Rumo and his miraculous.., p.2
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.2

           Walter Moers

  They divided their food into three grades. The lowest of these, acceptable only in an emergency, comprised creatures that were alive but barely moved and couldn’t make sounds, for instance mussels, oysters, snails and jellyfish. In the medium grade were creatures which, although unable to scream, could twitch or wriggle: fish of all kinds, octopuses, lobsters, crabs and marine spiders. The highest category included creatures capable of speaking, screaming, yelling, screeching, crowing, twittering, bleating, or making noises of some other kind. The Demonocles didn’t care what their victims were – Norselanders or Hackonians, Gargylls or Wolpertings, coastal dwarfs, seagulls or chimpanzees – as long as they made a frightful din while being eaten.

  If the Hackonians had only known how effectively they were whetting the Demonocles’ appetite by moaning and struggling inside their sacks, they would all have kept as quiet as Rumo, who was still wondering when this curious grown-up game would come to an end.

  The giants’ larder

  What surprised Rumo most, when he was finally released from his stuffy prison, was that he was no longer in the farmyard. He noticed to his astonishment that the ground beneath him kept rocking to and fro. However, he was quickly reassured to find that his family were all there too. Although the ground was unsteady, uneven and slippery, he managed to stand up on his hind legs, but he couldn’t grasp why everyone failed to notice this feat and congratulate him on it. Even his family were ignoring him, and their behaviour was very odd in general. Their usually amiable faces had turned into tragic masks and some of them had water trickling from their eyes. Rumo wondered where his basket was. Surely they hadn’t left his basket behind? No, that was impossible. He was sick of this game. He wanted something nice to eat, a Hackonian lullaby and a little nap.

  The Hackonians took a different view of the situation. They had heard the rumours about Roaming Rock, and some of them had had grandparents or other relations abducted by the Demonocles. They knew what awaited them unless some miracle occurred.

  To the Demonocles, on the other hand, the situation was neither mysterious nor tragic but simply satisfactory: they had just restocked their larder after a successful raid ashore. Now they were heading out to sea again, bound for a life of glorious freedom on the ocean waves.

  Rumo and the Hackonians were herded into a big cave in the heart of Roaming Rock – in the Demonocles’ opinion the finest place on their island. This was where they stored their food, where they went first thing each morning to get their breakfast and last thing at night to get their supper. Many of them even visited the cave in the small hours, half asleep but eager for an unwholesome little midnight snack.

  Embedded in the walls of the vast cave were iron rings to which the Hackonians were secured with chains round their necks, wrists or ankles. Basins hewn out of the rocky floor teemed with plump fish and octopuses. Wild animals – lynxes, bears and lions – were imprisoned in cages. Domesticated animals such as hens, pigs, horses or cows roamed around freely behind the sliding wooden grille with which the Demonocles shut off the mouth of the cave. Lobsters and crayfish crawled over and under each other in stone tubs and earthenware jars filled with sea water, which also contained oysters. The one thing Roaming Rock wasn’t short of was live food.

  A sleepless night

  Like most of the other inmates of the cave, Rumo didn’t sleep a wink that night. What with the incessant motion, the puddles of sea water sloshing to and fro, and the sobs and whimpers, grunts and cackles, whinnies and roars of his fellow captives, he had never before had to endure such uncomfortable conditions. The Demonocles hadn’t troubled to chain him up because they obviously rated him a harmless domesticated animal. What he found most shocking of all was that the Hackonians hardly spared him a glance when he tried to snuggle up to them. Chained to the wall, they wept continuously.

  Feeling hurt, Rumo went looking for affection elsewhere in the cave, but the same depressing atmosphere prevailed everywhere. Nobody wanted to play with him; everyone was self-absorbed; sobs and cries of despair filled the air.

  Rumo eventually took refuge in a niche with a narrow entrance. Originally formed in the volcanic rock by a fat round air bubble, it afforded some protection from the sea water splashing around. He curled up and shut his eyes, but that only seemed to aggravate his seasickness, so he opened them again and simply lay there, as dejected and frightened as everyone else.

