The Ones We Choose PDF Free Download

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Also by Scarlett Thomas
Worldquake Sequence
Dragon’s Green
Published in Great Britain in 2018 by Canongate Books Ltd,
14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
This digital edition first published in 2018 by Canongate Books
Copyright © Scarlett Thomas, 2018
Extract from The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious reprinted by permission of Routledge © C.G. Jung, 1991, second edition
The moral right of the author has been asserted
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 78211 930 2
eISBN 978 1 78211 931 9
Typeset in Horley Old Style MT by
Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
For Mum & Couze, with love.
And in memory of David Miller.
‘The “child” is all that is abandoned and exposed and at the same time divinely powerful; the insignificant, dubious beginning, and the triumphal end.’
C.G. Jung
‘Ther saugh I pleye jugelours, Magiciens, and tregetours, And Phitonesses, charmeresses, Olde wicches, sorceresses.’
Geoffrey Chaucer
‘Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.’
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Orwell Bookend was not a very happy man. At this moment, with a small bat peering at him with its peculiar upside-down eyes, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever been happy. Perhaps he had been happy once, a long time ago, when his first wife Aurelia had still been around. Before his daughter Effie had got so out-of-control. And before he had climbed into this dusty attic without changing out of his work suit.
Where was that blasted child? Probably out dabbling in ‘magic’ somewhere with her deluded friends – that fat, bespectacled boy, and the girl who seemed to wear nightdresses all the time. Well, Effie would certainly be in trouble when she got home. She must have been up here in the attic, Orwell concluded, and taken the book already. The Chosen Ones by Laurel Wilde was nowhere to be found. Which was the main thing currently making him extremely unhappy.
Orwell Bookend’s unhappiness had started, like much unhappiness, when the prospect of happiness had been dangled in front of him and then cruelly snatched away. This had happened approximately forty-five minutes earlier. He had been listening to the radio in the car on his way home from the university when a competition had been announced.
Orwell Bookend loved competitions. He didn’t admit this to most people, but they even made him happy. Well, until he lost. Every Friday he carefully filled in the prize cryptic crossword from the Old Town Gazette and sent it off to a PO Box address in the Borders. The cost of the stamps over the years had far exceeded the value of the prize, which was a fifteen-pound book token, but Orwell would not rest until he had that book token, which he planned to have framed and put up in his office.
The second thing that made Orwell Bookend happy was acquiring money, even though he wasn’t very good at it (as demonstrated by the business with the book token). If he could only find the book – the hardback first-edition of The Chosen Ones that Aurelia had bought for Effie all those years ago – then he would have the chance to enter a competition and make money. That was what it had said on the radio. Anyone lucky enough to own an original copy of The Chosen Ones was to take it to the Town Hall on Friday, where they would be given fifty pounds in cash and a chance to win unlimited free electricity for life. And anyone with a paperback edition of the book could swap it for a tenner.
Fifty pounds had become rather a lot of money since the worldquake had happened five years before. After the worldquake, the economy, like many other complex systems, had become tired and sulky and had started to misbehave. It certainly no longer had any interest in following a lot of silly mathematical rules. Today fifty pounds was definitely worth having, although who knew about tomorrow?
But unlimited free electricity for life! Now that really was a prize worth winning. After all, no one, no matter how rich, had access to unlimited electricity, not since the worldquake. Well, no one apart from Albion Freake, the man who happened to own all the electricity in the world. For some reason his company, Albion Freake Inc., was giving away this huge prize, and putting up all the cash too. All Orwell Bookend had to do was find the book. Of course, it wasn’t really his book. It was Effie’s. But that didn’t bother Orwell Bookend in the slightest.
Dr Green’s head looked like a boiled potato. Not a nice, normal boiled potato that had been rinsed and peeled before cooking, but an old, dry potato with leathery skin that had been left in the ground too long and, despite having been boiled, still had strange clumps of hair sprouting from it. To Maximilian Underwood these clumps looked like roots that had bravely ventured into the light and then promptly died.
Dr Green was in the middle of an educational story – the worst kind of story, in Maximilian’s opinion – in which a poor little impoverished child has been given a pair of battered old running shoes by a mysterious hunchbacked crone in a food bank.
‘The old lady whispers to the child that the shoes are magic,’ said Dr Green, in a voice that was sort of soft and wet and greasy, like margarine. Maximilian knew exactly what was going to happen in the story. Everyone, surely, knew what would happen in the story. The next day the child puts on the shoes and wins a race with the fastest time ever recorded. Then she gets discovered by a famous sports coach, who implores her to wear better running shoes. Of course, she refuses to wear anything but her tattered-looking ‘magic’ shoes. Eventually, the inevitable happens. The girl’s rival steals the shoes and hides them. The girl is forced to compete in normal shoes. And of course she still wins. Moral: it was never about the shoes. The end.
