Rumo and his miraculous.., p.3
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.3

           Walter Moers
 

  When the Demonocles captured the pirate ship on which Volzotan Smyke happened to be a passenger, he had promptly thrown himself into a tank filled with drinking water and, with great histrionic panache, impersonated an obese and unappetising sea creature. Although the Demonocles were taken in by his act, they transported him back to their cave and stored him in one of the pools for consumption in an emergency. They devoured all the pirates within a month, but Smyke miraculously survived.

  However, he was feeling rather unwell in his watery element. True, he could breathe underwater if he chose, but that was just an embarrassing legacy inherited from his aquatic ancestors, whom he despised. He would have preferred to disavow that part of his family tree, but in his present predicament he clung to it desperately, because his ancestors were – so to speak – saving his life every day. Smyke had been living in this pool on Roaming Rock for two and a half years – by far the longest period any creature had ever spent in the Demonocles’ larder. This had given him time to study their habits – or, at least, those they indulged in when visiting the cave. He had been compelled to listen to their gruesome singing, the discordant din made by their seashell horns and their totally unrhythmical drumming. Smyke estimated that these performances occurred every six months at particular phases of the moon and went on for days, so he could tell when their next festivity – or orgy – was due. This knowledge was vitally important, because the Demonocles’ gluttony on such occasions could spell the premature end of every living creature in the cave. Smyke had had to witness the disappearance of several captured ships’ crews in quick succession. Indeed, one or two prisoners had been eaten alive before his very eyes. When these festivities were at their height, it was not uncommon for a drunken Demonocle to come storming into the cave, tear a shrieking victim to pieces and devour him in the presence of his horrified fellow captives. At such times blood seemed to affect the Demonocles in much the same way as high-proof liquor.

  While these atrocities were in progress, Volzotan Smyke dived as deep as he could and excreted a substance from his sebaceous glands that dyed the pool dark-green, transforming it into a malodorous soup so unappetising that even the Demonocles found it repulsive. He hated doing this, because it reminded him of another, still more unpleasant branch of his family tree, at the lower end of which came the primeval Sulphur Grub, a creature whose offensive smell was all that had enabled it to survive in a world full of voracious dinosaurs. Smyke could hardly endure the stench himself, but in this case the end really did justify the means.

  So as not to become demented under these conditions, Smyke had created a fantasy world of his own. He regarded his sojourn on Roaming Rock as an ordeal imposed on him by fate and designed to toughen him for his further journey through life. He was like a sword being tempered in the furnace – that was his favourite image of himself, little though it accorded with his physical appearance. Nothing in the world was more terrible than the constant fear of being eaten alive. Equally, and of this he was just as convinced, nothing could better steel one to resist terrors of all kinds. If he survived Roaming Rock, he kept telling himself, death would have lost its sting.

  Smyke’s memories were another powerful aid in his fight for survival on Roaming Rock. It was only in captivity that he had learnt to appreciate moments of happiness experienced in the past. In the corridors of his brain he had constructed a chamber to be visited whenever his hopes had been dashed yet again, when his fear was at its greatest and his despair overpowering. This was the Chamber of Memories.

  Major and minor incidents in his life hung on its walls like oil paintings, frozen in time and waiting for him to reactivate them. These mental images would have meant nothing to anyone else. They could be a view across a gloomy bay or a little hillside inn at dusk, a battlefield in turmoil, a chessboard bearing an exceptionally complicated arrangement of pieces, or a leg of roast pork with a knife about to carve it.

  When Smyke stood in front of one of these pictures and devoted his attention to it, it seemed to come to life, expand and literally suck him in. He then experienced some pleasurable memory as if for the first time. Such was the solitary skill he had developed at the bottom of his pool. It was neither thinking nor dreaming but a mental activity that lay midway between the two – one he immodestly termed smyking. It was the art not of remembering, but of reliving a remembrance.

