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Composite Creatures - Caroline Hardaker

Composite Creatures
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Название: Composite Creatures
Автор: Caroline Hardaker
Добавлено: 23 июнь 2022
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PRAISE FOR COMPOSITE CREATURES

“With a feline inscrutability, Composite Creatures exerts a compelling hold on the imagination – Ray Bradbury meets Sally Rooney. Deliciously creepy!”

Chris Riddell, three-time winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal

“Hardaker’s nuanced prose and great sense of character ground the story as it delves unabashedly into the surreal, consistently catching the reader off guard with eerie imagery and delightful twists on expectations... A tale that is as thought-provoking as it is chilling.”

Publishers Weekly

“The writing is wistful and works in such a way you don’t realise how wonderfully strange the book is until you are enfolded in it.”

RJ Barker, author of The Bone Ships

“Composite Creatures reads like an ever-tightening garrote. What could pass for the memoir of someone trying to live a normal life on the poisoned Earth of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Hardaker’s debut tells the story of sacrifices made in exchange for corporate-sponsored longevity. It is an unapologetic, intimate tale of our shared human fragility, and the deceptions we employ to keep from breaking.”

Chris Panatier, author of The Phlebotomist

“Set in a future that feels uncomfortably close, Composite Creatures explores what constitutes love, how to build a life when a lot we take for granted is missing, and what it takes to ‘glue together a splitting world.’”

Rosie Garland, author of The Palace of Curiosities

ANGRY ROBOT

An imprint of Watkins Media Ltd

Unit 11, Shepperton House

89-93 Shepperton Road

London N1 3DF

UK

angryrobotbooks.com

twitter.com/angryrobotbooks

Rock-a-bye baby

An Angry Robot paperback original, 2021

Copyright © Caroline Hardaker 2021

Edited by Eleanor Teasdale and Paul Simpson

Cover by Rohan Eason

All rights reserved. Caroline Hardaker asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Sales of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed” and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it.

Angry Robot and the Angry Robot icon are registered trademarks of Watkins Media Ltd.

ISBN 978 0 85766 902 5

Ebook ISBN 978 0 85766 903 2

Printed and bound in the United Kingdom by TJ Books Limited

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Juno, without whom I couldn’t have written this.

And for Ben. He’s quite good, too.

CONTENTS

PART 1

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

PART 2

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

PART 1

1

There are some things I remember perfectly. I can close my eyes and be there; in school, shaping a stegosaurus with playdough, climbing stone walls and wooden stiles with Mum, or even on the observatory roof, hand-in-hand with Luke, searching through the smog for sparks of life. Even now, I see his face lit green beneath the moon, smiling in absolute awe at the cosmos and proving without doubt that he had eyes only for antiquities. The way things were. The stars were so bright that I could hear them, like glass shattering. They’ve never shone so brilliantly since.

But the fact I can relive all these things so vividly just convinces me that I’ve made them all up. Each time I play these memories through, Mum or Luke say something new. It’s always something that warms my belly, something that makes me feel better. Only occasionally is it something that hits me hard. But even then, it still strikes a low satisfying note telling me I was right about being wrong, all along. What would you call that?

I wonder if it matters, whether these images are real. It’s somewhere to go that’s dark and balmy. We all do it, don’t we? Where do you go?

A long time ago, Mum told me that in her youth the sky would flock in spring and autumn with migrating starlings, finches, even gulls. Huge grey and white beacons of the sea. I’ve heard recordings of their calls – somewhere between a lighthouse’s horn and a baby’s wail. I sometimes close my eyes and imagine how it would sound as hundreds of gulls moved across the blue like shot-spray, all wailing to each other out of sync. Ghosts that swam the sky. I think it would sound like the end of the world.

Over the years, Mum had collected all the fallen feathers she’d found in the garden, on the roof, in the gutter. There was nowhere too low for her to stoop, no mud too deep or sticky for her to squish her knees into and scoop out the treasure. She rinsed the feathers as best she could and balanced them in egg-cups wedged between books on shelves. “Stuff of stories now,” she’d murmur as she pointed them out to me one after another, telling me which birds they came from. This one a barn owl. This one a crow. But she might have well been naming dinosaurs – I couldn’t picture any of them. All the illustrations in Mum’s reference books were completely flat. One time, we were sitting on the garden wall together when a bird landed on a perch above us and made the strangest sound, sort of a low whistle. I’d never seen anything like it, with its fat grey form and striped underbelly, but Mum just laughed at it and clasped my face between her hands. “Are we supposed to think that’s a cuckoo? The little patchwork prince. You can almost hear the clockwork.” I felt silly then and didn’t look back up at the lie, but I kept listening for a telltale ticking that never came. Perhaps Mum could

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