فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Witch’s Headstone

THERE WAS A WITCH buried at the edge of the graveyard, it was common knowledge. Bod had been told to keep away from that corner of the world by Mrs. Owens as far back as he could remember.

“Why?” he asked.

“T’aint healthy for a living body,” said Mrs. Owens. “There’s damp down that end of things. It’s practically a marsh. You’ll catch your death.” Mr. Owens himself was more evasive and less imaginative. “It’s not a good place,” was all he said.

The graveyard proper ended at the bottom of the west side of the hill, beneath the old apple tree, with a fence of rust-brown iron railings, each topped with a small, rusting spearhead, but there was a wasteland beyond that, a mass of nettles and weeds, of brambles and autumnal rubbish, and Bod, who was, on the whole, obedient, did not push between the railings, but he went down there and looked through. He knew he wasn’t being told the whole story, and it irritated him.

Bod went back up the hill, to the little chapel near the entrance to the graveyard, and he waited until it got dark. As twilight edged from grey to purple there was a noise in the spire, like a fluttering of heavy velvet, and Silas left his resting place in the belfry and clambered headfirst down the spire.

“What’s in the far corner of the graveyard?” asked Bod. “Past Harrison Westwood, Baker of this Parish, and his wives, Marion and Joan?”

“Why do you ask?” said his guardian, brushing the dust from his black suit with ivory fingers.

Bod shrugged. “Just wondered.”

“It’s unconsecrated ground,” said Silas. “Do you know what that means?”

“Not really,” said Bod.

Silas walked across the path without disturbing a fallen leaf, and sat down on the bench beside Bod. “There are those,” he said, in his silken voice, “who believe that all land is sacred. That it is sacred before we come to it, and sacred after. But here, in your land, they blessed the churches and the ground they set aside to bury people in, to make it holy. But they left land unconsecrated beside the sacred ground, Potter’s Fields to bury the criminals and the suicides or those who were not of the faith.” “So the people buried in the ground on the other side of the fence are bad people?”

Silas raised one perfect eyebrow. “Mm? Oh, not at all. Let’s see, it’s been a while since I’ve been down that way. But I don’t remember anyone particularly evil. Remember, in days gone by you could be hanged for stealing a shilling. And there are always people who find their lives have become so unsupportable they believe the best thing they could do would be to hasten their transition to another plane of existence.” “They kill themselves, you mean?” said Bod. He was about eight years old, wide-eyed and inquisitive, and he was not stupid.

“Indeed.”

“Does it work? Are they happier dead?”

“Sometimes. Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” “Sort of,” said Bod.

Silas reached down and ruffled the boy’s hair.

Bod said, “What about the witch?”

“Yes. Exactly,” said Silas. “Suicides, criminals, and witches. Those who died unshriven.” He stood up, a midnight shadow in the twilight. “All this talking,” he said, “and I have not even had my breakfast. While you will be late for lessons.” In the twilight of the graveyard there was a silent implosion, a flutter of velvet darkness, and Silas was gone.

The moon had begun to rise by the time Bod reached Mr. Pennyworth’s mausoleum, and Thomes Pennyworth (here he lyes in the certainty of the moft glorious refurrection) was already waiting, and was not in the best of moods.

“You are late,” he said.

“Sorry, Mr. Pennyworth.”

Pennyworth tutted. The previous week Mr. Pennyworth had been teaching Bod about Elements and Humors, and Bod had kept forgetting which was which. He was expecting a test, but instead Mr. Pennyworth said, “I think it is time to spend a few days on practical matters. Time is passing, after all.” “Is it?” asked Bod.

“I am afraid so, young Master Owens. Now, how is your Fading?”

Bod had hoped he would not be asked that question.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I mean. You know.”

“No, Master Owens. I do not know. Why do you not demonstrate for me?”

Bod’s heart sank. He took a deep breath, and did his best, squinching up his eyes and trying to fade away.

Mr. Pennyworth was not impressed.

“Pah. That’s not the kind of thing. Not the kind of thing at all. Slipping and Fading, boy, the way of the dead. Slip through shadows. Fade from awareness. Try again.” Bod tried harder.

“You’re as plain as the nose on your face,” said Mr. Pennyworth. “And your nose is remarkably obvious. As is the rest of your face, young man. As are you. For the sake of all that is holy, empty your mind. Now. You are an empty alleyway. You are a vacant doorway. You are nothing. Eyes will not see you. Minds will not hold you. Where you are is nothing and nobody.” Bod tried again. He closed his eyes and imagined himself fading into the stained stonework of the mausoleum wall, becoming a shadow on the night and nothing more. He sneezed.

“Dreadful,” said Mr. Pennyworth, with a sigh. “Quite dreadful. I believe I shall have a word with your guardian about this.” He shook his head. “So. The humors. List them.” “Um. Sanguine. Choleric. Phlegmatic. And the other one. Um, Melancholic, I think.”

And so it went, until it was time for Grammar and Composition with Miss Letitia Borrows, Spinster of this Parish (Who Did No Harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can You Say Lykewise?). Bod liked Miss Borrows, and the coziness of her little crypt, and that she could all-too-easily be led off the subject.

“They say there’s a witch in uncons—unconsecrated ground,” he said.

“Yes, dear. But you don’t want to go over there.”

“Why not?”

Miss Borrows smiled the guileless smile of the dead. “They aren’t our sort of people,” she said.

“But it is the graveyard, isn’t it? I mean, I’m allowed to go there if I want to?”

“That,” said Miss Borrows, “would not be advisable.”

Bod was obedient, but curious, and so, when lessons were done for the night, he walked past Harrison Westwood, Baker, and family’s memorial, a broken-armed angel, but did not climb down the hill to the Potter’s Field. Instead he walked up the side of the hill to where a picnic some thirty years before had left its mark in the shape of a large apple tree.

There were some lessons that Bod had mastered. He had eaten a bellyful of unripe apples, sour and white-pipped, from the tree some years before, and had regretted it for days, his guts cramping and painful while Mrs. Owens lectured him on what not to eat. Now he always waited until the apples were ripe before eating them, and never ate more than two or three a night. He had finished the last of the apples the week before, but he liked the apple tree as a place to think.

