Rumo and his miraculous.., p.27
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.27

           Walter Moers
 

  I took a reading at last. The result amazed me. No, it was impossible – no water vapour could display such a high sylphidic density. Another reading, another identical result. Nonsense! I shouldn’t have taken a reading without prior amoebisation. Cleaning with a brush affords no guarantee. I may have measured some microbe or bacterium instead of the fog molecule. Resolved to repeat the whole procedure tomorrow. Nightingale was right when he told me I would some day put on my shoes before my socks. I’m always too impetuous when I’m experimenting.

  I wrote a brief memorandum for Grailsund University on the disastrous effects of overpopulation by Demon Bugs (Leptinotarsa daemoniensis) on the agricultural economy of Harvest Home Plain.

  Then, on the grocer’s recommendation, I went to a trombophone concert in Murkholm’s municipal gardens. It was sparsely attended by some asthmatic Demidwarfs from the Impic Alps, who coughed incessantly.

  The twelve-piece orchestra, composed entirely of Murkholmers, launched into its programme. Trombophone music, which resembles a succession of soft, liquid plops, had a soothing effect on me. The glissandi seemed to issue from the trombophone bells like soap bubbles that lost themselves in the fog overhead. I almost got the impression that the fog was responding to the music. At many points above the orchestra it became denser, billowing and swirling around in a way that conveyed rapture but was, of course, occasioned by the wind conditions. The trombophone players’ professionalism was extraordinary. Each of them improvised a brief but very original solo that taught me what subtle cadences can be achieved by the mere lengthening and shortening of acoustic frequencies coupled with a skilful manipulation of the trombophone’s valves. I strode home feeling exhilarated – and, because of the poor visibility, tripped over a dustbin full of dead jellyfish.

  Day 10

  At least ten kolibris on the ostafanic fogometer – I could scarcely see the chart at all. The greasy vapour was lapping against the lighthouse in a positively menacing way, so dense in places that it clung to the window-panes like a wet sponge. For the first time since my arrival I felt a pang of uneasiness.

  I plucked up my courage at last and went out into the fog. It was like walking underwater – every step required an immense muscular effort. Breathing was difficult and my gums were soon covered with an unappetising film of salt. I felt constricted, mentally as well as physically. Do people really come here to convalesce? What terrible diseases they must be suffering from! I decided to turn back, but I’d lost my bearings. I wandered around like a fool for at least an hour before, purely by chance, I blundered into my own front door. Immensely relieved when I shut it behind me.

  I immersed myself in work.

  In the evening a thorough examination of the Leyden Manikin in his flask. The wormlike wisp of fog was clinging to the cork like a spider, well out of the reach of Marmaduke, who had either forgotten or was ignoring its presence. I tapped on the glass and he tapped back. Comical.

  Read some more of Mythmaker’s Diary in bed. It was so exciting, I sat up half the night.

  Day 11

  Nine kolibris.

  The dense fog persists. I took another sylphidic reading, this time with the connections duly amoebised. The result: the same as yesterday. Incredible! The fog’s sylphidic density is roughly that of a living creature.

  And there’s no doubt about it: this reading is accurate. Not that I hadn’t entertained such a possibility – the fog’s behaviour is striking enough. It’s an astonishing result even so. I have, for instance, obtained a similar sylphidic density reading in the case of a jellyfish.

  The calibration is almost complete.

  In the evening I tried to take my mind off things by reading The Monosemanticisation of Polysemants in Grailsundian Cave Literature. As stimulating as dried cod. I consider the study of comparative literature a thoroughly imprecise discipline.

  Strange: the fog, which I at first thought so conducive to work, is beginning to depress me. It irritates me to see how it creeps around the lighthouse, trying to seep through every nook and cranny.

  Day 12

  Only six kolibris on the fogometer today. A relief.

