‘The Shadow?’ Meggie’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. ‘Does he kill Dustfinger?’
‘No, no. I’m sorry, I’d quite forgotten your question. Once I begin talking about my characters it’s hard to stop me. No, one of Capricorn’s men kills Dustfinger. It was a very successful scene. Dustfinger has some kind of tame marten. Capricorn’s man wants to kill it because he enjoys killing small animals, so Dustfinger tries to save his furry friend and dies in the attempt.’
Meggie said nothing. Poor Dustfinger, she thought. Poor, poor Dustfinger. She couldn’t think of anything else. ‘Which of Capricorn’s men does it?’ she asked. ‘Flatnose? Or Cockerell?’
Fenoglio looked at her in surprise. ‘Well, fancy that. You know all their names? I usually forget them soon after I’ve made them up.’
‘It’s neither of them, Meggie,’ said Mo. ‘The murderer’s name isn’t even mentioned in the book. A whole pack of Capricorn’s men is hunting Gwin, and one of them draws a knife and uses it. A man who’s probably still waiting for Dustfinger.’
‘Waiting for him?’ Fenoglio looked at Mo, confused.
‘That’s terrible!’ whispered Meggie. ‘I’m glad I didn’t read any more.’
‘What do you mean? Are you talking about my book?’ Fenoglio’s voice sounded hurt.
‘Yes,’ said Meggie. ‘I am.’ She looked at Mo, a question in her eyes. ‘And Capricorn? Who kills him?’
Meggie stared at Fenoglio so accusingly that he rubbed his nose awkwardly. It was an impressive nose. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ he cried. ‘Yes, I let him get away with it. He’s one of my best villains. How could I kill him off? It’s the same in real life: notorious murderers get off scot-free and live happily all their lives, while good people die – sometimes the very best people. That’s the way of the world. Why should it be different in books?’
‘What about Basta? Does he stay alive too?’ Meggie remembered what Farid had said back in the ruined hovel: ‘Why not kill them? That’s what they were going to do to us!’
‘Basta stays alive too,’ replied Fenoglio. ‘I remember toying for some time with the idea of writing a sequel to Inkheart, and I didn’t want to do without those two. I was proud of them! And the Shadow was quite a success too, yes, he really was, but I’m always most attached to my human characters. You know, if you were to ask me which of those two I was prouder of, Basta or Capricorn, I couldn’t tell you! Even though some critics said they were just too nasty!’
Mo stared out of the window again. Then he looked at Fenoglio. ‘Would you like to meet them?’ he asked.
‘Meet who?’ Fenoglio looked at him in surprise.
‘Capricorn and Basta.’
‘Good God, no!’ Fenoglio laughed so loud that Paula, quite frightened, put her hand over his mouth.
‘Well, we did,’ said Mo wearily. ‘Meggie and I – and Dustfinger.’
The Wrong Ending
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
G.G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Fenoglio said nothing for a long time after Mo had finished his story. Paula had gone off long ago in search of Pippo and Rico. Meggie heard them running over the wooden floorboards above her, back and forth, jumping, sliding, giggling and squealing. But in Fenoglio’s kitchen it was so quiet you could hear the tick of the clock on the wall by the window.
‘Does he have those scars on his face? I expect you know what I mean? The fairies treated the cuts – that’s why there are only slight scars left, little more than three pale lines on the skin, is that right?’ Fenoglio looked enquiringly at Mo, who nodded.
Fenoglio looked out of the window again, brushing a few crumbs off his trousers. ‘Basta scarred him,’ he said. ‘They both fancied the same girl.’
Mo nodded. ‘Yes, I know.’
A window was open in the house opposite, and you could hear a woman scolding a child inside. ‘I suppose I ought to feel very, very proud,’ murmured Fenoglio. ‘Every writer wants to create lifelike characters – and mine are so lifelike they’ve walked straight off the page!’
‘That’s because my father read them out of the book,’ said Meggie. ‘He can do it with other books too.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Fenoglio nodded. ‘A good thing you reminded me. Otherwise I might start taking myself for a minor god, mightn’t I? But I’m sorry about your mother – although depending on how you look at it, that wasn’t really my fault.’
‘It’s worse for my father,’ said Meggie. ‘I don’t remember her.’
Mo looked at her, startled.
‘Of course not. You were younger than my grandchildren,’ said Fenoglio thoughtfully. ‘I’d really like to see him,’ he added. ‘Dustfinger, I mean. Naturally I’m sorry now that I thought up such an unhappy ending for the poor fellow, but it somehow seemed right for him. As Shakespeare puts it so well, “Everybody plays his part, and mine is a sad one.”’ He looked out into the street. Something fell and broke on the floor above them, but Fenoglio didn’t seem particularly interested.
‘Are those your children?’ asked Meggie, pointing up at the ceiling.
‘Heaven help us, no. My grandchildren. One of my daughters lives in this village too. They’re always visiting me, and I tell them stories. I tell half the village stories, but I don’t feel like writing them down any more.’ He turned to Mo with an enquiring look. ‘Where is he now?’
‘Dustfinger? I can’t tell you. He doesn’t want to see you.’
‘He got quite a shock when my father told him about you,’ added Meggie. But Dustfinger must be told what happens to him, she thought, he must. Then he’ll understand why he really can’t go back. And all the same, she thought next, he’ll still be homesick. Homesick for ever.
‘I must see him! Only once. Don’t you understand?’ Fenoglio looked pleadingly at Mo. ‘I could just follow you, inconspicuously. How would he know who I am? I want to find out if he really looks the way I imagined him, that’s all.’
However, Mo shook his head. ‘I think you’d better leave him alone.’
‘Nonsense. Surely I can see him whenever I like. After all, I invented him!’
‘And you killed him off,’ Meggie pointed out.
‘Well.’ Fenoglio raised his hands helplessly. ‘I wanted to make the story more exciting. Don’t you like exciting stories?’
‘Only if they have happy endings.’
‘Happy endings!’ Fenoglio snorted scornfully, and then listened to what was going on upstairs. Something or someone had landed heavily on the wooden floorboards. Loud howls followed the thud. Fenoglio strode to the door. ‘Wait here! I’ll be back in a minute!’ he called, disappearing into the corridor.