Excerpt of Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
(Page 5 of 7)
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The eyes are very large and humanlike for a pig, said my father,
peering closer. And Ive seen a number of bears in my life, but none of
them wore a hat.
They were very big on anthropomorphism, I ventured, which was
pretty much accepted fact. The Previous had many other customs that
were inexplicable, none more so than their propensity to intermingle fact with fiction, which made it very hard to figure out what had happened
and what hadnt. Although we knew that this bronze had been
cast in honor of Oz, the full dedication on the plinth was badly eroded, so
it remained tantalizingly unconnected to any of the other Oz references
that had trickled down through the centuries. Debating societies had
pondered long and hard over the Oz Question, and published many
scholarly tracts within the pages of Spectrum. But while remnants of Tin
Men had been unearthed by salvage teams, and Emerald City still existed
as the center of learning and administration, no physical evidence of
brick roads had ever been found anywhere in the Collective, either of
natural or synthetic yellow and naturalists had long ago rejected the
possibility that monkeys could fly. Oz, it was generally agreed, had been
a fiction, and a fairly odd one. But in spite of that, the bronze remained.
It was all a bit of a puzzle.
After that, we paused only briefly to look at the exhibits in the
museum, and only those of more than passing interest. We stopped and
stared at the collection of Vimto bottles, the preserved Ford Fiesta with
its obscene level of intentional obsolescence, then at the Turner, which
Dad thought wasnt his best. After that, we made our way to the floor
below, where we marveled at the realistic poses in the life- size Riffraff
diorama, which depicted a typical Homo feralensis encampment. It was
all disturbingly lifelike and full of savagery and unbridled lust, and was
for the most part based upon Alfred Peabodys seminal work, Seven Minutes
among the Riffraff. We stared at the lifeless mannequins with a small
crowd of schoolchildren, who were doubtless studying the lower order
of Human as part of a Historical Conjecture project.
Do they really eat their own babies? asked one of the pupils as she
stared with horrified fascination at the tableau.
Absolutely, replied the teacher, an elderly Blue who should have
known better, and you, too, if you dont respect your parents, observe
the Rules and finish up your vegetables.
Personally, I had doubts about some of the more ridiculous claims
regarding Riffraff. But I kept them to myself. Conjecture was a dish
mostly served up wild.
As it turned out, the phonograph would not be demonstrated, because
both it and the music disc had been put beyond use with a very large
hammer. This wasnt a result of mischief, but a necessary outcome of
Leapback Compliance issues, as some fool hadnt listed the device on
this years exemption certificate. The staff at the museum seemed a trifle annoyed about this, as the destruction of the artifact reduced the Collectives
demonstrable phonographs to a solitary machine in Cobalts
Museum of the Something That Happened.
But it wasnt all bad, added the curator, a Red with very bushy eyebrows.
At least I can lay claim to being the last person ever to hear
Mr. Simply Red.
After giving detailed feedback, we left the museum and headed off
toward the Municipal Gardens.
We paused on the way to admire an impressive wall painting of great
antiquity that was emblazoned across the gable end of a brick house.
It invited a long- vanished audience to Drink Ovaltine for Health and
Vitality, and there was an image of a mug and two odd- looking but
happy children, their football- sized eyes staring blankly out at the world
with obvious satisfaction and longing. Although faded, the red components
in the lips and script were still visible. Pre- Epiphanic wall paintings
were rare and, when they depicted the Previous, creepy. It was the
eyes. Their pupils, far from being the fine, neat dot of normal peoples,
were unnaturally wide and dark and empty as though their heads
were somehow hollow and this gave their look of happiness a peculiar
and contrived demeanor. We stood and stared at it for a moment, then
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.