The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, p.16Walter Moers
‘That’s the attitude,’ said Kibitzer. ‘Your fear fills me with hope. Your terrors are your friends, so foster them. Think of all the frightful experiences you underwent down there. Think of them as often as you can.’
‘I dream of them every night,’ I said. ‘I don’t have to call them to mind.’
‘Good,’ wheezed Kibitzer. ‘Very good, but all the same … Inazia, please bring him the map.’
The Uggly went over to the table on which Kibitzer had spread out a map shortly before. She came back and handed it to me.
‘Take a good look at it,’ said Kibitzer. ‘It’s a Vertical Labyrinthine Map. Personally compiled by Colophonius Regenschein in the course of years-long excursions into the catacombs. A masterpiece of speleocartography. It’s worth a fortune, but I haven’t bequeathed it to you for financial reasons. Its practical value is far greater – inestimable, in fact. Keep it with you all the time. Constantly, wherever you go. Will you promise me that?’
I nodded, even though I wasn’t too attracted by the thought of carrying a map of the Labyrinth around with me all the time. My eyes were still so full of tears, I couldn’t make out very much. All I vaguely saw was a maze of white and grey zigzag lines. The map meant nothing to me.
‘The white lines are the correct routes – insofar as one can talk of correct routes down there. At least they’re less dangerous than others. There are no undangerous routes in the catacombs, as you know, but the tunnels, flights of steps and caves marked in white are the ones which, in Regenschein’s experience, harbour the fewest unpleasant surprises. The ones marked in pale grey are the dangerous ones. They should be avoided. The dark grey routes are lethal. They are not to be followed at any price, for what awaits one there is certain death of one kind or another. Or something even worse, for in the catacombs there are worse things than death. You see the cross on the map?’
Yes, I could see a big cross on the map. Although nothing could have mattered to me less at that moment, I nodded.
‘That wasn’t made by Regenschein, but by … someone else …’
‘Someone else? Who?’
Kibitzer was breathing heavily. ‘That’s immaterial now. What do you think that cross signifies?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, puzzled. ‘Some important spot in the catacombs?’
‘The cross means treasure!’ Kibitzer exclaimed. ‘Don’t you ever read pirate romances? Treasure is always marked with a cross.’
‘This is a treasure map, you mean?’
‘No. That’s to say, metaphorically speaking, yes …’ He raised his head with an effort. ‘Now listen carefully and I’ll tell you what to do when the time comes.’
‘When the time comes for what?’
‘You’ll know … if it happens.’
The Nocturnomath was speaking in riddles more and more. His voice had grown fainter, but his breathing was all the more hectic.
‘When the time comes, you must scratch the paint off the cross on the map – it’s painted on – and then press down on the spot. Have you got that?’
‘Yes,’ I said uncertainly. I really did have more important concerns than some damned cross on a map I would never use. My friend was dying and he was wasting his precious time on this cryptic nonsense.
‘Take the map,’ Kibitzer commanded. ‘Put it in your pocket. Take it everywhere with you!’
I folded up the map and put it in an inner pocket. At least that disposed of the subject. Kibitzer grasped my paw.
‘I’ll be there soon … I’ll be there soon,’ he gasped.
Inazia moved closer to us. Looking at her, I was shocked by the despair in her eyes.
‘It’s time …’ she whispered.
Kibitzer raised his head once more. ‘I’m immensely glad you came, Optimus. I’m happy to be able to die in the company of the three people who meant most to me in my life.’
Three people? Inazia and I made two. Then I realised that he wasn’t delirious. The third person he’d alluded to was Professor Abdul Nightingale, whose works surrounded us on all sides in his shop. To Kibitzer, books had always possessed more personality than living creatures.
‘This is all happening too quickly for you, isn’t it? You’ve suddenly thought of so many questions you still wanted to ask me, haven’t you?’
He was right in a terrible way, but I didn’t want to put him under any pressure, not now.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve no more questions for you. Don’t exert yourself.’