  Smyke used to reactivate these memories as required. Some of them were big and dramatic, others small, simple and intimate. If afflicted with hunger and a yearning for something more varied to eat than the seaweed and plankton the Demonocles tossed into his pool, Smyke would summon up the image of a little inn at dusk. There, over a hundred years ago, he had enjoyed one of his life’s most satisfying gastronomic experiences. He had dined outside on the terrace, which afforded a panoramic view of a bay that glowed orange at night, thanks to the phosphorescent jellyfish that congregated there at that season of the year. Smyke started with the Whole Baked Truffle Encased in Pâté de Foie Gras, went on to the Slaked Jellyfish on a Bed of Algae followed by a Venus’s-Shell Risotto and Ginger Salad in a Cream Dressing Scented with Lemon Grass, and rounded off the meal with some Five-Year-Old Grailsundian Blue and a bottle of Cataclysmian Port. Although this was a rather trivial memory, Smyke revived it more often than any of the others.

  Only one mental image in his Chamber of Memories – an exceptionally large one – was permanently covered up. Smyke always hurried past this picture, which was draped in a black cloth, but he couldn’t delete it from his mind.

  Other memories were preserved in urns. The walls of the chamber were lined with little pillars bearing urns of various colours. If Smyke opened one of these vessels a smell would issue from it: The scent of fresh snow. The dusty odour of an ancient book. Rain falling on a city street in springtime. The smoke from a campfire. A wine cork straight from the bottle. Oven-warm bread. A cup of coffee.

  Each of these smells set off a chain reaction of memories in which Smyke could lose himself for hours. If only for a while, they made him forget his fear and despair – until the blare of a seashell horn or the rattle of the grille over the mouth of the cave jolted him back to reality.

  And now, into this harsh reality had stumbled a Wolperting puppy that still walked on all fours, hadn’t yet learnt to speak and was seasick from time to time. Smyke knew that this little creature personified the reason why he had constructed his Chamber of Memories. It embodied the hope that had kept him going in the depths of his stinking pool, the one remaining desire he still cherished in this dreadful world: to escape from Roaming Rock. This personification of his desire required a name, Volzotan Smyke decided. He didn’t take long to think of one. There was a Zamonian card game, a particular favourite of his, in which the most important card, and the one that gave the game its name, was known as the rumo. If you played a rumo you were challenging fate and risking everything – absolutely everything. On the other hand you could score a resounding victory. And that was how Rumo got his name.

  Words and pictures

  ‘Rumo!’ said Rumo.

  ‘That’s right!’ Smyke exclaimed. ‘You Rumo, me Smyke.’

  ‘You Rumo, me Smyke,’ Rumo repeated eagerly.

  ‘No, no.’ Smyke chuckled. ‘You Rumo, me Smyke.’

  ‘You Rumo, me Smyke!’ Rumo said defiantly, slapping his chest with his forepaw.

  Smyke taught Rumo to speak. Or rather, Rumo could already speak. All he needed were the right words, and those he learnt simply by sitting beside the pool and listening to the Shark Grub. At first it seemed to him that the creature was emitting a hotchpotch of hisses, croaks and noises that made no sense, but he soon noticed that many of these sounds conjured up mental images, while others generated emotions like fear or bewilderment or gaiety. Still others filled his head with geometrical shapes and abstract patterns.

  The little Wolperting soaked up these strange sounds like a sponge. Certain of Smyke’s utterances made heavenly music ring out in Rumo’s
ears and suffused his whole body with an unaccountable feeling of happiness. Sometimes he pictured things he couldn’t put a name to: a big, dark city in which many fires were burning, or a mountain range agleam with snow, or a desert valley shimmering with intense heat. Then again, he would fall into a trance, dreaming with his eyes wide open and his heart beating wildly. He could still see Smyke swimming in the pool and gesticulating with his fourteen arms, but a stream of events, sensations and presentiments flowed through his body. He felt as if the words were penetrating his brain in a thousand places and exploding there, and the images they conjured up formed themselves into confused, incoherent scenes that followed and obliterated each other in quick succession. It was as if an immense wealth of age-old experience had been slumbering within him. Now it had awakened and sprung potently to life. No, Smyke didn’t teach Rumo to speak, he merely roused the words inside him from their sleep.

  ‘Yes! Yes!’ Rumo kept exclaiming. ‘Go on, go on!’

