4. Human-animal communication — Fiction. 5. Space colonies — Fiction.] I. Title. II. Series.
[Fic] — dc22 2007052334
ISBN 978-0-7636-4576-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-7636-5216-6 (electronic)
99 Dover Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
visit us at www.candlewick.com
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”
“I said shut it.”
We’re walking across the wild fields south-east of town, those ones that slope down to the river and head on towards the swamp. Ben’s sent me to pick him some swamp apples and he’s made me take Manchee with me, even tho we all know Cillian only bought him to stay on Mayor Prentiss’s good side and so suddenly here’s this brand new dog as a present for my birthday last year when I never said I wanted any dog, that what I said I wanted was for Cillian to finally fix the fissionbike so I wouldn’t have to walk every forsaken place in this stupid town, but oh, no, happy birthday, Todd, here’s a brand new puppy, Todd, and even tho you don’t want him, even tho you never asked for him, guess who has to feed him and train him and wash him and take him for walks and listen to him jabber now he’s got old enough for the talking germ to set his mouth moving? Guess who?
“Poo,” Manchee barks quietly to himself. “Poo, poo, poo.”
“Just have yer stupid poo and quit yapping about it.”
I take a switch of grass from beside the trail and I swat after him with it. I don’t reach him, I don’t mean to reach him, but he just laughs his little barking laugh and carries on down the trail. I follow after him, switching the switch against the grass on either side, squinting from the sun, trying not to think about nothing at all.
We don’t need apples from the swamp, truth to tell. Ben can buy them at Mr Phelps’s store if he really wants them. Also true: going to the swamp to pick a few apples is not a job for a man cuz men are never allowed to be so idle. Now, I won’t officially become a man for thirty more days. I’ve lived twelve years of thirteen long months each and another twelve months besides, all of which living means I’m still one month away from the big birthday. The plans are being planned, the preparayshuns prepared, it will be a party, I guess, tho I’m starting to get some strange pictures about it, all dark and too bright at the same time, but nevertheless I will become a man and picking apples in the swamp is not a job for a man or even an almost-man.
But Ben knows he can ask me to go and he knows I’ll say yes to going because the swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta theirselves, all their clamour and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep, men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their Noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.
Men are Noisy creachers.
“Squirrel!” Manchee shouts and off he goes, jumping off the trail, no matter how loud I yell after him, and off I have to go, too, across the (I look round to make sure I’m alone) goddam fields cuz Cillian’ll have a fit if Manchee falls down some goddam snake hole and of course it’ll be my own goddam fault even tho I never wanted the goddam dog in the goddam first place.
“Manchee! Get back here!”
I have to kick my way thru the grass, getting grublets stuck to my shoes. One smashes as I kick it off, leaving a green smear across my trainers, which I know from experience ain’t coming out. “Manchee!” I rage.
“Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel!”
He’s barking round the tree and the squirrel’s skittering back and forth on the tree trunk, taunting him. Come on, Whirler dog, says its Noise. Come on, come get, come on, come get. Whirler Whirler Whirler.
“Squirrel, Todd! Squirrel!”
Goddam, animals are stupid.
I grab Manchee by the collar and hit him hard across his back leg. “Ow, Todd? Ow?” I hit him again. And again. “Ow? Todd?”
“Come on,” I say, my own Noise raging so loud I can barely hear myself think, which is something I’m about to regret, you watch.
Whirler boy, Whirler boy, thinks the squirrel at me. Come get, Whirler boy.
“You can eff off, too,” I say, except I don’t say “eff”, I say what “eff” stands for.
And I really, really shoulda looked round again.
Cuz here’s Aaron, right here, rising outta the grass from nowhere, rising up and smacking me cross the face, scratching my lip with his big ring, then bringing his hand back the other way, closed as a fist, catching my cheekbone but at least missing my nose because I’m falling into the grass, trying to fall away from his punch, and I let go of Manchee’s collar and off he runs back to the squirrel, barking his head off, the traitor, and I hit the grass with my knees and my hands, getting grublet stains all over everything.
And I stay there, on the ground, breathing.
Aaron stands over me, his Noise coming at me in fragments of scripture and of his next sermon and Language, young Todd and the finding of a sacrifice and the saint chooses his path and God hears and the wash of pictures that’s in everyone’s Noise, of things familiar and glancing flashes of–
What? What the forsaken–?
But up flies a loud bit of his sermon to block it out and I look up into his eyes and suddenly I don’t wanna know. I can already taste the blood where his ring cut my lip and I don’t wanna know. He never comes out here, men never do, they have their reasons, men do, and it’s just me and my dog only ever but here he is and I don’t don’t don’t wanna know.