Kibitzer grinned with difficulty. ‘Never lie to a Nocturnomath,’ he said. ‘I can read people’s thoughts, had you forgotten that yet again? I will answer one question because it outweighs every other thought in your head.’
He drew three deep breaths.
‘You want to know if I believe that the Shadow King has returned.’
What else could I do but nod?
‘No,’ he whispered, ‘I don’t believe he has returned, for how can anyone return …’ – he drew another deep breath – ‘… who has never been away?’
Then he closed his eyes for ever.
I DON’T KNOW how long it was before I managed to tear my gaze away from the dead Nocturnomath. You always think that the sight of a dead person whom you’ve loved must be unbearable, but if you’re confronted by the irrevocable fact that you’ll never set eyes on that body again, parting from it is harder than you can imagine. That was how I felt about Kibitzer’s corpse.
It was only when I awakened from my mournful trance that I noticed the Uggly had left the room. I could hear her moving around somewhere and found her standing in front of a bookcase at the back of the shop, busily rearranging its contents. She had her back to me.
‘Everything here needs completely reorganising,’ Inazia muttered absently. ‘This isn’t a bookshop, it’s utter chaos. How did he classify them? By colour? By weight? I can’t detect any system at all. It was high time the place got sorted out.’
Her callousness horrified me. Kibitzer had only just died – his body was still warm – and she had embarked on a spring-clean.
Then she turned round. Her eyes were filled with tears, and I had never seen anyone look more helpless and hopeless.
‘How could he do this to me?’ she demanded in a trembling voice. ‘He was my only friend in this city. We did everything together in recent years. We shared everything. Joy and sorrow – everything! How could he simply leave me on my own?’
I now realised how unimportant my own sorrow was compared to hers. She had plunged into this bout of activity so as not to succumb to despair or lose her reason. Her whole existence had been suddenly rent asunder.
‘I’ll have to deal with everything. Reorganise the whole place, everything!’ she babbled. ‘The books, the estate, the papers, the death duties, the funeral. I must make an inventory! Definitely! I must write everything down, rearrange and catalogue everything. New prices! I’ll write new prices in the books and rub out the old ones. Everything’ll be tidied up.’
She tottered over to another bookcase. ‘Three brains! No wonder the whole place is in such chaos. That screwball! He used to sprinkle sugar on his boiled eggs, put salt in his coffee and brush his teeth with whipped cream. Nothing mattered to him as long as his brains could solve some crazy Nightingalian equation with a hundred unknown quantities. It wasn’t like living with a loony. Oh no, it was like living with demented triplets! If he went shopping on his own he’d come back with a sack of birdseed and forty pairs of underpants instead of bread and milk – and he didn’t own any birds and never wore underpants!’ Inazia chucked a pile of books on the floor and laughed insanely.
‘I had to take care of everything. Everything! He would have starved to death at his desk or died of hypothermia because he’d forgotten to stoke the fire. What do I do, now I’ve got nothing left to take care of? How can I live without Ahmed?’ Still babbling to herself, she nonsensically shifted books from one shelf to another. ‘I’ll make an inventory
‘I’ll help you,’ I said helplessly. ‘I’ll help you with the funeral arrangements too, and …’
Inazia gave start. She abruptly fell silent and froze for several seconds, as if suddenly turned to stone. At last she very slowly turned and gave me a long, strange look that made my blood run cold. Then, in a cold, crystalline voice, she said, ‘No. No thank you, Optimus. He wouldn’t have wanted that. I shall take care of everything. That was his last wish. We discussed it at great length.’
‘So what would you like me to do?’ I asked. I honestly had no idea how to deal with the situation and was feeling completely redundant.
‘Please don’t misunderstand me,’ said the Uggly. ‘I genuinely appreciate your sympathy and am grateful for it, but there’s nothing you can do to help at the moment. I don’t need any help. That isn’t the way we Ugglies deal with bereavement. Believe me, you don’t want to know what I’ll do as soon as you leave me alone with Kibitzer. It’s Ugglian mourning, understand?’
I nodded although I naturally failed to understand a thing.