He edged up the trunk, to his favorite place in the crook of two branches, and looked down at the Potter’s Field below him, a brambly patch of weeds and unmown grass in the moonlight. He wondered whether the witch would be old and iron-toothed and travel in a house on chicken legs, or whether she would be thin and sharp-nosed and carry a broomstick.

Bod’s stomach growled and he realized that he was getting hungry. He wished he had not devoured all the apples on the tree. That he had left just one… He glanced up, and thought he saw something. He looked once, looked twice to be certain: an apple, red and ripe.

Bod prided himself on his tree-climbing skills. He swung himself up, branch by branch, and imagined he was Silas, swarming smoothly up a sheer brick wall. The apple, the red of it almost black in the moonlight, hung just out of reach. Bod moved slowly forward along the branch, until he was just below the apple. Then he stretched up, and the tips of his fingers touched the perfect apple.

He was never to taste it.

A snap, loud as a hunter’s gun, as the branch gave way beneath him.

A flash of pain woke him, sharp as ice, the color of slow thunder, down in the weeds that summer’s night.

The ground beneath him seemed relatively soft, and oddly warm. He pushed a hand down and felt something like warm fur beneath him. He had landed on the grass-pile, where the graveyard’s groundskeeper threw the cuttings from the mower, and it had broken his fall. Still, there was a pain in his chest, and his leg hurt as if he had landed on it first and twisted it.

Bod moaned.

“Hush-a-you-hush-a-boy,” said a voice from behind him. “Where did you come from? Dropping like a thunderstone. What way is that to carry on?” “I was in the apple tree,” said Bod.

“Ah. Let me see your leg. Broken like the tree’s limb, I’ll be bound.” Cool fingers prodded his left leg. “Not broken. Twisted, yes, sprained perhaps. You have the Devil’s own luck, boy, falling into the compost. ’Tain’t the end of the world.” “Oh, good,” said Bod. “Hurts, though.”

He turned his head, looked up and behind him. She was older than him, but not a grown-up, and she looked neither friendly nor unfriendly. Wary, mostly. She had a face that was intelligent and not even a little bit beautiful.

“I’m Bod,” he said.

“The live boy?” she asked.

Bod nodded.

“I thought you must be,” she said. “We’ve heard of you, even over here, in the Potter’s Field. What do they call you?”

“Owens,” he said. “Nobody Owens. Bod, for short.”

“How-de-do, young Master Bod.”

Bod looked her up and down. She wore a plain white shift. Her hair was mousy and long, and there was something of the goblin in her face—a sideways hint of a smile that seemed to linger, no matter what the rest of her face was doing.

“Were you a suicide?” he asked. “Did you steal a shilling?”

“Never stole nuffink,” she said, “Not even a handkerchief. Anyway,” she said, pertly, “the suicides is all over there, on the other side of that hawthorn, and the gallows-birds are in the blackberry-patch, both of them. One was a coiner, t’other a highwayman, or so he says, although if you ask me I doubt he was more than a common footpad and nightwalker.” “Ah,” said Bod. Then, suspicion forming, tentatively, he said, “They say a witch is buried here.”

She nodded. “Drownded and burnded and buried here without as much as a stone to mark the spot.”

“You were drowned and burned?”

She settled down on the hill of grass-cuttings beside him, and held his throbbing leg with her chilly hands. “They come to my little cottage at dawn, before I’m proper awake, and drags me out onto the Green. ‘You’re a witch!’ they shouts, fat and fresh-scrubbed all pink in the morning, like so many pigwiggins scrubbed clean for market day. One by one they gets up beneath the sky and tells of milk gone sour and horses gone lame, and finally Mistress Jemima gets up, the fattest, pinkest, best-scrubbed of them all, and tells how as Solomon Porritt now cuts her dead and instead hangs around the washhouse like a wasp about a honeypot, and it’s all my magic, says she, that made him so and the poor young man must be bespelled. So they strap me to the cucking stool and forces it under the water of the duckpond, saying if I’m a witch I’ll neither drown nor care, but if I am not a witch I’ll feel it. And Mistress Jemima’s father gives them each a silver groat to hold the stool down under the foul green water for a long time, to see if I’d choke on it.” “And did you?”

“Oh yes. Got a lungful of water. It done for me.”

“Oh,” said Bod. “Then you weren’t a witch after all.”

The girl fixed him with her beady ghost-eyes and smiled a lopsided smile. She still looked like a goblin, but now she looked like a pretty goblin, and Bod didn’t think she would have needed magic to attract Solomon Porritt, not with a smile like that. “What nonsense. Of course I was a witch. They learned that when they untied me from the cucking stool and stretched me on the Green, nine-parts dead and all covered with duckweed and stinking pond-muck. I rolled my eyes back in my head, and I cursed each and every one of them there on the village Green that morning, that none of them would ever rest easily in a grave. I was surprised at how easily it came, the cursing. Like dancing it was, when your feet pick up the steps of a new measure your ears have never heard and your head don’t know, and they dance it till dawn.” She stood, and twirled, and kicked, and her bare feet flashed in the moonlight. “That was how I cursed them, with my last gurgling pond-watery breath. And then I expired. They burned my body on the Green until I was nothing but blackened charcoal, and they popped me in a hole in the Potter’s Field without so much as a headstone to mark my name,” and it was only then that she paused, and seemed, for a moment, wistful.

“Are any of them buried in the graveyard, then?” asked Bod.

“Not a one,” said the girl, with a twinkle. “The Saturday after they drownded and toasted me, a carpet was delivered to Master Porringer, all the way from London Town, and it was a fine carpet. But it turned out there was more in that carpet than strong wool and good weaving, for it carried the plague in its pattern, and by Monday five of them were coughing blood, and their skins were gone as black as mine when they hauled me from the fire. A week later and it had taken most of the village, and they threw the bodies all promiscuous in a plague pit they dug outside of the town, that they filled in after.” “Was everyone in the village killed?”