  A long early morning walk in the municipal gardens. Murkholmers glided past as if towed through the ground mist on strings. None of them returned my salutations. I really can’t fathom why so many people come here on vacation. Well, I suppose it’s inexpensive.

  Midday came. The auragraph was ready at last! Having devoted the rest of the morning to completing the calibration, I was able to coat the auragraphic plate with radium powder. An extremely dangerous proceeding, so I donned my protective mask and my lead gloves and apron! That done, I positioned the labyrinthine test tube in front of the auragraph and carried out some final adjustments. Then came the exposure itself. Whoosh! The auragraphic glow lit up my laboratory as bright as day. Marmaduke was so startled, he toppled over backwards into his nutrient fluid. A magical moment despite its purely scientific nature. Now I must wait several days for the auragram to develop. Relaxation has set in.

  Smyke skipped a couple of pages. Kolibri had filled them with scientific conjectures of all kinds. His four brains seemed to have taken advantage of the enforced delay to enlarge on a wide variety of subjects, and much of the text consisted of mathematical equations and chemical symbols. Then the diary finally resumed.

  Day 14

  Have now been here for two weeks. I went into town to do some shopping. On my way across the dunes I encountered three Murkholmers walking towards the sea. This was odd, because the locals tend to keep clear of it. (Why, exactly?) I followed them at a distance. When they reached the shore they were engulfed by a dense swath of fog. By the time it dispersed they had vanished.

  On the way back into town I had the nonsensical feeling that the fog was following me. It billowed and swirled about me as never before, and for the first time I thought I detected a sound issuing from it: a persistent slithering sound accompanied by the kind of exhalation I associate with the last gasp of a stranded fish. It was probably just the wind, which was also responsible, I’m sure, for the fog’s unusual behaviour. For all that, my sense of uneasiness mounted with every step I took, just as the fog’s persistence seemed to increase. Thin wisps like cotton wool palpated my head and seemed to be trying to insinuate themselves into my auditory canals, uttering unintelligible whispers and moist hisses. I flapped my hands in an attempt to shoo them away like troublesome insects, but to no avail.

  When I finally reached the grocer’s shop it was shut. This was doubly annoying because I’d suddenly, for no discernible reason, developed a burning desire to purchase a packet of sulphur, some copper sulphate, seven metres of wire, and a coffin.

  Day 15

  Five kolibris.

  Examined the auragraph. The auragram seems to be a success. No protostreaks and the emulsion is bubble-free. Still no definite results. The developing process is painfully slow.

  Observed a curious meteorological phenomenon during the night. A vast thunderstorm raged above the city for hours. Incessant peals of thunder, flashes of lightning dissected into scattered explosions of light by the fog, but – strangely enough – not a drop of rain or breath of wind.

  Only one logical explanation: the fog encloses the city like a protective shell that absorbs the wind and rain.

  Day 16

  The storm has failed to disperse the fog, but still: the fogometer registered only two kolibris! I could actually detect a glimmer of sunlight.

  Examined the auragram. Yes, it’s coming on. Definite aural manifestations and the emulsion is drying steadily. Results will soon become visible.

  I took advantage of the fog’s low density to go for a long walk. The wartlike character of Murkholm’s architecture is even more apparent in this visibility. It’s malignant somehow, like some disease of the earth’s crust. Only a few public buildings and hotels and the grocer’s shop are constructed in the traditional manner, with rectangular walls and windows. I can’t help feeling that t
hese are exclusively intended for visitors to the city. The fog returned as suddenly as it had dispersed. Strong gusts of wind from the sea sent coils of vapour writhing through the streets, engulfing buildings and passers-by. Sensing once more that the fog was closing in on me, I set off for home in a hurry.

  I don’t know why, but I was in an excitable mood when I finally shut the lighthouse door behind me.