‘Kibitzer understood,’ she said with a melancholy smile. ‘That’s why he stipulated that I should handle the funeral and his estate by myself. I’ll also take care of the letters he left you and make sure they’re posted.’
‘As you wish,’ I said. If the truth be told, I was rather relieved by Inazia’s resolute approach to the situation. She had pulled herself together in a trice. Ugglian mourning, eh? So much the better. I also preferred to be alone at this juncture.
‘I suggest’, said Inazia, ‘that we meet at the same time tomorrow. The worst will be over by then and I’d like to comply with another of Kibitzer’s wishes. The thing is, he asked me to take you to the theatre on the day after his death.’
‘The theatre?’ I was perplexed.
She nodded. ‘A very special theatre – the one he liked best of all. He thought you should definitely see it, and since he himself will be unavailable tomorrow—’
‘I understand,’ I replied quickly. ‘Then of course we’ll go. Where shall we meet?’
‘Do you know Revolution Square? Where they burned Naborik Bigosu to death? The Bookemist?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I know where it is.’
‘Good,’ said Inazia, ‘then let’s meet there.’ She looked around and rubbed her hands. ‘In that case …’ She proceeded to rearrange some books and behave as if I wasn’t there any more.
I stole quietly out of the shop.
Dried Laurel Leaves
AFTER AN ALMOST sleepless night I spent the next morning roaming the alleyways of Bookholm in the blackest of moods, unable to summon up any interest in the sights the city had to offer. My thoughts revolved ceaselessly around the events of the previous day and the question of whether I shouldn’t simply leave without saying goodbye to Inazia. My whole trip had been a disastrous miscalculation. All it had yielded so far was a series of unpleasant experiences: a Fumoir binge, a spell of mental derangement and a dear friend’s death – all in two days. What if this streak of bad luck persisted or even got worse? There was no escaping my present emotional nadir, so why should I spend a distressing evening with the Uggly on top of everything else? I dared not imagine what ‘Ugglian mourning’ really signified and how long it lasted. Moreover, why should I continue to beat my brains about a mysterious letter whose meaning not even a three-brained Nocturnomath had been able to decipher? My sojourn in Bookholm had become utterly pointless.
Pulling my cowl down lower over my face, I entered a small but well-patronised café in the hope that a strong coffee would raise my spirits. A sign announced that the establishment sold hot drinks in takeaway mugs made of compressed book pages that could be discarded once you’d drunk their contents. This was a Bookholm novelty and I was eager to try it once.
When I finally reached the counter and placed my order after standing in a long queue, the pretty Elfin waitress asked, ‘Dwarf, Voltigork or Turniphead?’
‘Er,’ I replied, thoroughly perplexed. ‘I’m not any of those, I’m a …’ I stopped short. Should I really tell her I was a Lindworm? What business was it of hers?
‘They’re mug sizes,’ she said in a slightly irritable tone of voice. ‘Dwarf is small, Voltigork medium and Turniphead large.’
‘Oh, in that case, er … a Voltigork, please,’ I said.
‘Chocked, shugged, mulked or moggled?’
The Elf cast her eyes up to heaven.
‘With chocolate, with sugar, with milk, or with everything?’
‘Oh, I see. Er, just black please. I’m on a diet.’
‘Black?’ she said. ‘Then you’ll miss out on the moggle discount. This is our grand moggle week. There’s a fifty per cent reduction on coffee with everything.’ She pointed to a sign above the counter. It read: Grand Moggle Week! Moggled Coffees Half Price. Have a Moggle with us!
‘I don’t care,’ I snapped. ‘I want my coffee black – and some time this century, please!’
‘Suit yourself. Would you care for a Balono de Zacher biscuit with your coffee?’
‘No!’ I shouted the word so loudly, the crockery on the shelves rattled. ‘I just want a coffee!’
Instantly, a graveyard hush descended on the café. Everyone stared at me and a child began to cry.
