Un Lun Dun
With huge thanks to Talya Baker, Mark Bould, Lauren Buckland, Mic Cheetham, Deanna Hoak, Simon Kavanagh, Peter Lavery, Claudia Lightfoot, Tim Mak, Farah Mendlesohn, Jemima Miéville, David Moench, Jonathan Riddell of London’s Transport Museum, Max Schaefer, Chris Schluep, Jesse Soodalter, Harriet Wilson, Paul Witcover, and everyone at Del Rey and Macmillan.
As always, I’m indebted to too many writers to list, but particularly important to this book are Joan Aiken, Clive Barker, Lewis Carroll, Michael de Larrabeiti, Tanith Lee, Walter Moers, and Beatrix Potter. Particular thanks are due Neil Gaiman, for generous encouragement and for his indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria, especially Neverwhere.
Note to Reader
People speaking British English and people speaking American English mostly understand each other fine. But there are a few words we use in Britain that you might not recognize, or that we use differently from you. Should you encounter a strange or difficult word in the story, please flip to the short glossary, which is located in the back of this book.
In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very non-nondescript theories.
The man was surrounded by bright chemicals in bottles and flasks, charts and gauges, and piles of books like battlements around him. He propped them open on each other. He cross-referred them, seeming to read several at the same time; he pondered, made notes, crossed the notes out, went hunting for facts of history, chemistry, and geography.
He was quiet but for the scuttling of his pen and his occasional murmurs of revelation. He was obviously working on something very difficult. From his mutters and the exclamation marks he scrawled, though, he was slowly making progress.
The man had traveled a very long way to do the work he was doing. He was so engrossed
it took him a long time to notice that the light around him was fading, unnaturally fast.
Some sort of darkness was closing in on the windows. Some sort of silence – more than the absence of noise, the presence of a predatory quiet – was settling around him.
The man looked up at last. Slowly, he put down his pen and turned around in his chair.
“Hello?” he said. “Professor? Is that you? Is the minister here…?”
There was no answer. The light from the corridor still faded. Through the smoked glass of the door, the man could see darkness taking shape. He stood, slowly. He sniffed, and his eyes widened.
Fingers of smoke were wafting under the door, entering the room. They uncoiled from the crack like feelers.
“So…” the man whispered. “So, it’s you.”
There was no answer, but beyond the door came a very faint rumble that might just have been laughter.
The man swallowed, and stepped back. But he set his face. He watched as the smoke came more thickly around the edges of the door, eddying towards him. He reached for his notes. He moved quickly, dragging a chair as quietly as he could into place below a high ventilation duct. He looked afraid but determined – or determined but afraid.
The smoke kept coming. Before he had a chance to climb, there was another rumble-laugh-noise. The man faced the door.
The Respectful Fox
There was no doubt about it: there was a fox behind the climbing frame. And it was watching.
“It is, isn’t it?”
The playground was full of children, their gray uniforms flapping as they ran and kicked balls into makeshift goals.