Home > The Graveyard Book(6)

The Graveyard Book(6)
Author: Neil Gaiman

“It’s dark,” said Bod. “But I can see.”

He began to lead Scarlett down the steps, deep into the hill, and to describe what he saw to her as they went. “It’s steps down,” he said. “Made of stone. And there’s stone all above us. Someone’s made a painting on the wall.”

“What kind of painting?”

“A big hairy C is for Cow, I think. With horns. Then something that’s more like a pattern, like a big knot. It’s sort of carved in the stone too, not just painted, see?” and he took her fingers and placed them onto the carved knot-work.

“I can feel it!” she said.

“Now the steps are getting bigger. We are coming out into some kind of big room, now, but the steps are still going. Don’t move. Okay, now I am between you and the room. Keep your left hand on the wall.”

They kept going down. “One more step and we are on the rock floor,” said Bod. “It’s a bit uneven.”

The room was small. There was a slab of stone on the ground, and a low ledge in one corner, with some small objects on it. There were bones on the ground, very old bones indeed, although below where the steps entered the room Bod could see a crumpled corpse, dressed in the remains of a long brown coat—the young man who had dreamed of riches, Bod decided. He must have slipped and fallen in the dark.

The noise began all about them, a rustling slither, like a snake twining through dry leaves. Scarlett’s grip on Bod’s hand was harder.

“What’s that? Do you see anything?”


Scarlett made a noise that was half gasp and half wail, and Bod saw something, and he knew without asking that she could see it too.

There was a light at the end of the room, and in the light a man came walking, walking through the rock, and Bod heard Scarlett choking back a scream.

The man looked well-preserved, but still like something that had been dead for a long while. His skin was painted (Bod thought) or tattooed (Scarlett thought) with purple designs and patterns. Around his neck hung a necklace of sharp, long teeth.

“I am the master of this place!” said the figure, in words so ancient and gutteral that they were scarcely words at all. “I guard this place from all who would harm it!”

His eyes were huge in his head. Bod realized it was because he had circles drawn around them in purple, making his face look like an owl’s.

“Who are you?” asked Bod. He squeezed Scarlett’s hand as he said it.

The Indigo Man did not seem to have heard the question. He looked at them fiercely.

“Leave this place!” he said in words that Bod heard in his head, words that were also a gutteral growl.

“Is he going to hurt us?” asked Scarlett.

“I don’t think so,” said Bod. Then, to the Indigo Man, he said, as he had been taught, “I have the Freedom of the Graveyard and I may walk where I choose.”

There was no reaction to this by the Indigo Man, which puzzled Bod even more because even the most irritable inhabitants of the graveyard had been calmed by this statement. Bod said, “Scarlett, can you see him?”

“Of course I can see him. He’s a big scary tattooey man and he wants to kill us. Bod, make him go away!”

Bod looked at the remains of the gentleman in the brown coat. There was a lamp beside him, broken on the rocky floor. “He ran away,” said Bod aloud. “He ran because he was scared. And he slipped or he tripped on the stairs and he fell off.”

“Who did?”

“The man on the floor.”

Scarlett sounded irritated now, as well as puzzled and scared. “What man on the floor? It’s too dark. The only man I can see is the tattooey man.”

And then, as if to make quite sure that they knew that he was there, the Indigo Man threw back his head and let out a series of yodeling screams, a full-throated ululation that made Scarlett grip Bod’s hand so tightly that her fingernails pressed into his flesh.

Bod was no longer scared, though.

“I’m sorry I said they were imaginary,” said Scarlett. “I believe now. They’re real.”

The Indigo Man raised something over his head. It looked like a sharp stone blade. “All who invade this place will die!” he shouted, in his gutteral speech. Bod thought about the man whose hair had turned white after he had discovered the chamber, how he would never return to the graveyard or speak of what he had seen.

“No,” said Bod. “I think you’re right. I think this one is.”

“Is what?”


“Don’t be stupid,” said Scarlett. “I can see it.”

“Yes,” said Bod. “And you can’t see dead people.” He looked around the chamber. “You can stop now,” he said. “We know it’s not real.”

“I will feast on your liver!” screamed the Indigo Man.

“No, you won’t,” said Scarlett, with a huge sigh. “Bod’s right.” Then she said, “I think maybe it’s a scarecrow.”

“What’s a scarecrow?” asked Bod.

“It’s a thing farmers put in fields to scare crows.”

“Why would they do that?” Bod quite liked crows. He thought they were funny, and he liked the way they helped to keep the graveyard tidy.

