'Woof?' it said.

Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler looked around momentarily for something to throw, realized that this would be out of character, and turned back to the imprisoned Silverfish.


'You know,' he said sincerely, 'it's really lucky for me that I met you.'

Lunch in a tavern had cost Victor the dollar plus a couple of pence. It was a bowl of soup. Everything cost a lot, said the soup-seller, because it all had to be brought a long way.

There weren't any farms around Holy Wood. Anyway, who'd grow things when they could be making movies?

Then he reported to Gaffer for his screen test.

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This consisted of standing still for a minute while the handleman watched him owlishly over the top of a picture box. After the minute had passed Gaffer said, 'Right. You're a natural, kid.'

'But I didn't do anything,' said Victor. 'You just told me not to move.'

'Yeah. Quite right. That's what we need. People who know how to stand still,' said Gaffer. 'None of this fancy acting like in the theatre.'

'But you haven't told me what the demons do in the box,' said Victor.

'They do this,' said Gaffer, unclicking a couple of latches. A row of tiny malevolent eyes glared out at Victor.

'These six demons here', he said, pointing cautiously to avoid the claws, 'look out through the little hole in the front of the box and paint pictures of what they see. There has to be six of them, OK? Two to paint and four to blow on it to get it dry. On account of the next picture coming down, see. That's because every time this handle here. is turned, the strip of transparent membrane is wound down one notch for the next picture.' He turned the handle. It went clickaclicka, and the imps gibbered.

'What did they do that for?' said Victor.

'Ah,' said Gaffer, 'that's because the handle also drives this little wheel with whips on. It's the only way to get them to work fast enough. He's a lazy little devil, your average imp. It's all feedback, anyway. The faster you turn the handle, the faster the film goes by, the faster they have to paint. You got to get the speed just right. Very important job, handlemanning.'

'But isn't it all rather, well, cruel?'

Gaffer looked surprised. 'Oh, no. Not really. I gets a rest every half an hour. Guild of Handlemen regulations.'

He walked further along the bench, where another box

stood with its back panel open. This time a cageful of sluggishlooking lizards blinked mournfully at Victor.

'We ain't very happy with this,' said Gaffer, 'but it's the best we can do. Your basic salamander, see, will lie in the desert all day, absorbing light, and when it's frightened it excretes the light again. Self-defence mechanism, it's called. So as the film goes past and the shutter here clicks backwards and forwards, their light goes out through the film and these lenses here and on to the screen. Basically very simple.'

'How do you make them frightened?' said Victor.

'You see this handle?'


Victor prodded the picture box thoughtfully.

'Well, all right,' he said. 'So you get lots of little pictures. And you wind them fast. So we ought to see a blur, but we don't.'

'Ah,' said Gaffer, tapping the side of his nose. 'Handlemen's Guild secret, that is. Handed down from initiate to initiate,' he added importantly.

Victor gave him a sharp look. 'I thought people'd only been making movies for a few months,' he said.

Gaffer had the decency to look shifty. 'Well, OK, at the moment we're more sort of handing it round,' he admitted. 'But give us a few years and we'll soon be handing it down don't touch that!'

Victor jerked his hand back guiltily from the pile of cans on the bench.

'That's actual film in there,' said Gaffer, pushing them gently to one side. 'You got to be very careful with it. You mustn't get it too hot because it's made of octo-cellulose, and it don't like sharp knocks either.'

'What happens to it, then?' said Victor, staring at the cans.

'Who knows? No-one's ever lived long enough to tell us.' Gaffer looked at Victor's expression and grinned.

'Don't worry about that,' he said. 'You'll be in front of the moving-picture box.'

'Except that I don't know how to act,' said Victor.

'Do you know how to do what you're told?' said Gaffer.

'What? Well. Yes. I suppose so.'

'That's all you need, lad. That's all you need. That and big muscles.' .

They stepped out into the searing sunlight and headed for Silverfish's shed.

Which was occupied.

Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler was meeting the movies.

'What I thought', said Dibbler, 'is that, well, look. Something like this.' He held up a card. On it was written, in shaky handwriting:

After thys perfromans, Why Notte Visit

Harp's Hous of Ribs,

For the Best inne Hawt Cuisyne

'What's hawt cuisyne?' said Victor.

'It's foreign,' said Dibbler. He scowled at Victor. Someone like Victor under the same roof wasn't part of the plan. He'd been hoping to get Silverfish alone. 'Means food,' he added.

Silverfish stared at the card.

'What about it?' he said.

'Why don't you', said Dibbler, speaking very carefully, 'hold this card up at the end of the performance?'

'Why should we do that?'

'Because someone like Sham Harp will pay you a lo- quite a lot of money,' said Dibbler.

They stared at the card.

'I've eaten at Harga's House of Ribs,' said Victor. 'I wouldn't say it's the best. Not the best. A long way from being the best.' He thought for a bit. 'About as far away from being the best as you can get, in fact.'

'That doesn't matter,' said Dibbler sharply. 'That's not important.'

'But,' Silverfish said, 'if we went around saying Harga's House of Ribs was the best place in the city, what would all the other restaurants think?'

Dibbler leaned across the table.

'They'd think,' he said, ' “Why didn't we think of it first?” '

He sat back. Silverfish flashed him a look of bright incomprehension.

