Read an Extract from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Read an Extract from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I walk the Wood.

I walk the fields.

I cover the school grounds between classes, poking through empty buildings, opening long- closed doors. Sometimes Watford seems as big on the inside as the walled grounds and the outer lands combined.

There are secret rooms. Secret hallways. Entirely hidden wings that only reveal themselves if you know the right spell or have the right artefact.

There’s an extra storey between the second and third floors of the Cloisters. (Penny calls it “bonus content.”) It’s an echo of the floor above it. All the same things happen there, a day later.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent my whole life looking for the map or key that would make Watford— the whole World of Mages— make sense.

There’s a moat below the moat.

And warrens in the hills.

There are three hidden gates, and I’ve only got one of them to open.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent my whole life looking for the map or key that would make Watford— the whole World of Mages— make sense.

But all I ever find are pieces of the puzzle. It’s like I’m in a dark room, and I only ever have enough light to see one corner of it at a time.

I spent most of my fifth year wandering the Catacombs below the White Chapel, searching for Baz. The Chapel’s at the centre of Watford; it’s the oldest building. No one knows whether Watford started as a school or something else. Maybe a magic abbey. Or a mages’ settlement— that’s what I’d like to believe. Imagine it, a walled town with magicians living together, practically out in the open. A magickal community.

The Catacombs sit beneath the Chapel and beyond it. There are probably lots of ways down, but I only know of one.

In our fifth year, I kept seeing Baz slip off towards the Chapel after dinner. I thought it must be some plot— a conspiracy.

I’d follow him to the Chapel, through the high, arched, never-locked front doors . . . Back behind the altar, behind the sanctuary and the Poets Corner . . . Through the secret door, and down into the Catacombs.

The Catacombs are properly creepy. Agatha would never go down there with me, and Penelope only went with me at first, when she still believed Baz might be up to something. She stopped during our fifth year. She stopped going to Baz’s football matches with me, too. And stopped waiting with me in the hallway outside the balcony where Baz takes violin lessons. But I couldn’t give it up. Not when all my clues were just starting to come together . . .

The blood on Baz’s cuffs. The fact that he could see in the dark. (He’d come back to our room at night and dress for bed without ever turning on the light.) Then I found a pile of dead rats in the Chapel basement, all pinched and used, like squeezed-up lemons.

I was alone when I finally confronted him. Deep in the Catacombs, inside the Children’s Tomb. Le Tombeau des Enfants.

Baz was sitting in the corner, skulls stacked like oranges along the walls around him.

“You found me,” he said.

I already had my blade out. “I knew I would.”

“Now what?” He didn’t even stand. Just brushed some dust off his grey trousers and leaned back against the bones.

“Now you tell me what you’re up to,” I said.

He laughed at that. Baz was always laughing at me that year, but it came out flatter than usual. There were torches staining the grey room orange, but his skin was still chalky and white.

Baz stared at me. He was 16, we both were, but he made me feel 5. He’s always made me feel like a child, like I’ll never catch up to him.

I adjusted my stance, spreading my feet below my hips, squaring my shoulders.

“They died in a plague,” he said.

“Who?”

Baz raised his hand— I flinched back.

He cocked an eyebrow and swept his arm in a flourish at the room around us. “Them,” he said. “Les enfants.” A lock of black hair fell over his forehead.

“Is that why you’re here? To track down a plague?”

Baz stared at me. He was 16, we both were, but he made me feel 5. He’s always made me feel like a child, like I’ll never catch up to him. Like he was born knowing everything about the World of Mages— it’s his world. It’s in his DNA.

“Yes, Snow,” he said. “I’m here to find a plague. I’m going to put it in a steaming beaker and infect all of Metropolis.”

I gripped my blade.

He looked bored.

“What are you doing down here?” I demanded, swinging the sword in the air.

“Sitting,” he said.

No. None of that. I’ve finally caught you, after all these months— you’re going to tell me what you’re up to.”