She shrugged. “Everyone who watched me get drownded and burned. How’s your leg now?”

“Better,” he said. “Thanks.”

Bod stood up, slowly, and limped down from the grass-pile. He leaned against the iron railings. “So were you always a witch?” he asked. “I mean, before you cursed them all?” “As if it would take witchcraft,” she said with a sniff, “to get Solomon Porritt mooning round my cottage.”

Which, Bod thought, but did not say, was not actually an answer to the question, not at all.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Got no headstone,” she said, turning down the corners of her mouth. “Might be anybody. Mightn’t I?”

“But you must have a name.”

“Liza Hempstock, if you please,” she said tartly. Then she said, “It’s not that much to ask, is it? Something to mark my grave. I’m just down there, see? With nothing but nettles to show where I rest.” And she looked so sad, just for a moment, that Bod wanted to hug her. And then it came to him, as he squeezed between the railings of the fence. He would find Liza Hempstock a headstone, with her name upon it. He would make her smile.

He turned to wave good-bye as he began to clamber up the hill, but she was already gone.

There were broken lumps of other people’s stones and statues in the graveyard, but, Bod knew, that would have been entirely the wrong sort of thing to bring to the grey-eyed witch in the Potter’s Field. It was going to take more than that. He decided not to tell anyone what he was planning, on the not entirely unreasonable basis that they would have told him not to do it.

Over the next few days his mind filled with plans, each more complicated and extravagant than the last. Mr. Pennyworth despaired.

“I do believe,” he announced, scratching his dusty mustache, “that you are getting, if anything, worse. You are not Fading. You are obvious, boy. You are difficult to miss. If you came to me in company with a purple lion, a green elephant, and a scarlet unicorn astride which was the King of England in his Royal Robes, I do believe that it is you and you alone that people would stare at, dismissing the others as minor irrelevancies.” Bod simply stared at him, and said nothing. He was wondering whether there were special shops in the places where the living people gathered that sold only headstones, and if so how he could go about finding one, and Fading was the least of his problems.

He took advantage of Miss Borrows’s willingness to be diverted from the subjects of Grammar and Composition to the subject of anything else at all to ask her about money—how exactly it worked, how one used it to get things one wanted. Bod had a number of coins he had found over the years (he had learned that the best place to find money was to go, afterwards, to wherever courting couples had used the grass of the graveyard as a place to cuddle and snuggle and kiss and roll about. He would often find metal coins on the ground, in the place where they had been) and he thought perhaps he could finally get some use from them.

“How much would a headstone be?” he asked Miss Borrows.

“In my time,” she told him, “they were fifteen guineas. I do not know what they would be today. More, I imagine. Much, much more.”

Bod had two pounds and fifty-three pence. It would, he was quite certain, not be enough.

It had been four years, almost half a lifetime, since Bod had visited the Indigo Man’s tomb, but he still remembered the way. He climbed to the top of the hill, until he was above the whole town, above even the top of the apple tree, above even the steeple of the little chapel, up where the Frobisher mausoleum stood like a rotten tooth. He slipped down into it, behind the coffin, and down and down and still further down, down to the tiny stone steps cut into the center of the hill, and those he descended until he reached the stone chamber. It was dark in that tomb, dark as a tin mine, but Bod saw as the dead see and the room gave up its secrets to him.

The Sleer was coiled around the wall of the barrow. He could feel it. It was as he remembered it, an invisible thing, all smoky tendrils and hate and greed. This time, however, he was not afraid of it.

FEAR US, whispered the Sleer. FOR WE GUARD THINGS PRECIOUS AND NEVER-LOST.

“I don’t fear you,” said Bod. “Remember? And I need to take something away from here.”

NOTHING EVER LEAVES, came the reply from the coiled thing in the darkness. THE KNIFE, THE BROOCH, THE GOBLET. THE SLEER GUARDS THEM IN THE DARKNESS. WE WAIT.

“Pardon me for asking,” said Bod, “but was this your grave?”

MASTER SETS US HERE ON THE PLAIN TO GUARD, BURIES OUR SKULLS BENEATH THIS STONE, LEAVES US HERE KNOWING WHAT WE HAVE TO DO. WE GUARD THE TREASURES UNTIL MASTER COMES BACK.

“I expect that he’s forgotten all about you,” pointed out Bod. “I’m sure he’s been dead himself for ages.”

WE ARE THE SLEER. WE GUARD.

Bod wondered just how long ago you had to go back before the deepest tomb inside the hill was on a plain, and he knew it must have been an extremely long time ago. He could feel the Sleer winding its waves of fear around him, like the tendrils of some carnivorous plant. He was beginning to feel cold, and slow, as if he had been bitten in the heart by some arctic viper and it was starting to pump its icy venom through his body.

He took a step forward, so he was standing against the stone slab, and he reached down and closed his fingers around the coldness of the brooch.

HISH! whispered the Sleer. WE GUARD THAT FOR THE MASTER.

“He won’t mind,” said Bod. He took a step backward, walking toward the stone steps, avoiding the desiccated remains of people and animals on the floor.

The Sleer writhed angrily, twining around the tiny chamber like ghost-smoke. Then it slowed. IT COMES BACK, said the Sleer, in its tangled triple voice. ALWAYS COMES BACK.

Bod went up the stone steps inside the hill as fast as he could. At one point he imagined that there was something coming after him, but when he broke out of the top, into the Frobisher mausoleum, and he could breathe the cool dawn air, nothing moved or followed.

Bod sat in the open air on the top of the hill and held the brooch. He thought it was all black, at first, but then the sun rose, and he could see that the stone in the center of the black metal was a swirling red. It was the size of a robin’s egg, and Bod stared into the stone wondering if there were things moving in its heart, his eyes and soul deep in the crimson world. If Bod had been smaller he would have wanted to put it into his mouth.

The stone was held in place by a black metal clasp, by something that looked like claws, with something else crawling around it. The something else looked almost snake-like, but it had too many heads. Bod wondered if that was what the Sleer looked like, in the daylight.