  My eye fell on Marmaduke. He was romping around in his flask, as he usually did when I returned home. I went over to the Leyden Manikin and tapped on his glass abode. Apparently pleased that someone was taking notice of him, he hopped up and down – until I tilted the flask and made him fall over backwards into his nutrient fluid. I couldn’t help laughing at this. When he had laboriously scrambled to his feet, I tilted the flask so that he fell head over heels. That I found even funnier. Next, I held up the flask and proceeded to shake it. Marmaduke staggered around inside it with the fluid splashing him all over. In a frenzy now, I pranced across the laboratory shaking the flask above my head and giggling like a naughty child. Meanwhile, poor little Marmaduke was being hurled against the walls of his glass prison. At long last I recovered my wits. Marmaduke was floating in the liquid semi-conscious, trying to keep his head above the surface. I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself and cannot, even now, account for my strange behaviour.

  The Manikin recovered in the course of the evening and eventually resumed his seat in the flask – impassively, as if nothing had happened. But my fog sample had disappeared, probably emulsified with the nutrient fluid by all that shaking. I’d behaved like a raving lunatic, not a scientist! My sense of shame pursued me into my dreams.

  Smyke was growing somewhat uncomfortable. This stuff was all rather personal. He felt as if he were spying on Professor Kolibri’s activities like the intrusive fog that plastered itself to the lighthouse windows. But by now he couldn’t have stopped reading. It was like an addiction.

  Day 17

  Six kolibris.

  Spent half the day lamenting my behaviour yesterday. I’m in need of company again. The solitude of this lighthouse is having a disruptive effect on my psyche. I decided to take a day off, leave the auragram to develop by itself and go for a long walk.

  My afternoon reading: Mythmaker’s Collected Poems. Poetry is completely wasted on me, I fear. It couldn’t be a more unscientific mode of expression if it tried. Those perpetual obscurities, those verbal gymnastics, those preposterous metaphors. Why not call a spade a spade?

  In the evening I ventured out into ‘society’ for the first time since my arrival in Murkholm. I dined at ‘The Foghorn’, Murkholm’s only restaurant. Four locals were seated at separate tables, eating in silence. A waiter glided through the ground mist with the Murkholmer’s usual fixed stare. Against one wall stood a big cast-iron grandfather clock whose obtrusive ticking reminded me of the inexorably transitory nature of all existence. There was only one dish, some steamed fish I’d never come across before (referred to on the menu as ‘fogfish’). It was completely transparent. One could see the subdued glow of its internal organs, which clearly indicated that it was still alive. Garnishing it were some tiny eels that had been suffocated by smoke. Well, I’m not fastidious. Contrary to my expectations, it tasted quite good. I was less enamoured of the waiter, whose piercing stares throughout the meal suggested that he was trying to burn a hole in my skull. While walking home through the billowing fog I encountered the grocer. I bade him a courteous goodnight, but he glided past without a word. Perhaps it wasn’t him at all. They all look so alike here.

  Day 18

  Five kolibris.

  Something I’ve noticed when observing fog: when a fog bank drifts towards an object, a tree for instance, its outlines begin to blur, losing their clarity and colour. Then the tree seems to dissolve into the fog, leaf by leaf, branch by branch, until it disappears completely. Or until it turns into fog.

  That, of course, is a childish and thoroughly unscientific way of looking at the matter. The tree remains where it is; it’s merely hidden from view. Why am I writing this regardless? No idea.

  The Leyden Manikin is behaving oddly. He has exchanged his lethargy for hectic activity. Either he wades around in the nutrient fluid, muttering silently to himself, or he rollicks around in it like a child in a swimming pool. There are times when he bangs his head against the glass for hours, creating an irritatingly monotonous din.

  The auragram will be ready tomorrow. At least, everything points in that direction.

  Day 19

  It’s incredible! I could weep!

  When I went downstairs this morning, brimming with expectancy, to examine the auragram, I saw to my horror that the emulsion had been disturbed!

  It seems impossible, but someone must have broken in during the night and blurred the auragram deliberately. All that work in vain. Either I leave here empty-handed or I must start all over again.