When my coffee finally appeared I snatched it up and walked out in a hurry. I had to be more careful! I was the best-known author in Zamonia, and if anyone recognised me this excursion might turn into a nightmare. It then transpired that someone had put sugar in my coffee, probably to pay me back for my behaviour.
To take my mind off this I went at once into the bookshop next door. Clearly not an antiquarian establishment, it stocked a range of modern books. The sight of my own works always brightened my mood provided they were well-arranged, piled high and displayed with due prominence. Besides, I was curious to know what methods Bookholmian booksellers employed to market them. I scanned the shop window first, then the tables and finally the shelves, but I failed to spot a single book of mine. There had to be some mistake! Didn’t this bookseller want to make any money, or had he completely sold out again? I saw the latest novels by Freechy Jarfer and Proojy Licel, Joghan Rimsh and Maisky Cleniple, but not even my longtime bestsellers were represented. The walls were hung with portraits of young authors like Humido le Quakenschwamm, Yohi Scala and Goriam Zepp – but none of me. I left the shop and looked at it again from the outside. Modern Zamonian Fiction read a notice over the entrance and beneath it in somewhat smaller lettering was an impudent announcement I’d failed to spot when going inside: Definitely No Lindworm Castle Literature!
As if I needed another damper! My spirits couldn’t have been lower as I stomped off down the street, distastefully swigging my sweetened coffee. So that’s what I’d come to! I was a decrepit old classic, not a modern Zamonian author any more! I was already being excluded from current displays. My works were on the way into second-hand bookshops, there to share the fate of other Dreaming Books. I was yesterday’s news, junk, waste paper, and I’d never even noticed. That came of my insistence in recent years on restricting my signings to bookshops that sold only my own books and the relevant secondary literature. That was the price of our cosy isolation in Lindworm Castle, our ivory tower in a no-man’s-land far from the cities. We had lost contact with the modern market, and I myself, as my success waned, had actually become a symbol of this arrogant classicism. I was an old fart – young booksellers considered it chic not to include me in their stock! I couldn’t even order a coffee without running foul of everyday language. My books were being transferred to the upper shelves in living rooms, where they languished beside other old rubbish which no one ventured to throw away but no one ever read either. You had to climb on a chair to reach them, but only in order to dust them every few years.
These and other, even more depressing thoughts were going through my mind when I suddenly sighted a
That was the limit! A mere trifle that would normally have amused me at most, in my current state of mind it aroused my primeval, predatorial instincts. A chance to let off steam at last! Snorting with fury, I strode into the little puppet shop to call the owner to account and demand to know why he abused people’s reputations for profit by selling ill-made dolls. Rage had overcome me. In situations like this I can develop an attribute not commonly associated with an author weakened by soft living, namely, immense physical strength. I was in what was, by my standards, a very exceptional mood: I was quite prepared to engage in physical violence.
The shop was deserted, so I promptly strode to the window and snatched the puppet bearing my name out of the display. ‘Shop!’ I called impatiently.
No one appeared, so I surveyed my surroundings. There were puppets everywhere, either suspended from the ceiling, from beams and washing lines, or seated on chairs and shelves. Although intended to resemble well-known writers, most were identifiable only by the name cards pinned to them. They swayed to and fro, clattering eerily in the draught from the open door. It looked like a medieval mass execution of authors whose only crime was to have achieved a certain degree of popularity. Dangling there were Hermatius Mino the Younger and Munkel van Klopstein, Stiggma Hokk and Walgord Wurstwermer, Mandragora Xanax and Notoria Notstrumpf, Histrix Lhama and Volko Lukkenlos, Degura de Boken, Count Edwald von Knozze and Delvatio Winterkrauth – all of them young and not so young contemporary novelists who regularly competed for the foremost places on bookshops’ bestseller lists. I never read any of that modern stuff because I was kept busy enough reading the great, late authors of the past and my own galleys, but I was quite familiar with their names and faces. Having their miserable likenesses strung up here in the shop of a fifth-rate puppet-maker was a fate they no more deserved than I did. It cried out for vengeance! Someone had to put a stop to this parasite’s dirty game.
The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes