Rumo and his miraculous.., p.28
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.28

           Walter Moers
 

  Day 31

  Yet another gap in my memory. Two whole days! Did I really write that balderdash? What does it mean? This can’t go on – I must leave here.

  This morning, when I awoke with all four brains aching badly, I found Marmaduke floating lifeless in his nutrient fluid. Did the fog sample kill him, or did I?

  Final evaluation of the auragram this afternoon. Tomorrow I shall pack up and leave.

  Day 32

  I have analysed the auragram. Am not feeling well, and not just because of what I saw on it. I must take advantage of what may be my last spell of lucidity before the fog succeeds in unhinging my mind. No time for explanations, just the salient facts:

  1 The fog isn’t a meteorological phenomenon, it’s a living creature. The auragram clearly displays some organic structures. It may be an animate gas.

  2 The inhabitants of Murkholm are secretly in league with this vaporous creature. A form of unwholesome symbiosis, I suspect.

  3 The fog drives anyone who isn’t a Murkholmer insane. I know what I’m talking about.

  4 This city is a trap! I have no explanation for this and no knowledge of the Murkholmers’ intentions, but I assume them to be of a malign nature.

  5 A connection exists between Murkholm and the rumours about Netherworld! The auragram displays structures that do not occur in any organism known to me. This fog does not emanate from the sea, it issues from the earth itself!

  Should these notes be found by someone who isn’t a Murkholmer, may they serve as a warning: You, who are reading these words, make good your escape! Run for it while you still can!

  I hear a knock on the door.

  They’ve come.

  They’ve come for me.

  Kolibri’s diary broke off at this point. Smyke stopped reading like someone emerging from a nightmare. His brow was beaded with sweat and it took him a moment to remember where he was.

  The fog outside the lighthouse window resembled a huge spectral figure performing the dance of the seven veils. Dawn had broken while Smyke was reading.

  ‘I’m in Murkholm,’ he said dully.

  There was a knock on the door. Startled, he dropped the diary.

  ‘Professor Kolibri at last!’ he cried in relief.

  He hurried over to the window.

  The fog was omnipresent, but not so dense as to conceal the fact that the lighthouse was surrounded: the inhabitants of Murkholm had assembled below en masse and were fixing Smyke with their watery gaze.

  ‘They’ve come,’ he muttered. ‘They’ve come for me.’

  Rumo, no fencing lesson today, we’re off to the annual fair!’

  Urs, who was in high spirits as they hurried towards the east gate, had been blathering about the fair for days. Countless wisps of unfamiliar scents were drifting across the city and Rumo viewed the occasion with mixed feelings. If Urs was to be believed, the main object was to eat as many different unwholesome things as possible.

  By the time they reached the gate, the fairground noises were so loud that they had to shout to make themselves heard. ‘Man, I’ve been waiting for this for exactly a year,’ cried Urs, rubbing his paws together. ‘The sideshows! The mulled ale! The mouse bladders!’

  ‘Mouse bladders?’ Rumo called back.

  Urs handed him a purse. ‘There, your fairground pocket money. With the mayor’s compliments.’

  The sheer size of the spectacle made Rumo gasp like a puppy who sees a sparkler for the first time. Wolperting was surrounded by hundreds of tents of every size, shape and colour. Festooned with flags, pennants and streamers, their entrances were flanked by advertising posters and blazing torches. There were round tents with pointed roofs, rectangular tents with flat ones, octagonal tents culminating in quadruple domes, tiny tents less than a metre in diameter and huge tents that jutted into the night sky like castles. The fairground was a city in itself, with streets and squares, boardwalks, steps and bridges. Extending into the woods and spanning the city’s moat, it even included floating tents mounted on boats and pontoons. The whole thing had sprouted from the ground in a very short time, subjecting Wolperting to an enjoyable form of siege that was scheduled to last for a week.

  Rumo marvelled at the bewildering diversity of Zamonian life forms, many of which he had never set eyes on before: Waterkins and Moomies, Cinnamen and Vulpheads, Bertts and Voltigorks, Bufadistas and Maenads, Montanic Dwarfs and Hellrazors, Yetis and Huskers, Venetian Midgets and Tellurognomes, Demigiants and Powdermen, Rickshaw Demons and Zebraskans. Still more bewildering was the fact that many of them wore bizarre costumes and masks, papier mâché heads and false noses. Others walked on stilts or rode around on absurd contraptions with wheels, waved multicoloured flags or dressed up as wandering vegetables. Many spat fire. One showman juggled with burning torches, another with talking heads.

