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Chapter Twenty-four

Luckily there was a strong updraft in the alley because Arthur hadn't done this sort of thing for a while, at least, not deliberately, and deliberately is exactly the way you are not meant to do it.

He swung down sharply, nearly catching himself a nasty crack on the jaw with the doorstep and tumbled through the air, so suddenly stunned with what a profoundly stupid thing he had just done that he completely forgot the bit about hitting the ground and didn't.

A nice trick, he thought to himself, if you can do it.

The ground was hanging menacingly above his head.

He tried not to think about the ground, what an extraordinarily big thing it was and how much it would hurt him if it decided to stop hanging there and suddenly fell on him. He tried to think nice thoughts about lemurs instead, which was exactly the right thing to do because he couldn't at that moment remember precisely what a lemur was, if it was one of those things that sweep in great majestic herds across the plains of wherever it was or if that was wildebeests, so it was a tricky kind of thing to think nice thoughts about without simply resorting to an icky sort of general well-disposedness towards things, and all this kept his mind well occupied while his body tried to adjust to the fact that it wasn't touching anything.

A Mars bar wrapper fluttered down the alleyway.

After a seeming moment of doubt and indecision it eventually allowed the wind to ease it, fluttering, between him and the ground.

``Arthur ...''

The ground was still hanging menacingly above his head, and he thought it was probably time to do something about that, such as fall away from it, which is what he did. Slowly. Very, very slowly.

As he fell slowly, very, very slowly, he closed his eyes --- carefully, so as not to jolt anything.

The feel of his eyes closing ran down his whole body. Once it had reached his feet, and the whole of his body was alerted to the fact that his eyes were now closed and was not panicked by it, he slowly, very, very slowly, revolved his body one way and his mind the other.

That should sort the ground out.

He could feel the air clear about him now, breezing around him quite cheerfully, untroubled by his being there, and slowly, very, very slowly, as from a deep and distant sleep, he opened his eyes.

He had flown before, of course, flown many times on Krikkit until all the birdtalk had driven him scatty, but this was different.

Here he was on his own world, quietly, and without fuss, beyond a slight trembling which could have been attributable to a number of things, being in the air.

Ten or fifteen feet below him was the hard tarmac and a few yards off to the right the yellow street lights of Upper Street.

Luckily the alleyway was dark since the light which was supposed to see it through the night was on an ingenious timeswitch which meant it came on just before lunchtime and went off again as the evening was beginning to draw in. He was, therefore, safely shrouded in a blanket of dark obscurity.

He slowly, very, very slowly, lifted his head to Fenchurch, who was standing in silent breathless amazement, silhouetted in her upstairs doorway.

Her face was inches from his.

``I was about to ask you,'' she said in a low trembly voice, ``what you were doing. But then I realized that I could see what you were doing. You were flying. So it seemed,'' she went on after a slight wondering pause, ``like a bit of a silly question.''

Arthur said, ``Can you do it?''

``No.''

``Would you like to try?''

She bit her lip and shook her head, not so much to say no, but just in sheer bewilderment. She was shaking like a leaf.

``It's quite easy,'' urged Arthur, ``if you don't know how. That's the important bit. Be not at all sure how you're doing it.''

Just to demonstrate how easy it was he floated away down the alley, fell upwards quite dramatically and bobbed back down to her like a banknote on a breath of wind.

``Ask me how I did that.''

``How ... did you do that?''

``No idea. Not a clue.''

She shrugged in bewilderment. ``So how can I ...?''

Arthur bobbed down a little lower and held out his hand.

``I want you to try,'' he said, ``to step on my hand. Just one foot.''

``What?''

``Try it.''

Nervously, hesitantly, almost, she told herself, as if she was trying to step on the hand of someone who was floating in front of her in midair, she stepped on to his hand.

``Now the other.''

``What?''

``Take the weight off your back foot.''

``I can't.''

``Try it.''

``Like this?''

``Like that.''

Nervously, hesitantly, almost, she told herself, as if --- She stopped telling herself what what she was doing was like because she had a feeling she didn't altogether want to know.

She fixed her eyes very very firmly on the guttering of the roof of the decrepit warehouse opposite which had been annoying her for weeks because it was clearly going to fall off and she wondered if anyone was going to do anything about it or whether she ought to say something to somebody, and didn't think for a moment about the fact that she was standing on the hands of someone who wasn't standing on anything at all.

``Now,'' said Arthur, ``take your weight off your left foot.''

She thought that the warehouse belonged to the carpet company who had their offices round the corner, and took the weight off her left foot, so she should probably go and see them about the gutter.

``Now,'' said Arthur, ``take the weight off your right foot.''

``I can't.''

``Try.''

She hadn't seen the guttering from quite this angle before, and it looked to her now as if as well as the mud and gunge up there there might also be a bird's nest. If she leaned forward just a little and took her weight off her right foot, she could probably see it more clearly.

Arthur was alarmed to see that someone down in the alley was trying to steal her bicycle. He particularly didn't want to get involved in an argument at the moment and hoped that the guy would do it quietly and not look up.

He had the quiet shifty look of someone who habitually stole bicycles in alleys and habitually didn't expect to find their owners hovering several feet above them. He was relaxed by both these habits, and went about his job with purpose and concentration, and when he found that the bike was unarguably bound by hoops of tungsten carbide to an iron bar embedded in concrete, he peacefully bent both its wheels and went on his way.

Arthur let out a long-held breath.

``See what a piece of eggshell I have found you,'' said Fenchurch in his ear.


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