"BeGone!" yelled Merrin. And then, "Oi! Give it back!"
But Beetle didn't give it back. Beetle was gone.
Chapter 12 Boomerang
Beetle was somewhere dark and uncomfortable - very uncomfortable. He was crushed into a tiny space, his knees folded up to his chest and his arms twisted up around his head. He tried to move, but he was wedged so tightly that he felt as though he were in a vice. He fought down panic. What had Merrin done to him?
Beetle's discomfort was quickly turning into something much more nasty. Pins and needles were running down his legs and already he couldn't feel his feet. His hands buzzed and tingled. His left hand was closed tightly around the book he had snatched from Merrin and was wedged in the same corner that his head was stuck in. His elbows and knees were jammed up against something hard and they hurt - really hurt. But the worst thing was the overwhelming feeling, growing stronger every passing moment, that if he didn't stretch out right now he would go crazy.
Beetle took a few deep breaths and tried to quell his panic. He opened his eyes wide and stared into the dark, but although some light did seem to be filtering through from somewhere, he could not make sense of anything. The small amount of light helped Beetle get some control over his panic and he discovered that he could wiggle - just a little - the fingers of his right hand. Painfully he stretched them out and tapped, then scratched, the confining walls, trying to discover what they were made of. A splinter under his fingernail gave him the answer - wood. A great stab of fear shot through him - he was in his own coffin. Beetle heard a wild, despairing cry like that of an animal caught in a trap and a chill ran down his spine. It took him a few seconds to realize that the cry came from him.
Beneath the sound of his heart thudding in his ears, Beetle was becoming aware of noises filtering through from somewhere outside the coffin. It was an indistinct, muffled murmuring. In his dark prison, Beetle's imagination flipped into overdrive. He'd read that Things murmured. Particularly when they were hungry - or was it angry? Beetle tried to remember. Did Things get hungry? Did they even eat? If they did, would they eat him? Maybe they were just angry. But angry wasn't good either. In fact, it was probably worse. But what did it matter? Right now he'd give anything to get out of the coffin, to be able to stretch out his arms and legs and to uncurl his spine. In fact, he'd happily face a thousand Things in exchange for just being able to stretch out to his full height once more.
Beetle groaned out loud. The murmuring grew louder and drowned out the thumping of his heart, and then one of the sides of the coffin began to shake. Beetle closed his eyes. He knew that, any minute now, a Thing would wrench off the side of his coffin and that would be it. If he was lucky he'd get a few seconds to uncurl himself, to straighten his twisted arms and legs - but only if he was lucky. And after that? After that it would be the end of O. Beetle Beetle. Beetle thought of his mother and suppressed a sob. Mum, oh Mum. She would never know what had happened to him. But maybe . . . maybe that was for the best . . . With the sound of murmuring growing more agitated, Beetle braced himself for the worst.
Suddenly the side of the coffin was ripped away. Light flooded in. Beetle fell out of the Manuscriptorium Pending Cupboard. He landed with a painful thud on the floor. Someone screamed.
"Crumbs, it's you," gasped Foxy.
Beetle lay on his back, dazed. He felt like a piece of Jell-O that had been tipped out of its mold before it was properly set. Tentatively he opened his eyes and found himself looking straight up Foxy's nose - which was not Foxy's best aspect.
"Wargh?" he croaked feebly in reply.
A crowd of scribes had gathered around Beetle.
"Hey, Beetle, you all right?" asked a girl with short brown hair and a concerned expression. She kneeled down and helped him sit up.
Beetle nodded slowly. "Yeah. Thanks, Romilly. I'm fine. Now. But I thought I was about to be . . . um, not fine." He shook his head, trying to get rid of all the terrifying thoughts that had crowded in on him during the last few minutes.
Suddenly a horribly familiar voice rang out. "What - atchoo - is going on here, Mr. Fox?"