  It was the longest and worst night of Rumo’s life to date. Every now and then a Demonocle would visit the cave for something to eat: a hen, a lobster, a pig, or a Hackonian. The hens cackled, the pigs squealed, the Hackonians screamed – sleep was impossible under such circumstances.

  The noise became really deafening when one Demonocle felt peckish for a lion. Rumo had never seen a lion before, but he sensed that the golden-maned creature in the biggest cage of all was a proud and dangerous beast. When the hungry Demonocle unbolted its cage the beast emitted a sound that made the other prisoners’ blood run cold: a low growl that seemed to emanate from a natural disaster, not a living creature. Although anyone with any sense would have put as much distance as possible between himself and that sound, the Demonocle entered the cage without hesitation. The growl gave way to a roar that shook the walls of the cave. The Demonocle’s hand shot out and grabbed the lion by the neck. Winding its tail round his other wrist, he slung the huge cat over his shoulder like a sack of coals and plodded out.

  Rumo curled up again. What kept him awake, apart from the incessant din, was his sore mouth. The gum had swelled up in two new places and this perturbed him almost more than the goings-on in the cave. From one day to the next the world had become a hostile place – even his own body was turning against him. He whimpered for a bit and a few tears trickled down his nose. It was dawn by the time he fell into a brief, troubled sleep filled with wild and sinister dreams.

  Breakfast time

  The first thing Rumo noticed when he awoke was that the ground wasn’t swaying as much. His fur was sodden with water dripping from the roof. He badly needed a pee, so he relieved himself outside his niche. Then he went on a tour of inspection to see if the situation had taken a turn for the better. Perhaps someone would play with him at last.

  To begin with it seemed unlikely. It was breakfast time, and grumpy, grunting Demonocles were stomping around the cave in search of ingredients for their first meal of the day. Most of them favoured pork for breakfast, so the squeals were ear-splitting. One Demonocle had decided on some octopus. He fished a huge, eight-armed specimen out of a pool and promptly got into a tangle, much to his companions’ amusement. The octopus wound its tentacles round the one-eyed giant’s body, neck and ankles, its suckers taking hold with a sound like someone smacking his lips. The Demonocle started to sway, lost his balance and crashed to the ground. His companions threw back their heads and emitted gurgling noises – their way of laughing, Rumo gathered. The fallen giant struggled to his feet, grabbed one of the tentacles and summarily tore it off. The octopus relaxed its grip, but it was too late for conciliatory gestures. The Demonocle gripped three more tentacles in both hands and swung the octopus round his head like a hammer thrower, then smashed it against the wall of the cave. It burst like a barrel of ink, spraying black liquid over everyone unlucky enough to be within range. Despite himself, Rumo vomited.

  When the Demonocles left their larder at last, Rumo tottered over to a puddle on trembling legs and rinsed out his mouth. He was so frightened that he had gone back to walking on all fours – it seemed safer. The water was lukewarm and brackish, and tasted of fish. Rumo was just about to throw up again when he noticed a welcome development: one of the sore places in his mouth had stopped hurting, and something smooth and pointed had emerged there. He explored it with his tongue. It felt strange but somehow nice. Although the other places still hurt, they didn’t worry him as much, now that one of them had undergone such a pleasant transformation.

  He, too, was hungry. He found a trough full of gooey mush and ate some, re
luctantly at first, then more and more greedily as he noticed that the hollow sensation in his tummy was subsiding. Then he crawled back into his little niche for a closer inspection of his first tooth, exploring it with his tongue again and again. He felt as if he had been given a present.

  Cries of mortal agony drifted in from outside. The Demonocles were taking time over their breakfast and some of them were clearly eating it in the immediate vicinity of their larder. The Hackonians clung to each other, weeping and wailing even more loudly than before. Rumo noticed that the head of the family was missing, but that didn’t surprise him. The farmer had often disappeared for days on end, only to return when he was least expected.

