Thursday Next Bonus Chapter 34A
The USA Paperback cover of Well of Lost Plots
The 2004 USA version of 'The Well of Lost Plots' contained a bonus chapter penned in 2003. It was the last book that was slightly different from the UK editions in that I had another six months to make changes. I like to think the USA editions of TN1 and 2 and 3 are 'better' or 'funnier' but those would be purely relative terms. The Bonus chapter was an apology to US readers for getting TN3 so much later than the rest of the world, but after this, the books came out pretty much the same time, so there were no big rewritten differences. These days, the texts of my books are almost identical across the territories - the last two have used English spellings, as will 'The Constant Rabbit'. Hope you like it.
Bookworld Meteorology. Aside from the rain, snow and wind that often feature within the pages of novels for dramatic effect, there is another weather system that works within the BookWorld; a sort of trans-genre wind that is not a moving mass of air but one of text, sense distortion and snippets of ideas. It is usually only a mild zephyr whose welcome breeze brings with it a useful cross-fertilisation of ideas within the genres and usually has no greater vice than the spread of the mispeling vyrus. On occasion, however, the wind has been known to whip itself up into a dangerous frenzy that can destroy all in its path: A WordStorm that can dislodge whole sentences and plot devices and deposit them several genres away. It's not a common phenomenon, but its wise to keep an eye on it. In my second week as Bellman a WordStorm of unprecedented ferocity hit the library. It was the first real test of my Leadership. I think I did okay.
Private Diaries - Thursday Next
I was awoken from my slumber by a loud purring and was shocked to find the Cat formerly known as Cheshire about an inch from my nose.
'Hullo!' he purred, grinning fit to burst, 'Were you dreaming about oysters?'
'No,' I confessed, 'In fact,' I added, rubbing my eyes and attempting to sit up, 'I don't think I've ever dreamt about oysters.'
'Really?' said the cat, 'I dream about them all the time. Sometimes on the half-shell and other times in an oyster-bed. Sometimes I dream about them playing the piano.'
'How can an oyster play the piano?' 'No,' replied the cat, 'I dream about them when I'm playing the piano.'
I looked at the clock. It was three in the morning.
'Did you wake me up to tell me about your oyster dreams?'
'Not at all. I can't think for a moment why you are interested. Something has come up over at Text Grand Central and we thought you should be informed.'
I was suddenly a great deal wider awake. I moved to get up and the cat politely faded from view as I stepped from the bed.
'So what's up?' I asked, slipping on a tee shirt.
'It's the TextWind,' said the cat from the corridor, 'we've been monitoring it all day and there is a possibility it could whip itself up into a WordStorm.'
Weather inside fiction is much like weather at home only usually more extreme. Book-rain generally comes down in stair rods and book-snow always has flakes the size of farthings. But these all exist within books for narrative purposes. The bookworld itself has less easily recognised weather patterns but has them, just the same - a particularly bad storm in '34 swept through Horror and rained detritus on Drama for weeks, the most notable result being the grisly Spontaneous Combustion sequence in Dicken's Bleak House.
I pulled on my trousers and shoes and walked out of the door leaving Pickwick and her chick asleep in an untidy snoring mass on the rug. The Cat was waiting for me and we took a cab to Text Grand Central.
Text Grand Central was the technical nerve centre of the Bookworld. Modified from an unpublished Gothic horror novel, the one hundred floors of TGC were lit by flickering gas mantels that only faintly illuminated the vaulted ceiling high above the polished marble floor. We entered near the corner of floor sixty-nine and I followed the Cat as we walked past the humming storycode engines, each one a colossi of cast iron, shiny brass and polished mahogany. Just one of five hundred on this floor alone, the bus sized machine could cope with up to fifty thousand simultaneous readings of the same book - or one reading apiece of fifty thousand different books, as demand sees fit. I had only visited TGC once before as part of my induction to the Bellman's job, and was amazed not only on how impossible the concept was to my flat Outlander mind, but the supreme scale of it all. The technicians scurried like tireless ants over the clanking machinery, checking dials, oiling moving parts and venting steam while keeping a close lookout for any narrative anomalies to report to the collators upstairs. It was from these collators that reports of fiction infractions, pagerunners and all the other bookworld misdemeanours filtered through to us at the Jurisfiction's offices. The whole system was hopelessly antiquated and manpower intensive - but it worked.