He wandered down the hill, taking all the shortcuts he knew, through the ivy tangle that covered the Bartleby family vault (and inside, the sound of the Bartlebys grumbling and readying for sleep) and on and over and through the railings and into the Potter’s Field.

He called “Liza! Liza!” and looked around.

“Good morrow, young lummox,” said Liza’s voice. Bod could not see her, but there was an extra shadow beneath the hawthorn tree, and, as he approached it, the shadow resolved itself into something pearlescent and translucent in the early-morning light. Something girl-like. Something grey-eyed. “I should be decently sleeping,” she said. “What kind of carrying on is this?” “Your headstone,” he said. “I wanted to know what you want on it.”

“My name,” she said. “It must have my name on it, with a big E, for Elizabeth, like the old queen that died when I was born, and a big Haitch, for Hempstock. More than that I care not, for I did never master my letters.” “What about dates?” asked Bod.

“Willyum the Conker ten sixty-six,” she sang, in the whisper of the dawn-wind in the hawthorn tree. “A big E if you please. And a big Haitch.” “Did you have a job?” asked Bod. “I mean, when you weren’t being a witch?”

“I done laundry,” said the dead girl, and then the morning sunlight flooded the wasteland, and Bod was alone.

It was nine in the morning, when all the world is sleeping. Bod was determined to stay awake. He was, after all, on a mission. He was eight years old, and the world beyond the graveyard held no terrors for him.

Clothes. He would need clothes. His usual dress, of a grey winding sheet, was, he knew, quite wrong. It was good in the graveyard, the same color as stone and as shadows. But if he was going to dare the world beyond the graveyard walls, he would need to blend in there.

There were some clothes in the crypt beneath the ruined church, but Bod did not want to go down to the crypt, not even in daylight. While Bod was prepared to justify himself to Master and Mistress Owens, he was not about to explain himself to Silas; the very thought of those dark eyes angry, or worse still, disappointed, filled him with shame.

There was a gardener’s hut at the far end of the graveyard, a small green building that smelled like motor oil, and in which the old mower sat and rusted, unused, along with an assortment of ancient garden tools. The hut had been abandoned when the last gardener had retired, before Bod was born, and the task of keeping the graveyard had been shared between the council (who sent in a man to cut the grass and clean the paths, once a month from April to September) and the local volunteers in the Friends of the Graveyard.

A huge padlock on the door protected the contents of the hut, but Bod had long ago discovered the loose wooden board in the back. Sometimes he would go to the gardener’s hut and sit, and think, when he wanted to be by himself.

As long as he had been going to the hut there had been a brown workingman’s jacket hanging on the back of the door, forgotten or abandoned years before, along with a green-stained pair of gardening jeans. The jeans were much too big for him, but he rolled up the cuffs until his feet showed, then he made a belt out of brown garden-twine, and tied it around his waist. There were boots in one corner, and he tried putting them on, but they were so big and encrusted with mud and concrete that he could barely shuffle in them, and if he took a step, the boots remained on the floor of the shed. He pushed the jacket out through the space in the loose board, squeezed himself out, then put it on. If he rolled up the sleeves, he decided, it worked quite well. It had big pockets, and he thrust his hands into them, and felt quite the dandy.

Bod walked down to the main gate of the graveyard, and looked out through the bars. A bus rattled past, in the street; there were cars there and noise and shops. Behind him, a cool green shade, overgrown with trees and ivy: home.

His heart pounding, Bod walked out into the world.

Abanazer Bolger had seen some odd types in his time; if you owned a shop like Abanazer’s, you’d see them too. The shop, in the warren of streets in the Old Town—a little bit antiques shop, a little bit junk shop, a little bit pawnbroker’s (and not even Abanazer himself was entirely certain which bit was which) brought odd types and strange people, some of them wanting to buy, some of them needing to sell. Abanazer Bolger traded over the counter, buying and selling, and he did a better trade behind the counter and in the back room, accepting objects that may not have been acquired entirely honestly, and then quietly shifting them on. His business was an iceberg. Only the dusty little shop was visible on the surface. The rest of it was underneath, and that was just how Abanazer Bolger wanted it.

Abanazer Bolger had thick spectacles and a permanent expression of mild distaste, as if he had just realized that the milk in his tea had been on the turn, and he could not get the sour taste of it out of his mouth. The expression served him well when people tried to sell him things. “Honestly,” he would tell them, sour-faced, “it’s not really worth anything at all. I’ll give you what I can, though, as it has sentimental value.” You were lucky to get anything like what you thought you wanted from Abanazer Bolger.

A business like Abanazer Bolger’s brought in strange people, but the boy who came in that morning was one of the strangest Abanazer could remember in a lifetime of cheating strange people out of their valuables. He looked to be about seven years old, and dressed in his grandfather’s clothes. He smelled like a shed. His hair was long and shaggy, and he seemed extremely grave. His hands were deep in the pockets of a dusty brown jacket, but even with the hands out of sight, Abanazer could see that something was clutched extremely tightly—protectively—in the boy’s right hand.

“Excuse me,” said the boy.

“Aye-aye, Sonny-Jim,” said Abanazer Bolger warily. Kids, he thought. Either they’ve nicked something, or they’re trying to sell their toys. Either way, he usually said no. Buy stolen property from a kid, and next thing you knew you’d have an enraged adult accusing you of having given little Johnnie or Matilda a tenner for their wedding ring. More trouble than they was worth, kids.

“I need something for a friend of mine,” said the boy. “And I thought maybe you could buy something I’ve got.”

“I don’t buy stuff from kids,” said Abanazer Bolger flatly.

Bod took his hand out of his pocket and put the brooch down on the grimy countertop. Bolger glanced down at it, then he looked at it. He removed his spectacles. He took an eyepiece from the countertop and he screwed it into his eye. He turned on a little light on the counter and examined the brooch through the eyeglass. “Snakestone?” he said, to himself, not to the boy. Then he took the eyepiece out, replaced his glasses, and fixed the boy with a sour and suspicious look.

