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«Unseen Academicals», Terry Pratchett

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This book is dedicated to Rob Wilkins, who typedmost of it and had the good sense to laugh occasionally.And to Colin Smythe for his encouragement.

The chant of the goddess Pedestriana is a parody ofthe wonderful poem �Brahma’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson,but of course you knew that anyway.

It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork’s Royal Art Museum[?].

It occurred to new employee Rudolph Scattering about once every minute that onthe whole it might have been a good idea to tell the Curator about hisnyctophobia, his fear of strange noises and, he now knew, his fear ofabsolutely every thing he could see (and, come to that, not see), hear, smell and feel crawling up his back during the endless hours on guard during thenight. It was no use telling himself that everything in here was dead. Thatdidn’t help at all. It meant that he stood out.

And then he heard the sob. A scream might have been better. At least you arecertain when you’ve heard a scream. A faint sob is something you have to wait to hear again, because you can’t be sure.

He raised his lantern in a shaking hand. There shouldn’t be anyone in here. Theplace was securely locked; no one could get in. Or, now he came to think aboutit, out. He wished he hadn’t thought about it.

He was in the basement, which was not among the most scary places on his round. It was mostly just old shelves and drawers, full of the things that werealmost, but very definitely not entirely, thrown away. Museums don’t likethings to be thrown away, in case they turn out to be very important later on.

Another sob, and a sound like the scraping of… pottery?

A rat, then, somewhere on the rear shelves? Rats didn’t sob, did they?

�Look, I don’t want to have to come in there and get you!’ said Scattering withheartfelt accuracy.

And the shelves exploded. It seemed to him to happen in slow motion, bits ofpottery and statues spreading out as they drifted towards him. He went overbackwards and the expanding cloud passing overhead crashed into the shelves onthe other side of the room, which were demolished.

Scattering lay on the floor in the dark, unable to move, expecting at anymoment to be torn apart by the phantoms bubbling up from his imagination…

The day staff found him there in the morning, deeply asleep and covered indust. They listened to his garbled explanation, treated him kindly, and agreedthat a different career might suit his temperament. They wondered for a while about what he had been up to, night watchmen being rather puzzling people atthe best of times, but put it out of their heads… because of the find.

Mr Scattering then got a job in a pet shop in Pellicool Steps, but left afterthree days because the way the kittens stared at him gave him nightmares. Theworld can be very cruel to some people. But he never told anyone about the gloriously glittering lady holding a large ball over her head who smiled at himbefore she vanished. He did not want people to think he was strange.

 

But perhaps it is time to talk about beds.

Lectrology, the study of the bed and its associated surroundings, can beextremely useful and tell you a great deal about the owner, even if it’s only that they are a very knowing and savvy installations artist.

The bed of Archchancellor Ridcully of Unseen University, for example, is at thevery least a bed and a half, being an eight-poster. It encompasses a smalllibrary and a bar, and artfully includes a shut-away privy, of mahogany andbrass throughout, to save those long cold nocturnal excursions with their concomitant risk of tripping over slippers, empty bottles, shoes and all theother barriers presented to a man in the dark who is praying that the nextthing that stubs his toe will be porcelain, or at least easy to clean.

The bed of Trevor Likely is anywhere: a friend’s floor, in the hayloft of anystable that has been left unlocked (which is usually a much more fragrant option), or in a room of an empty house (though there are precious few of thosethese days); or he sleeps at work (but he is always careful about that, becauseold man Smeems never seems to sleep at all and might catch him at any time).Trev can sleep anywhere, and does.

Glenda sleeps in an ancient iron bed[?], whose springs and mattress have gently and kindlyshaped themselves around her over the years, leaving a generous depression. Thebottom of this catenary couch is held off the floor by a mulch of very cheap,yellowing romantic novels of the kind to which the word �bodice’ comes naturally. She would die if anyone found out, or possibly they will die if shefinds out that they have found out. Usually there is, on the pillow, a veryelderly teddy bear called Mr Wobble.

Traditionally, in the lexicon of pathos, such a bear should have only one eye,but as the result of a childhood error in Glenda’s sewing, he has three, and ismore enlightened than the average bear.

Juliet Stollop’s bed was marketed to her mother as fit for a princess, and ismore or less like the Archchancellor’s bed, although almost all less, since itconsists of some gauze curtains surrounding a very narrow, very cheap bed. Hermother is now dead. This can be inferred from the fact that when the bedcollapsed under the weight of a growing girl, someone raised it up on beer


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