“Most of the students died,” he said.

“Stop it. Stop distracting me.”

“They sent the well ones home. My great- great- uncle was the headmaster; he stayed to help nurse the sick and dying. His skull is down here, too. Maybe you could help me look for it— I’m told I share his aristocratic brow.”

“I’m not listening.”

“Magic didn’t help them,” Baz said.

I clenched my jaw.

I swung my sword into the pile of bones beside him, sending skulls rattling and rolling. He sneered and sat up, catching the skulls with his wand

“They didn’t have a spell for the plague yet,” he went on.

“There weren’t any words that had enough power, the right kind of power.”

I stepped forward. “What are you doing here?”

He started singing to himself. “Ring around the rosie / a pocket full of posies . . .

“Answer me, Baz.”

“Ashes, ashes . . .”

I swung my sword into the pile of bones beside him, sending skulls rattling and rolling.

He sneered and sat up, catching the skulls with his wand— “As you were!” They turned in the air and rolled back into place.

“Show some respect, Snow,” he said sharply, then slumped and leaned back again. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to know what you’re up to.”

“This is what I’m up to.”

“Sitting in a f***ing tomb with a bunch of bones.”

“They’re not just bones. They’re students. And teachers. Everyone who dies at Watford is entombed down here.”

“So?”

So?” he repeated.

I growled.

“Look, Snow . . .” He got to his feet. He was taller than me— he’s always been taller than me. Even after the summer when I grew three inches, I swear that jammy bastard grew four.

“You’ve been following me,” he said, “looking for me. And now you’ve found me. It’s not my fault if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.”

“I know what you are,” I snarled.

His eyes locked on to mine. “Your roommate?”

I shook my head and squeezed the hilt of my sword.

Baz stepped into my reach. “Tell me,” he spat.

I couldn’t.

“Tell me, Snow.” He stepped even closer. “What am I?

I growled again and raised the blade an inch. “Vampire!” I shouted. He must have felt the force of my breath on his face.

He slipped a flask out of his jacket and took a swig. I didn’t know that he’d been drinking — my sword dipped. I tried to remind myself to stay battle ready, and pulled it up again.

He started giggling. “Really? You think I’m a vampire? Well, Aleister Crowley, what are you going to do about that?”

He slipped a flask out of his jacket and took a swig. I didn’t know that he’d been drinking — my sword dipped. I tried to remind myself to stay battle ready, and pulled it up again.

“Stake through the heart?” he asked, falling back into the corner and resting an arm on a pile of skulls. “Beheading, perhaps? That only works if you keep my head separate from my body, and even then I could still walk; my body won’t stop until it finds my head. . . . Better go with fire, Snow, it’s the only solution.”

I wanted to just slice him in two. Right then and there. F***ing finally. But I kept thinking of Penelope. “How do you know he’s a vampire, Simon? Have you seen him drink blood? Has he threatened you? Has he tried to put you in his thrall?

Maybe he had. Maybe that’s why I’d been following Baz around for six months.

And now I had him.

“Do something,” he teased. “Save the day, Snow. Or the night. Quick, before I . . . Hmm . . . what horrible thing shall I do? It’s too late for everyone down here — there’s just you to hurt, isn’t there? And I don’t think I’m in the mood to suck your blood. What if I accidentally turned you? Then I’d be stuck with your pious face forever.” Baz shook his head and took another pull at his flask. “I don’t think undeath would improve you, Snow. It would just ruin your complexion.” He giggled again. Mirthlessly.

And closed his eyes like he was exhausted.

He probably was. I was. We’d been playing cat and mouse in the Catacombs every night for weeks.

I dropped my sword but kept it unsheathed, then stepped out of my stance. “I don’t have to do anything,” I said. “I know what you are. Now I just have to wait for you to make a mistake.”

He winced without opening his eyes. “Really, Snow? That’s your plan? Wait for me to kill someone? You’re the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.”