We left the engine floor and walked into a large ante-room where the Bookworld Meteorological Department worked. Here the ten-strong team spent their days busily searching for patterns in the seemingly random textual anomalies that occur throughout fiction. The department was run by Dr Howard. I had met him briefly once before and knew that a century or two ago he had been real, like me. Of inestimable use to meteorologists everywhere, TGC had commissioned a biography of the original Luke Howard solely so a generic could be trained up and then employed part time in this office.
'Ah!' he said as we walked in, 'Glad you're here, Bellman. Heavy weather moving in from the Western genre. This is Senator Jobsworth from the Council of Genres, here as part of the CofG committee for anomalous observation.'
Jobsworth was a small and weedy looking man who didn't look comfortable nor regal in his senatorial robes. As part of the regime change after the UltraWord debacle it was deemed that a senator should be present at any unusual event. He looked shifty and I took an instant dislike to him.
'Senator,' I said, bowing slightly as protocol dictated.
'Miss Next,' he said drily, 'I must tell you right now that I didn't vote for you. I will be keeping a close eye on your behaviour.'
'Good,' I replied noncommittally, then added, 'What's up, Dr Howard?'
He motioned us towards the centre of the room where beneath us in a recessed pit there was a large map of the BookWorld.
'We plot everything,' he explained as the staff below moved marker tags with long sticks to the orders of the controllers above, 'from the largest unconstrained narrative flexation to the smallest tense distortion. Then, by plotting the size of the changes and their positions, a rough map of the bookworld's weather can be constructed.'
I looked down at the sea of small markers which seemed, indeed, to have a sort of swirling pattern to them. He pointed to a mass of reports.
'About two hours ago an outbreak of anomalous plot flexations began in Riders of the Purple Sage.'
'The minotaur was reported in Zane Grey two weeks ago,' I commented.
'That's what we thought at first,' replied Dr Howard, 'but the slight flexations were moving too fast to be a pagerunner. Within twenty minutes a cloud of grammatical oddities had joined the weather front and together they left the Western genre. The front brushed the South-East corner of Erotica and vanished ten minutes later into Stream of Consciousness.'
'Difficult to spot, perhaps. It's been quiet in SOC ever since. But that's not all. At pretty much the same time a cloud of mispunctuation arose in Horror, circled twice and then developed into a pretty stiff breeze of split infinitives and jumbled words before travelling through Fantasy into Romance. Unchallenged, it hit the Farquitt series and split in two. One storm front headed north into Steele, the other along the Collins ridge just East of Krantz. We expect the two fronts to merge just past Cooper in a few minutes.'
'So we can safely say it's over then?' asked the Senator, staring at the plotting table with more than a little confusion.
'Up to a point, Senator,' replied Dr Howard diplomatically, 'as you so expertly point out, it just might dissipate into the Taylor-Bradford canon harmlessly.'
'Oh, good!' said the senator with relief.
'However,' continued Dr Howard, 'and far be it from me to contradict your Grace, It's equally probable they will strengthen and then careen off on a destructive course towards Drama.'
'Boss-!' said a technician who had been staring at a list of recent anomalies, 'I think you better see this.'
Below us on the plotting table we could see a small bulge emerge on the Western flanks of Stream of Consciousness.
'How fast?' asked Dr Howard.
'About three pages a second.'
'Give me a projected route.'
The technician picked up a slide rule and scribbled some notes on a pad of paper. Unluckily for us the front that had begun in Western had traversed Stream of Consciousness and emerged four times as strong.
'I knew we hadn't seen the last of it,' muttered Howard, 'Damn and Blast!'
But that wasn't all. In the course of the next two minutes we watched nervously as the split storm fronts rejoin once out of Romance, then grow stronger and divert off towards Drama, as feared.
'And that's why we called you,' said Dr Howard, gazing at me intently. 'In under ten minutes the Romance and Stream of Consciousness frontal systems will merge and strengthen. We've got a WordStorm brewing of magnitude five-point-four or more heading straight for Human Drama.'
'Five-point-four?' echoed the Senator, 'That's good, right?'
'In storm terms, it's very good,' replied Dr Howard grimly, 'make no mistake about that. A two-point-three might only scramble text and changes tenses; a three-point-five can muddle chapters and remove entire words. Anything above a five has enough power to tear whole ideas and paragraphs out of a book and dump them several shelves away.'
