The novelist closed the window, and wobbled his way to the nearest bale of hay.
‘Have you finished being ill?’ the poet asked. ‘A bit of performance art, was it?’
The novelist grimaced. ‘Yes, that was it.’
‘Remarkably similar to something I did myself once.’ The poet peered at his manuscript, squiggled in a few numinous adverbs. ‘Caused quite a critical sensation, I assure you. A profound demonstration of the oppressive nature of the reordered classes on the society of the liberation incorporated, I think they called it.’
‘Oh, ah?’ The novelist realized, rather too late, that he’d chosen to sit on the same hay bale where the cold wind had dropped the scent of distance, time, and death. He stood up hastily. ‘What, er, is liberation incorporated?’
‘I can tell you what it’s not,’ said the poet darkly. ‘It’s not something congenial to the script. In fact, it’s not in the script at all, I think.’
‘Aha!’ The novelist rubbed his hands together. ‘Characters taking on life of their own, overtaking the plot, eh? I’ve been waiting for this to happen.’
‘Then you must be one of us,’ said the poet absently. He held his manuscript into the light. ‘How does this sound? ‘oh fetter us no more /thou bilious /for under thy night lamps/seven stones and why/that’s where we sleep/eh what?’
‘Eh, what?’ said the novelist.
‘I thought so,’ said the poet. He waved his fists. ‘The voice of declaration will be heard at last!’ He stopped waving, stared at the novelist as if seeing him for the first time. ‘I say—how did you get in?’
The novelist gawped. ‘You told me yourself! I came in through the wardrobe.’
‘Aha. Are you subbing for the cold wind, then? It is Pillsday, isn’t it?’
‘Er—no. I don’t think the cold wind found a sub. He—it—left this.’ The novelist held up the scent of distance, time, and death. It rolled over in his hand, revealing a furry, rat-like face and two feathered antennae. It snored peacefully.
The poet blinked. ‘I’m always telling Cold not to leave his pets about here. At least this one will be useful. Fold it up in the umbrella and come along with me.’
Bewildered, the novelist took the moth-eaten umbrella out of the wardrobe. He knew well enough by this time to give the characters rather a free rein. But he began to wonder whether they didn’t have rather too much—or if they were characters at all.
The poet stood up. His limbs were startlingly long and angular, in contrast to the roundness of his face and his middle. He wiped his hand absently on his shirt, flaking off part of a webby skull.
‘It’s Pillsday,’ the poet announced. ‘All the little boys and girls and autocratic despots will be gathering for their Pillsday observances. We—you and I—must go.’
The novelist was trying to fold the scent of distance, time, and death into the umbrella. It was harder than it looked, partly because the scent of distance, time, and death, was round and greasy while the umbrella was flimsily narrow, partly because the umbrella had woken up and was trying to bite. ‘Eh, what?’
‘We must go,’ said the poet, ‘find something that isn’t in the script. I’ve defied our sock monkey scriptwriter. He expected that. Now, we need to think of something new.’
‘Oh, really?’ The umbrella crunched at last over the snoring scent of distance, time, and death, and subsided with a begrudging growl. The novelist wiped his forehead. ‘What are we going to do?’
The poet stepped back. ‘Do? Oh, we’re not going to do anything. We might find something, but that’s about all. The only thing that matters is the cause of the freedom of liberation incorporated, and of course the integrity of art. And the independent wealth of abstract poets. Come along—whoever you are.’ He swung onto the ladder, and clattered down.
‘I’m a novelist!’ The novelist shouldered the growling umbrella, and followed. ‘I think I’m writing this as we go.’
‘Can’t be. If you were, how can it be Pillsday?’
‘Perfectly. Come along!’