Piranha to Scurfy

Free Piranha to Scurfy by Ruth Rendell

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Authors: Ruth Rendell
Tags: Fiction
He wouldn’t touch it unless he had to. There was not much doubt now that it had a life of its own. Some kind of kinetic energy lived inside its covers, the same sort of thing that moved the small thin bush across the lawn at night. Kingston Marle put that energy into objects, he infused them with it, he was a sorcerer whose powers extended far beyond his writings and his fame. Surely that was the only explanation why a writer of such appallingly bad books, misspelled, the grammar nonexistent, facts awry, should enjoy such a phenomenal success, not only with an ignorant illiterate public but among the cognoscenti. He practiced sorcery or was himself one of the demons he wrote about, an evil spirit living inside that hideous lantern-jawed exterior.
    Ribbon reached out a slow wavering hand for The Book and found that, surely by chance, he had opened it at page 423. Shrinking while he did so, holding The Book almost too far away from his eyes to see the words, he read of Charles Ambrose’s wedding night, of his waking in the half-dark with Kayra sleeping beside him and seeing the curled-up shape of the demon in the corner of the room.... So Marle had called off his necromancer’s power, had he? He had restored the ending to what it originally was. Nothing about Mummy’s death and burial, nothing about the walking tree. Did that mean he had already received Ribbon’s apology? It might mean that. His publisher had hardly had time to send the letter on, but suppose Marle, for some reason—and the reason would be his current publicity tour—had been in his publisher’s office and the letter had been handed to him. It was the only explanation, it fitted the facts. Marle had read his letter, accepted his apology, and, perhaps with a smile of triumph, whistled back whatever dogs of the occult carried his messages.
    Ribbon held The Book in his hands. Everything might be over now, but he still didn’t want it in the house. Carefully, he wrapped it up in newspaper, slipped the resulting parcel into a plastic carrier, tied the handles together, and dropped it in the waste bin. “Let it get itself out of that,” he said aloud. “Just let it try.” Was he imagining that a fetid smell came from it, swathed in plastic though it was? He splashed disinfectant into the waste bin, opened the kitchen window.
    He sat down in the front room and opened
Tales My Lover Told Me,
but he couldn’t concentrate. The afternoon grew dark; there was going to be a storm. For a moment he stood at the window, watching the clouds gather, black and swollen.When he was a little boy Mummy had told him a storm was the clouds fighting. It was years since he had thought of that, and now, remembering, for perhaps the first time in his life he questioned Mummy’s judgment. Was it quite right so to mislead a child?
    The rain came, sheets of it blown by the huge gale that arose. Ribbon wondered if Marle, among his many accomplishments, could raise a wind, strike lightning from some diabolical tinderbox and, like Jove himself, beat the drum of thunder. Perhaps. He would believe anything of that man now. He went around the house closing all the windows. The one in the study he closed, then fastened the catches. From his own bedroom window he looked at the lawn, where the bushes stood as they had always stood, unmoved, immovable, lashed by rain, whipping and twisting in the wind. Downstairs, in the kitchen, the window was wide open, flapping back and forth, and the waste bin had fallen on its side. The parcel lay beside it, the plastic bag that covered it, the newspaper inside, torn as if a scaly paw had ripped it. Other rubbish—food scraps, a sardine can—were scattered across the floor.
    Ribbon stood transfixed. He could see the red-and-silver jacket of The Book gleaming, almost glowing, under its torn wrappings.What had come through the window? Was it possible the demon, unleashed by Marle, was now beyond his control? He asked the question aloud, he asked

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