‘Now,’ said Dr Green, once he had finished telling the story. ‘Some points to ponder.’
He walked over to a blackboard-on-wheels that lived in a cupboard for the rest of the week and only came out on a Monday night for these classes, which were supposed to be for Neophytes – newly epiphanised people, mainly children – to learn the basics of magic. This was Maximilian’s first class. He had hoped for bubbling cauldrons at the very least, and ideally things flying around the room and catching fire. But no. It was all very boring.
On the blackboard was a list of things that were forbidden for Neophytes, which had been the subject of most of the class so far.
It was even worse than normal school. And it was colder, too. Dr Green’s weekly class was held in a very dusty old church hall with a wooden floor and huge enamelled white radiators that made constant creaking and groaning sounds but never emitted any heat. Each radiator had a china teacup underneath it to catch the drips. There was an old fluorescent light that flickered dimly during the short periods the electricity was on. But the room was mainly lit with candle-lamps.
Maximilian looked at the list again. It just so happened that he had already done most of the forbidden things on it, and he didn’t care one little bit.
His friend Effie Truelove had pretty much done all of them, too. She’d certainly been to the Otherworld. Maximilian felt faintly proud that he himself had done some things that weren’t even on the list, like attempting to travel to the Underworld and reading someone else’s mind.
Still, it was lucky that Lexy Bottle had warned Maximilian and Effie not to bring their boons to class. Apparently, if Dr Green took your boons away you never saw them again. Maximilian’s boons – the Spectacles of Knowledge, and the Athame of Stealth – were at this moment hidden safely under his bed at home. He’d used a minor cloaking spell to hide the athame from his mother, in case she randomly decided, as she sometimes did, to tidy his bedroom. His mother knew he had epiphanised and was a scholar, of course, but he hadn’t yet owned up to the fact that he was also a mage. He wasn’t sure his mother would like that.
Outside the classroom a barn owl hooted and a gentle frost started to spread itself quietly in hollows and on the high moors. Deep in the black sky a meteor fizzed and then died. It was getting late. All the candles in the room seemed to flicker and dance as one. At this moment all Maximilian wanted was his bedtime snack – three coffee creams and a glass of goat’s milk – and then a lovely, long, peaceful . . .
Lexy nudged Maximilian. ‘Wake up,’ she hissed.
On Lexy’s other side, Effie Truelove was dropping off too. What was wrong with them both? This class was the very most exciting thing Lexy Bottle had ever experienced. Lexy was going to learn how to be a great healer. She was going to find someone to take her on as an Apprentice, and then she was going to be . . .
‘First of all,’ said Dr Green, ‘I want you to think about how magic works in the story. I want you to identify where the magic is in the story. Or even if there is magic in the story. Then I want you to list all the instances where possible exchanges of M-currency are happening at each relevant point of the story.’
Lexy had already turned the page in her new notebook and written the date and the tasks with her new ink pen. She was sure she already knew all the answers. But before the children could get started, the church bell struck nine, which meant it was time for everyone to go home. So soon! Lexy could happily have spent all night soaking up Dr Green’s wisdom.
‘You can complete the task for homework,’ said Dr Green, ‘to be handed in at the beginning of the class next Monday at seven o’clock. Thank you, everyone. Don’t stampede out of the door! Oh, and Euphemia Truelove? A word, please.’
Euphemia Sixten Bookend Truelove, known as Effie, was regretting ever coming to this class. No one had been forced to come, after all. It was optional. A bit like going to school when you didn’t have to. And what kind of idiot did that? Effie’s friend Wolf Reed, with whom she’d been playing tennis for most of the afternoon, had gone on to rugby practice instead, and her other good friend Raven Wilde had gone home straight after school to feed her horse. So why had Effie come?
For one simple reason. Because Lexy had told her it was the only way she could go up the magic grades and become a wizard and live in the Otherworld for ever.
Effie loved the Otherworld. If only she could find some way of living there all the time, she’d be happy. She had to get better at magic first, though, which was another reason for taking this class. According to Lexy, Dr Green was the very best magical teacher in the whole country. He was a genius, even if he sometimes came across as a little slow and boring. Lexy knew all about Dr Green because he had so far been on three dates with her Aunt Octavia.
Dr Green now had his back to Effie. He was wiping the blackboard with jerky little movements. His long list of forbidden things was dissolving into particles of chalk and falling to the floor, where Effie definitely thought it belonged. She sighed. How long was she going to have to stand here waiting to find out what she’d done? She knew she had done something. Dr Green had that air about him.