“Where did you get this?” Abanazer Bolger asked.

Bod said, “Do you want to buy it?”

“You stole it. You’ve nicked this from a museum or somewhere, didn’t you?”

“No,” said Bod flatly. “Are you going to buy it, or shall I go and find somebody who will?”

Abanazer Bolger’s sour mood changed then. Suddenly he was all affability. He smiled broadly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just you don’t see many pieces like this. Not in a shop like this. Not outside of a museum. But I would certainly like it. Tell you what. Why don’t we sit down over tea and biscuits—I’ve got a packet of chocolate chip cookies in the back room—and decide how much something like this is worth? Eh?” Bod was relieved that the man was finally being friendly. “I need enough to buy a stone,” he said. “A headstone for a friend of mine. Well, she’s not really my friend. Just someone I know. I think she helped make my leg better, you see.” Abanazer Bolger, paying little attention to the boy’s prattle, led him behind the counter, and opened the door to the storeroom, a windowless little space, every inch of which was crammed high with teetering cardboard boxes, each filled with junk. There was a safe in there, in the corner, a big old one. There was a box filled with violins, an accumulation of stuffed dead animals, chairs without seats, books and prints.

There was a small desk beside the door, and Abanazer Bolger pulled up the only chair, and sat down, letting Bod stand. Abanazer rummaged in a drawer, in which Bod could see a half-empty bottle of whisky, and pulled out an almost-finished packet of chocolate chip cookies, and he offered one to the boy; he turned on the desk light, looked at the brooch again, the swirls of red and orange in the stone, and he examined the black metal band that encircled it, suppressing a little shiver at the expression on the heads of the snake-things. “This is old,” he said. “It’s”—priceless, he thought—“probably not really worth much, but you never know.” Bod’s face fell. Abanazer Bolger tried to look reassuring. “I just need to know that it’s not stolen, though, before I can give you a penny. Did you take it from your mum’s dresser? Nick it from a museum? You can tell me. I’ll not get you into trouble. I just need to know.” Bod shook his head. He munched on his cookie.

“Then where did you get it?”

Bod said nothing.

Abanazer Bolger did not want to put down the brooch, but he pushed it across the desk to the boy. “If you can’t tell me,” he said, “you’d better take it back. There has to be trust on both sides, after all. Nice doing business with you. Sorry it couldn’t go any further.” Bod looked worried. Then he said, “I found it in an old grave. But I can’t say where.” He stopped, because naked greed and excitement had replaced the friendliness on Abanazer Bolger’s face.

“And there’s more like this there?”

Bod said, “If you don’t want to buy it, I’ll find someone else. Thank you for the biscuit.”

Bolger said, “You’re in a hurry, eh? Mum and dad waiting for you, I expect?”

The boy shook his head, then wished he had nodded.

“Nobody waiting. Good.” Abanazer Bolger closed his hands around the brooch. “Now, you tell me exactly where you found this. Eh?”

“I don’t remember,” said Bod.

“Too late for that,” said Abanazer Bolger. “Suppose you have a little think for a bit about where it came from. Then, when you’ve thought, we’ll have a little chat, and you’ll tell me.” He got up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. He locked it with a large metal key.

He opened his hand and looked at the brooch and smiled, hungrily.

There was a ding from the bell above the shop door, to let him know someone had entered, and he looked up, guiltily, but there was no one there. The door was slightly ajar though, and Bolger pushed it shut, and then for good measure he turned around the sign in the window, so it said CLOSED. He pushed the bolt shut. Didn’t want any busy-bodies turning up today.

The autumn day had turned from sunny to grey, and a light patter of rain ran down the grubby shop window.

Abanazer Bolger picked up the telephone from the counter and pushed at the buttons with fingers that barely shook.

“Paydirt, Tom,” he said. “Get over here, soon as you can.”

Bod realized that he was trapped when he heard the lock turn in the door. He pulled on the door, but it held fast. He felt stupid for having been lured inside, foolish for not trusting his first impulses, to get as far away from the sour-faced man as possible. He had broken all the rules of the graveyard, and everything had gone wrong. What would Silas say? Or the Owenses? He could feel himself beginning to panic, and he suppressed it, pushing the worry back down inside him. It would all be good. He knew that. Of course, he needed to get out….

He examined the room he was trapped in. It was little more than a storeroom with a desk in it. The only entrance was the door.

He opened the desk drawer, finding nothing but small pots of paint (used for brightening up antiques) and a paintbrush. He wondered if he would be able to throw paint in the man’s face, and blind him for long enough to escape. He opened the top of a pot of paint and dipped in his finger.

“What’re you doin’?” asked a voice close to his ear.

“Nothing,” said Bod, screwing the top on the paintpot, and dropping it into one of the jacket’s enormous pockets.

Liza Hempstock looked at him, unimpressed. “Why are you in here?” she asked. “And who’s old bag-of-lard out there?”

“It’s his shop. I was trying to sell him something.”

“Why?”

“None of your beeswax.”

She sniffed. “Well,” she said, “you should get on back to the graveyard.”

“I can’t. He’s locked me in.”

“’Course you can. Just slip through the wall—”

He shook his head. “I can’t. I can only do it at home because they gave me the Freedom of the Graveyard when I was a baby.” He looked up at her, under the electric light. It was hard to see her properly, but Bod had spent his life talking to dead people. “Anyway, what are you doing here? What are you doing out from the graveyard? It’s daytime. And you’re not like Silas. You’re meant to stay in the graveyard.” She said, “There’s rules for those in graveyards, but not for those as was buried in unhallowed ground. Nobody tells me what to do, or where to go.” She glared at the door. “I don’t like that man,” she said. “I’m going to see what he’s doing.” A flicker, and Bod was alone in the room once more. He heard a rumble of distant thunder.

In the cluttered darkness of Bolger’s Antiquities, Abanazer Bolger looked up suspiciously, certain that someone was watching him, then realized he was being foolish. “The boy’s locked in the room,” he told himself. “The front door’s locked.” He was polishing the metal clasp surrounding the snakestone, as gently and as carefully as an archaeologist on a dig, taking off the black and revealing the glittering silver beneath it.

