Clod is an Iremonger. He lives in the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London. At the centre is Heap House, a puzzle of houses, castles, homes and mysteries reclaimed from the city and built into a living maze of staircases and scurrying rats. The Iremongers are a mean and cruel family, robust and hardworking, but Clod has an illness. He can hear the objects whispering. His birth object, a universal bath plug, says ‘James Henry’, Cousin Tummis’s tap is squeaking ‘Hilary Evelyn Ward-Jackson’ and something in the attic is shouting ‘Robert Burrington’ and it sounds angry. A storm is brewing over Heap House. The Iremongers are growing restless and the whispers are getting louder.
Oh, hallo, hallo. My name is Clod Iremonger. May I speak to you a little while? May I explain myself? I hear things that I should not. I hear – I cannot help it – objects talking to me, speaking names. Objects tell me their names, there is a plug that I hear saying “James Henry Hayward” and a whistle that calls “Albert Powling” and a doily that I hear saying the name “Gloria Emma Utting.” I hear these objects talking. Surely, surely it is just a trick of the foul wind that blows across the rubbish lands of my home. In an effort to escape this malady, to escape all the voices of things, I have sought employment beyond the dirt heaps where I live, out in London Proper, in a dark deep building called Northburgh House, which sounds, at least to my sensitive ears, a very cold place indeed.
I am the latest intern in a part of that vast mansion, on the ground floor, with a business called Hot Key Books. What has happened to the other interns that came before me I cannot quite say, though I suspect it may be something most terrible. Did they ever manage to leave, or are they here still about me, hidden amongst all the people, are they lost souls?
Upon entering the dark mill for the first time there comes from it a great din of noise and activity. It is a factory of some sort. I am most nervous for it.
The first person I meet, who comes up to me with a smile upon her face (do not, do not be fooled by such an expression, I am not used to people smiling, I am not a great smiler myself, perhaps I should practice). This smiling piece of humanity greets me and labels herself Olivia Mead, though she instructs me to call her Livs, because I suppose she means to tell me that she lives here permanently, though I have not yet seen any beds here about. This smiler, my superior, is not in any uniform, she is dressed in a casual manner. I feel I may be a little out of place in my tails and bow tie. (No one is properly dressed here, not a person, there are no bonnets, not a top hat to be found.)
As I walk further into the interior, I am met by a great cacophony of voices, not from the people who work here, though there are many of them (all smiling at me with terrifying eagerness, and all so casually dressed) but from the things here about. It is happening here too, I hear the voices of things in Northburgh House.
I cannot properly comprehend hear the names of the people as they introduce themselves for the terrifying clamour drowns them out. This loudness seems to me to come from – can it be so, it is, it must be – from the books. There are books everywhere and all are calling their names at me. I hear Lydia calling from a shelf, and Sally, Jill says one book, another yodels Alison, another calls itself Gareth, yet another Laure and one says Natasha.
I try to hear the names of the other people working here as they introduce themselves, but the noise of all the talking books is such that I cannot quite comprehend them. They seem to me most unusual names. I meet Cake Davies and Sarah Button and Sara Honour and Peg For and Amy Orange and Naomi Coolthurst and Yam Bealeek and Jammy Jackanory and Sarah Odderthannina. Here among such smiling under-dressed people and such noisy books I am to work.
You will understand my great surprise when touching one of these Hot Key Books which I suspected, and who would not, that they should be most exceedingly hot unto the touch, it must be supposed that the books that are kept all around this place were akin to Hot Cross Buns (which are indeed hot and so deserving of their names). That these books should scold unto the touch. And so I took the precaution of wearing gloves when touching them. But upon touching they do not burn, though they feel slightly warm as if recently baked, and do keep talking so.
Now, please help me, I am to get to work. I am to spend time with an object that I hear saying its name is Nigel McDowell. Nigel McDowell is sharp toothed, it speaks in a harsh, rasping voice. Nigel McDowell is a shredder. This is Nigel.
And so for a little while I put paper into Nigel McDowell’s mouth and it eats it all up. Very hungry is Nigel, most hungry. And when I am at the end of the pages with a small, rather sweet burp, it says “Thank you.” So ends my first morning, now I am to make tea, there’s a kettle (Joe Dulcie) and a tea bag (Matt Whyman) and a large cake (Nicholas Fisk), there are packets of biscuits: shortbread (Katherine Marsh), hobknobs (Alison Rattle) and bourbons (Isobel Harrop).
I have just settled into this place and may even sit happily here among all the talking things, were it not that when I turned about to report that the tea is ready, that in the seat where Livs lives, is no longer Livs at all, but a franking machine incongruously positioned.
What has happened to Livs? I fear something terrible is going on here. Nor do I see Sara Honour at her desk but instead an iPad and in the place of Jammy Jackanory is now a mechanical pencil. Suddenly all the people seem to have disappeared, where are they where are they gone?
“Hallo, hallo?” I call.
But the only answer comes from the books.
All around me now the books are getting louder and louder, a great rush of noise like that of a tempest’s approach. The books, the books are restless. Do they know where the people have gone?
I shall wait here for their return.
I shall wait for them.
I sit down and I drink a cup of Matt Whyman and I eat an Alison Rattle and even an Isobel Harrop, and what’s more a Katherine Marsh.
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Pictures edited on AnyMaking.