Hey, Gustave. Listen to what everyone said. Everyone said that one day I was going to have a big accident, an accident to end all accidents. One day you might look up and see a kid falling from the sky.
That would be me.
Kids shouldn't make their maman cry, so that's why I went to see Fat Perez in Gratte-Ciel on Wednesdays. He lived in an apartment by the Place Frères Lumieres. You might not know who the frères Lumieres were. The frères Lumieres were two brothers who invented the cinema, and there's a museum about them and a fountain in the square and a market where Maman went shopping for salad and tomatoes and cheese. I hated tomatoes so much I was allergic to them. And she went to the charcutier to buy saucisson sec that me and Papa secretly called donkey dick. While she was shopping, Fat Perez and me, we talked about blood and stuff.
Whatever's on your mind, it's OK to talk about, Louis. I'm here to listen.
Quite often it was vampire bats, because I know a lot about La Planète Bleue and also Les Animaux: leur vie extraordinaire and dead people like Jacques Cousteau and Adolf Hitler and Jeanne d'Arc and the Wright brothers and different diseases and poisons. The world blood-sucking record for a vampire bat is five litres, it sucks it from a cow's neck or buttock after paralysing it with spit called saliva. I could tell Fat Perez anything I wanted, because it was just between the two of us and it didn't leave the room. The grosser it was, the more excited he got. His leather chair squeaked.
I always thought that if he ever stopped being all excited by my blood stories, he could just leave a tape recorder in the room with his voice on it saying Tell Me More every few minutes. Then he could go and watch Cartoon Network and spend the money on sweets.
-- How many euros does it cost per time?
-- That's a question to ask Maman, he says. -- Or Papa.
-- I'm asking you. How many per time?
-- Why's it important to you?
-- Because maybe I could do what you do. Earn some dosh.
He smiles his creepy fat smile.
-- Would you like to help people, do you think?
That makes me laugh.
-- Help people? I'd like to sit in a chair and say 'tell me more' and get zillions of euros for it per time, that's what I'd like, it looks like an easy life.
-- Do you feel that you'd like to have an easy life, when you grow up?
-- Stupid question.
-- Why is it stupid, Louis?
-- Because I'm not going to grow up, am I?
-- What makes you think that?
Does he think I'm a total moron? Does he think I come from the planet Pluto or somewhere humans don't have brains?
-- Second stupid question.
-- I'm sorry if you think it's a stupid question Louis. But I'm still interested in your answer, he says, with his fat face. -- So. What makes you think you won't grow up, Louis?
Don't say anything, don't say anything, don't say anything.
Fat Perez was my biggest enemy but he never scared me the way Gustave does. Gustave'd scare you too, if you met him. Because underneath the bandages he hasn't got a face and sometimes he coughs so hard it turns into being sick and sometimes I think I'm making him up just for someone to talk to. But if I am, I don't know how to stop because if someone's living in your head, how do you get them out?
You can't, is how. You can't, because that's where they live.
There are laws and you go to prison if you break them but there are secret rules too, so secret no one ever talks about them. Here's a secret rule of pet-keeping. If you own a small creature, say a hamster called Mohammed, and he lives for longer than a small rodent's lifespan, which is two years, then you're allowed to kill him if you want to, because you're his owner. This secret rule of pet-keeping has a name, it's called Right of Disposal. You're allowed to do it with suffocation, or with poison if you have any, say weedkiller. Or you can drop something heavy on him, like volume three of the encyclopédie medicale or Harry Potter et l'Ordre du Phénix. Just as long as you don't make a mess.
Excerpted from The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. © Liz Jensen, 2003. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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