Authors: Maurice Gee
Tags: #JUV000000, #JUV037000
Praise for Maurice Gee and
‘A storyteller who makes the craft look
effortless.’ Bernard Beckett
‘Deft, subtle, artful, Maurice Gee is
a magician.’ Michael Pryor
‘The fate of the world lies in the hands of a new generation, the children of Hari and Pearl…In
, the looming apocalypse has taken an almost mythical form. It is up to daughter Xantee, son Lo and their friend Duro to destroy the mother monster…for this they will need to travel back to the ruined city, where
began, and find its lost library and the books that might provide the key to how to slay the beast…Gee is a master storyteller.’
A biological and psychological horror story, even scarier than its predecessor. Gee’s imagination is as fierce as ever. The descriptions of the gools did evoke real fear.’
Herald on Sunday
‘Gee plus fantasy equals awesome. It’s that simple.’
Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand’s finest writers. Born in 1931, he has written more than forty books for adults and young adults. He has won several literary awards, including the Wattie Award, the Montana Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children’s Book of the Year Award.
Gee’s young adult novels include
The Fat Man
Orchard Street, Hostel Girl, Under the Mountain, The O Trilogy
, the first two books of
The Salt Trilogy
. Maurice Gee lives in Nelson, in New Zealand’s South Island.
The paper in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright © Maurice Gee 2008
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published in Puffin Books by Penguin Books (NZ), 2008
This edition published by The Text Publishing Company, 2009
Design by Mary Egan
Typeset by Egan Reid Ltd
Map by Nick Keenleyside
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press
National Library of Australia
Gee, Maurice, 1931-
Gool / Maurice Gee.
ISBN: 9781921520129 (pbk.)
Hari had not been in this cove before but his knowledge of the Inland Sea led him to expect no dangers, either from the weather or from the close-packed trees in the valleys winding back from the coast. There were no thunderheads on the horizon, no edge to the wind, and no sense of darkness in the hills beyond the scrub fringing the beach. Three things Hari feared: sudden storms, unknown beasts, and dark places in the jungle where even the people with no name rarely ventured. But the schooner sat easy on a calm sea, the sand was yellow, the hills were blue, and the air carried a scent of blossoms.
Karl, he said, take Lo. Scout east to the end of the beach and through the scrub, then come back here. Keep in touch. Sal, take Mond; the same to the west. No need to climb the headland. Duro, take Xantee. Go straight in, not too far. I want to know if the trees start twisting. Stop if they do. Not a step further. All right, go.
They paddled away in canoes, six half-naked girls and boys – all but one as old as he and Pearl had been when they met and all of them ‘speakers’, rivalling the Dwellers in the ease and clarity of their silent talking with each other. Even Tealeaf, when she visited, found it hard to keep up with them, especially with Xantee and Lo. No one rivalled those two in quickness and penetration. The words passing between them went like the wind, like sunlight, opening spaces not even he and Pearl had the quickness to enter, although Lo and Xantee were their children, born from their love.
Who are they? Hari wondered, and what do they have to learn and what do they do? Questions that made him afraid. Beyond the Inland Sea, beyond the jungle and mountains, the world was in turmoil. He thought of it as a hissing cauldron, with a thousand unknown things, alive and tormented, throwing the steam and stench of hatred high into the air. This was all he could make of the accounts Tealeaf and other Dwellers sent back to the farm – and he thought: How simple it was in Blood Burrow, we knew what we had to do to stay alive. Here, by contrast, nothing was certain, all was rumour – of a beast born in damp caves and growing out of darkness into the sunlight, and of jungle trees twisting their trunks as though to escape from something evil.
He watched the children paddle away, Karl and Lo east, Sal and Mond west, and Xantee and Duro straight ahead. That pair was first to land. He had given his daughter the hardest task – if there was danger in the jungle it would be where the trees were thickest and not at the ends of the beach – and given her the oldest of the six, Duro, as partner. He was not her equal as a speaker but her alertness was sufficient for two. Duro’s knife skills rivalled Hari’s. If it ever came to fighting, with whatever the jungle held, Duro was the one he wanted standing by his daughter.
He watched until they disappeared into the scrub and heard the speech between them like an insect buzzing in the corner of a room, but did not bother to decipher it. Karl and Lo landed and walked east; Sal and Mond, trotting to cover the longer distance, headed west. West had a dangerous sound to Hari. Company had come out of the west, that Company that had massacred half his people and enslaved the rest, and although it was destroyed now, and had become a memory, he never trusted it not to rise again on the western horizon in a black fleet growing like a poisonous cloud. Remnants of it remained, in the robber bands that roamed the countryside around the ruined city where it had ruled. Keech remained too – Keech of Keech Burrow, blind in one eye, but making up for it with a mind that saw round corners. He had united the burrows and ruled like a king, sitting in his rags on a throne of nailed planks. And the Clerk, who had been a Company clerk, ruled in Ceebeedee, but unlike Ottmar – Ottmar torn to pieces by dogs – was clever enough not to call himself king. Clerk was a more powerful name.
