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26.12.2018

The lettering artist tugged at his sleeve.

‘I was just wondering, Mr Soll, what you wanted me to put in the big scene now Victor doesn’t mention ribs-‘

‘Don’t worry me now, man!’

‘But if you could just give me an idea-‘

Soll firmly unhooked the man’s hand from his sleeve. ‘Frankly,’ he said, ‘I don’t give a damn,’ and he strode off towards the set.

The artist was left alone. He picked up his paintbrush. His lips moved silently, shaping themselves around the words.

Then he said, ‘Hmm. Nice one.’

Banana N’Vectif, cunningest hunter in the great yellow plains of Klatch, held his breath as he tweezered the last piece into place. Rain drummed on the roof of his hut.

There. That was it.

He’d never done anything like this before, but he knew he was doing it right.

He’d trapped everything from zebras to thargas in his time, and what had he got to show for it? But yesterday, when he’d taken a load of skins into N’kouf, he’d heard a trader say that if any man ever built a better mousetrap, then the world would beat a path to his door.

He’d lain awake all night thinking about this. Then, in the first light of dawn, he scratched a few designs on the but wall with a stick, and got to work. He had taken the opportunity to look at a few mousetraps while he was in the town, and they were definitely less than perfect. They hadn’t been built by hunters.

Now he picked up the twig and pushed it gently into the mechanism.

Snap.

Perfect.

Now, all he had to do was take it into N’kouf and see if the merchant

The rain was very loud indeed. In fact, it sounded more like

When Banana woke up he was lying in the ruins of his but and they were in a half-mile wide swathe of trodden mud.

He looked muzzily at what remained of his home. He looked at the brown scar that stretched from horizon to horizon. He looked at the dark, muddy cloud just visible at one end of it.

Then he looked down. The better mousetrap was now a rather nice two-dimensional design, squashed into the middle of an enormous footprint.

He said, ‘I didn’t know it was that good.’

According to the history books, the decisive battle that ended the Ankh-Morpork Civil War was fought between two handfuls of bone-weary men in a swamp early one misty morning and, although one side claimed victory, ended with a practical score of Humans 0, ravens 1,000, which is the case with most battles.

Something that both Dibblers were agreed on was that, if they’d been in charge, no-one would have been able to get away with such a low-grade war. It was a crime that people should have been allowed to stage a major turning-point in the history of the city without using thousands of people and camels and ditches and earthworks and siege-engines and trebuckets and horses and banners.

‘And in a bloody fog, too,’ said Gaffer. ‘No thought about light levels.’

He surveyed the proposed field of battle, shading his eyes from the sun with one hand. There would be eleven handlemen working on this one, from every conceivable angle. One by one they held up their thumbs.

Gaffer rapped on the picture box in front of him.

‘Ready, lads?’ he said.

There was a chorus of squeaks.

‘Good lads,’ he said. ‘Get this one right and thee can have an extra lizard for thy tea.’

He grasped the handle with one hand and picked up a megaphone with the other.

‘Ready when you are, Mr Dibbler!’ he yelled.

C.M.O.T. nodded and was about to raise his hand when Soll’s arm shot out and grabbed it. The nephew was staring intently at the ranged ranks of horsemen.

‘Just one moment,’ he said levelly, and then cupped his hands and raised his voice to a shout. ‘Hey, you there! Fifteenth knight along! Yes, you! Would you mind unfurling your banner, please? Thank you. Could you please report to Mrs Cosmopilite for a new one. Thank you.’

Soll turned to his uncle, his eyebrows raised.

‘It’s . . . it’s a heraldic device,’ said Dibbler quickly.

‘Crossed spare ribs on a bed of lettuce?’ said Soll.

‘Very keen on their food, those old knights-‘

‘And I liked the motto,’ said Soll. ‘ “Every (k)night is Gormay Night At Harga’s House of Ribs.” If we had sound, I wonder what his battle cry would have been?’

‘You’re my own flesh and blood,’ said Dibbler, shaking his head. ‘How can you do this to me?’

‘Because I’m your own flesh and blood,’ said Soll.

Dibbler brightened. Of course, when you looked at it like that, it didn’t seem so bad.

This is Holy Wood. To pass the time quickly, you just film the clock hands moving fast . . .

In Unseen University, the resograph is already recording seven pubs a minute.

And, towards the end of the afternoon, they burned Ankh-Morpork.

The real city had been burned down many times in its long history – out of revenge, or carelessness, or spite, or even just for the insurance. Most of the big stone buildings that actually made it a city, as opposed simply to a load of hovels all in one place, survived them intact and many people[22] considered that a good fire every hundred years or so was essential to the health of the city since it helped to keep down the rats, roaches, fleas and, of course, people not rich enough to live in stone houses.

The famous Fire during the Civil War had been noteworthy simply because it was started by both sides at the same rime in order to stop the city falling into enemy hands.

It had not otherwise, according to the history books, been very impressive. The Ankh had been particularly high that summer, and most of the city had been too damp to burn.

This time it was a lot better.

Flames poured into the sky. Because this was Holy Wood, everything burned, because the only difference between the stone buildings and the wooden buildings was what was painted on the canvas. The two-dimensional Unseen University burned. The Patrician’s backless palace burned. Even the scale-model Tower of Art gushed flames like a roman candle.

Dibbler watched it with concern.

After a while Soll , behind him, said, ‘Waiting for something, Uncle?’