  Rumo pricked up his ears. The air was throbbing with sounds that were never to be heard on other occasions: singing saws, glockenspiels, demonic cries, Vulphead madrigals, wooden rattles, mouth drums, foot bells. Laughter rang out on all sides, mingled with shrill cries of terror from the ghost trains and the squeal of bagpipes. Hordes of musicians playing curious instruments competed for the public’s attention and strove to drown each other. Bassophonists made the ground shake, a Bufadista soprano sang of unrequited love in Old Zamonian, stallholders did their best to outshout one another, rockets soared hissing into the air, paper ducks quacked, tin drums beat a tattoo. A garishly made-up Rickshaw Demon leapt at Rumo and laughingly sprinkled him with blazing confetti.

  It was all too much for Rumo’s sensitive ears. At a loss, he shut his eyes and instantly saw, in his mind’s eye, a colossal painting composed of whirling golden spirals, dancing rainbows, writhing serpents of dazzling light, multicoloured flashes of ball lightning. He hurriedly opened his eyes again and lost his balance. ‘Whoops!’ he exclaimed. He blundered into Urs and had to hang on tight.

  Then there were the smells: cinnamon, honey, saffron, grilled sausages, roast marsh hog, dried cod, mulled wine, smoked eel, baked apples, onion soup, incense, tobacco smoke, goose dripping. Outside most of the booths that sold food were small braziers in which garlic and onion bulbs were burnt to lend the night air an appetising aroma. Goose, chicken and turkey legs encased in clay cooked slowly in pits filled with glowing charcoal. A thick, fragrant soup of pigs’ trotters and peas simmered in a massive cast-iron cauldron. Potatoes and onions were sautéed in thyme-flavoured oil, quail fried in lard, trout grilled on sticks. Legs of lamb sizzled over open fires, corn cobs and loaves of bread were baked in clay ovens. A whole ostrich revolved on a spit while ravenous Montanic Dwarfs sat round it clattering their knives and forks. Myrrh was burnt, joss sticks smouldered, masked Moomies tossed curry powder into the air. Rumo continued to cling to Urs.

  ‘Pull yourself together,’ Urs whispered in his ear. ‘You’re behaving like a country bumpkin visiting Atlantis for the first time. These fairground folk will gut you like a marsh hog if they see you like this. Look casual! Pretend you’ve seen it all a thousand times before. Just take your cue from me.’

  Urs stuck his paws in his pockets, squared his shoulders and assumed an air of boredom. Then he sauntered off, deliberately dragging his feet. Rumo tried to copy his manner as faithfully as possible.

  The Beesters

  ‘Look at those Beesters from Honey Valley!’ cried Urs. ‘That’s the legendary queen-bee honey they’re selling – it’s supposed to make you immortal.’ He indicated a group of eye-catching individuals who were ladling honey out of big clay jars and dispensing it to their customers. They wore huge beehive hats with hundreds of bees flying busily in and out of them.

  ‘They’re reputed to be insects themselves,’ Urs said with a grin. ‘Gigantic queen bees. No one has ever seen them without clothes on.’

  ‘Is that what you believe?’

  ‘Oh, sure. They’re huge, immortal queen bees and they work at the fair.’ Urs laughed.

  Flying pancakes

&nbs
p; The crowd swept them along like flotsam and washed them up in front of another spectacle. A whey-faced gnome in bulky wooden clogs was tossing discs of dough into the air. They spun round and round, becoming wider and flatter. ‘Fresh flying pancakes!’ cried the gnome. ‘Fresh flying pancakes!’ A second gnome caught the discs on a flat wooden shovel and thrust them into a charcoal stove while a third fried potato chips in hot oil.

  ‘Wait a moment,’ said Urs. ‘You may learn something.’

  Rumo obediently came to a halt and watched the spectacle. When the pancakes were ready the gnomes removed them from the oven, fashioned them into cornets and filled them with golden-yellow chips. Urs bought one.

