Rumo and his miraculous.., p.26
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.26

           Walter Moers
 

  But the boat reached its destination unscathed. Smyke was still alive and in his right mind. What was more, he had covered a lot of ground in an incredibly short time. He was now near the coast just south of Murkholm.

  Murkholm lighthouse

  Seen from far off, Murkholm resembled a gigantic fair-weather cloud that had fallen from the sky. The sight of it rejoiced Smyke’s heart for at least four reasons:

  First, he had arrived! No more prairies, no more expanses of razor-sharp grass, no nights filled with the howling of wolves, no forests inhabited by whispering shadows.

  Second, Murkholm was a city. Not a particularly big one, but a genuine city with live inhabitants.

  Third, there was Professor Kolibri. Smyke looked forward to all the conversations with which they would while the nights away.

  Fourth, the cloud looked like a freshly washed sheep. Nothing in its appearance was reminiscent of all that superstitious claptrap about ‘ghostly’ Murkholm. Smyke waddled towards the city filled with expectancy.

  As soon as he entered the cloud, however, the world underwent a change. Colours faded, sounds died away, outlines became blurred. Everything was silent, soft and peaceful. Smyke instantly felt snug and secure.

  The architecture seemed rather monotonous – the only buildings in sight were squat, circular, and built of stone – and the streets were hardly teeming with urban life. All Smyke saw were a few dark-robed figures slinking through the fog, but he was sure he could find his way to the lighthouse unaided. It could only be situated where it belonged, beside the sea, so he simply made for the roar of the waves and soon found himself on a sandy white beach. The sea! Oh dear, and on Roaming Rock he had solemnly vowed never to go near a wave again!

  Jutting skywards on the horizon, almost invisible in the billowing fog, was the slender grey shape of the lighthouse. What a picturesque spot for a stimulating exchange of ideas, thought Smyke when he got there. The sea within sight, miles of sand dunes available for long walks, the mysterious fog – very atmospheric! To the sound of rolling breakers he and Kolibri would discuss important aspects of science and philosophy, and empty the odd bottle of wine – and it certainly wouldn’t be Gargyllian Bollogg’s Skull. How healthy the sea air smelt!

  Smyke knocked on the lighthouse door, once, twice, again and again. He called the professor’s name. No one at home? Well, Kolibri probably wouldn’t mind if he went inside and waited for him. Was the door locked? No. Then the professor couldn’t have anything to hide. In he went.

  Aha, a laboratory! Great, the professor really had settled in here. The place was very untidy. When was the last time anyone had cleaned it? Scientists! They had more important things to do than tie their shoelaces and wield a duster. What were those pieces of equipment? Test tubes, Bunsen burners, vials, flasks containing mysterious liquids – Smyke couldn’t wait for the professor to explain everything to him! He could already see himself amid the test tubes, Kolibri’s ostascope on his nose, searching for an effective antidote to death!

  A glass retort of incredible delicacy, a masterpiece of the glass blower’s art, lay shattered on the floor. An accident, no doubt. And what was that? A black doll floating in a flask of clear liquid like a tiny victim of drowning. Smyke called again.

  ‘Professor Kolibri?’

  No answer.

  The diary

  A spiral staircase led to the chamber in which the lantern must once have burned. It was lighter up there. A big, panoramic window wreathed in white fog. On the floor a mattress, some blankets and a pillow – very ascetic. Books strewn everywhere. Smyke picked one up: Diary of a Sentimental Dinosaur by Hildegard Mythmaker. Well, well! He tossed it aside and picked up another. The Monosemanticisation of Polysemants in Grailsundian Cave Literature. The things that scientists took an interest in! Smyke threw the book on the floor and picked up a third. No title? He opened it at the first page. Neatly inscribed on it in black ink were the words:

  Professor Ostafan Kolibri’s Lighthouse Log

  Smyke dropped the book as if it were a poisonous snake. A log – a form of diary! How discourteous of him to stick his nose into such a thing. It probably contained revelations of a most intimate nature.