“F*** off,” I said. Which always means I’ve lost an argument.

I started backing out of the tomb. I needed to talk this through with Penelope; I needed to regroup.

“If I’d known it was this easy to get rid of you,” Baz called after me, “I would’ve let you catch up with me weeks ago!”

I headed for the surface, hoping that he couldn’t turn into a bat and fl y after me. (Penny said that was a myth. But still.)

I could hear him singing, even after I’d been walking for ten minutes. “Ashes, ashes — we all fall down.

I haven’t been back to the Catacombs since that night. . . .



I wait until I’m fairly sure everyone is in bed, hopefully asleep — then I sneak down to the White Chapel.

Two busts guard the secret door in the Poets Corner— the most famous of the modern mage poets, Marx and Wode house.

Magic words are tricky. Sometimes to reveal something hidden, you have to use the language of the time it was stashed anyway. And sometimes an old phrase stops working when the rest of the world is sick of saying it.

I’ve got some nylon rope, and I tie one end around Groucho’s neck.

The door itself, a panel in the wall, is always locked, and there isn’t any key. But all you have to do to open it is possess a genuine desire to enter. Most people simply don’t.

The door swings open for me. And closed behind me. The air is immediately colder. I light a wall torch and choose my first path.

Down in the winding tunnels of the Catacombs, I use every revealing spell I know, and every fi nding spell. (Come out, come out, wherever you are! It’s showtime! Scooby- doobydoo, where are you!) I call for Baz by his full name— that makes a spell harder to resist.

Magic words are tricky. Sometimes to reveal something hidden, you have to use the language of the time it was stashed anyway. And sometimes an old phrase stops working when the rest of the world is sick of saying it.

I’ve never been good with words.

That’s partly why I’m such a useless magician.

“Words are very powerful,” Miss Possibelf said on our first day of Magic Words class. No one else was paying attention; she wasn’t saying anything they didn’t already know. But I was trying to commit it all to memory.

“And they become more powerful,” she went on, “the more that they’re said and read and written, in specific, consistent combinations.

“The key to casting a spell is tapping into that power. Not just saying the words, but summoning their meaning. . . .”

Which means you have to have a good vocabulary to do magic. And you have to be able to think on your feet. And be brave enough to speak up. And have an ear for a solid turn of phrase.

And you have to actually understand what you’re saying— how the words translate into magic.

You can’t just wave your wand and repeat what ever you’ve heard somebody saying down on the street corner; that’s a good way to accidentally separate someone from their bollocks.

None of it comes naturally to me. Words. Language. Speaking.

I don’t remember when I learned to talk, but I know they tried to send me to specialists. Apparently, that happens to kids in care, or kids with parents who never talk to them— they just don’t learn how.

I used to see a counsellor and a speech therapist. “Use your words, Simon.” I got so bloody sick of hearing that. It was so much easier to just take what I wanted instead of asking for it.

Or thump whoever was hurting me, even if they thumped me right back.

I barely spoke the first month I was at Watford. It was easy not to; no one else around here shuts up. Miss Possibelf and a few of the other teachers noticed and started giving me private lessons. Talking- out- loud lessons.

Sometimes the Mage would sit in on these, rubbing his beard and staring out the window. “Use your words!”— I imagined myself shouting at him. And then I imagined him telling me that it was a mistake to bring me here.

Anyway, I’m still not good with words, and I’m sh*t with my wand, so I get by with memorisation. And sincerity— that helps, believe it or not. When in doubt, I just do what ever Penny tells me to.

I work my way carefully through the Catacombs, doing my level best with the spells I can make work for me.

I find hidden doorways inside hidden doorways. I find a treasure chest that’s snoring deeply. I find a painting of a girl with blond hair and tears pouring down her cheeks, actually pouring, like a GIF carved into the wall. A younger me would have stayed to figure out her story. A younger me would have turned this into an adventure.

I keep looking for Baz.

Or a clue.

Every night I turn back when I get to the end of my rope.