Hari shivered, remembering those places and times – yet his childhood never made him regretful or afraid. When he thought of Blood Burrow – the runways in the fallen masonry, the pits, the broken walls, the stairs leading nowhere, the swamps that had been parks before Company came, the marauding dog packs and the killing of rats for food – and Keech Burrow alongside, and Bawdhouse and Keg beyond, the word ‘home’ floated up in his mind like a trout rising in a stream. It made no sense. The farm on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea was home – the fields, the orchards and gardens, the house with its spacious rooms and, even more, his family. Pearl and Xantee and Lo and the twins, Blossom and Hubert, were home. Yet here was Blood Burrow, so deep in him he would never get it out. He was not afraid and not regretful. He understood he could not be himself without his early years. Yet he wanted never to go back to Blood Burrow.
He wanted to see Tarl though – Tarl who had fled with his dog pack from the battle on Mansion Hill, across the drylands to the forest and through the forest into the jungle, where it was said he ruled, the Dog King with his thousand dogs, and all other animals under his control. Tarl was the father who had carried him on his back, fed him, taught him to survive in Blood Burrow.
Hari had sent messages: Tarl, I’m alive. No message came back. It seemed to Hari that his father might be long dead, with only his legend surviving. Yet still he hoped.
Hari shook his mind free of the past. He listened to the talk between Xantee and Duro – its tone alert.
Duro: No spoor.
Xantee: No scat.
Duro: Birdsong, though. Birds are here.
Xantee: That’s a glassbird.
Duro: I’ve never heard one.
Hari heard it too, through them, a tumble of round notes on the edge of discord. Yet he grew anxious. If they both listened to the bird, who was listening for danger?
Xantee: I am, Hari. Don’t worry.
Hari blinked. He felt he had been tapped with a finger between the eyes. How did they do that, Xantee and Lo? How did they know, across a distance, that others were anxious about them?
What does the jungle look like? he said.
Ferns, creepers, trees. I can’t smell any darkness, Xantee replied.
Don’t go in too far.
He turned his attention to Karl and Lo – Karl who made him think of buffaloes taking ponderous steps, and Lo, here-and-gone Lo, whom no one could keep track of, he moved so fast. Like a fangcat, Hari thought, but a fangcat without savagery, a fangcat that would soon be purring in the sun. Lo had growing to do, lessons to learn. Hari had put Karl in charge of the pair, not only from seniority, but because the older boy’s love of the sea had made a quiet place in his mind Lo had had no glimpse of yet. The two worked well together but soon Lo would lead and Karl follow. Lo would join Xantee at the point of the spear.
Hari shook himself. He did not like the thoughts of conflict that invaded his mind, appearing more frequently these days with the news from over the mountains and the rumours of a creeping darkness in the jungle. He did not want his children to be a spear. He had made a home for them on the farm and he wanted them growing there with the other children, learning the skills of the land as he and Pearl had done, and raising families in their turn.
He watched Karl and Lo enter the scrub.
Anything there? he asked.
Sign, Karl replied. Swamp deer, it looks like. There’s mosquitoes.
So, a swamp deeper in. There’ll be snakes.
And water choppers, Lo said.
He turned his attention to Sal and Mond; saw them reach the end of the beach and pause uncertainly.
Sal. Mond. Anything wrong?
There are no birds. It’s too quiet, Sal said.
And a funny smell, Mond said.
All right. Stay there.
We’ll go a little way. There might be Peeps.
No Peeps, Xantee’s voice came, and Hari wondered again how she could hear everything.
Stay out of our heads, Xantee, Sal said angrily.
Sorry. But there’s no Peeps. I’d feel them.
Well, we’re going in to find out, Mond said.
Hari hesitated. He should stop them. But he liked these small disputes among the children to die naturally, not be settled by him, so he did not interfere. Sal and Mond were the most independent of the children. They were cousins who had come five years before from a nomadic tribe deep in the south. Although the other children had broken down most of their barriers against friendship there was a final boundary no one could cross, arising from an early life of riding on wide plains and herding goats and sitting quiet about the fire while the tribal bard sang rhyming songs of heroes fifty generations dead. Sal and Mond must be left to fit into the group in their own way. But they were sharp and quick, almost the equals of Xantee and Lo.
He watched them go into the scrub. There were no Peeps (the children’s name for the people with no name); he trusted Xantee’s judgement on that. But let the cousins find out for themselves.