  At least he was now a hundred per cent certain that the professor was living here. It would be only a matter of time before he turned up. Excellent! Smyke made his way downstairs again.

  It was already late that night when Smyke began to feel genuinely worried about the professor. How many hours had he been waiting? What could be keeping Kolibri so long in this desolate part of the world? It was pitch-dark outside and the salt-laden wind was bitterly cold. Smyke roamed the laboratory, fidgeting. Why was it so untidy? What was that strange little corpse in the flask? Could something untoward have happened after all? In need of distraction, Smyke went upstairs to fetch a book.

  His eye lighted on the diary again.

  Should he risk it? Never!

  But what if it contained some clue to the professor’s whereabouts? Some clue that might save his life! Smyke picked up the diary and began to read.

  Day 1

  Murkholm at last! What a disaster-ridden journey! Two months in the clutches of Silvanopirates! I could write an entire book about that episode alone, except that it would be devoted mainly to the distasteful subject of cannibalism. If those apes hadn’t been so monstrously demented I should never have escaped and my four shrivelled brains would now be dangling from a belt, together with other fetishes.

  Wasted another month in a godforsaken place called Nether Molk, confined to bed by a bout of demonic flu. Sensational hallucinations. For a week I imagined I was a diamond.

  Half a dozen other less protracted delays helped to double the length of my journey. But enough of that!

  Moved into the disused lighthouse today. It’s not particularly big and the lantern was extinguished long ago. Will easily be able to black out the windows and make myself at home here. Visibility in Murkholm agreeably restricted – the perpetual fog makes an effective sunlight filter. An excellent place in which to work and meditate. My intellectual powers perceptibly increased when I entered the fog – by fifty per cent, at a rough estimate.

  My scientific equipment has already arrived. Can’t wait to see how it has survived the long journey. Tomorrow: stocktaking.

  Now to unpack.

  Day 2

  After going without sleep for almost two weeks, I actually slept for eight hours last night. What luxury! Feel regenerated, brimming with energy. My brains are rotating! The climate suits me admirably. Breakfasted on my remaining provisions for the journey, then settled in.

  There are two rooms, the first a large one downstairs immediately inside the front door. Fireplace with saucepan, a table, two chairs. No windows, perfect! This will be my laboratory. A spiral staircase leads upwards through an empty space to the former lantern chamber. A large circular room, but surrounded by windows, therefore unsuitable as a laboratory. The fog presses up against the panes like cotton wool – very picturesque. I shall read and sleep up there.

  Unpacked the crates. Most things have withstood the journey remarkably well, the few breakages being manageable. The inventory:

  1 Labyrinthine test tube and glass double helix. (Really amazing that these delicate gems of the glass blower’s art arrived in one piece.)

  2 Electrical egg plus vacuum pump.

  3 Lindenhoop theodolite.

  4 Silver Fuessli corker (plus complete set of corks).

  5 Spectroscope in chameleonskin case.

  6 Pneumatic suction pump.

  7 Candlelight heliostat.

  8 Penduline trigonometer.

  9 Ostascope (one lens cracked, but I have a spare).

  10 Aneroid barograph.

  11 Muslin hygrometer.

  12 Fibonacchi Spiral plus candlelight propellent and the relevant indigo prisms.

  13 The auragraph.

  Also the copper, lead and gold weights for calibrating the auragraph, three dozen
auragraphic plates (plus emulsion), powdered zinc, a plummet, the aurathreads (six metres), one litre of mercury, some lead-sealed radium powder, a six-tongued slide rule, camphor solution, a flask containing a Leyden Manikin in nutrient fluid, inanimate. An alchemical battery. Working attire: lead apron, lead helmet, lead gloves. The crate containing minor oddments (measuring glasses and bowls, filters, chemicals, alchemical extracts, mortars, etc.). Five barrels of dried cod and a Hodlerian sieve for desalinating seawater (rendering me largely independent of the local cuisine).