“I don’t know exactly. I’ll ask Mummy. But I saw one from a train and I asked what it was. Crows think it’s a real person. It’s just a made-up thing, that looks like a person, but it’s not. It’s just to scare the crows away.”

Bod looked around the chamber. He said, “Whoever you are, it isn’t working. It doesn’t scare us. We know it isn’t real. Just stop.”

The Indigo Man stopped. It walked over to the rock slab and it lay down on it. Then it was gone.

For Scarlett the chamber was once more swallowed by the darkness. But in the darkness, she could hear the twining sound again, getting louder and louder, as if something were circling the round room.

Something said, WE ARE THE SLEER.

The hairs on the back of Bod’s neck began to prickle. The voice in his head was something very old and very dry, like the scraping of a dead twig against the window of the chapel, and it seemed to Bod that there was more than one voice there, that they were talking in unison.

“Did you hear that?” he asked Scarlett.

“I didn’t hear anything, just a slithery noise. It made me feel strange. All prickly in my tummy. Like something horrible is going to happen.”

“Nothing horrible is going to happen,” said Bod. Then, to the chamber, he said, “What are you?”


“What do you protect?”


The twining voices sounded petulant. FEAR IS A WEAPON OF THE SLEER.

Bod looked down at the ledge. “Are those the treasures of your master? An old brooch, a cup, and a little stone knife? They don’t look like much.”


But the Sleer said nothing. The inside of Bod’s head felt as if it were filled with cobwebs, and he shook it, trying to clear it. Then he squeezed Scarlett’s hand. “We should go,” he said.

He led her past the dead man in the brown coat—and honestly, thought Bod, if he hadn’t got scared and fallen the man would have been disappointed in his hunt for treasure. The treasures of ten thousand years ago were not the treasures of today. Bod led Scarlett carefully up the steps, through the hill, into the jutting black masonry of the Frobisher mausoleum.

Late spring sunlight shone through the breaks in the masonry and through the barred door, shocking in its brightness, and Scarlett blinked and covered her eyes at the suddenness of the glare. Birds sang in the bushes, a bumblebee droned past, everything was surprising in its normality.

Bod pushed open the mausoleum door, and then locked it again behind them.

Scarlett’s bright clothes were covered in grime and cobwebs, and her dark face and hands were pale with dust.

Further down the hill somebody—quite a few some-bodies—was shouting. Shouting loudly. Shouting frantically.

Someone called, “Scarlett? Scarlett Perkins?” and Scarlett said “Yes? Hello?” and before she and Bod had a chance to discuss what they had seen, or to talk about the Indigo Man, there was a woman in a fluorescent yellow jacket with POLICE on the back demanding to know if she was okay, and where she had been, and if someone had tried to kidnap her, and then the woman was talking on a radio, letting them know that the child had been found.

Bod slipped along beside them as they walked down the hill. The door to the chapel was open, and inside both of Scarlett’s parents were waiting, her mother in tears, her father worriedly talking to people on a mobile phone, along with another policewoman. No one saw Bod as he waited in the corner.

The people kept asking Scarlett what had happened to her, and she answered, as honestly as she could, told them about a boy called Nobody who took her deep inside a hill where a purple tattoo man appeared in the dark, but he was really a scarecrow. They gave her a chocolate bar and they wiped her face and asked if the tattooed man had ridden a motorbike, and Scarlett’s mother and father, now that they were relieved and not afraid for her any longer were angry with themselves and with her, and they told each other that it was the other one’s fault for letting their little girl play in a cemetery, even if it was a nature reserve, and that the world was a very dangerous place these days, and if you didn’t keep your eyes on your children every second you could not imagine what awful things they would be plunged into. Especially a child like Scarlett.

Scarlett’s mother began sobbing, which made Scarlett cry, and one of the policewomen got into an argument with Scarlett’s father, who tried to tell her that he, as a taxpayer, paid her wages, and she told him that she was a taxpayer too and probably paid his wages, while Bod sat in the shadows in the corner of the chapel, unseen by anyone, not even Scarlett, and watched and listened until he could take no more.

It was twilight in the graveyard by now, and Silas came and found Bod, up near the amphitheater, looking out over the town. He stood beside the boy and he said nothing, which was his way.

“It wasn’t her fault,” said Bod. “It was mine. And now she’s in trouble.”

“Where did you take her?” asked Silas.

“Into the middle of the hill, to see the oldest grave. Only there isn’t anybody in there. Just a snaky thing called a Sleer who scares people.”


They walked back down the hill together, watched as the old chapel was locked up once more and the police and Scarlett and her parents went off into the night.

“Miss Borrows will teach you joined-up letters,” said Silas. “Have you read The Cat in the Hat yet?”

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