He smiles down at me, thru that beard of his, smiles down at me in the grass.
A smiling fist.
“Language, young Todd,” he says, “binds us like prisoners on a chain. Haven’t you learned anything from yer church, boy?” And then he says his most familiar preaching. “If one of us falls, we all fall.”
Yes, Aaron, I think.
“With yer mouth, Todd.”
“Yes, Aaron,” I say.
“And the effs?” he says. “And the geedees? Because don’t think I didn’t hear them as well. Your Noise reveals you. Reveals us all.”
Not all, I think, but at the same time I say, “Sorry, Aaron.”
He leans down to me
And he raises a hand again and I flinch and he laughs and then he’s gone, like that, heading back towards the town, taking his Noise with him.
I’m shaking from the charge to my blood at being hit, shaking from being so fired up and so surprised and so angry and so much hating this town and the men in it that it takes me a while till I can get up and go get my dog again. What was he effing doing out here anyway? I think and I’m so hacked off, still so raging with anger and hate (and fear, yes, fear, shut up) that I don’t even look round to see if Aaron heard my Noise. I don’t look round. I don’t look round.
And then I do look round and I go and get my dog.
“Aaron, Todd? Aaron?”
“Don’t say that name again, Manchee.”
“Bleeding, Todd. Todd? Todd? Todd? Bleeding?”
“I know. Shut up.”
“Whirler,” he says, as if it don’t mean nothing, his head as empty as the sky.
I smack his rump. “Don’t say that neither.”
We keep on walking, staying clear of the river on our left. It runs down thru a series of gulches at the east of town, starting way up to the north past our farm and coming down the side of the town till it flattens out into a marshy part that eventually becomes the swamp. You have to avoid the river and especially that marshy part before the swamp trees start cuz that’s where the crocs live, easily big enough to kill an almost-man and his dog. The sails on their backs look just like a row of rushes and if you get too close, WHOOM! – outta the water they come, flying at you with their claws grasping and their mouths snapping and you pretty much ain’t got no chance at all then.
We get ourselves down past the marshy part and I try to take in the swamp quiet as it approaches. There’s nothing to see down here no more, really, which is why men don’t come. And the smell, too, I don’t pretend it don’t smell, but it don’t smell nearly so bad as men make out. They’re smelling their memories, they are, they’re not smelling what’s really here, they’re smelling it like it was then. All the dead things. Spacks and men had different ideas for burial. Spacks just used the swamp, threw their dead right into the water, let ’em sink, which was fine cuz they were suited for swamp burial, I guess. That’s what Ben says. Water and muck and Spackle skin worked fine together, didn’t poison nothing, just made the swamp richer, like men do to soil.
Then suddenly, of course, there were a whole lot more spacks to bury than normal, too many for even a swamp this big to swallow, and it’s a ruddy big swamp, too. And then there were no live spacks at all, were there? Just spack bodies in heaps, piling up in the swamp and rotting and stinking and it took a long time for the swamp to become swamp again and not just a mess of flies and smells and who knows what extra germs they’d kept saved up for us.
I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded sematary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise. My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there. Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me. Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma. Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?
I am the youngest of the whole town, tho. I used to come out and throw rocks at field crows with Reg Oliver (seven months and 8 days older) and Liam Smith (four months and 29 days older) and Seb Mundy who was next youngest to me, three months and a day older, but even he don’t talk to me no more now that he’s a man.
No boys do once they turn thirteen.
Which is how it goes in Prentisstown. Boys become men and they go to their men-only meetings to talk about who knows what and boys most definitely ain’t allowed and if yer the last boy in town, you just have to wait, all by yerself.
Well, you and a dog you don’t want.
But never mind, here’s the swamp and in we go, sticking to the paths that take us round and over the worst of the water, weaving our way round the big, bulby trees that grow up and outta the bog to the needly roof, metres and metres up. The air’s thick and it’s dark and it’s heavy, but it’s not a frightening kind of thick and dark and heavy. There’s lots of life here, loads of it, just ignoring the town as you please, birds and green snakes and frogs and kivits and both kinds of squirrel and (I promise you) a cassor or two and sure there’s red snakes to watch out for but even tho it’s dark, there’s slashes of light that come down from holes in the roof and if you ask me, which you may not be, I grant you that, to me the swamp’s like one big, comfy, not very Noisy room. Dark but living, living but friendly, friendly but not grasping.
