The key events of the past can't be changed, but the people in it can. Evanna had told me that if she went back and killed Adolf Hitler, the universe would replace him with somebody else. The major events of World War II would unfold exactly as they were meant to, only with a different figurehead at the helm. This would obviously create a number of temporal discrepancies, but nothing the higher force of the universe couldn't set right.
While I couldn't alter the course of my history, I could remove myself from it. Which was what I'd done by scaring off young Darren. The events of my life would unravel the same way they had before. A child would be blooded, travel to Vampire Mountain, unmask Kurda Smahlt, become a Vampire Prince, then hunt for the Vampaneze Lord. But it wouldn't be the boy I'd frightened off tonight. Somebody else ¨C some other child ¨C would have to fill the shoes of Darren Shan.
I felt bad about putting another kid through the tough trials of my life, but at least I knew that in the end ¨C in death ¨C he would be triumphant. The person who replaced me would follow in my footsteps, kill the Vampaneze Lord and die in the battle, and out of that death peace would hopefully grow. Since the child wouldn't be responsible for his actions, his soul should go straight to Paradise when he died ¨C the universe, I hoped, was harsh but fair.
And maybe it wouldn't even be a boy. Perhaps I'd be replaced by a girl! The new Darren Shan didn't have to be an exact replica of the old one. He or she could come from any background or country. All the child needed was a strong sense of curiosity and a slightly disobedient streak. Anyone with the nerve to sneak out late at night and go see the Cirque Du Freak had the potential to take my place as Mr Crepsley's assistant.
Since my part would change, the parts of others could change too. Maybe another girl ¨C or boy ¨C would fill Debbie's role, and somebody else could be Sam Grest. Perhaps Gavner Purl wouldn't be the vampire who was killed by Kurda, and even Steve could be replaced by another. Maybe Mr Crepsley wouldn't be the one to die in the Cavern of Retribution, and would live to be a vampire of ancient years and wisdom, like his mentor, Seba Nile. Many of the parts in the story ¨C the saga ¨C of my life might be up for grabs now that the central character had been changed.
But that was all wild speculation. What I did know for certain was that the boy I'd once been would now lead a normal life. He'd go to school, grow up like anybody else, get a job, maybe raise a family of his own one day. All the things the original Darren Shan had missed out on, the new Darren would enjoy. I'd given him his freedom ¨C his humanity. I could only pray to the gods of the vampires that he made the most of it.
The objects stitched into the lining of my robes were my diaries. I'd kept a diary just about as long as I could remember. I'd recorded everything in it ¨C my trip to the Cirque Du Freak, becoming Mr Crepsley's assistant, my time in Vampire Mountain, the War of the Scars and hunt for the Vampaneze Lord, right up to that final night when I'd had my fatal last run-in with Steve. It was all there, everything important from my life, along with lots of trivial stuff too.
Evanna had brought the diary up to date. She must have taken it from the house where Debbie and Alice were based, then described all that had happened on that blood-drenched night, the showdown with Steve and my death. She'd then briefly outlined my long years of mental suffering in the Lake of Souls, followed by a more detailed account of my rescue and rebirth as a Little Person. She'd even gone beyond that, and told what happened next, my return, the way I'd scared the original Darren away, and...
I don't know what she wrote in the last few pages. I didn't read that far. I'd rather find out for myself what my final actions and thoughts are ¨C not read about them in a book!
After Steve left and Mr Crepsley retired to the cellar where his coffin was stored, I went in search of Mr Tall. I found him in his van, going over the night's receipts. He used to do that regularly. I think he enjoyed the normality of the simple task. I knocked on the door and waited for him to answer.
"What do you want?" he asked suspiciously when he saw me. Mr Tall wasn't used to being surprised, certainly not by a Little Person.
I held the diaries out to him. He looked at them warily, not touching them.
"Is this a message from Desmond?" he asked. I shook my neckless head. "Then what...?" His eyes widened. "No!" he gasped. "It can't be!" He pushed my hood back ¨C I'd replaced it after I'd scared off the young me ¨C and studied my features fiercely.
After a while Mr Tall's look of concern was replaced by a smile. "Is this my sister's work?" he enquired. I nodded my chunky head a fraction. "I never thought she'd get involved," he murmured. "I imagine there's more to it than just freeing your soul, but I won't press you for information ¨C better for all concerned if I don't know."
I raised the diaries, wanting him to take them, but Mr Tall still didn't touch them. "I'm not sure I understand," he said.