‘Put it on the desk,’ he said finally, turning around and scowling.
‘Sorry?’ said Effie.
‘Sorry, sir.’
Effie sighed again. ‘Sorry, sir.’
‘Put the ring on the desk, please.’
Oh no. Effie gulped silently.
‘What ring, sir?’
‘The ring you have hidden in the lining of your cape. The Ring of the True Hero, I believe. A forbidden boon. Hand it over.’
Effie gulped again. How did he know she had it? Lexy had told her not to bring any boons to this class – never mind that hers were unregistered and especially risky – and so yesterday Effie had hidden them all in her special box at home. All except for the Ring of the True Hero, which Effie had been wearing for tennis practice earlier.
Effie never wore the ring in actual matches, just in training. The first time she’d put it on it had almost killed her. But as long as she ate and drank enough to restore her energy, it made her strong and agile and all sorts of other things she couldn’t quite describe. And it made her feel more connected to the Otherworld. And . . .
‘I’m not going to wait all night,’ said Dr Green.
He was wearing a brown lounge suit, with flecks of green and orange now being picked out by the moonlight that shone through the window. His shirt was a peculiar shade of yellow. He glanced at his watch and then looked hard at Effie in the way the most horrible teachers tend to just before they haul you out of assembly and make you cry for something you didn’t even do.
‘Why exactly do you want my ring anyway?’ asked Effie.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Why do you want my ring?’
‘It is a boon, and you have brought it to my class. Therefore I must confiscate it.’
‘There’s no need to argue. Do as you’re told, please.’
‘What will you do with it?’
‘I will give it to the Guild. If it were a registered boon, I’d be able simply to give it back to you next Monday. But an unregistered boon . . .’ He shook his head. ‘You’ll have to write to the Guild and get an application form to register the item and, I believe, fill in another form to request an application to get it back. And—’
‘No,’ said Effie, surprising herself.
Dr Green’s eyes narrowed. ‘What did you say?’
‘No,’ she repeated. ‘I’m not going to give it to you. I’m sorry. I just can’t.’
‘I do have ways of making you,’ said Dr Green, taking a step towards Effie. ‘But of course it won’t come to that. Hand it over.’
Effie took the ring from where she’d hidden it in the lining of her bottle-green school cape. The ring was silver, with a dark red stone held in place by a number of tiny silver dragons. Her beloved grandfather Griffin had given it to her just before he died. There was no way Effie was handing it over to anybody. She put it on her left thumb, where it fitted best. A feeling of confidence and power rippled through her.
‘Stop messing around and give it to me,’ said
Dr Green, taking another step forward and holding out his hand. ‘Now.’
Outside the high windows of the church hall an owl hooted. This owl had been watching what was going on and hadn’t liked the look of it. Its call was picked up by a friendly rabbit in a nearby garden, who passed the message on to a dormouse, who passed it to a bat, who told it to another owl who happened to be flying towards the moors. Soon all the animals in the area knew that Euphemia Truelove was in trouble. Perhaps someone would hear the distress call and respond; perhaps they would not. The Cosmic Web was a bit random like that.
Raven and her horse Echo crunched through the frost on the moors. The moon shone down on them, making Raven’s black, wavy hair look as if it was streaked with silver. Raven was a true witch and could therefore talk to animals. Ever since she’d epiphanised she had been able to have quite long conversations with Echo. Before, they had communicated only through their feelings. Echo ‘just knew’ when Raven wanted him to break into a canter, and Raven ‘just knew’ when Echo was feeling annoyed. But now Raven spoke fluent Caballo (the ancient language of horses) and everything was different.
Every day after supper Raven and Echo went out onto the moors, even though it now got dark so early. Much of the time they had to rely on Echo’s night-vision to get them home, but tonight the moon was waning gibbous (which meant it was just past full) and Raven could see quite clearly. Everything looked pale and magical when it was bathed in moonlight. And anything touched by moonlight felt happy and peaceful. Everyone knows that you get vitamin D from sunlight. But not very many people know that there is a special nutrient in moonlight that helps living things develop magical powers and cleanses them of any impurities.
The moorland around Raven and Echo was quite bare. No trees, no streams; not even any old fence-posts, as there were on some parts of the moor. The only modern-looking thing for miles was a pair of steel doors that someone had recently built into a mound near some old crofts.
Echo walked carefully through the barest parts of moorland, because there were bogs and rabbit holes that were difficult to see in the moonlight. Every so often a small meteor streaked across the vast night sky. There was something odd about these meteors, although Echo wasn’t sure what it was. Anyway, soon they would be on an ancient path, with its comforting imprints of bygone horses and their riders.

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