  ‘With peanut butter, please!’ he entreated and the first gnome anointed his cornet with a generous dollop of pale-brown goo. Urs promptly proceeded to cram his belly with greasy chips.

  ‘One of Zamonian cuisine’s most brilliant inventions,’ he said, munching away. He broke off a piece of cornet and dipped it in the thick peanut sauce. ‘You can even eat the packaging.’

  ‘Hey!’ said Rumo. A Vulphead wearing a brightly coloured bobble hat had come up and grabbed him by the waistcoat.

  Painless scars

  ‘How about a painless scar?’ he asked, holding a knife with a milk-white blade under Rumo’s nose. Rumo reacted instantly. He gripped the Vulphead’s wrist with one paw and his throat with the other. The newcomer’s face turned blue and his knife fell to the ground with a clatter.

  ‘What about a painless dislocated neck?’ Rumo retorted. Urs hurried over.

  ‘Let him go, Rumo, that was a genuine business offer. You need only say no.’

  Rumo released the Vulphead, who backed away, fighting for breath.

  ‘My friend is from the country,’ Urs said apologetically. ‘This is his first annual fair.’

  ‘That’s all right,’ gasped the Vulphead. ‘Later, maybe. Have some mulled ale, relax! We’re all friends here. We inflict the finest scars anywhere in the fairground. Later, maybe.’ He retrieved his knife and walked off, grinning.

  ‘Those knives are made of elfinjade,’ Urs explained. He stuffed the rest of the potato chips into his mouth and tossed the tip of the cornet away. ‘Elfinjade,’ he went on with his mouth full, ‘is the stuff that falls from elfinwasps’ wings when they wake up and give them a shake.’ He swallowed the last chip. ‘If you collect elfinjade and subject it to extreme pressure, you can use it to forge knives that inflict painless cuts. You could amputate someone’s arm and it wouldn’t hurt. Here, look.’

  He parted some clumps of fur on his right forearm to reveal a skilfully incised scar shaped like a broken heart. In the middle was a name:

  Sheena

  Rumo stared at it.

  ‘Sheena of the Snows – she was my Silver Thread. It never came to anything, alas. She went off to Florinth. I was heartbroken.’

  Urs pretended to wipe away a tear.

  ‘That’s a painless scar made by an elfinjade knife. Girls go crazy if they see you with a scar like that, especially if the name is their own.’ Urs gave another wink of the kind Rumo found so puzzling.

  They paused outside a tent in front of which a Demidwarf in jester’s motley was alternately breathing fire and haranguing the crowd: ‘Roll up! Roll up and feast your eyes on Fredda, the Alpine Imp, clean-shaven and hairless! The most horrific sight in Zamonia! Children not admitted! No liability for heart attacks accepted!’

  Scores of people were streaming into the tent. Urs hustled his friend away.

  ‘What’s an Alpine Imp?’ asked Rumo. ‘Why should anyone want to pay to see something horrific?’

  ‘Hm, who knows? Showmen don’t try to sell you what you want.’

  ‘What, then?’

  ‘Whatever they can talk you into.’

  ‘I don’t understand.’

  ‘We aren’t here to understand anything.’

  ‘What, then?’

  Mouse bladders

  ‘What-then-what-then! You’re starting to get on my nerves. Have some fun, that’s all.’ Urs broke off. ‘Oh, look, mouse bladders!’

  They were standing in front of a huge cast-iron frying pan in which dozens of walnut-sized sausages were sizzling.

  ‘Some mouse bladders, gentlemen?’ enquired the chef, a Waterkin in a fat-bespattered apron. ‘They’re choicest bladders taken from pedigree Ornian Piddlemice!’

  Urs raised one finger.

  ‘Even the most sophisticated gourmets,’ he pontificated in solemn tones, ‘are bowled over by the subtle flavour of an expertly prepared mouse bladder the first time they sample one. The secret is to keep the bladder intact when you pipe the mousemeat stuffing through its cystic canals. The meat must be minced at least thirty-three times until it’s almost liquid, rendered even more so by the addition of garlic juice, sour cream and mouse gravy, and seasoned with dilute salt, paprika and olive oil. Many chefs add cumin, but that’s barbaric. The stuffing must be loaded into a cake icer and pumped into the interior of the mouse organ until it’s filled to bursting. Finally, the cystic canals are tied off with kitchen twine to keep the juices from escaping.’