'O-kay,' I said slowly as Commander Bradshaw appeared looking a bit bleary eyed. 'Glad you could make it, Trafford. We've got a potential WordStorm brewing.'
'WordStorm, eh?' he mused, 'Reminds me of a Typhoon that struck The French Lieutenant's Woman ten years back. By Gad, we were picking superfluous adjectives out of the book for a month.'
'And that had been a small one,' added Dr Howard, 'barely a two-point-one.'
'Cat,' I said, 'issue a storm warning to the residents of all books on the storm's path. Trafford, we need every single DanverClone we have on thirty second readiness. I want Textual Sieves ready and standing by.'
'Well,' said Senator Jobsworth, 'this is all quite exciting, isn't it? And what is a textual sieve, anyway?'
We all ignored him and moved to a table in Dr Howard's office where one of his team had unrolled a more detailed map of the affected area of Human Drama. It was essentially one of Bradshaw's Booksploring charts overlaid with the footnoterphone conduits in red ink. The map looked like a giant spider's web of interconnections, the books which remained unexplored standing alone and unprotected. If we couldn't get in to warn them they certainly wouldn't be able to see it coming.
We waited patiently as the minutes ticked by, the plotters updating the course of the two storm-fronts on the chart as they merged, gathered speed and hurtled across the emptiness of inter-genre space, directly towards Human Drama. Bradshaw had relayed my orders to the DanverClones; all we needed was the title of the books most likely to be hit by the coming storm.
'Why don't we set up those textual sieves across this area here?' suggested Senator Jobsworth, waving a hand at the chart.
'We mustn't spread our sieves too thin,' I explained, 'we need them concentrated at the place the storm hits to do any good at all.' As if to confirm its waywardness the storm changed direction. It had been heading almost straight for the Satire end of Human Drama when it veered away and headed instead for Melodrama.
'Which one do you think old girl?' asked Bradshaw, footnoterphone in hand. It was one of those moments where leadership has a lonely, hollow emptiness to it. The wrong decision now and we could be mopping up the mess for years. Give my order too early and the storm might veer again and cut a ugly swathe through Trollope; give the order too late and the textual sieves might not be up in time to stop the storm in its tracks. A half unfurled sieve would be broken like matchwood and carried with the storm to who-knows-where.
'What shall we do, Bellman?' asked the Cat. He wasn't smiling.
A technician updated the plot. The storm had moved slightly to the West and was now four minutes from hitting Human Drama. Would it hold that course or veer off again?
'Dr Howard,' I said, 'I need your best estimate.'
'It's almost impossible to say-!' he began.
'-I know that!' I snapped, 'Like it or not you are the best guesser and I'm going to go with your hunch - that's my decision. Now, where do you thing it will hit?'
He sighed resignedly and stabbed a finger on the map.
'I think about here. Page 214 of The Scarlett Letter, give or take a chapter or two.'
'Hawthorne,' I murmured, 'Not good.'
No-one had ever travelled into any of his books before so the DanverClones would be working on the books closest to it - never a satisfactory alternative.
'Right,' I said, drawing a deep breath, 'do we have an updated report on the size of this WordStorm?'
'It's now a five-point-seven,' replied the technician in a voice tinged with fear, 'and it's heavy with ideas and plot devices picked up on its journey so far.'
'I'd say,' replied the technician, reading the latest weather report, 'barely three paragraphs wide but with a density over six-point-four. It's currently moving at eight pages a second.'
'It could tear a hole straight through The Scarlett Letter at that rate!' exploded Bradshaw, 'And litter the whole book with dramatic events!'
The consequence of this was terrible to consider - a new version of The Scarlett Letter where things actually happen.
I had an idea.
'How many people are reading Scarlett Letter at present?'
'Six hundred and twenty-two,' replied the Cat, who as librarian had these figures at his paws twenty-four hours a day.
'Mostly,' replied the cat, thinking hard, 'except for a class of thirty-two English Students at Frobisher High School in Michigan who are studying it in class.'
'Good. Bradshaw? I want you to set up Textual Sieves in every book ever written by the Brontės - even the bad ones. Sieves are to be set to COARSE in all poetry, juvenilia, Villette and Wuthering Heights, MEDIUM in Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I want to channel the storm, slowing it down as it passes. By Jane Eyre and Shirley sieves should be set to FINE. The storm will bounce between all the works, moving West towards the void between Brontė and H.E. Bates. If it makes it that far we'll reset the sieves and attack it again.'