  Words, images, sensations – Rumo couldn’t get enough of them.

  Smyke’s favourite topic was fighting. He himself was no fighter, that was obvious, but his knowledge of the theoretical aspects of the subject was second to none. He had made a meticulous study of all forms of fighting: sporting contests, pitched battles in the field, duels to the death with sabres, boxing matches with padded gloves, rapid-fire shoot-outs with crossbows, the Marsh Dwellers’ ancient art of cudgel-fighting, the Bluddums’ appallingly sanguinary affrays with ball and chain. Smyke had witnessed duels in which adversaries daubed with pitch set each other ablaze with flaming torches. Armed with a magnifying glass, he had spent days watching the incredibly bloody battles waged by rival ants’ nests. He could tell of contests that brought you out in a sweat at the sight and sound of opponents breaking each other’s bones. Rumo was so enthralled by Smyke’s anecdotes that he sometimes sat beside the pool like a spectator at a prizefight, punching the air with his little paws clenched.

  Smyke had refereed the Fangfangs’ professional boxing matches. He had also been a military adviser during the Norselanders’ guerrilla wars, an officially licensed second at duels between Florinthian aristocrats, and a timekeeper at the Wolpertings’ chess tournaments in Betaville. Other professional capacities in which he had served included cockfight organiser, treasurer of the Zamonian Vermiluct (an annual wrestling match between Ornian Strangleworms), cheerleader at the Midgardian Dwarf Joust and croupier at Fort Una, the city where gambling went on round the clock. No, Smyke was no fighter; he was a gambler, which was why he studied contests and contestants, and analysed victories and defeats of all kinds. Anyone who knew how contests functioned could bet on their outcome. That was Smyke’s ruling passion, his raison d’être: steadily improving his ability to know who would win.

  ‘I once watched a fight between two Hydroscorpions,’ he remarked one day, out of the blue, and Rumo pricked up his ears. Hydroscorpions, he thought, and something small with lots of legs went scuttling through his head.

  ‘Hydroscorpions are tiny but highly venomous creatures with seven extremely mobile tails, each of which is tipped with a poisonous sting,’ Smyke went on.

  Rumo shuddered.

  ‘Would you like to hear how the fight turned out?’

  ‘Yes, please!’ Rumo said eagerly.

  The Hydroscorpions

  ‘It was in a desert and I happened to be at a loose end, so I watched those two venomous creatures and made a bet with myself. I bet on the smaller, more agile scorpion. At first they merely danced around each other in the sand – a stiff, decorous dance, like that of two courtiers in olden times. Then, all at once, it happened: the larger scorpion feinted, lashed out, killed the smaller one in an instant and devoured it. Crash, bang, wallop – all over! I’d lost my bet with myself and won it at the same time.’

  Rumo knitted his brow and thought hard.

  ‘But the most surprising thing of all happened after that. Having devoured its opponent, the victorious scorpion stung itself in the head, went into convulsions and died in agony.’

  ‘Ooh …’ said Rumo.

  ‘Later I had this explained to me by someone who knew all about Hydroscorpions. He explained that they were male and female.’

  ‘Male and female?’

  ‘Yes, they were a couple,’ said Smyke, as if this concluded his story with a satisfactory moral. ‘They were in love, you see?’

  ‘No,’ said Rumo, ‘I don’t.’

  ‘Neither do I.’ Smyke sighed. On that note he submerged.

  Rumo lay awake for a long time that night, trying to read some meaning into the words ‘male’ and ‘female’. He failed, and besides, new teeth were about to emerge at three different points in his mouth. On the other hand, four more had already done so. He enjoyed running his tongue over them, delighting in their smooth sides, and sharp points and cutting edges. His mouth would soon be as full of such teeth as that of the big white bear in its cage.

  Then he fell asleep after all. He dreamt he was an immense, muscular, menacing bear with snow-white fur and silver teeth. He rose on his hind legs and emitted a fearsome roar, and swarms of shadowy figures fled from him in terror. The little Wolperting laughed in his sleep.

