Excerpt of Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
(Page 4 of 7)
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Yes, I said, but what do you think?
I think we should go and see the Oz Memorial. Even if its as dull
as magnolia, it will still be a thousand times more interesting than the
Badly Drawn Map.
We walked along the noisy streets toward the museum and soaked in the
hustle, bustle, dust and heat of Vermillion. All about us were the traders who
dealt with daily requisites: livestock herders, barrow boys, water sellers, piemen,
storytellers and weight guessers. Catering for more long- term needs
were the small shops, such as repairers, artifact dealers, spoon traders and
calculating shops that offered addition and subtraction while you waited.
Moderators and loopholists were hirable by the minute to advise on matters
regarding the Rules, and there was even a shop that traded solely in floaties,
and another that specialized in postcode genealogy. Amid it all I noticed a
stronger- than- usual presence of Yellows, presumably to keep an eye out for
illegal color exchange, seed trading or running with a sharp implement.
Unusually for a regional hub, Vermillion was positioned pretty much
on the edge of the civilized world. Beyond it to the east were only the
Redstone Mountains and isolated outposts like East Carmine. In the
uninhabited zone there would be wild outland, megafauna, lost villages
of untapped scrap color and quite possibly bands of nomadic Riffraff.
It was exciting and worrying all in one, and until the week before, I
hadnt even heard of East Carmine, let alone thought I would be spending
a month there on Humility Realignment. My friends were horrified,
expressed low- to- moderate outrage that I should be treated this way and
proclaimed that they would have started a petition if they could have
troubled themselves to look for a pencil.
The Fringes are the place of the slack- willed, slack- jawed and
slack- hued, remarked Floyd Pinken, who could comfortably boast all
three of those attributes, if truth be known.
And be wary of losers, self- abusers, fence leapers and fornicators,
added Tarquin, who, given his family history, would not have seemed
out of place there either.
They then informed me that I would be demonstrably insane to leave
the safety of the village boundary for even one second, and that a trip to
the Fringes would have me eating with my fingers, slouching and with
hair below the collar in under a week. I almost decided to buy my way
out of the assignment with a loan from my twice- widowed aunt Beryl,
but Constance Oxblood thought otherwise.
Youre doing a what? she asked when I mentioned the reason I was
going to East Carmine.
A chair census, my poppet, I explained. Head Office is worried
that the chair density might have dropped below the proscribed 1.8 per
How absolutely thrilling. Does an ottoman count as a chair or a very
She went on to say that I would be showing significant daring and
commendable bravery if I went, so I changed my mind. With the prospect
of joining the family of Oxblood and of myself as potential prefect
material, I was going to need the broadening that travel and furniture
counting would doubtless bring, and a month in the intolerably unsophisticated
Outer Fringes might well supply that for me.
The Oz Memorial trumped the Badly Drawn Map in that it was baffling
in three dimensions rather than just two. It was a partial bronze of a
group of oddly shaped animals, the whole about six feet high and four
feet across. According to the museum guide, it had been cut into pieces
and dumped in the river three centuries before as part of the deFacting,
so only two figures remained of a possible five. The best preserved was
that of a pig in a dress and a wig, and next to her stood a bulbous- bodied
bear in a necktie. Of the third and fourth figures there remained almost
nothing, and of the fifth, only two claw- shaped feet truncated at the
ankles, modeled on no creature living today.
Excerpted from Shades of Grey
by Jasper Fforde. Copyright © 2009 by Jasper Fforde.
Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.