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Excerpt

Excerpt

Johnny and the Dead: The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Book 2

Chapter One

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 nuts.

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 "nuts" 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 di 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 gotten 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 Granddad'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 had 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.

He'd had to check a few things, though. Some of the older graves had big stone boxes on top of them, and in the wilder parts these had cracked and even fallen open. He'd had a look inside, just in case.

It had been sort of disappointing to find nothing there.

And then there were the mausoleums. These were much bigger and had doors in them, like little houses. They looked a bit like garden sheds with extra angels. The angels were generally more lifelike than you'd expect, especially one near the entrance who looked as though he'd just remembered that he should have gone to the toilet before he left heaven.

The two boys walked through the cemetery now, kicking up the drifts of fallen leaves.

"It's Halloween next week," said Wobbler. "I'm having a party. You have to come as something horrible. Don't bother to find a disguise."

"Thanks," said Johnny.

"You notice how there's a lot more Halloween stuff in the shops these days?" said Wobbler.

"It's because of Bonfire Night," said Johnny. "Too many people were blowing themselves up with fireworks, so they invented Halloween, where you just wear masks and stuff."

"Mrs. Nugent says all that sort of thing is tampering with the occult," said Wobbler. Mrs. Nugent was the Johnsons' next-door neighbor, and known to be unreasonable on subjects like Madonna played at full volume at three a.m.

"Probably it is," said Johnny.

"She says witches are abroad on Halloween," said Wobbler.

"What?" Johnny's forehead wrinkled. "Like . . . Marjorca and places?"

"Suppose so," said Wobbler.

"Makes . . . sense, I suppose. They probably get special out-of-season bargains, being old ladies," said Johnny. "My aunt can go anywhere on the buses for almost nothing, and she's not even a witch."

"Don't see why Mrs. Nugent is worried, then," said Wobbler. "It ought to be a lot safer around here, with all the witches on vacation."

They passed a very ornate mausoleum, which even had little stained-glass windows. It was hard to imagine who'd want to see in, but then, it was even harder to imagine who'd want to look out.

"Shouldn't like to be on the same plane as 'em," said Wobbler, who'd been thinking hard. "Just think, p'raps you can only afford to go on vacation in the autumn, and you get on the plane, and there's all these old witches going abroad."

"Singing ‘Here we go, here we go, here we go'?" said Johnny. "But I bet you'd get really good service in the hotel."

"Yeah."

"Funny, really," said Johnny.

"What?"

"I saw a thing in a book once," said Johnny, "about these people in Mexico or somewhere, where they all go down to the cemetery for a big fiesta at Halloween every year. Like they don't see why people should be left out of things just because they're dead."

"Yuck. A picnic? In the actual cemetery?"

"Yes."

"Reckon you'd get green glowing hands pushing up through the earth and swiping the sandwiches?"

"Don't think so. Anyway . . . they don't eat sandwiches in Mexico. They eat tort . . . something."

Excerpted from JOHNNY AND THE DEAD: The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Book 2 © Copyright 2012 by Terry Pratchett. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Johnny and the Dead: The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Book 2
by by Terry Pratchett

  • paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060541903
  • ISBN-13: 9780060541903