CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE (alternate)

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FINN

It is late in the day, and the sky is pink, and a storm is coming but is not here yet, and we are going to the Scorpio Festival.

I'm excited.

I drive Puck and the Carroll brothers in the Morris to Skarmouth, which has gone mad - the town, not the car. You have to have a mind to lose it, and Mum told me several years ago that even though the Morris had very friendly headlights, it was not alive. I find this very depressing to think about but it seems to be true because the car never seems any happier with its lot in life no matter how much I pray for it. Loads of things have faces if you are looking for them, though, even if they don't have souls. Gabe's bicycle has a kind of scowl if you think of the handlebars as eyebrows. The gorse shieldbugs that the farmers curse in Thisby's cool summers have a neighborly expression if you peer beyond their inquisitive antenna to their shiny little eyes. We even have a mug that I prefer to use because there are two eye-like indentations in the clay by the curved handle that turn it into the happiest crockery we own. I feel strange if I'm in a place that doesn't have any faces in it, and when I walk into a room, the first thing I do is look for a hidden face. If there isn't one in a knot of wood or formed by a radio's display or cast in the shadows by the hearth, I head myself right out of there. That's the nice thing about driving the Morris. I take another familiar face with me wherever I go.

Anyway, so it's Skarmouth that is mad and it's the Scorpio Festival that's driven it there. The single-track road into town is lined with more cars and trucks than I've ever seen in one place. Horses and wagons notch against the Bluebell Lodge, the horses placid with feedbags over their noses. I put the Morris in a tiny space next to a rubbish bin and hope that it will start when we return later. Puck wants us to sell it to get Dove better food for the race, but the idea of selling it is like hearing that a friend is going to the mainland for good. It is like hearing that Gabe is going to the mainland for good. I can't think about that too hard, either, though, or I won't think of anything but.

"Out we get!" Jonathan Carroll says, even though we're all already in the process of disembarking. He always seems happiest when he is saying something that someone else is already thinking.

Outside of the car, it is very loud. The town crawls with people. There are so many of them standing so close to one another and all of them dressed so strangely in Festival apparel that they don't look like hundreds of ordinary island folk going in hundreds of ordinary island directions. Instead they seem like a single, unfamiliar creature with many legs, just wobbling about the streets in no direction at all. In the wild and flickering light, I try to pick out a face on this creature, but I don't succeed.

I check myself anxiously for excitement, but it's as I suspected. The little flame of enthusiasm I felt earlier has extinguished entirely in the time it took to get here, darkened by the sight of capaill uisce on the drive here and the presence of the crowd-creature and the wild noise of the transformed town. I miss when I was younger, before Mum and Dad died, when it seemed like I was simply content all the time. Now, no matter whatever feeling I start out with, it always seems to turn into fear eventually, like all plants become dirt if you leave them piled behind the lean-to long enough.

Somewhere nearby, Scorpio drummers begin to pound a ragged and threatening beat, and the crowd creature shouts as one. The light is odd and dreamlike with the flames from barrels and the little bulbs strung between light poles. The air is cold and smells like action: burning tar and baking buns and grilled meat on sticks. The old Skarmouth buildings seem to lean over the street as if eager to keep an eye on the people-creature that twists and turns over the cobblestones.

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