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Authors: David Logan

Tags: #Fantasy

Half-Sick of Shadows

About the Book

On the eve of Granny Hazel’s burial in the back garden, a stranger in his time machine – a machine that bears an uncanny resemblance to a Morris Minor – visits five-year-old Edward with a strange request.

And Edward agrees to be his friend.

But Edward is not alone in the world. His twin sister, Sophia, is about to bring future tragedy upon herself through an all-too-literal misunderstanding of a promise she made to their father.

And so while Sophia stays at home in the Manse, Edward is sent to boarding school. There he encounters the kind and the not-so-kind and befriends the strangest child, Alf – a boy whose very existence seems to hint at universes of unlimited possibilities … and who might one day help Edward free Sophia.

A comical tragedy, a tale of childhood wonder and dismay, a story of familial dysfunction, of poetry, the imagination and theoretical physics, this novel is all of these and rather more besides.

Contents

Cover

About the Book

Title Page

Dedication

Foreword

Before Alf

1. The Stranger and his Time Machine

2. The Night of Our Final Flight

3. Sophia’s Promise

4. Sophia’s Curse

5. The Horrible Wipple

6. Going to School

The Alf Years

7. Whitehead House and the Monstrous Head

8. Christmas and the White Lady

9. Miss Ballard and Satan’s Face

10. Junior School Photographs

11. Changes

12. Senior School Photographs

13. My Final Year: Blinky’s Proposition

Alf Unleashed

14. Alf and Me in UniversET

15. The Debacle in Mr Darcy’s Arms

16. Mother’s Illness

17. The Body in the Bog

18. Leaving Whitehead House For Ever

19. The Cellar

20. The Seduction

21. Alf Visits the Manse

22. Gregory Returns to the Manse

23. Oops!

24. The Ballad of Edgar and Mrs Wipple

25. Edgar Comes Home

26. The Final Stanza

About the Author

Copyright

HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS

David Logan

For Christopher

Foreword

This novel is not just the joint winner of the inaugural Terry Pratchett Prize, but the joint winner of the inaugural Terry Pratchett
Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now
Prize.

Which meant we were after stories set on Earth, but perhaps an Earth that might have been, or might yet be, one that had gone down a different leg of the famous trousers of time (see the illustration in almost every book about quantum theory).

It could, we mused, be one day in the life of an ordinary person. It could be a love story, an old story, a war story, a story set in a world where Leonardo da Vinci turned out to be a lot better at aeronautics (or, indeed, where a Victorian poet laureate developed a deep affection for Morris Minors). But by and large you don’t hear stories about being on an alternate Earth because the people on an alternate Earth don’t know that they are; after all, you don’t.

Imagine the shock, then, of finding out that someone considers your personal patch of reality to be an alternate one – an interesting but ultimately baffling anomaly amongst the strings of sensibly organized universes around it. David Logan’s anomalous world, the world of the Manse, is an unsettling place to be, precisely because he springs that shock on his unsuspecting characters – an uncommon trick, which requires the audacity not just to make a new world from scratch, but to unmake it too.

After all, getting a second opinion on the rules of reality can be a dangerous thing – as you’ll know if you are familiar with the poem
from
which
Half-Sick of Shadows
takes its name. Once you start to question the laws and promises that hold your world together, the whole thing can start to come apart. So step inside the world of the Manse, and watch it unravel around you.

Terry Pratchett

March, 2012

Before Alf

1

The Stranger and his Time Machine

Before the beginning: nothing. Then, faster than a flash … everything: my universe and my planet in it. All things existed at once with their back-stories ready made – even some humans on my planet to get the species started. Alf said so. Sophia and I came later. We came a fraction short of five years before this particular story began. It began in August, on a morning shivery and brilliant. Or it might have been January? It could have been any morning; mornings were all the same when Sophia and I were a fraction short of five – except this one.

I dressed in clothes stiff with frost and went downstairs to find the fireplace black and speckled with ash. Granny Hazel snored in bed in the middle of the living room. I didn’t stay there long. Mother, elbow deep in soapy water, washed dishes in the kitchen.

‘Where’s breakfast?’ I asked.

‘Not now, Edward,’ she replied in her headachy voice.

She told me to go out and play with Sophia. So I did.

Sophia, by a frightening coincidence the same age as me to within mere seconds, wore her red winter and only coat. Mother said she would grow into it. She also wore white mittens and a white pom-pom hat. We were twins – whatever twins were. I assumed twins
were
children the same height and width, with the same blond hair, the same brown eyes, the same brain, the same everything. Twins were brother and sister and best friends. Twins were what we two were: two bodies but a single person – something like that.

Rain threatened. Rain always threatened, except for when it rained. Mother said we lived in a hole in the middle of the world that all the water drained into. Sometimes it snowed.

Sophia had gone around every pothole in the courtyard – and potholes were legion – smashing the ice. She crouched near the toilet. We had a wooden toilet at one end of the courtyard, like a coffin standing on the sole of its foot.

Near the toilet, and the septic tank, was the Hole.

The Hole was full of muddy water, often frozen over, like a lake for midgets. We called it the Hole because it was a hole and the biggest one we knew of. A giant tree once stood on the spot, but Father had taken against it and dug it out roots and all.

Sophia inspected the damage. Seeing me, she stood up, hammer in hand, wearing her worried face – essentially the same as her it-wasn’t-me face but not quite so wide-eyed and innocent. She could pull an it-wasn’t-me face even when as guilty as Eve with apples.

As I got closer, she felt the weight of the hammer in her mitten. I thought she didn’t recognize me. That frightened me. If Sophia didn’t recognize me, that meant … It meant something frightening.