There was a pause.
'But Thursday,' said Bradshaw slowly, 'the storm isn't going to hit the Brontės.'
'It will if we shut Scarlett Letter down.'
'Out of the question!' exploded Senator Jobsworth, spontaneously and automatically rejecting any possible infringements of his sacred regulations, 'The rules do not permit any book to be shut down without a vote at the Council of Genres - I can quote the rule number if you wish!'
Technically, he was right. Even with a vote, nobody had tried anything so audacious as shutting down a book before. It usually took an hour at most, more to bring back up to full readability again.
'Is that wise?' asked Dr Howard.
'Not in the least,' I replied, 'but I'm out of time and ideas right now.'
'Isn't anyone listening to me?' continued the Senator, more outraged at our lack of respect than losing The Scarlett Letter.
'Oh, we're listening all right,' purred the Cat, 'we just don't agree with you.'
'Rules are there for a good reason, Miss Next. We have ordered the demolition of bigger books than Scarlett Letter. I personally-'
'Listen,' I said, 'Classics have been lost before but never during my tenure as Bellman. Tomorrow morning you can have my badge if I'm wrong and send me packing. Right now you can sit down and shut up. Cat and Bradshaw, are you with me on this?'
'Appreciate a woman who can make bold decisions!' muttered Bradshaw, repeating my orders to the Danvers. Senator Jobsworth had gone red with impotent fury and his mouth was twitching as he sought to find words to adequately express his anger at my insubordination. 'Two minutes to impact time.'
I picked up the Footnoterphone and asked to be put through to the Storycode engine floor.
'Bradshaw, I want you to take a trip to the Outland and set the fire alarm off at Frobisher high in exactly seventy-eight seconds. That will give us a few minutes breathing space. The pleasure readers will just think they've got bored and lost concentration when the book shuts down. Hello, Storycode floor? This is the Bellman. I want you to divert Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter to an empty storycode engine and shut it down. Yes, that's quite correct. Shut it down. I don't have time to issue a written order so you're going to have to take my word for it. You are to do it in exactly sixty-three seconds.'
'Sieves are going up as requested, Thursday,' reported Bradshaw. 'Think they'll hold?'
I shrugged. There was nothing else we could do. The storm plot ran toward Scarlett Letter and struck it just as the storycode engine shut down. The book closed. The characters stopped in their tracks as an all pervading darkness swept over every descriptive passage, every line of dialogue, every nuance, every concept. Where a moment ago there had been a fascinating treatise on morality, there was now only a lifeless hulk of dark reading matter. It was as if The Scarlett Letter had never been written. The storm bounced off, and then, attracted to the brighter lights of the Brontė canon next door, struck off on a new course. I breathed a sigh of relief but then held my breath once more as the storm struck Wuthering Heights - and glanced off. The sieve had held. Over the next few minutes the WordStorm ran between the books as planned, the textual sieves slowing it down as it brushed past the collected works of the Brontė Sisters.
'Slight grammatical warpage in the Juvenilia but nothing serious,' said the Cat. 'Villette is reporting isolated bursts of narrative flexations but nothing we can't handle. All other books report no damage.'
'Good. Bring The Scarlett Letter back on line.'
We watched nervously as the storm slowly subsided. It had littered the Brontė canon with words and ideas but nothing violent enough to embed them and change the narrative. As likely as not the residents of the novels would just pick them up and sell them to travelling scrap merchants. But the WordStorm wasn't quite finished with us yet. After brushing past the preface to Shirley the storm suddenly sped up and, in it's last dying throes, embedded a 'Bride Shot at the Altar' plot device right at the end of Lorna Doone. Actually, it improved the book somewhat if a little out-of-place, and it remains there to this day. Aside from that minor flexation, no real harm was done by the WordStorm. The Senator berated me for a good ten minutes and filed a report on my behaviour the following day, which was rejected summarily by the other members of the JurisFiction oversights committee.
I left the Cat and Bradshaw to log the damage reports and thanked Dr Howard and his staff for their slavish attention. I decided to walk back home, across the Storycode engine floor and down the empty corridors of the Great Library to the Well of Lost Plots and back to bed. I was feeling quite good about myself. I had run a team of highly skilled technicians and saved The Scarlett Letter from almost certain devastation. It would be one of my easier tasks as Bellman but I didn't know that yet. The evening had gone well. Landen would have been proud of me.
Originally written 2003.