He was beginning to regret calling Tom Hustings over, although Hustings was big and good for scaring people. He was also beginning to regret that he was going to have to sell the brooch, when he was done. It was special. The more it glittered, under the tiny light on his counter, the more he wanted it to be his, and only his.

There was more where this came from, though. The boy would tell him. The boy would lead him to it.

The boy…

An idea struck him. He put down the brooch, reluctantly, and opened a drawer behind the counter, taking out a metal biscuit tin filled with envelopes and cards and slips of paper.

He reached in, and took out a card, only slightly larger than a business card. It was black-edged. There was no name or address printed on it, though. Only one word, handwritten in the center in an ink that had faded to brown: Jack.

On the back of the card, in pencil, Abanazer Bolger had written instructions to himself, in his tiny, precise handwriting, as a reminder, although he would not have been likely to forget the use of the card, how to use it to summon the man Jack. No, not summon. Invite. You did not summon people like him.

A knocking on the outer door of the shop.

Bolger tossed the card down onto the counter, and walked over to the door, peering out into the wet afternoon.

“Hurry up,” called Tom Hustings, “it’s miserable out here. Dismal. I’m getting soaked.”

Bolger unlocked the door and Tom Hustings pushed his way in, his raincoat and hair dripping. “What’s so important that you can’t talk about it over the phone, then?” “Our fortune,” said Abanazer Bolger, with his sour face. “That’s what.”

Hustings took off his raincoat and hung it on the back of the shopdoor. “What is it? Something good fell off the back of a lorry?”

“Treasure,” said Abanazer Bolger. “Two kinds.” He took his friend over to the counter, showed him the brooch, under the little light.

“It’s old, isn’t it?”

“From pagan times,” said Abanazer. “Before. From Druid times. Before the Romans came. It’s called a snakestone. Seen ’em in museums. I’ve never seen metalwork like that, or one so fine. Must have belonged to a king. The lad who found it says it come from a grave—think of a barrow filled with stuff like this.” “Might be worth doing it legit,” said Hustings, thoughtfully. “Declare it as treasure trove. They have to pay us market value for it, and we could make them name it after us. The Hustings–Bolger Bequest.” “Bolger–Hustings,” said Abanazer, automatically. Then he said, “There’s a few people I know of, people with real money, would pay more than market value, if they could hold it as you are”—for Tom Hustings was fingering the brooch, gently, like a man stroking a kitten—“and there’d be no questions asked.” He reached out his hand and, reluctantly, Tom Hustings passed him the brooch.

“You said two kinds of treasure,” said Hustings. “What’s t’other?”

Abanazer Bolger picked up the black-edged card, held it out for his friend’s inspection. “Do you know what this is?”

His friend shook his head.

Abanazer put the card down on the counter. “There’s a party is looking for another party.”

“So?”

“The way I heard it,” said Abanazer Bolger, “the other party is a boy.”

“There’s boys everywhere,” said Tom Hustings. “Running all around. Getting into trouble. I can’t abide them. So, there’s a party looking for a particular boy?” “This lad looks to be the right sort of age. He’s dressed—well, you’ll see how he’s dressed. And he found this. It could be him.”

“And if it is him?”

Abanazer Bolger picked up the card again, by the edge, and waved it back and forth, slowly, as if running the edge along an imaginary flame. “Here comes a candle to light you to bed…” he began.

“…and here comes a chopper to chop off your head,” concluded Tom Hustings, thoughtfully. “But look you. If we call the man Jack, we lose the boy. And if we lose the boy, we lose the treasure.” And the two men went back and forth on it, weighing the merits and disadvantages of reporting the boy or of collecting the treasure, which had grown in their minds to a huge underground cavern filled with precious things, and as they debated Abanazer pulled a bottle of sloe gin from beneath the counter and poured them both a generous tot, “to assist the cerebrations.” Liza was soon bored with their discussion, which went back and forth and around like a whirligig, getting nowhere, and so she went back into the storeroom, to find Bod standing in the middle of the room with his eyes tightly closed and his fists clenched and his face all screwed up as if he had a toothache, almost purple from holding his breath.

“What you a-doin’ of now?” she asked, unimpressed.

He opened his eyes and relaxed. “Trying to Fade,” he said.

Liza sniffed. “Try again,” she said.

He did, holding his breath even longer this time.

“Stop that,” she told him. “Or you’ll pop.”

Bod took a deep breath and then sighed. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “Maybe I could hit him with a rock, and just run for it.” There wasn’t a rock, so he picked up a colored glass paperweight, hefted it in his hand, wondering if he could throw it hard enough to stop Abanazer Bolger in his tracks.

“There’s two of them out there now,” said Liza. “And if the one don’t get you, t’other one will. They say they want to get you to show them where you got the brooch, and then dig up the grave and take the treasure.” She did not tell him about the other discussions they were having, nor about the black-edged card. She shook her head. “Why did you do something as stupid as this anyway? You know the rules about leaving the graveyard. Just asking for trouble, it was.” Bod felt very insignificant, and very foolish. “I wanted to get you a headstone,” he admitted, in a small voice. “And I thought it would cost more money. So I was going to sell him the brooch, to buy you one.” She didn’t say anything.

“Are you angry?”

She shook her head. “It’s the first nice thing anyone’s done for me in five hundred years,” she said, with a hint of a goblin smile. “Why would I be angry?” Then she said, “What do you do, when you try to Fade?” “What Mr. Pennyworth told me. ‘I am an empty doorway, I am a vacant alley, I am nothing. Eyes will not see me, glances slip over me.’ But it never works.” “It’s because you’re alive,” said Liza, with a sniff. “There’s stuff as works for us, the dead, who have to fight to be noticed at the best of times, that won’t never work for you people.” She hugged herself tightly, moving her body back and forth, as if she was debating something. Then she said, “It’s because of me you got into this…. Come here, Nobody Owens.” He took a step towards her, in that tiny room, and she put her cold hand on his forehead. It felt like a wet silk scarf against his skin.