Foxy leaped to his feet. "Nothing, Miss Djinn," he gasped. "Just a small, um, accident with something in the Pending Cupboard. A boomerang Charm. It . . . came back. Unexpectedly."
The short, rotund figure of the Chief Hermetic Scribe, swathed in her navy blue silk robes, stood at the entrance to the Hermetic Chamber on the other side of the Manuscriptorium. Luckily, due to her cost-cutting measures, the lights were very dim and she could not clearly see what was happening in the shadows beside the cupboard.
Jillie Djinn sneezed again. "It seems you cannot keep control of even a simple Charm, Mr. Fox," she snapped. "If there is another incident - atchoo atchoo - like this - atchoooo - I shall be forced to reconsider your recent appointment."
"I . . . I . . ." Foxy stammered.
Jillie Djinn blew her nose loudly and with great attention to detail. It was not a pretty sight. "Why, pray, was the Charm not given to me for stocktaking?" she demanded.
Romilly could see that Foxy was struggling with an answer. "It's only just come back, Miss Djinn," she said.
"Miss Badger, I asked the Charm Scribe, not you," said Jillie Djinn. "And it is from the Charm Scribe that I require an answer."
"It's only just come back, Miss Djinn," Foxy repeated.
Jillie Djinn was not pleased. "Atchoo! Well, now that it is back, I require it for stocktaking. Immediately, Mr. Fox."
In a panic, Foxy hissed at Beetle. "Give it here, Beet. Quick. Before she comes over to get it."
At last Beetle understood what had happened. He put his still trembling hand into the top left pocket of his Admiral's jacket, pulled out the tiny curved piece of polished wood and handed it to Foxy. "Thanks, Foxo," he muttered.
The desks in the Manuscriptorium stood tall and dark under their dim lights, like winter trees at sunset. Quickly Foxy loped through them to the far side of the Manuscriptorium and gave his Chief Scribe the tiny Boomerang. Jillie Djinn took it and looked at Foxy suspiciously.
"What are all the scribes doing away from their desks?" she asked.
"Um. Well, we had a bit of trouble," said Foxy. "But it's all right now."
"What kind of - atchoo - trouble?"
"Hmm . . ." Thinking on his feet was not Foxy's strong point.
"Well, Mr. Fox, if you can't explain I shall have to go and see for myself. Oh, for goodness' sake, get out of my way, will you?" Foxy was hovering in front of Jillie Djinn as though guarding an invisible goal, but unfortunately his talents did not lie in the goalkeeping arena either. The Chief Hermetic Scribe elbowed him out of the way and headed off through the closely packed lines of desks.
The scribes, who had gathered protectively around Beetle, watched the ball of navy blue silk trundle toward them. They bunched themselves into a tight-knit group and prepared for her attack.
"What is going on?" Jillie Djinn demanded. "Why are you not working?"
"There's been an accident." Romilly's voice came from the back of the group.
"Something fell out of the cupboard unexpectedly," said Romilly.
"Accidents usually are unexpected," Jillie Djinn observed tartly. "Enter full details along with the exact time of the incident in the accident log immediately - atchoo atchoo - and bring it to me to sign."
"Yes, Miss Djinn. I'll just go to the physik room for a bandage first. I won't be long."
"Very well, Miss Badger." Jillie Djinn sniffed irritably. She knew something was not quite right. She tried to peer over the heads of the scribes but to her annoyance she found that the tallest scribes - corralled by the quick-thinking Barnaby Ewe, whose head always banged the doorframe - were clustering around her.
"Excuse me, Miss Djinn," said one of them, a gangly young man with wispy brown hair. "While Miss Badger is in the physik room I wonder if you could check my calculations? I'm not sure if I've correctly worked out the average number of seconds that people have been late for their first appointments over the last seven weeks. I think I may have got a decimal point in the wrong place."
Jillie Djinn sighed. "Mr. Partridge, will you never understand the decimal point?"
"I'm sure I very nearly do understand, Miss Djinn. If you could only run over it once more for me, I know all will be clear."