Clifford and the Bookmole
by Colin P. Davies
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Your mission...” Damn! He was always forgetting things. “Er... your mission is to locate and return Zondra Amazon in total, intact, and fully representative of the style and substance of the work currently under digestion.” Was that right?
As he watched, fuzzy, vague letters began to appear upon the bookmole’s coat. They drifted together to form words, all the while moving from right to left, in and out of vision, like an advertising display. Clifford recognized passages he knew well from the book:
Zondra was a warrior amongst warriors. A warrior’s warrior.
“My sword is named Mercy... your death shall be ironic.”
The bedroom door rattled. Someone was trying to get in.
“Clifford? Why won’t the door open?” His mother! The door shook, but the chair held firm under the handle.
“Clifford! Open this door!”
Clifford scooped the bookmole into its box and shoved them under the bed. He reached the door in two leaps and pulled the chair away. Now he felt genuinely dizzy.
He retreated over to the curtained window. His mother swept in.
“Did you jam that door? Did you do it deliberately? What’s going on?” Her eyes were wide with challenge.
“I...” He needed time to think. “I thought they were coming for me.”
“Coming for you?”
“Er... dentures. Giant teeth.” He was sweating. His shirt was stuck to his back. “I think I was dozing off... had a nightmare.”
She gave him a skeptical glance and looked around the room. “I thought I heard you talking.”
Clifford peeked through the curtains. Twilight had faded from the sky. Why now? Why did she have to come in just now? “Talking? Yes... quite likely.”
She pushed the door to, as if to prevent his escape, and joined him at the window. He backed away. Pulling a curtain back, she looked out. “How’s your dizziness?”
“I can hardly stand.” To prove his point, he stumbled onto the bed, lying back on the half-eaten book.
She pointed at the pieces of torn paper scattered about the room. “This place is a mess.”
“Tell me somethi...” Clifford sat up abruptly. Something was happening behind his mother. The air was flickering, a hazy shape forming.
The shape of a woman.
“Go away!” he yelled.
“Clifford!” his mother snapped. “Don’t talk to me like that.”
“Not you... sorry. I think I’m dreaming again.”
The shape was twisting, striving to gain solidity. Clifford tugged off one of his trainers and threw it at the swirling cloud, grazing his mother’s hip.
“Clifford!” She started to turn to see what he was staring at.
“No!” He dived for the bedside lamp and turned it off. The room went black. “Go away! Cancel my orders!”
“Clifford!” yelled his mother. “Put that light on.”
“I can’t, Mum. It’s the brightness. It hurts my eyes.”
She went to the door. A wedge of light fell into the room. “Are you sure it’s not those giant teeth again?”
“I need sleep.”
“You need something. I’ll see you in the morning.” She slammed the door.
Clifford searched for the lamp. He could see nothing, but he sensed that a sword was at that moment descending towards his neck.
“Damn!” He knocked the lamp to the floor. Dropping to his knees, he fumbled for the switch. The room leapt into light.
Zondra was gone.
* * *
Clifford chained his bicycle to a no-parking sign, chased a curious mongrel away from his wheel, and walked briskly into Hidden Planet. The prospect of buying the third book placed a thrill in his stomach akin to the butterflies of a first date. Or so Clifford guessed. Having never had a date, he could only use his imagination.
He scanned the shelves.
So many titles. So many colors. He wanted to read them all, but had neither the time nor the money. He considered the bookmole’s odd appetite and an absurd notion overcame him. The book shop as delicatessen. And what a choice of flavors!
The subtle, crisp taste of a Leiber salad; the punning temptations of Anthony quiche; the heavy, colorful aftertaste of a leg of Donaldson.
He was hungry, and the food he craved was Zondra.
He strode to the counter and placed his order.
* * *
“I am,” whispered Clifford, “rather cunning for my age.” As the front door clicked shut behind his parents, he abandoned the homework that he’d told them could not possibly be left till tomorrow. He had the house to himself.
It had been a simple — though brilliant — idea to copy Auntie Flo’s handwriting from his birthday card and write a note to his Mum and Dad. Less easy had been the placing of a twenty pound note in the envelope. He hoped it would be money well spent.
His father had found the note half-hidden under a cushion, and Auntie Flo’s suggestion that this surprise gift should be spent at the pizzeria down the road had been too much to resist — as Clifford had known it would be. His only disappointment was that there was no one here to admire his ingenuity.
That was about to change.
He dashed upstairs to his room.
The sun was setting in a flaming sky and orange light fell across his Vallejo posters. It was the sort of Hell-colored evening which could make him believe he’d made a deal with the Devil rather than with an eccentric sorcerer named Godfrey. A fine evening for magic.
“First take one bookmole,” he said, attempting a cackle which came out more like a car with starting troubles. “One properly prepared, hungry bookmole.” Though the creature was asleep, he kept his fingers clear of its mouth as he lifted it onto the bed.
“Add a sprinkling of freshly-published third volume of a trilogy.” The book was on his bedside cabinet. Clifford flicked through the pages. “Unread, virginal,” he added with regret. Hesitating only a moment, he tossed the book in front of the creature.
“And stand well clear.”
The bookmole snapped its teeth upon the book. Even though he’d been prepared, Clifford jumped back. The gnawing and rustling of paper and Clifford’s harsh breathing were the only sounds in the room. Now for the words. Once again he gave the command, this time without hesitation. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and waited.
A shadow crossed the sun, laying flickering patterns upon the walls. But the shadow was inside the room. Clifford stiffened. The bedsheets were clenched in his fists. In front of the window the air thickened, grew dark, took the shape of a woman.
Clifford forgot to breathe.
Zondra Amazon stared at him. Her expression was not entirely one of pleasure.
