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Johnny and the Dead

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Sell the cemetery?

Over their dead bodies . . .

Not many people can see the dead (not many would want to). Twelve-year-old Johnny Maxwell can. And he's got bad news for them: the council want to sell the cemetery as a building site. But the dead aren't going to take it lying down . . . especially since it's Halloween tomorrow.

Besides, they're beginning to find that life is a lot more fun than it was when they were . . . well . . . alive. Particularly if they break a few rules . . .

Johnny and the Dead

Chapter 1

Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead. The Alderman said it was probably because he was too lazy not to. Most people’s minds don’t let them see things that might upset them, he said. The Alderman said he should know if anyone did, because he’d spent his whole life (1822–1906) not seeing things.

Wobbler Johnson, who was technically Johnny’s best friend, said it was because he was mental. But Yo-less, who read medical books, said it was probably because he couldn’t focus his mind like normal people. Normal people just ignored almost everything that was going on around them, so that they could concentrate on important things like, well, getting up, going to the lavatory and getting on with their lives. Whereas Johnny just opened his eyes in the morning and the whole universe hit him in the face. Wobbler said this sounded like ‘mental’ to him. Whatever it was called, what it meant was this. Johnny saw things other people didn’t. Like the dead people hanging around in the cemetery.

The Alderman – at least, the old Alderman – was a bit snobby about most of the rest of the dead, even about Mr Vicenti, who had a huge black marble grave with angels and a photograph of Mr Vicenti (1897-1958) looking not at all dead behind a little window. The Alderman said Mr Vicenti had been a Capo de Monte in the Mafia. Mr Vicenti told Johnny that, on the contrary, he had spent his entire life being a wholesale novelty salesman, amateur escapologist and children’s entertainer, which in a number of important respects was as exactly like not being in the Mafia as it was possible to get.

But all this was later. After he’d got to know the dead a lot better. After the raising of the ghost of the Ford Capri. Johnny really discovered the cemetery after he’d started living at Grandad’s. This was Phase Three of Trying Times, after the shouting, which had been bad, and the Being Sensible About Things (which had been worse; people are better at shouting). Now his dad was getting a new job somewhere on the other side of the country. There was a vague feeling that it might all work out, now that people had stopped trying to be sensible. On the whole, he tried not to think about it.

He’d started using the path along the canal instead of going home on the bus, and found that if you climbed over the place where the wall had fallen down, and then went around behind the crematorium, you could cut off half the journey.

The graves went right up to the canal’s edge. It was one of those old cemeteries you got owls and foxes in and sometimes, in the Sunday papers, people going on about Our Victorian Heritage, although they didn’t go on about this one because it was the wrong kind of heritage, being too far from London.

Wobbler said it was spooky and sometimes went home the long way, but Johnny was disappointed that it wasn’t spookier. Once you sort of put out of your mind what it was – once you forgot about all the skeletons underground, grinning away in the dark – it was quite friendly. Birds sang. All the traffic sounded a long way off. It was peaceful.

The Last Continent

Against the stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell. Both turtle and elephants are bigger than people might expect, but out between the stars the difference between huge and tiny is, comparatively speaking, very small.

But this turtle and these elephants are, by turtle and elephant standards, big. They carry the Discworld, with its vast lands, cloudscapes, and oceans.

People don’t live on the Disc any more than, in less hand-crafted parts of the multiverse, they live on balls. Oh, planets may be the place where their body eats its tea, but they live elsewhere, in worlds of their own which orbit very handily around the centre of their heads. When gods get together they tell the story of one particular planet whose inhabitants watched, with mild interest, huge continent-wrecking slabs of ice slap into another world which was, in astronomical terms, right next door – and then did nothing about it because that sort of thing only happens in Outer Space. An intelligent species would at least have found someone to complain to. Anyway, no one seriously believes in that story, because a race quite that stupid would never even have discovered slood. People believe in all sorts of other things, though. For example, there are some people who have a legend that the whole universe is carried in a leather bag by an old man. They’re right, too.

Other people say: hold on, if he’s carrying the entire universe in a sack, right, that means he’s carrying himself and the sack inside the sack, because the universe contains everything. Including him. And the sack, of course. Which contains him and the sack already. As it were. To which the reply is: well? All tribal myths are true, for a given value of ‘true’.

It is a general test of the omnipotence of a god that they can see the fall of a tiny bird. But only one god makes notes, and a few adjustments, so that next time it can fall faster and further. We may find out why. We might find out why mankind is here, although that is more complicated and begs the question ‘Where else should we be? ’ It would be terrible to think that some impatient deity might part the clouds and say, ‘Damn, are you lot still here? I thought you discovered slood ten thousand years ago! I’ve got ten trillion tons of ice arriving on Monday! ’ We may even find out why the duck-billed platypus.

Snow, thick and wet, tumbled on to the lawns and roofs of Unseen University, the Discworld’s premier college of magic. It was sticky snow, which made the place look like some sort of expensive yet tasteless ornament, and it caked around the boots of McAbre, the Head Bledlow, as he trudged through the cold, wild night.

Two other bledlows stepped out of the lee of a buttress and fell in behind him on a solemn march towards the main gates. It was an old custom, centuries old, and in the summer a few tourists would hang around to watch it, but the Ceremony of the Keys went on every night in every season. Mere ice, wind and snow had never stopped it. Bledlows in times gone past had clambered over tentacled monstrosities to do the Ceremony; they’d waded through floodwater, flailed with their bowler hats at errant pigeons, harpies and dragons, and ignored mere faculty members who’d thrown open their bedroom windows and screamed imprecations on the lines of ‘Stop that damn racket, will you? What’s the point? ’ They’d never stopped, or even thought of stopping. You couldn’t stop Tradition. You could only add to it.

Read The book extract online

A lovely, funny, witty, sometimes wise book, exciting and entertaining and always highly readable

Junior Bookshelf

Marvellous story . . . funny, poignant, angry, outrageous and moving . . . Terry Pratchett is simply the best there is

Vector

A humorous book, full of puns and asides, wittily and skilfully written... a delight of a book for any fluent teenage reader

School Librarian

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