  Smyke’s five rules

  By now, Rumo was moving around the cave with somewhat more self-confidence. There were five rules which Smyke had impressed on him and which he strictly observed:

  Rule No. 1: Keep away from cages containing wild animals!

  Rule No. 2: Keep away from pools containing creatures with tentacles!

  Rule No. 3: Never try to climb over the sliding grille!

  Rule No. 4: Hide in your niche when Demonocles appear!

  Rule No. 5: If you fail to make it to your niche, keep as still as you can when Demonocles are around!

  Rumo enjoyed more freedom than any other prisoner in the cave. He wasn’t locked up, tethered or chained, and he didn’t have to hide underwater. He could help himself to any of the food or water troughs – apart from those of the wild animals. He could explore every nook and cranny, and was the only free-range inmate of the cave with a sleeping place hidden from the Demonocles’ gaze. He also enjoyed the privilege, when fear threatened to overwhelm him, of being able to call on Volzotan Smyke for a story. Particularly when the Demonocles made a racket with their conch-horns and drums – an increasingly frequent occurrence of late – Rumo used to sneak off to Smyke for something to take his mind off the alarming din.

  ‘Tell me a story!’ he commanded on such occasions.

  Smyke enjoyed telling Rumo stories because, figuratively speaking, they transported him as far from Roaming Rock as they did the little Wolperting.

  ‘Would you like to hear the story of the battle of Lindworm Castle?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘A battle?’ Rumo exclaimed. ‘Yes, please!’

  The story of Lindworm Castle

  Smyke inhaled so deeply, he might have been intending to recount the story in a single breath.

  ‘The story of Lindworm Castle is the oldest story in Zamonia – possibly the oldest story in the world,’ he began. ‘Are you ready to listen to Zamonia’s longest and oldest story, my boy?’

  Rumo nodded.

  ‘It’s billions of years old.’ Smyke waved his fourteen arms dramatically.

  ‘Billions?’ Rumo wasn’t expressing surprise, just imitating the word.

  ‘Yes, billions! A billion is a thousand million and a million years are a thousand thousand – but you’ll learn all that soon enough. What matters is, a billion years ago a very small animal appeared in the ocean: the world’s first living creature.’

  ‘Out there in the water?’

  ‘Yes, out there in the ocean.’

  ‘What kind of animal?’

  Smyke racked his brains. The youngster was starting to ask some disconcerting questions. What kind of creature? Something beginning with … It was on the tip of his tongue. But anyway, was ‘animal’ the correct term for the creature he was thinking of? Smy
ke was shocked at himself. After all, he’d once done a three-week course on Zamonian palaeontology at the night school in Florinth. That was … Good heavens, that was a hundred and fifty years ago already!

  ‘What kind of animal?’

  Smyke couldn’t remember. Hadn’t the first living creatures been cells? Cells that divided and … Or didn’t cells count as living creatures? Didn’t two cells have to combine in order to produce a living creature? Which then divided, or something like that? He really must brush up his knowledge of palaeontology. And biology. And science in general.

  ‘That’s immaterial. What matters is, the animal was very small and it, er, divided into two.’

  ‘Divided into two?’

  ‘Yes, divided into two! What are you, a parrot?’

  ‘A parrot?’

  Smyke became aware that it was quite some time since he had told a long, coherent story. He had definitely gone back too far.

  ‘Anyway, the animal divided into two and formed other animals. Those animals developed jaws, grew scales and teeth—’

  ‘Teeth!’ cried Rumo, proudly baring his little stumps, but Smyke ignored the interruption.

  ‘They grew bigger and bigger, and then they went ashore. They were the dinosaurs.’ That’s one way out, thought Smyke. Short and painless.

  ‘Dinosaurs?’

  For the first time ever, Rumo was rather getting on the Shark Grub’s nerves. Until now his questions had always amused Smyke and provoked him into giving detailed explanations, but today his patience was being sorely tried. The drumming had started again some days ago. He was the only one who realised that terrible events lay in store – events that could seal the fate of every living creature in the cave – and this knowledge was preying on his mind. The story of Lindworm Castle had been meant to distract himself as well, and now Rumo kept interrupting.

 
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