I pointed to the name ¨C Darren Shan ¨C scrawled across the front of the top copy, then to myself. Opening it, I let him see the date and the first few lines, then flicked forward to where it described my visit to the Cirque Du Freak and what had happened. When he'd read the part where I told about watching Steve from the balcony, I pointed up and shook my head hard.
"Oh," Mr Tall chuckled. "I see. Evanna not only saved your soul ¨C she gave the old you his normal life back."
I smiled, pleased he finally understood. I closed the diary, tapped the cover, then offered the books to him again. This time he took them.
"Your plan is clear to me now," he said softly. "You want the world to know of this, but not yet. You are right ¨C to reveal it now would be to risk unleashing the hounds of chaos. But if it's released later, around the time when you died, it could affect only the present and the future."
Mr Tall's hands moved very swiftly and the diaries disappeared. "I will keep them safe until the time is right," he said. "Then I will send them to... who? An author? A publisher? The person you have become?"
I nodded quickly when he said that.
"Very well," he said. "I cannot say what he will do with these ¨C he might consider them a hoax, or not understand what you want of him ¨C but I'll do as you request." He started to close the door, then paused. "In this time, of course, I do not know you, and now that you have removed yourself from your original timeline, I never shall. But I sense we were friends." He put out a hand and we shook. Mr Tall only very rarely shook hands. "Good luck to you, friend," he whispered. "Good luck to us all." Then he quickly broke contact and closed the door, leaving me to retire, find a nice quiet spot where I could be alone ¨C and die.
I now know why Evanna commented on Mr Tiny not being a reader. He has nothing to do with books. He doesn't pay attention to novels or other works of fiction. If, many years from now, an adult Darren Shan comes along and publishes a series of books about vampires, Mr Tiny won't know about it. His attention will be focused elsewhere. The books will come out and be read, and even though vampires aren't avid readers, word will surely trickle back to them.
As the War of the Scars comes to a wary pause and leaders on both sides try to forge a new era of peace, my diaries will ¨C with the luck of the vampires ¨C hit book shops around the world. Vampires and vampaneze will be able to read my story (or have it read to them if they're illiterate). They'll discover more about Mr Tiny than they ever imagined. They'll see precisely how much of a meddler he really is, and learn of his plans for a desolate future world. Armed with that knowledge, and united by the birth of Evanna's children, I'm certain they'll band together and do all they can to stop him.
Mr Tall will send my diaries to the grown Darren Shan. I don't imagine he'll add any notes or instructions of his own ¨C he dare not meddle with the past in that way. It's possible the adult me will dismiss the diaries, write them off as a bizarre con job, and do nothing with them. But knowing me the way I do (now that sounds weird!), I think, once he's read them, he'll take them at face value. I like to believe I always had an open mind.
If the adult me reads the diaries all the way to the end, and believes they're real, he'll know what to do. Rewrite them, fiddle with the names so as not to draw unwelcome attention to the real people involved, rework the facts into a story, cut out the duller entries, fictionalize it a bit, create an action-packed adventure. And then, when he's done all that ¨C sell it! Find an agent and publisher. Pretend it's a work of fantasy. Get it published. Promote it hard. Sell it to as many countries as he can, to spread the word and increase the chances of the story capturing the attention of vampires and vampaneze.
Am I being realistic? There's a big difference between a diary and a novel. Will the human Darren Shan have the ability to draw readers in and spin a tale which keeps them hooked? Will he be able to write a series of novels strong enough to attract the attention of the children of the night? I don't know. I was pretty good at writing stories when I was younger, but there's no way of knowing what I'll be like when I grow up. Maybe I won't read any more. Maybe I won't want to or be able to write.
But I've got to hope for the best. Freed from his dark destiny, I've got to hope the young me keeps on reading and writing. If the luck of the vampires is really with me (with us) maybe that Darren will become a writer even before Mr Tall sends the package to him. That would be perfect, if he was already an author. He could put the story of my life out as just another of his imaginative works, then get on with writing his own stuff, and nobody ¨C except those actually involved in the War of the Scars ¨C would ever know the difference.
Maybe I'm just dreaming. But it could happen. I'm proof that stranger things have taken place. So I say: Go for it, Darren! Follow your dreams. Take your ideas and run with them. Work hard. Learn to write well. I'll be waiting for you up ahead if you do, with the weirdest, twistiest story you've ever heard. Words have the power to alter the future and change the world. I think, together, we can find the right words. I can even, now that I think about it, suggest a first line for the book, to start you out on the long and winding road, perhaps something along the lines of, "I've always been fascinated by spiders..."