‘Hmm? Oh, no. I hope Gaffer’s concentrating on the tower, that’s all,’ said Dibbler. ‘Very important symbolic landmark.’

‘It certainly is,’ said Soll. ‘Very important. So important, in fact, that I sent some lads up it at lunchtime just to make sure it was all OK.’

‘You did?’ said Dibbler, guiltily.

‘Yes. And do you know what they found? They found someone had nailed some fireworks to the outside. Lots and lots of fireworks, on fuses. It’s a good thing they found them because if the things had gone off it would have ruined the shot and we’d never be able to do it again. And, do you know, they said it looked as though the fireworks would spell out words?’ Soll added.

‘What words?’

‘Never crossed my mind to ask them,’ said Soll. ‘Never crossed my mind.’

He stuck his hands in his pockets and began to whistle under his breath. After a while he glanced sidelong at his uncle.

‘ “Hottest ribs in town”,’ he muttered. ‘Really!’

Dibbler looked sulky. ‘It would have got a laugh, anyway,’ he said.

‘Look, Uncle, this can’t go on,’ said Soll. ‘No more of this commercial messing about, right?’

‘Oh, all right.’

‘Sure?’

Dibbler nodded. ‘I’ve said all right, haven’t I?’

‘I want a bit more than that, Uncle.’

‘I solemnly promise not to do any more meddling in the click,’ said Dibbler gravely. ‘I’m your uncle. I’m family. Is that good enough for you?’

‘Well. All right.’

When the fire had died down they raked some of the ashes together for a barbecue at the end-of-shooting party, under the stars.

The velvet sheet of the night drapes itself over the parrot cage that is Holy Wood, and on warm nights like this there are many people with private business to pursue.

A young couple, strolling hand in hand across the dunes, were frightened to near insensibility when an enormous troll jumped out at them from behind a rock waving its arms and shouting ‘Aaaargh!’

‘Scared you, did I?’ said Detritus, hopefully.

They nodded, white-faced.

‘Well, that’s a relief,’ said the troll. He patted them on the heads, forcing their feet a little way into the sand. ‘Thanks very much. Much obliged. Have a nice night,’ he added mournfully.

He watched them walk off hand in hand, and then burst into tears.

In the handlemen’s shed, C.M.O.T. Dibbler stood watching thoughtfully as Gaffer pasted together the day’s footage. The handleman was feeling very gratified; Mr Dibbler had never shown the slightest interest in the actual techniques of film handling before now. This may have explained why he was a little freer than usual with Guild secrets that had been handed down sideways from one generation to the same generation.

‘Why are all the little pictures alike?’ said Dibbler, as the handleman wound the film on to its spool. ‘Seems to me that’s wasting money.’

‘They’re not really alike,’ said Gaffer. ‘Each one’s a bit different, see? And so people’s eyes see a lot of little slightly different pictures very fast and their eyes think they’re watching something move.’

Dibbler took his cigar out of his mouth. ‘You mean it’s all a trick?’ he said, astonished.

‘Yeah, that’s right.’ The handleman chuckled and reached for the paste pot.

Dibbler watched in fascination.

‘I thought it was all a special kind of magic,’ he said, a shade disappointed. ‘Now you tell me it’s just a big Find-the-Lady game?’

‘Sort of. You see, people don’t actually see any one picture. They see a lot of them at once, see what I mean?’

‘Hey, I got lost at see there.’

‘Every picture adds to the general effect. People don’t see, sorry, any one picture, they just see the effect caused by a lot of them moving past very quickly.’

‘Do they? That’s very interesting,’ said Dibbler. ‘Very interesting indeed.’ He flicked the ash from his cigar towards the demons. One of them caught it and ate it.

‘So what would happen’, he said slowly, ‘if, say, just one picture in the whole click was different.’

‘Funny you should ask,’ said Gaffer. ‘It happened the other day when we were patching up Beyond the Valley of the Trolls. One of the apprentices had stuck in just one picture from The Golde Rush and we all went around all morning thinking about gold and not knowing why. It was as if it’d gone straight into our heads without our eyes seeing it. Of course, I took my belt to the lad when we spotted it, but we’d never have found out if I hadn’t happened to look at the click slowly.’

He picked up the paste brush again, squared up a couple of strips of film, and fixed them together. After a while he became aware that it had gone very quiet behind him.

‘You all right, Mr Dibbler?’ he said.

‘Hmm? Oh.’ Dibbler was deep in thought. ‘Just one picture had all that effect?’

‘Oh, yes. Are you all right, Mr Dibbler?’

‘Never felt better, lad,’ Dibbler said. ‘Never felt better.’

He rubbed his hands together. ‘Let’s you and me have a little chat, man to man,’ he added. ‘Because, you know . . . ‘ he laid a friendly hand on Gaffer’s shoulder, ‘ . . . I’ve a feeling that this could be your lucky day.’

And in another alleyway Gaspode sat muttering to himself.

‘Huh. Stay, he says. Givin’ me orders. Jus’ so’s his girlfriend doesn’t have to have a horrid smelly dog in her room. So here’s me, man’s best friend, sittin’ out in the rain. If it was rainin’, anyway. Maybe it ain’t rainin’, but if it was rainin’, I’d be soaked by now. Serve him right if I just upped and walked away. I could do it, too. Any time I wanted. I don’t have to sit here. I hope no-one’s thinkin’ I’m sittin’ here because I’ve been told to sit here. I’d like to see the human who could give me orders. I’m sittin’ here ‘cos I want to. Yeah.’