“Now,” she said. “Perhaps I can do a good turn for you.”

And with that, she began to mutter to herself, mumbling words that Bod could not make out. Then she said, clear and loud,

“Be hole, be dust, be dream, be windBe night, be dark, be wish, be mind,Now slip, now slide, now move unseen,Above, beneath, betwixt, between.”

Something huge touched him, brushed him from head to feet, and he shivered. His hair prickled, and his skin was all gooseflesh. Something had changed. “What did you do?” he asked.

“Just gived you a helping hand,” she said. “I may be dead, but I’m a dead witch, remember. And we don’t forget.”

“But—”

“Hush up,” she said. “They’re coming back.”

The key rattled in the storeroom lock. “Now then, chummy,” said a voice Bod had not heard clearly before, “I’m sure we’re all going to be great friends,” and with that Tom Hustings pushed open the door. Then he stood in the doorway looking around, looking puzzled. He was a big, big man, with foxy-red hair and a bottle-red nose. “Here. Abanazer? I thought you said he was in here?” “I did,” said Bolger, from behind him.

“Well, I can’t see hide nor hair of him.”

Bolger’s face appeared behind the ruddy man’s and he peered into the room. “Hiding,” he said, staring straight at where Bod was standing. “No use hiding,” he announced, loudly. “I can see you there. Come on out.” The two men walked into the little room, and Bod stood stock still between them and thought of Mr. Pennyworth’s lessons. He did not react, he did not move. He let the men’s glances slide from him without seeing him.

“You’re going to wish you’d come out when I called,” said Bolger, and he shut the door. “Right,” he said to Tom Hustings. “You block the door, so he can’t get past.” And with that he walked around the room, peering behind things, and bending, awkwardly, to look beneath the desk. He walked straight past Bod and opened the cupboard. “Now I see you!” he shouted. “Come out!” Liza giggled.

“What was that?” asked Tom Hustings, spinning round.

“I didn’t hear nothing,” said Abanazer Bolger.

Liza giggled again. Then she put her lips together and blew, making a noise that began as a whistling, and then sounded like a distant wind. The electric lights in the little room flickered and buzzed, then they went out.

“Bloody fuses,” said Abanazer Bolger. “Come on. This is a waste of time.”

The key clicked in the lock, and Liza and Bod were left alone in the room.

“He’s got away,” said Abanazer Bolger. Bod could hear him now, through the door. “Room like that. There wasn’t anywhere he could have been hiding. We’d’ve seen him if he was.” “The man Jack won’t like that.”

“Who’s going to tell him?”

A pause.

“Here. Tom Hustings. Where’s the brooch gone?”

“Mm? That? Here. I was keeping it safe.”

“Keeping it safe? In your pocket? Funny place to be keeping it safe, if you ask me. More like you were planning to make off with it—like you was planing to keep my brooch for your own.” “Your brooch, Abanazer? Your brooch? Our brooch, you mean.”

“Ours, indeed. I don’t remember you being here, when I got it from that boy.”

“That boy that you couldn’t even keep safe for the man Jack, you mean? Can you imagine what he’ll do, when he finds you had the boy he was looking for, and you let him go?” “Probably not the same boy. Lots of boys in the world, what’re the odds it was the one he was looking for? Out the back door as soon as my back was turned, I’ll bet.” And then Abanazer Bolger said, in a high, wheedling voice, “Don’t you worry about the man Jack, Tom Hustings. I’m sure that it was a different boy. My old mind playing tricks. And we’re almost out of sloe gin—how would you fancy a good Scotch? I’ve whisky in the back room. You just wait here a moment.” The storeroom door was unlocked, and Abanazer entered, holding a walking stick and a flashlight, looking even more sour of face than before.

“If you’re still in here,” he said, in a sour mutter, “don’t even think of making a run for it. I’ve called the police on you, that’s what I’ve done.” A rummage in a drawer produced the half-filled bottle of whisky, and then a tiny black bottle. Abanazer poured several drops from the little bottle into the larger, then he pocketed the tiny bottle. “My brooch, and mine alone,” he muttered, and followed it with a barked, “Just coming, Tom!” He glared around the dark room, staring past Bod, then he left the storeroom, carrying the whisky in front of him. He locked the door behind him.

“Here you go,” came Abanazer Bolger’s voice through the door. “Give us your glass then, Tom. Nice drop of Scotch, put hairs on your chest. Say when.” Silence. “Cheap muck. Aren’t you drinking?”

“That sloe gin’s gone to my innards. Give it a minute for my stomach to settle…” Then, “Here—Tom! What have you done with my brooch?”

“Your brooch is it now? Whoa—what did you…you put something in my drink, you little grub!”

“What if I did? I could read on your face what you was planning, Tom Hustings. Thief.”

And then there was shouting, and several crashes, and loud bangs, as if heavy items of furniture were being overturned…

…then silence.

Liza said, “Quickly now. Let’s get you out of here.”

“But the door’s locked.” He looked at her. “Is there something you can do?”

“Me? I don’t have any magics will get you out of a locked room, boy.”

Bod crouched, and peered out through the keyhole. It was blocked; the key sat in the keyhole. Bod thought, then he smiled, momentarily, and it lit his face like the flash of a lightbulb. He pulled a crumpled sheet of newspaper from a packing case, flattened it out as best he could, then pushed it underneath the door, leaving only a corner on his side of the doorway.

“What are you playing at?” asked Liza, impatiently.

“I need something like a pencil. Only thinner…” he said. “Here we go.” And he took a thin paintbrush from the top of the desk, and pushed the brushless end into the lock, jiggled it and pushed some more.

There was a muffled clunk as the key was pushed out, as it dropped from the lock onto the newspaper. Bod pulled the paper back under the door, now with the key sitting on it.

Liza laughed, delighted. “That’s wit, young man,” she said. “That’s wisdom.”

Bod put the key in the lock, turned it, and pushed open the storeroom door.