  Rumo went on another tour of the cave, sniffing the air as he went. He was finding it hard to get used to the smells given off by the sea, which were so utterly different from those of the farmyard. Everything there had smelt of soil, herbs and life, whereas here the only scents were of rotting fish and death. He gave the cages containing wild animals a wide berth. Incredible how big and powerful many of them were! There was a red gorilla, a wild dog with two heads, another lion with only one eye, a huge polar bear with bloodstained fur. These beasts filled Rumo with a mixture of fear and wonder.

  The murky pools

  But what he found really sinister were some deep, dark pools in a side chamber of the cave: eight circular basins, nearly all of which were filled with murky water. Kept in them with other sea creatures were giant squid, and the colour of the water came from the clouds of inky black fluid they excreted like a smokescreen when alarmed. Slimy tentacles, pointed horns, black dorsal fins and glowing eyes on stalks broke the surface by turns, and issuing from one of the pools was a plaintive, sing-song cry. During the night Rumo had seen an inquisitive goat venture too close to the edge of one such basin. Without warning, a yellow tentacle equipped with fat suckers had emerged from the black, soupy water, wrapped itself round the animal’s neck at lightning speed and, with a low gurgle, dragged it into the depths before it could even bleat. Since then, Rumo had maintained a respectful distance from the pools.

  Three of the artificial basins appeared to contain creatures which the Demonocles kept as iron rations for consumption when times were hard. Even they seemed to find them scary, because they kept well clear of the pools in question. They contained no squid, so the water in them was clearer. To his astonishment, Rumo sighted some small but awe-inspiring denizens of a dark world inhabited by creatures with heavily armoured scales and rows of fearsome teeth. They had grim faces with pugnaciously jutting lower jaws, and their eyes glowed and rolled wildly in their sockets as if they weren’t entirely sane. Many of them had long antennae tipped with glowing balls like miniature lanterns. Rumo saw a puffer fish as transparent as glass, with a red heart pulsating inside it. He also spotted a long, thin oceanic worm that continually changed colour as it wove its way along below the surface. He kept returning for another look at these fascinating prodigies of the deep and studied their mysterious modes of behaviour, because they were the only things in the cave that helped him, for a moment or two at least, to forget his depressing surroundings.

  Most mysterious of all, however, was the furthermost basin, which was situated a little apart from the others at the back of the cave. Its water was dark-green, unlike that of the blue-black pools, but just as cloudy. It struck Rumo that none of the Demonocles went near it and that the free-range animals also kept their distance – mainly, no doubt, because of the foul stench it gave off.

  Rumo would dearly have liked to know what sort of creature the oily surface concealed. For the most part, however, all that protruded from the murky soup was a big grey dorsal fin or a broad back that might have belonged to a whale or a fat sea cow. The baleful eye that sometimes lurked beneath the surface resembled that of a marine predator.

  What particularly attracted Rumo to the furthermost basin were some faint vibrations he had picked up during the night, while trying to sleep. In his mind’s eye they had assumed the form of some concentric red ripples in the pool from which the dorsal fin occasionally protruded. The little Wolperting couldn’t interpret these mental images, but he felt that they were trying to tell him something – indeed, it was almost as if he could sense that this mysterious subaquatic creature wanted to get in touch with him. On the other hand, perhaps it was simply trying to lure him close enough to catch him. Rumo had refrained from obeying its signals and remained in hiding all night.

  However, he felt braver now that everyone was awake and activity reigned throughout the cave. For a while he prowled around near the pool, but not so near that some slimy, sucker-studded tentacle could seize the opportunity to drag him into its murky depths. He gambolled around it on all fours. The eye beneath the surface revolved, observing his every movement, and when he had made two circuits the dorsal fin rose slowly out of the water. It rotated on the spot like the iron pointer of a sundial, following him as he made his third circuit.

  This went on for quite a while. Sometimes the fin sank below the surface, sometimes it resurfaced. Rumo sauntered off and returned, sauntered off and returned, but he never took his eyes off the pool. Two creatures with no idea what to make of each other were engaged in covert mutual observation.