Stop them before they go into the trees, though, Hari thought. They had said it was too quiet in the bush below the headland. No birds. And a strange smell. Hari did not like that. But Xantee had not smelled darkness. So, give Sal and Mond ten minutes, then call them back.
He let half the remaining children swim to the beach, with orders not to go near the scrub, and gave the others jobs about the vessel. If the scouting pairs reported no danger, he would spend the night anchored in this cove and sail on next morning, east a little way, charting the unknown coast, then north over five more days to home. I’ll be there in time for harvest, Hari thought. And after harvest he and Pearl would take their holiday – take a small boat and sail wherever the winds took them.
Hari, Xantee’s voice broke in. Something’s wrong with Sal and Mond. Get there.
Can’t tell. Something they’ve never seen. They’re afraid but I can’t read them. There’s a fog . . .
Tell them to get back.
I’m trying. They don’t hear.
He saw Xantee burst from the scrub with Duro behind her and start running along the beach. At the eastern end Lo and Karl were running too – so Lo had heard.
Stay here, Hari ordered the children on the schooner. He dived over the side and swam to the beach. Back, he ordered the others. Karl, get them on board. Take charge.
Xantee and Duro were ahead of him. He ran, trying to come up with them.
Xantee, what do you hear?
Join with Lo.
There was a little explosion of concentrated effort, yet full of ease, as the pair wove themselves together.
Yes, we’ve got them. We can hear . . .
Terror. Something’s caught them. Something’s sucking them in.
What is it?
We can’t tell. It’s got . . . Hari, it’s got no being. It’s something that can’t be here. It can’t exist.
It’s here if it’s got them, Hari said.
It’s pulling them in. Hari, run.
He came up with Xantee and Duro as they reached the scrub.
Duro, come with me. Xantee, wait for Lo then come in together. Hold this thing back if you can.
He drew his black-bladed Dweller knife – forged for him in the north, a twin of the one his father had found in Blood Burrow – and went into the scrub with Duro pressing at his back. There was no time for caution. Now that he was close he could hear Sal and Mond for himself: little broken whimpers of terror and lost will. There was a smell too, like a fly-blown sheep.
The scrub ended. The jungle stood like a wall, with the headland rearing beyond. Everything looked normal. Yet this thing . . . Hari felt it plucking at him, slowing his blood in one part and making it rush in another, and slowing his mind.
Get out, he screamed, hurling all his strength against it – and felt it lurch with the shock of his blow, and then regather and try to wrap its mind around him. All right, he thought, if it’s using its strength on me it can’t be holding Sal and Mond.
He ran forward, plunging into spaces between trees, until the rocks of the headland were frowning over him. Sal and Mond lay in a clearing with close-packed trunks on three sides and a wall of stone at the back. They were locked in each other’s arms like sleeping children, and they made no sound, neither cries nor whimpers nor the noiseless sound of speaking minds. They moved – moved – not of their own volition but with the motion of something pulled along by a rope. But nothing was there, nothing to pull them. There were only trees, the rock wall, with – now Hari saw – a litter of bones at its base. Sal and Mond inched towards that yellow cross-stitching of ribs and thigh-bones. Their progress was marked by a groove in the jungle floor.
Stay back, Duro, Hari said. His mind was working quickly. The base of the stone wall was the killing ground. Whatever had caught Sal and Mond lay there. It was almost invisible, a shimmer, and Xantee was right that it had no being – yet it could put out nets and lines like a fisherman and reel things in. He felt a wet rope snake around his leg, tugging him, but not with any strength, and he thought: It’s only got enough for Sal and Mond, not for me at the same time; and hanging on to his image of fisherman and line, he slashed with his knife at the invisible rope holding him and felt something thicken against the blade, then part and fall away from his leg. He heard a sound – felt it rather, like the scratching of a thorn across his skin – a sound of pain as the thing retracted its line; and saw it for a moment as the pain forced it to drop its shield of invisibility – a gaping mouth, a blank disc-like eye, a straining bulk, bear-sized but jellyfish grey. Sal and Mond jerked forward as the shield came back. The thing pulled with urgency now, trying to get them in range of its mouth – inside its boat, Hari thought, hanging on to his image of a fisherman. The beast he had glimpsed was too outlandish to be real.
Xantee and Lo, in the trees, screamed in his head: Stay back, Hari.
He ignored them, while shouting at Duro: Grab their arms. Pull them.
He jumped forward and slashed at the place where the ropes or nets that held the cousins must be – the place beyond their outstretched legs. He felt the thickening, more resistant now, trying to blunt his knife, but the Dweller steel held its edge, and the ropes parted. Duro had Sal and Mond, one by an arm, the other by a plait of hair, and was dragging them back along the groove they had made.