'Just run that past me one more time, will you?' he said.

'They'll want to do exactly the same thing!' said Dibbler.

'I know,' said Victor. 'They'll want us to hold up cards with things on like “Harga's Isn't the Best Place in Town, Actually, Ours Is”.'

'Something like that, something like that,' snapped Dibbler, glaring at him. 'Maybe we can work on the words, but something like that.'

'But, but,' Silverfish fought to keep ahead of the conversation, 'Harga won't like it, will he? If he pays us money to say his place is best, and then we take money from other people to say that their place is best, then he's bound to-'

'Pay us more money,' said Dibbler, 'to say it again, only in larger letters.'

They stared at him.

'You really think that will work?' said Silverfish.

'Yes,' said Dibbler flatly. 'You listen to the street traders any morning. They don't shout, “Nearly-fresh oranges, only slightly squashy, reasonable value”, do they? No, they shout, “Git chore orinjes, they're luvverly”. Good business sense.'

He leaned across the desk again.

'Seems to me', he said, 'that you could do with some of that around here.'

'So it appears,' said Silverfish weakly.

'And with the money,' said Dibbler, his voice a crowbar inserted in the cracks in reality, 'you could really get on with perfecting your art.'

Silverfish brightened a bit. 'That's true,' he said. 'For example, some way of getting sound on-'

Dibbler wasn't listening. He pointed to a stack of boards leaning against the wall.

'What are those?' he said.

'Ah,' said Silverfish. 'That was my idea. We thought it would be, er, good business sense', he savoured the words as if they were some rare new sweet, 'to tell people about the other moving pictures we were making.'

Dibbler picked up one of the boards and held it critically at arm's length.

It said:

Nexte weke wee will be Shewing

Pelias and Melisande,

A Romantick Tragedie in Two Reels.

Thank you.

'Oh,' he said, flatly.

'Isn't that all right?' said Silverfish, now thoroughly beaten. 'I mean, it tells them everything they should know, doesn't it?'

'May I?' said Dibbler, taking a piece of chalk from Silverfish's desk. He scribbled intently on the back of the card for a while, and then turned it around.

Now it read:

Goddes and Men Saide It Was Notte To Bee, But They

Would Notte Listen!

Pelias and Melisande, A Storie of Forbiden Love!

A searing Sarger of Passion that Bridged Spaes and Tyme!

Thys wille shok you!

With a 1,000 elephants!

Victor and Silverfish read it carefully, as one reads a dinner menu in an alien language. This was an alien language, and to make it worse it was also their own.

'Well, well,' said Silverfish. 'My word . . . I don't know if there was anything actually forbidden. Er. It was just very historical. I thought it would help, you know, children and so on. Learn about history. They never actually met, you know, which was what was so tragic. It was all very, er, sad.' He stared at the card. 'Though I must say, you've certainly got something there. Er.' He looked uncomfortable about something. 'I don't actually remember any elephants,' he said, as if it was his own fault. 'I was there the whole afternoon we made it, and I don't recall a thousand elephants at any point. I'm sure I would have noticed.'

Dibbler stared. He didn't know where they were coming from, but now he was putting his mind to it he was getting some very clear ideas about what you needed to put in movies. A thousand elephants was a good start.

'No elephants?' he said.

'I don't think so.'

'Well, are there any dancing girls?'

'Um, no.'

'Well, are there any wild chases and people hanging by their fingertips from the edge of a cliff?'

Silverfish brightened up slightly. 'I think there's a balcony at one point,' he said.

'Yes? Does anyone hang on it by their fingertips?'

'I don't think so,' said Silverfish. 'I believe Melisande leans over it.'

'Yes, but will the audience hold their breath in case she falls off?'

'I hope they'd be watching Pelias' speech,' said Silverfish testily. 'We had to put it on five cards. In small writing.'

Dibbler sighed.

'I think I know what people want,' he said, 'and they don't want to read lots of small writing. They want spectacles!'

'Because of the small writing?' said Victor, sarcastically. 'They want dancing girls! They want thrills! They want elephants! They want people falling off roofs! They want dreams! The world is full of little people with big dreams!'

'What, you mean like dwarfs and gnomes and so on?' said Victor.


'Tell me, Mr Dibbler,' said Silverfish, 'what exactly is your profession?'

'I sell merchandise,' said Dibbler.

'Mostly sausages,' Victor volunteered.

'And merchandise,' said Dibbler, sharply. 'I only sells sausages when the merchandising trade is a bit slow.'

'And the sale of sausages leads you to believe you can make better moving pictures?' said Silverfish. 'Anyone can sell sausages! Isn't that so, Victor?'

'Well . . . ' said Victor, reluctantly. No-one except Dibbler could possibly sell Dibbler's sausages.

'There you are, then,' said Silverfish.

'The thing is', said Victor, 'that Mr Dibbler can even sell sausages to people that have bought them off him before.'

'That's right!' said Dibbler. He beamed at Victor.

'And a man who could sell Mr Dibbler's sausages twice could sell anything,' said Victor.

The next morning was bright and clear, like all Holy Wood days, and they made a start on The Interestinge and Curious Adventures of Cohen the Barbarian. Dibbler had worked on it all evening, he said.

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