As Clifford’s brain was currently feeding no words to his mouth, he lifted a hand and wiggled his fingers in a feeble wave.
“Who brought me here?” she asked. She glanced about the bedroom. Her hand was clasped upon the hilt of her sword, knuckles white with the promise of violence. “Let him give good reason, for I am sorely vexed.” Her voice was feminine, but resonated with restrained power. It thrilled Clifford right down to his adolescent toes.
He gasped and sucked in air. “Er... Clifford... it was me... I did it.” He felt a blush burn across his cheeks.
She fixed those beautiful blue-green eyes — one blue, one green — upon him. “Are you a sorcerer?”
“Yes, that’s it. A sorcerer.” Now his mouth was working without the aid of his brain. He made a mental note to kick himself later.
“Then you are indeed a mighty one.” She bowed slightly; a restrained gesture of respect. But her hand remained upon her sword. “For my ring protects me from all but the greatest.”
“Yes, I am a mighty sorcerer. Yes, indeed. Wise. Powerful. Yes, mighty is the word.” Clifford tried to maintain the grand timbre in his voice, despite the conviction that at present he sounded like an absolute idiot.
Zondra pouted with those ruby lips, those sensual, ample beauties which lately has teased and trembled through many of Clifford’s dreams and, in one particularly terrifying nightmare, had threatened to suck him to death.
He examined this woman of his dreams. Her soft yellow hair stroked across her forehead as she looked about in confusion. Tall and muscular, she was garbed in a short white linen blouse, even shorter brown leather skirt, and knee-high laced leather boots. Such style, thought Clifford, feeling slightly ashamed in his faded sweatshirt and saggy jeans.
“Tell me then, sorcerer. Why did you bring me here? You must have a purpose. All sorcerers have a purpose, even if only to antagonize a hard-working warrior. Why did you summon me?”
Ah.... Now this could be difficult to explain without employing words like love or sex or others which could bring Clifford out in a rash. He stood up from the bed. “I like you.”
She nodded, as if that simple statement had explained everything, and began to loosen the laces on her blouse.
“I.... No! I don’t mean like that.” Clifford waved his hand madly. “Well... yes I do.” He held his head in his hands. “I don’t know what I do... I mean think.”
Clifford tried to keep his voice steady and his legs from shaking. “I just mean I like you. You know... like.”
Zondra twisted strands of her yellow hair in her fingers. “Are you seeking marriage?” she asked.
That threw Clifford. “Marriage could be difficult.”
“But you have powers...”
“My Mum’s powers are greater.”
“You have other plans for me then?” Her hand was again on her sword.
“Can we go back to where you unfastened your blouse?”
“You are no doubt a mighty sorcerer,” she said. “But you are also most strange.” She slipped her blouse off one shoulder.
His decision made, Clifford felt much better. For a moment then, he’d almost ruined the evening. Things were looking up. He dashed to the door and jammed the chair under the handle. His parents might be out, but he was taking no chances.
When he turned back, Zondra had gone.
Then, with a terrible emptiness in his stomach, he realized that she had not gone. He was seeing her from the side, and she was as flat as a sheet of paper.
“Where are you, sorcerer?” He heard her voice, but could not see her lips.
He drew in a deep breath; the room seemed to be low on air. Gathering his thoughts, and his nerve, he walked back to where Zondra could see him.
“So there you are, sorcerer. How did you do that?”
“Just one of the perks of the job.” A trick of dimensions, he thought. How could he explain to her that she was only a two-dimensional character? How do you tell someone they have the depth of personality of an earthworm?
“How do you want me, sorcerer?” She pulled off the blouse and held it to her chest. Clifford examined her face, her exotic eyes, the long scar by her nose where the prince’s horse had bitten her. From this angle she certainly appeared real. But it was a sham. Her features were no more than projections upon a woman-shaped screen.
“Dressed,” he said.
Her face twisted with anger. “You jest with me! You will find I am not to be trifled with.” She slipped her blouse back on and drew her sword. But, although she waved the blade to and fro and pointed it at Clifford’s chest, it did not approach him by one millimeter.
The front door slammed. Clifford could hear voices in the hall. His parents were back.
He dashed across the room, pulled away the chair, and eased open the door.
“Your tricks won’t save you, sorcerer. Reappear so that I may pierce your heart.”
Clifford’s mother shouted upstairs, “The place was closed for redecoration! Now what about this homework?”
“I needed the bathroom!” he yelled.
“Well don’t spend all night!”
Clifford closed the door gently.
“Why concern yourself with cleanliness, sorcerer, when you are about to die?”
He returned to face Zondra Amazon, this time at only arm’s length. His arm. “Doesn’t it concern you any more that I’m a mighty sorcerer?”
“I am mighty furious! What magic can stand against that?”
“What indeed?” What magic could stand against such blatant authorial license?
“Sorcerer. Have you any last words?”
“Yes,” said Clifford. “Have you ever heard of origami?”
* * *
Clifford’s bed was piled high with books. They were quality books, classics, well-respected authors. It was costing him every penny he had, but somehow he had to find the right character. He wanted a girl, a woman, fully-rounded and as real as was possible upon paper.
Somehow he had to fall in love again.
He leafed through another Vance volume and considered again how he had been misled. Godfrey hadn’t so much lied as held back on the full facts. It was a lousy trick to pull on a love-sick fourteen-year old.
He tossed the book onto the bed and was surprised to find a baseball bat lying there. He picked it up. It was certainly real enough, heavy, and scarred through years of use. He prepared for a practice swing, then froze. There was a tune in his head, getting louder and louder.
Someone was doing the Locomotion.
This story appeared previously in Threads #7 (a UK small press magazine) in 1995 and is the basis for Colin's first novel of the same name.
Copyright © 2006 by Colin P. Davies