There were two men on the floor, in the middle of the crowded antiques shop. Furniture had indeed fallen; the place was a chaos of wrecked clocks and chairs, and in the midst of it the bulk of Tom Hustings lay, fallen on the smaller figure of Abanazer Bolger. Neither of them was moving.

“Are they dead?” asked Bod.

“No such luck,” said Liza.

On the floor beside the men was a brooch of glittering silver; a crimson-orange-banded stone, held in place with claws and with snake-heads, and the expression on the snake-heads was one of triumph and avarice and satisfaction.

Bod dropped the brooch into his pocket, where it sat beside the heavy glass paperweight, the paintbrush, and the little pot of paint.

“Take this too,” said Liza.

Bod looked at the black-edged card with the word Jack handwritten on one side. It disturbed him. There was something familiar about it, something that stirred old memories, something dangerous. “I don’t want it.” “You can’t leave it here with them,” said Liza. “They were going to use it to hurt you.”

“I don’t want it,” said Bod. “It’s bad. Burn it.”

“No!” Liza gasped. “Don’t do that. You mustn’t do that.”

“Then I’ll give it to Silas,” said Bod. And he put the little card into an envelope so he had to touch it as little as possible, and put the envelope into the inside pocket of his old gardening jacket, beside his heart.

Two hundred miles away, the man Jack woke from his sleep, and sniffed the air. He walked downstairs.

“What is it?” asked his grandmother, stirring the contents of a big iron pot on the stove. “What’s got into you now?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Something’s happening. Something…interesting.” And then he licked his lips. “Smells tasty,” he said. “Very tasty.” Lightning illuminated the cobbled street.

Bod hurried through the rain through the Old Town, always heading up the hill toward the graveyard. The grey day had become an early night while he was inside the storeroom, and it came as no surprise to him when a familiar shadow swirled beneath the street lamps. Bod hesitated, and a flutter of night-black velvet resolved itself into a man-shape.

Silas stood in front of him, arms folded. He strode forward, impatiently.

“Well?” he said.

Bod said, “I’m sorry, Silas.”

“I’m disappointed in you, Bod,” Silas said, and he shook his head. “I’ve been looking for you since I woke. You have the smell of trouble all around you. And you know you’re not allowed to go out here, into the living world.” “I know. I’m sorry.” There was rain on the boy’s face, running down like tears.

“First of all, we need to get you back to safety.” Silas reached down, and enfolded the living child inside his cloak, and Bod felt the ground fall away beneath him.

“Silas,” he said.

Silas did not answer.

“I was a bit scared,” he said. “But I knew you’d come and get me if it got too bad. And Liza was there. She helped a lot.”

“Liza?” Silas’s voice was sharp.

“The witch. From the Potter’s Field.”

“And you say she helped you?”

“Yes. She especially helped me with my Fading. I think I can do it now.”

Silas grunted. “You can tell me all about it when we’re home.” And Bod was quiet until they landed beside the chapel. They went inside, into the empty hall, as the rain redoubled, splashing up from the puddles that covered the ground.

Bod produced the envelope containing the black-edged card. “Um,” he said. “I thought you should have this. Well, Liza did, really.”

Silas looked at it. Then he opened it, removed the card, stared at it, turned it over, and read Abanazer Bolger’s penciled note to himself, in tiny handwriting, explaining the precise manner of use of the card.

“Tell me everything,” he said.

Bod told him everything he could remember about the day. And at the end, Silas shook his head, slowly, thoughtfully.

“Am I in trouble?” asked Bod.

“Nobody Owens,” said Silas. “You are indeed in trouble. However, I believe I shall leave it to your parents to administer whatever discipline and reproach they believe to be needed. In the meantime, I need to dispose of this.” The black-edged card vanished inside the velvet cloak, and then, in the manner of his kind, Silas was gone.

Bod pulled the jacket up over his head, and clambered up the slippery paths to the top of the hill, to the Frobisher mausoleum. He pulled aside Ephraim Pettyfer’s coffin, and he went down, and down, and still further down.

He replaced the brooch beside the goblet and the knife.

“Here you go,” he said. “All polished up. Looking pretty.” IT COMES BACK, said the Sleer, with satisfaction in its smoke-tendril voice. IT ALWAYS COMES BACK.

It had been a long night.

Bod was walking, sleepily and a little gingerly, past the small tomb of the wonderfully named Miss Liberty Roach (What she spent is lost, what she gave remains with her always. Reader be Charitable), past the final resting place of Harrison Westwood, Baker of this Parish, and his wives, Marion and Joan, to the Potter’s Field. Mr. and Mrs. Owens had died several hundred years before it had been decided that beating children was wrong and Mr. Owens had, regretfully, that night, done what he saw as his duty, and Bod’s bottom stung like anything. Still, the look of worry on Mrs. Owens’s face had hurt Bod worse than any beating could have done.

He reached the iron railings that bounded the Potter’s Field, and slipped between them.

“Hullo?” he called. There was no answer. Not even an extra shadow in the hawthorn tree. “I hope I didn’t get you into trouble, too,” he said.

Nothing.

He had replaced the jeans in the gardener’s hut—he was more comfortable in just his grey winding sheet—but he had kept the jacket. He liked having the pockets.

When he had gone to the shed to return the jeans, he had taken a small hand-scythe from the wall where it hung, and with it he attacked the nettle-patch in the Potter’s Field, sending the nettles flying, slashing and gutting them till there was nothing but stinging stubble on the ground.

From his pocket he took the large glass paperweight, its insides a multitude of bright colors, along with the paint pot, and the paintbrush.

He dipped the brush into the paint and carefully painted, in brown paint, on the surface of the paperweight, the letters…

E.H

and beneath them he wrote…

we don’t forget

Bedtime, soon, and it would not be wise for him to be late to bed for some time to come.

He put the paperweight down on the ground that had once been a nettle-patch, placed it in the place that he estimated her head would have been, and pausing only to look at his handiwork for a moment, he went through the railings and made his way, rather less gingerly, back up the hill.

“Not bad,” said a pert voice from the Potter’s Field, behind him. “Not bad at all.”

But when he turned to look, there was no one there.

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