  Saliva was trickling from the corners of Urs’s mouth.

  ‘Next, equal quantities of butter and olive oil are heated in a heavy cast-iron pan and the bladders fried for a few minutes until golden-brown. They are then kept warm until consumption by being gently smoked over a liquorice-root grill. It should be added that the bladder of the South Ornian Piddlemouse – the only mouse of which this dish should consist! – is one of the most hard-working digestive organs to be found in any Zamonian life form. In fact, this industrious variety of mouse spends nearly all its life passing water, hence the elasticity and concentrated flavour of its bladder. One’s first taste of mouse bladder is a positive revelation. Two portions, please!’

  ‘Well?’ Urs asked expectantly. He had watched with growing exasperation as Rumo tossed bladder after bladder into his mouth and gulped them down without chewing them even once. His friend showed no signs of enjoyment, still less rapture.

  ‘Huh?’ Rumo said vaguely.

  ‘Those mouse bladders! Tasty?’

  The ghost train

  ‘Oh … Yes, thanks.’ Rumo tossed the empty paper bag heedlessly over his shoulder. He had spotted Rala queuing up outside a huge black tent adorned with posters advertising the unspeakable attractions inside.

  ‘Hey, that’s a ghost train,’ Urs said with his mouth full. ‘We must try it – definitely!’ He walked over to the posters and started to read them. Rumo trailed after him, never letting Rala out of his sight. She hadn’t noticed him in the crowd.

  ‘Listen to this! They claim that the horrific figures inside are all real! Apparently, they cut down the victims of hangings and embalm them, then string ’em up again, ho ho! Nerves of steel required, eh?’

  Urs tossed the last of the mouse bladders into his mouth. ‘They rob the graves in cemeteries reserved for outlaws – you can do what you like with them. Those graveyards are run by genuine Barley Moomies and Forest Demons! Look at that list there – it gives the number of deaths that have occurred on the ghost train: fourteen heart attacks, seven strokes and one suicide! And that’s all in one season! Man! We can’t afford to miss this!’ Urs giggled inanely.

  Rumo didn’t feel like paying someone good money to try to frighten him. He was past being frightened since his adventures on Roaming Rock.

  ‘It says someone on this ghost train was so scared by a Moomy, he developed a nosebleed that simply wouldn’t stop until it drained his body dry. They’ve left him here as a permanent attraction, going round and round in a car filled with his own congealed blood.’

  Rumo was covertly watching Rala.

  Urs followed the direction of his gaze. ‘Hey, there’s Rala. She’s going for a ride too.’

  Rumo would have found it quite impossible to walk up to Rala and accost her – he would sooner have picked a fight with a dozen of the Bluddums employed to push the fairground sw
ingboats. Before he could pursue that thought any further, Urs had fixed everything. He simply went up to Rala and laid a hand on her shoulder. They exchanged a few words, then Urs beckoned to Rumo, who walked stiffly towards them. He stuck out his paw and mouthed some form of salutation when he was still yards away. Why didn’t his body obey him when Rala was close at hand? Why did her proximity always make him feel as if there were two of him – as if he could see himself and his own awkward gestures? What was the magical power that emanated from this girl and why was Urs unaffected by it? He resolved to shake Rala’s paw, gently but firmly, gaze deep into her eyes and speak in a slow, clear, sonorous voice.

  ‘Hello, Rumo,’ Rala said affably. They were the very first words she had ever addressed to him.

  ‘Er, hello,’ Rumo replied in a muffled voice, lowering his eyes. He withdrew his paw just as Rala was about to shake it. Then he blushed and stared at the ground. Urs shot him a reproving glance.

  ‘We’re going together,’ Urs said firmly. ‘It’ll work out cheaper for all of us.’ Rumo stood rooted to the spot. His mouth was so dry that he was afraid of biting his tongue if he spoke, so he said nothing.

  ‘There are some genuine Kackerbats flying around in there, so watch your coiffure!’ Urs told Rala jocularly as he boarded the car with Rumo and sat her down between them. The car was a tight squeeze, so they sat squashed together. A change came over Rumo when he felt Rala’s arm against his: he started to sweat.

  ‘Hey, are you scared?’ asked Rala, who had noticed his uneasy expression.

 
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