  The books I enclosed were all there: Zigman Kellis’s secret tracts on sympathetic vibration, Feynsinn’s Molecular Morphology and his indispensable tables on subatomic dislocation. All the other scientific volumes are here (too many to list them individually), likewise a few Mythmakers for relaxation.

  What were missing were my retromagnetic tongs and the goniometer in the copper chicken. Can make do without them, but it’s a shame about the handsome mechanical chicken. Stolen, or didn’t I pack it at all? The Asiatic orloscope by Sarknadel & Schremp arrived in three pieces. What a fool I was to send such an expensive instrument on such a journey!

  Smyke skimmed a few pages listing the chemical substances and delicate instruments with which Kolibri had equipped his laboratory. What was the professor planning to do with all this stuff?

  This afternoon I animated the Leyden Manikin.

  Yes, I admit it: I’m one of those scientists who approve of using these artificial guinea pigs! Here, therefore, is a brief plea in defence of the use of Leyden Manikins:

  I consider them to be the most reliable means of testing the effects of chemicals and drugs under laboratory conditions if one does not wish to try them out on live subjects. A Leyden Manikin consists largely of turf from the Graveyard Marshes of Dull plus an admixture of Demerara Desert sand, animal fat, glycerine, and liquid resin. These constituents are moulded into a humanoid and brought to life with the aid of an alchemical battery.

  A Leyden Manikin will keep for about a month if well housed and fed. It displays all the characteristics of genuine animation, reacting to cold, heat and all manner of chemical compounds. I categorically reject the superstitious theory that a Leyden Manikin has a soul and can feel pain. How can anyone feel pain without a nervous system? Speaking for myself, I consider it barbaric to torture frogs and mice when one can fall back on this method. End of plea in mitigation.

  My manikin is of excellent quality. Whenever I animate a Leyden Manikin I think of a name for it. This one I shall call Marmaduke. Marmaduke of Murkholm. For the next month Marmaduke will be my most important contact. Ah yes, the scientist is a lonely soul. Knowledge is his sole beloved! The fog is pressing up against the window like an inquisitive spy.

  Day 3

  Went shopping in town this morning. The Murkholmers make a rather ghostly impression at first, especially when they loom up out of the fog and fix one with their piercing, watery gaze.

  How many rumours there are about that gaze! It’s said to be malevolent, hypnotic, spellbinding. But there’s a scientific reason for this (as for everything else): the Murkholmers have to stare as hard as they do because of the permanently subdued light in their city. This is the so-called ‘Murkholm Stare’, which has nothing at all to do with discourtesy. Another myth exploded!

  The fog grew steadily thicker. I was looking for the grocer’s but couldn’t distinguish one building from another. All I could see was a billowing grey curtain of fog. Then, quite suddenly, a pair of eyes appeared in front of me, bigger and more piercing than any I’d encountered hitherto. I gave a start and stopped dead. Just eyes, nothing else, with fog whirling around them – a ghostly sight! Courageously, I took a step closer and my opposite number did likewise. We were now only inches apart. Then a breeze sprang up, abruptly dispersing the fog – and I found that I’d been staring at a shop window the whole time. The luminous eyes were my own, reflected in the glass! What was more, the window was that of the grocer’s I’d been looking for.

  It was foggy even inside the shop, the floor being knee-deep in white vapour. I did my shopping. The proprietor, who was polite but somewhat uncommunicative, gurgled rather than spoke. He ended by recommending a visit to one of the regular brass band concerts in the municipal gardens. Who says the Murkholmers aren’t welcoming?

  In the afternoon took my first fog sample right beside the lighthouse, drawing it into the labyrinthine test tube with my retromagnetic suction pump. It was surprisingly difficult to suck any of the vaporous substance into the pump, and I had to exert considerable pressure. The sample made a squelching sound as it detached itself from the surrounding fog. Then I sealed the test tube with my Fuessli corker.

