Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 45

“This won’t do!” Howl said. He hauled himself to his feet. “Look sharp, Michael. The Witch knows we’re in Porthaven. We’re not only going to have to move the castle and the Kingsbury entrance now. I shall have to transfer Calcifer to the house that goes with that hat shop.”

“Move me?” Calcifer crackled. He was azure with apprehension.

“That’s right,” said Howl. “You have a choice between Market Chipping or the Witch. Don’t go and be difficult.”

“Curses!” wailed Calcifer and dived to the bottom of the grate.

Chapter 17

In which the moving castle moves house.

Howl set to work as hard as if he had just had a week’s rest. If Sophie had not seen him fight a grueling magic battle an hour ago, she would never have believed it. He and Michael dashed about, calling measurements to one another and chalking strange signs in the places where they had earlier put up metal brackets. They seemed to have to chalk every corner, including the backyard. Sophie’s cubbyhole under the stairs and the odd-shaped place in the bathroom ceiling gave them quite a bit of trouble. Sophie and the dog-man were pushed this way and that, and then pushed aside completely so that Michael could crawl about chalking a five-pointed star inside a circle on the floor.

Michael had done this and was brushing dust and chalk off his knees when Howl came racing in with patches of whitewash all over his black clothes. Sophie and the dog-man were pushed aside again so that Howl could crawl about writing signs in and around both star and circle. Sophie and the dog-man went to sit on the stairs. The dog-man was shivering. This did not seem to be magic he liked.

Howl and Michael raced out to the yard. Howl raced back. “Sophie!” he shouted. “Quickly! What are we going to sell in that shop?”

“Flowers,” Sophie said, thinking of Mrs. Fairfax again. “Perfect,” said Howl, and hurried over to the door with a pot of paint and a small brush. He dipped the brush in the pot and carefully painted the blue blob yellow. He dipped again. This time the brush came out purple. He painted the green blob with it. At the third dip the paint was orange, and the orange went over the red blob. Howl did not touch the black blob. He turned away, and the end of his sleeve went into the paint pot along with the brush. “Botheration!” said Howl, dragging it out. The trailing tip of the sleeve was all colors of the rainbow. Howl shook it, and it was black again.

“Which suit is that really?” Sophie asked.

“I’ve forgotten. Don’t interrupt. The difficult part is just coming up,” Howl said, rushing the paint pot back to the bench. He picked up a small jar of powder. “Michael! Where’s the silver shovel?”

Michael raced in from the yard with a big, gleaming spade. The handle was wood, but the blade did seem to be solid silver. “All set out there!” he said.

Howl rested the shovel on his knee in order to chalk a sign on both handle and blade. He sprinkled red powder from the jar on it. He put a pinch of the same grains carefully in each point of the star and tipped all the rest into the middle. “Stand clear, Michael,” he said. “Everyone stay clear. Are you ready, Calcifer?”

Calcifer emerged from between his logs in a long thread of blue flame. “As ready as I shall ever be,” he said. “You know this could kill me, don’t you?”

“Look on the bright side,” said Howl. “It could be me it kills. Hold on tight. One, two, three.” He dug the shovel into the grate, very steadily and slowly, keeping it straight and level with the bars. For a second he juggled it gently to get it under Calcifer. Then, even more steadily and gently, he raised it. Michael was quite obviously holding his breath. “Done it!” said Howl. Logs toppled sideways. They did not seem to be burning. Howl stood up and turned round, carrying Calcifer on the shovel.

The room filled with smoke. The dog-man whined and shivered. Howl coughed. He had a little trouble holding the shovel steady. Sophie’s eyes were watering and it was hard to see clearly, but, as far as she could tell, Calcifer—just as he had said to her—did not have feet, or legs either. He was a long, pointed blue face rooted in a faintly glowing black lump. The black lump had a dent in the front of it, which suggested at first sight that Calcifer was kneeling on tiny, folded legs. But Sophie saw that was not so when the lump rocked slightly, showing it was rounded underneath. Calcifer obviously felt terribly unsafe. His orange eyes were round with fear, and he kept shooting feeble little arm-shaped flames out on either side, in a useless attempt to take hold of the sides of the shovel.

“Won’t be long!” Howl choked, trying to be soothing. But he had to shut his mouth hard and stand for a moment trying not to cough. The shovel wobbled and Calcifer looked terrified. Howl recovered. He took a long, careful step into the chalked circle, and then another into the center of the five-pointed star. There, holding the shovel out level, he turned slowly round, one complete turn, and Calcifer turned with him, sky-blue and staring with panic.

It felt as if the whole room turned with them. The dog-man crouched close to Sophie. Michael staggered. Sophie felt as if their piece of the world had come loose and was swinging and jigging round in a circle, sickeningly. She did not blame Calcifer for looking so frightened. Everything was still swinging and swaying as Howl took the same long, careful steps out of the star and out of the circle. He knelt down by the hearth and, with enormous care, slid Calcifer back into the grate again and packed the logs back round him. Calcifer flopped green flames uppermost. Howl leaned on the shovel and coughed.

The room rocked and settled. For a few instants, while the smoke still hung everywhere, Sophie saw to her amazement the well-known outlines of the parlor in the house where she had been born. She knew it even

though its floor was bare boards and there were no pictures on the walls. The castle room seemed to wriggle itself into place inside the parlor, pushing it out here, pulling it in there, bringing the ceiling down to match its own beamed ceiling, until the two melted together and became the castle room again, except perhaps it was now a bit higher and squarer than it had been.

“Have you done it, Calcifer?” coughed Howl.

“I think so,” Calcifer said, rising up the chimney. He looked none the worse for his ride on the shovel. “You’d better check me, though.”

Howl helped himself up on the shovel and opened the door with the yellow blob downward. Outside was the street in Market Chipping that Sophie had known all her life. People she knew were walking past in the evening, taking a stroll before supper, the way a lot of people did in summer. Howl nodded at Calcifer, shut the door, turned the knob orange-down, and opened it again.

A wide, weedy drive wound away from the door now, among clumps of trees most picturesquely lit sideways by the low sun. In the distance stood a grand stone gateway with statues on it. “Where is this?” said Howl.

“An empty mansion at the end of the valley,” Calcifer said rather defensively. “It’s the nice house you told me to find. It’s quite fine.”

“I’m sure it is,” Howl said. “I simply hope the real owners won’t object.” He shut the door and turned the knob round to purple-down. “Now for the moving castle,” he said as he opened it again.

It was nearly dusk out there. A warm wind full of different scents blew in. Sophie saw a bank of dark leaves drift by, loaded with big purple flowers among the leaves. It spun slowly away and its place was taken by a stand of dim white lilies and a glimpse of sunset on water beyond. The smell was so heavenly that Sophie was halfway across the room before she was aware.

“No, your long nose stays out of there until tomorrow,” Howl said, and he shut the door with a snap. “That part’s right on the edge of the Waste. Well done, Calcifer. Perfect. A nice house and lots of flowers, as ordered.” He flung the shovel down and went to bed. And he must have been tired. There were no groans, no shouts, and almost no coughing.

Sophie and Michael were tired too. Michael flopped into the chair and sat stroking the dog-man, staring. Sophie perched on the stool, feeling strange. They had moved. It felt the same, but different, quite confusingly. And why was the moving castle now on the edge of the Waste? Was it the curse pulling Howl toward the Witch? Or had Howl slithered out so hard that he had come out right behind himself and turned out what most people would call honest?

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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