  A small party of Demonocles entered the cave in search of a second helping of breakfast. Rumo always hid in his niche when the one-eyed giants visited their larder, so he scampered back there – only to find that it was already occupied by the black goose, the same bird that had given him such a hard time back on the farm.

  With a roar, the leading Demonocle shooed away some hens while the others looked around enquiringly. One of them grinned when he caught sight of Rumo and came stomping towards the little Wolperting. Rumo growled at the goose, hoping to scare her away, but she stuck out her tongue and gave a menacing hiss. The Demonocle stopped short, distracted by a litter of piglets.

  Rumo remembered the trick he’d tried before. He made himself as tall as the goose by rising on his hind legs. Then he growled again, louder and more menacingly than before, and bared his gums to display his solitary tooth. The bird did not hiss back this time, but waddled silently out of the niche so that Rumo could sneak inside. The Demonocle caught sight of the goose standing there at a loss. He licked his lips, reached her in three strides and seized her by the neck. ‘Quaaa—’ was the last Rumo heard of her.

  The mysterious eye

  A measure of peace and quiet returned once the giant had disappeared clutching the goose and a handful of piglets, so Rumo ventured out of his hiding place. As if magnetically attracted to it, he approached the evil-smelling pool with the mysterious eye in its depths. He prowled around in its vicinity for a while, waiting for the creature to emerge in its entirety for once, but all that happened was a familiar sequence of events: the fin emerged and submerged, the eye appeared below the surface, a few bubbles rose sluggishly and burst with a pop.

  At length Rumo ventured a little closer, this time flat on his belly. He crawled nearer, inch by inch, until he was only a couple of feet from the edge. The unknown creature had submerged completely. Neither the fin nor the eye could be seen, just more fat green bubbles that burst with a pop and gave off a noxious stench.

  Lying there undaunted, Rumo shut his eyes and strained his senses. Oh yes, the red vibrations were immensely strong! They seemed to pulsate in time to the beating of a mighty heart, slowly, steadily and reassuringly.

  Unseen by Rumo, the water silently parted and a massive grey form emerged from the dark-green depths. It was a creature with the head and teeth of a big shark and the body of an abnormally bloated maggot.

  ‘Hello,’ the creature said in a sepulchral voice.

  Rumo’s eyes snapped open. Horrified, he jumped back three or four feet and stood there on all fours, barking as viciously as a Wolperting whelp can. The creature made no move to leave the pool, still less attack him. Waving around on either side of its maggotlike body were seven pairs of puny little arms.

nbsp; ‘Come here,’ the creature purred amiably. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

  Although Rumo didn’t understand a word, the creature’s gentle, sonorous voice inspired confidence. He kept his distance, but he stopped barking and merely growled.

  ‘Come here,’ the creature repeated. ‘Come on, I’m your friend.’

  ‘Graa ra graaha,’ Rumo replied. He didn’t know what it meant, but he felt bound to make some response.

  ‘You can speak? Better and better! You’re a Wolperting, did you know that?’

  ‘Waapaawaa,’ said Rumo.

  ‘Wolperting,’ the creature said again, pointing to him with several of its numerous fingers.

  ‘Walpaataa,’ said Rumo.

  ‘You learn fast.’ The creature laughed so hard that water slopped over the edge of the pool. ‘Say “Smyke”,’ it said coaxingly.

  Rumo hesitated.

  ‘Go on, say “Smyke”!’


  ‘Smyke! Say “Smyke”!’

  ‘Smaiee,’ said Rumo.

  ‘Excellent.’ The creature gave another laugh. ‘Smyke, Volzotan Smyke. That’s my name.’

  Volzotan Smyke’s story

  Smyke was a Shark Grub. As such, he was quite capable of Volzotan leaving the water and living on land, but while on Roaming Rock he thought it wiser to convey the impression that he was a sea creature pure and simple. At least five hundred years old, according to his own rough estimate, he had heard many things about the Demonocles in the course of his life to date, one of them being that they found land animals more to their taste than sea creatures.


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