  The fog sample wove its way along the test tube’s labyrinthine convolutions like a snake; in fact, it’s hard to believe that water is its basic constituent. Well, the auragraph will show what’s what.

  In the evening, read The Talking Stove by Hildegard Mythmaker. Heavens alive, what romantic twaddle – the worst kind of trash from that idiotic ‘dead material’ school of Zamonian literature, which is devoid of any scientific foundation. The title is to be taken literally, not metaphorically. Mythmaker certainly has a nerve! But it’s a good read for all that. Her fifty-page description of the ticking of a grandfather clock is a tour de force in itself.

  Day 4

  Fog again – what else could one expect here in Murkholm? – but today it seems thicker than ever. I’ve devised a method of measuring its daily density. I call it my ostafanic fogometer. One of its components is a (homemade) optician’s chart erected some thirty feet from the lighthouse. The other is a chalk line on the floor of my bedroom, right beside the big window. Every morning from now on I shall stand on that line and look out at the chart. The fewer the rows of letters I can decipher, the denser the fog. I could lay down a unit of measurement: one unit per illegible row of letters, or something like that. What should I call that unit of measurement? A kolibri? Good idea.

  Today the ostafanic fogometer is registering two kolibris.

  Went for a longish walk this afternoon. Didn’t encounter a single Murkholmer, strangely enough. Architecturally, this city has no equivalent anywhere else in Zamonia. If I had to describe it in a single word, the adjective would probably be ‘squat’. The buildings resemble molehills of masonry. They all seem to come from the same mould, their visible portions consisting solely of circular roofs that project from the ground. I get the impression that they’re largely subterranean.

  Marmaduke always welcomes me when I come home, the dear little fellow! He hammers on the glass with his tiny fists and splashes around in the nutrient fluid. A pity he can’t talk.

  Day 5

  Four kolibris on the ostafanic fogometer.

  Today’s task: contaminating the Leyden Manikin with my fog sample. What must be, must be.

  Removed a small portion of the sample from the labyrinthine test tube (another squelching sound) and injected it into Marmaduke’s flask. The manikin seemed hugely entertained by this. The fog, which in these conditions behaved almost organically, glided like a worm over the interior of the flask while Marmaduke vainly tried to capture it. As though mesmerised, I watched this silly game until jolted out of my trance by a sense of responsibility.

  Next, set up the auragraph. Quite a job, since all the calibrations had been upset during the journey. Will have to adjust them with the candlelight heliostat, probably over the next few days. Calibrating an auragraph is like tuning the instruments of an entire orchestra. Devoted the rest of the day to this.

  Read myself to sleep with Mythmaker’s Diary of a Sentimental Dinosaur. Remarkably good for an early work. It probably appeals to me because it’s more of a documentary than a novel. I only read the first chapter, Mythmaker’s description of the ancient city of Booksville, but that chapter is really a book in its own right. How much of it is fact and how much fiction? At all events, I marvelled at its meticulous account of the catacombs beneath the city and their
curious, dangerous inhabitants. That’s a world I’d dearly like to explore some time. So deliciously dark!

  Smyke skimmed the pages covering the next few days, on which Kolibri had expatiated in great detail upon the difficulties of calibrating the auragraph. He yawned, rubbed his eyes and looked through the window at the optician’s chart below. He could read most of the letters. Five kolibris on the ostafanic fogometer? He couldn’t help grinning. These oddball scientists simply weren’t happy unless they could divide everything into units of measurement! Then he read on.

  Day 9

  Seven kolibris on the fogometer. Absolutely no question of going for a walk. Still tinkering with the auragraph. Proceeded to check the fog’s sylphidic density. Took another tiny sample with the suction pump and transferred it to the double helix. I attached the Lindenhoop theodolite – and naturally forgot, yet again, to amoebise the connections first! The result: two hours’ hard work cleaning them with the micropincers and purgative brush, likewise a volley of self-directed oaths. Marmaduke watched me in astonishment from inside his flask, his tiny lips mouthing my imprecations.

 

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