  Too disheartened to write any more.

  Day 20

  Spent the morning setting up a new shot. Be damned if I leave here empty-handed!

  Took a new auragram in the afternoon.

  More waiting.

  Day 21

  Five kolibris on the fogometer. Enjoyed doing nothing today. An entirely new side of me, like so many in recent days. I spent a long time looking at myself in the huge mirror that used to reflect the lanternlight afar. Its convex conformation expanded my girth in a comical way that sent me into fits of laughter. It was some three hours before I recovered my composure. Something is changing me. I feel as if I’m passing through a very fine sieve that filters out my less admirable characteristics. The residue will be a new and better person.

  Day 22

  Four kolibris. The Leyden Manikin’s behaviour is becoming more and more peculiar. He’s endeavouring to build something with the liquid nutrient. It trickles through his little fingers time after time, but that doesn’t deter him from trying, again and again, to stack one handful on top of another.

  ‘Solitude is insanity’s favourite playmate …’ I think it was Huzzek Fano who wrote that. Or was it Oscar van Tripplestock?

  Day 23

  After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that only Marmaduke could have spoilt that auragram. He’s conspiring against me, but with whom? Who lets him out of his flask? I myself?

  Day 24

  If flatness were funny, a dinner plate would be hilarious. Tried to remember someone I didn’t know.

  Day 25

  Spent most of the morning trying to exit the lighthouse through the keyhole. It proved impossible.

  I shall have to kill Marmaduke.

  But what with?

  Smyke put down the diary. The last few entries were rather peculiar. Was Kolibri being funny? Had he lost the urge to write? Was he merely fooling around? Smyke glanced over his shoulder. He had a feeling the professor was watching him while he read.

  Day 26

  I really don’t know if I should mention this, but last night I bumped into my father. At first I thought it was my reflection in the old mirror. I was halfway up the stairs when we met and he never so much as glanced at me. This is odd, because my father has been dead fifty years.

  These inexplicable occurrences have become more frequent of late. Am I worried? Not really. Strangely enough, the more frequent they become the less they seem to matter.

  How many kolibris on the fogometer? Who cares?

  Day 27

  Did I pen the last four entries? I must have, because they’re in my handwriting, but what demented drivel they are! Am I losing my mind?

  I’ve no recollection of the last four days. Afraid I must be sick. A recurrence of demonic influenza?

  I don’t feel well. I’m edgy, jumpy, suffering from hot flushes. I’d stop work at once if the second auragram weren’t almost ready.

  Day 28

  What was that curious entry yesterday? Of course I penned the four previous entries, but who was responsible for yesterday’s? Odd: it’s in
my handwriting. Could it be the fellow I met on the stairs? Is a doppelgänger at work here? Is he in league with the Leyden Manikin?

  Resolved to be more on my guard! I can’t even trust myself now.

  Meant to go shopping in town but failed once more to leave the lighthouse by the keyhole.

  I must lose weight.

  Day 29

  Lost every last ounce of weight in a single day, as planned. The only trouble is, I’m now invisible – I don’t really exist any more.

  On the other hand I can get through the keyhole with ease. I dance through the fog, free as air.

  Heard strange music issuing from the earth’s core during the night. Detected mysterious messages in the roar of the waves. Have still to decipher them.

  Day 30

  Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee! I shall exmertinate Murmadake! I shall exmertinate Lokibri! Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee!

  Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee! I shall exmertinate Murmadake! I shall exmertinate Lokibri! Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee!

  Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee! I shall exmertinate Murmadake! I shall exmertinate Lokibri! Yea, Nabgor of all Nabgors, I eboy thee!

  Smyke skipped several pages on which the same piece of gibberish seemed to be repeated ad infinitum. What did it mean? Had Kolibri really lost his mind, or had he joined the ranks of the literati and were these the opening words of an avant-garde novel written for his personal delectation? Then came some lines that made sense:

 

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