She had translucent skin.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

Then she recognized me, her other half, and smiled.

When Sophia smiled all the ice in the potholes melted.

‘Mother has one of her headaches,’ I said.

‘Which one?’

I shrugged. They all looked the same but had different names: today’s headache, yesterday’s headache, Tuesday’s headache.

‘Look!’ said Sophia, pointing at the cemetery. The big black dog was wandering through the headstones. It had been wandering
around
the Manse for days. Mother told us not to go near it in case it was rabbit. I thought Rabbit was its name, though it was a mad kind of rabbit because it looked like a dog.

Rabbit disappeared behind an outhouse.

Sophia and I looked in the opposite direction – we must have done, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen it coming down the Lane. The Lane was flat, not a hill. Strictly speaking, it had neither up nor down. But, to us, down the Lane meant from the Road along the Lane to the courtyard at the back of the Manse. And up the Lane meant from the courtyard at the back of the Manse and along the Lane to the Road.

The Lane connected us to the Road, and the Road connected us to the rest of the world. The Road weaved and wound this way and that as if the people who made it were drunk. It began somewhere and ended somewhere else. All roads do, and the Road must have too. Between its points of beginning and ending, the Road went past Farmer Barry’s farm, past the Manse where we lived, and through the nearest village: Bruagh. I knew no more than that. That, and that the Road had potholes: new ones every winter, like rabbits, said Father. Potholes would turn out to be more important than I knew.

Not yet five years old, I had little idea of roads, beginnings and endings. They were not the sorts of things I thought about. The Road had always been the Road, as the Lane had always been the Lane, as if only one of each existed.

Only one of each did indeed exist, although I became aware, later, that there were many of their class, just as there is only one Edward Pike although there are many boys. Such matters can be confusing when you’re not five yet. I would doubtless have despaired at my confusions if I’d thought about them, but I’d plenty of other confusions to be getting on with.

I didn’t know it was a car, then. The light blue metal thing with windows and wheels sort of … frizzled … out of existence. It
reminded
me of Farmer Barry’s lorry, but looked nothing like it. Sophia and I looked at each other. When we looked back towards the Lane, the thing sort of frizzled back into existence, but further up the Lane than it had been. Again, it advanced. A dust cloud would have risen behind it had not the ground been wet.

Sophia and I yelped, ran to the back door, darted inside, and clung to Mother’s apron. Except we didn’t because, first, we were immobilized and silenced with fear, and, second, we were immobilized with fascination. Especially when …

Frizzle. Vanish. Frizzle. The thing on wheels returned closer than ever to us and still on the Lane but only just. Two wheels bumped and splashed in Laneside mud. The thing slowed down.

… stopped. It stopped. Unintentionally, I thought.

The door opened and a man with a walking stick got out. He reached inside, withdrew a hat, and put it on his head. Obviously, the thing getting stuck in the mud upset him, for he slammed the door shut and hit it a kick with his boot. He did have two boots, having two feet, but he only kicked the door with one. The violence of his action imbued Sophia with the strength to run indoors. And she did. Open-mouthed and shivering, I remained. Powerless but intrigued.

The man approached me, but not in a frightening way. I knew nothing about clothing in those days, but his looked very nice, like Sunday best but better. The cane was ornamental rather than an aid for walking. He had a bushy beard like Father’s, and it had dignified streaks of grey. He said something in a foreign language, which, I realized, after he said something else, was ‘young man’.

‘Young man,’ he said in a funny accent. ‘Are you deaf, child?’

‘No.’

‘No what?’ he asked.

I had no idea what.

‘No, sir,’ said the stranger.

No sir what? It might have been some kind of puzzle.

I liked puzzles. ‘What’s that?’ I asked, pointing at the stuck-in-the-mud thing on wheels.

‘That,’ he swung at the hips to where I pointed and swung back, ‘that, my boy, is what would be on most planets that support organic life a major advance in transportation technology.’

I looked up at him. He looked down at me, and saw a small boy with eyes like marbles and the space between his ears unfurnished.

Said he, ‘It’s a time machine.’

It didn’t look like a clock to me. It had no hands.

‘Yes, my boy, a time machine. The intricacies of its workings are far beyond me, I’m afraid. I’m still learning, by trial and error, how to make the blasted thing do what I want it to.’

‘What do you want it to do?’

‘Work properly would be a start.’

‘What does a time machine do?’

‘It travels in time, naturally. See those … headstones?’ He satisfied himself that they were indeed headstones. ‘See those headstones?’ I said I did. ‘At top speed, my time machine could zoom to over there before it left here.’

As I looked towards the cemetery – because the man was looking towards it – I noticed Mother at the back door with her hands on Sophia’s shoulders. Sophia stood in front of her like a fireguard, or a bearded stranger guard. Gregory’s head peered over Mother’s shoulder. Edgar’s head peered over her other shoulder. Mother looked like she had three heads.

I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. My tummy rumbled.

‘That’s a graveyard,’ said the stranger.

‘Cemetery,’ said I.

‘Yes. Quite so. Cemetery.’

The cemetery was as old as the Manse, which had existed since the sixteenth century. Mother didn’t explain centuries, but we knew there must have been at least twenty of them.

Though closer to my birth than my death – a reasonable
assumption
– death, nevertheless, never strayed far from my mind … nor Mother’s, Father’s or Sophia’s. I’m sure Death nurtured a relationship with Gregory too. How else would we be? What other states of mind could we possess? What else would occupy our thoughts with a cemetery for a back garden?

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