Manchee lifts his leg on practically everything till he must be running outta pee and then he heads off under a bush, burbling to himself, finding a place to do his other business, I guess.
But the swamp don’t mind. How could it? It’s all just life, going over itself, returning and cycling and eating itself to grow. I mean, it’s not that it’s not Noisy here. Sure it is, there’s no escaping Noise, not nowhere at all, but it’s quieter than the town. The loud is a different kind of loud, because swamp loud is just curiosity, creachers figuring out who you are and if yer a threat. Whereas the town knows all about you already and wants to know more and wants to beat you with what it knows till how can you have any of yerself left at all?
Swamp Noise, tho, swamp Noise is just the birds all thinking their worrisome little birdie thoughts. Where’s food? Where’s home? Where’s my safety? And the waxy squirrels, which are all little punks, teasing you if they see you, teasing themselves if they don’t, and the rusty squirrels, which are like dumb little kids, and sometimes there’s swamp foxes out in the leaves who you can hear faking their Noise to sound like the squirrels they eat and even less often there are mavens singing their weird maven songs and once I swear I saw a cassor running away on two long legs but Ben says I didn’t, says the cassors are long gone from the swamp.
I don’t know. I believe me.
Manchee comes outta the bushes and sits down next to me cuz I’ve stopped right there in the middle of a trail. He looks around to see what I might be seeing and then he says, “Good poo, Todd.”
“I’m sure it was, Manchee.”
I’d better not get another ruddy dog when my birthday comes. What I want this year is a hunting knife like the one Ben carries on the back of his belt. Now that’s a present for a man.
“Poo,” Manchee says quietly.
On we walk. The main bunch of apple trees are a little ways into the swamp, down a few paths and over a fallen log that Manchee always needs help over. When we get there, I pick him up around his stomach and lift him to the top. Even tho he knows what I’m doing, he still kicks his legs all over the place like a falling spider, making a fuss for no reason at all.
“Hold still, you gonk!”
“Down, down, down!” he yelps, scrabbling away at the air.
I plop him on top the log and climb up myself. We both jump down to the other side, Manchee barking “Jump!” as he lands and keeping on barking “Jump!” as he runs off.
The leap over the log is where the dark of the swamp really starts and the first thing you see are the old Spackle buildings, leaning out towards you from shadow, looking like melting blobs of tan-coloured ice cream except hut-sized. No one knows or can remember what they were ever sposed to be but best guess by Ben, who’s a best guess kinda guy, is that they had something to do with burying their dead. Maybe even some kind of church, even tho the spacks didn’t have no kind of religion anyone from Prentisstown could reckernize.
I keep a wide distance from them and go into the little grove of wild apple trees. The apples are ripe, nearly black, almost edible, as Cillian would say. I pick one off the trunk and take a bite, the juic
“What, Manchee?” I take out the plastic bag I’ve got folded in my back pocket and start filling it with apples.
“Todd?” he barks again and this time I notice how he’s barking it and I turn and he’s pointed at the Spackle buildings and his fur’s all ridged up on his back and his ears are flicking all over the place.
I stand up straight. “What is it, boy?”
He’s growling now, his lips pulled back over his teeth. I feel the charge in my blood again. “Is it a croc?” I say.
“Quiet, Todd,” Manchee growls.
“But what is it?”
“Is quiet, Todd.” He lets out a little bark and it’s a real bark, a real dog bark that means nothing but “Bark!” and my body electricity goes up a bit, like charges are going to start leaping outta my skin. “Listen,” he growls.
And so I listen.
And I listen.
And I turn my head a little and I listen some more.
There’s a hole in the Noise.
Which can’t be.
It’s weird, it is, out there, hiding somewhere, in the trees or somewhere outta sight, a spot where your ears and your mind are telling you there’s no Noise. It’s like a shape you can’t see except by how everything else around it is touching it. Like water in the shape of a cup, but with no cup. It’s a hole and everything that falls into it stops being Noise, stops being anything, just stops altogether. It’s not like the quiet of the swamp, which is never quiet obviously, just less Noisy. But this, this is a shape, a shape of nothing, a hole where all Noise stops.
Which is impossible.
There ain’t nothing but Noise in this world, nothing but the constant thoughts of men and things coming at you and at you and at you, ever since the spacks released the Noise germ during the war, the germ that killed half the men and every single woman, my ma not excepted, the germ that drove the rest of the men mad, the germ that spelled the end for all Spackle once men’s madness picked up a gun.
“Todd?” Manchee’s spooked, I can hear it. “What, Todd? What’s it, Todd?”
“Can you smell anything?”
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness / Young Adult / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes