The Borribles

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9780027267006: The Borribles

In the unspecified future in London, a war erupts between the Borribles, a gang of creatures who formerly were children, and their arch enemies, the Rumbles.

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About the Author:

Michael de Larrabeiti was brought up in Battersea. He is the author of two more books about the Borribles--The Borribles Go For Broke and The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis--as well as many other books. He has three grown-up daughters and lives with his wife in Oxfordshire.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Borribles
1 The swirling rain-clouds rushed on revealing the bright moon, and the two Borribles dodged behind the bushes and kept as quiet as they could. There was danger in the air and they could feel it. It would pay to be cautious. 'Strewth,' said Knocker, the chief lookout of the Battersea tribe, 'what a bloody cheek, coming down here without so much as a by-your-leave.' Lightfinger, Knocker's companion, agreed. 'Diabolical liberty I call it ... nasty bit of work, covered in fur like nylon hearthrugs ... snouts like traffic cones ... like rats, aren't they?' 'There's a big one, just getting into the motor, he's shouting at the others, he's the boss all right. Tough-looking, do you see?' 'Yeah,' answered Lightfinger, 'they do what they're told, don't they? Look at them move.' Presently the two Borribles saw the large car drive away in the moonlight, passing along the shining tarmac which led between the trees to the limits of Battersea Park. The car stopped for an instant at the gates and then turned left into Albert Bridge Road and disappeared on its way southwards into the quiet streets of the outer London suburbs. The two Borribles stood up and looked around. They weren't too happy in parks, being much more at ease in crowded streets and broken-down houses. It was only occasionally that the Borrible lookouts checked on the green spaces, just to see they were still there and that everything was as it should be. When Knocker was sure they were alone he said, 'We'd better see what they were up to over there. Something's going on and I don't like it.' All at once the patch of ground at his feet began to tremble and clumps of grass began to pop up and away from their roots. There was a noise too, a scraping and a scrabbling, and a muffled voice swore and mumbled to itself. The carpet of grass rose and fell violently until a squat protruberance established itself between turf and top soil. The bump hesitated, as if it didn't know whether to continue upwards or retreat downwards. It grunted, swore again and, as if undecided, took off on a horizontal course, forcing the turf up as it wriggled along. At the first sign of trouble Knocker and Lightfinger had taken refuge behind a bush but as the bump moved away they came from cover and followed it. 'It's got to be ... ' said Knocker. 'It can't be anything else, and down here in Battersea, it's bad, double bad.' The mound stopped and shook and struggled and became bigger, and as it grew more clods of grass fell from it. 'Watch yourself,' whispered Knocker. 'It's coming out. Get ready to jump it.' Lightfinger and Knocker crouched, their minds racing. The turf rose higher and higher till it was as tall as the Borribles themselves, then it burst and the grass fell away like a discarded overcoat and revealed a dark and sinister shape of about their own size. It looked like a giant rat, a huge mole or a deformed rabbit, but it was none of these for it stood on its hind legs and had a long snout and beady red eyes, like the things that had gone away in the car. Knocker gave a shrill whistle and at the signal both he and Lightfinger leapt forward. Knocker got an armlock round the thing's head and pulled it to the ground while Lightfinger fell onto the hairy legs and bent one over the other in a special hold that could dislocate a knee. The thing shouted so loudly that it would have woken the neighbourhood if there'd been one in Battersea Park. Knocker squeezed it round the neck and whispered, 'Shuddup, you great fool, else I'll smother yer.' The creature shuddupped. Knocker levered the prisoner into a sitting position and got behind it so he could tie its arms back with a length of rope he took from his waist. Lightfinger moved so that he was sitting on the thing's legs, looking into the eyes, which were like marbles rolling around at the wide end of the snout. 'All right,' said Knocker when he was ready, 'give it a duffing.' Lightfinger grabbed the beast by the scruff of its fur and pulled its snout forward. 'Name?' he asked gruffly. The snout moved a little and they heard a voice say in a distinguished tone, 'Timbucktoo.' 'Tim who?' asked Lightfinger again, shaking the snout good and hard. 'Timbucktoo.' 'And where are you from, you moth-eaten overcoat?' asked Knocker, in spite of the fact that he knew the answer. Timbucktoo shook himself free of the two Borribles and, though his hands were bound, he got to his feet and glared haughtily down his snout, his red eyes blazing. 'Why, I'm fwom Wumbledom of course, you dirty little tykes. You'd better welease me before you get into sewious twouble.' 'I knew it,' said Knocker turning to Lightfinger with excitement. 'A Rumble from Rumbledom. Ain't it strange as how they can't pronounce their rs?' 'So that's a Rumble,' said Lightfinger with interest. 'I've often wondered what they looked like--bloody ugly.' 'It's the first time I've been this close to one,' said Knocker, 'but you can't mistake them--nasty.' 'You wevolting little stweet-awabs,' the Rumble had lost his temper, 'how dare you tweat me in this fashion?' ''Cos you're on our manor, that's how, you twat,' said Knocker angrily. 'I suppose you didn't even know.' 'I only know what you are,' said Timbucktoo, 'and what I am and that I'll go where I like and do what I like without having to ask the permission of gwubby little ignawamuses like you. Untie me, Bowwible, and I'll forget about this incident.' 'He's a real pain,' said Lightfinger. 'Let's throw him in the river.' The moon was clear of clouds again and glinted on the nearby Thames. In spite of himself the Rumble shivered. 'That will do you no good. I can swim, you know, like an otter.' 'So you should,' said Knocker, 'you look like one.' And he cuffed the Rumble once more and told him to hold his tongue. Knocker thought deeply, then he said, 'I s'pose the river's the best idea for getting him off our manor, but maybe we ought to take himback and find out more about him, what his mob are up to. I don't like the look of it; suspicious this is, Rumbles down here in Battersea, it's wrong. We ought to give Spiff a chance to give this thing the once over.' 'You're right,' said Lightfinger, and they hauled the Rumble to its feet and pushed it towards the park gates. When they reached the sleeping streets they kept to the dark shadows between the lamp posts and marched rapidly in the direction of Battersea High Street.  
Borribles are generally skinny and have pointed ears which give them a slightly satanic appearance. They are pretty tough-looking and always scruffy, with their arses hanging out of their trousers. Apart from that they look just like normal children, although legions of them have been Borribles for more than a lifetime--as long as a Borrible remains at liberty he or she will never age. Most of them have sharp faces with eyes that are burning-bright, noticing everything and missing nothing. They are proud of their quickness of wit. In fact it is impossible to be dull and a Borrible because a Borrible is bright by definition. Not that they know lots of useless facts; it's just that their minds work well and they tend to dislike anyone who is a bit slow. The only people likely to get close to Borribles are ordinary children, because Borribles mix with them to escape detection by 'the authorities' who are always trying to catch them. Any child may have sat next to a Borrible or even talked to one and never noticed the ears for the simple reason that Borribles wear hats, woollen ones, pulled down over their heads, and they sometimes grow their hair long, hanging to their shoulders. Normal kids are turned into Borribles very slowly, almost without being aware of it; but one day they wake up and there it is. It doesn't matter where they come from as long as they've had what is called a bad start. A child disappears and the word goes round that he was 'unmanageable'; the chances are he's off managing by himself. Sometimes it's given out that a kid down the street has been put into care: the truth is that he's been Borribled and is caring for himself someplace. One day ashout might be heard in a supermarket and a kid with the goods on him is hoisted out by a store detective. If that kid gets away he'll become a Borrible and make sure he isn't caught again. Being caught is the end of the free life for a Borrible: once in custody his ears are clipped by the police surgeon and he begins to grow into a malevolent and adventure-less adulthood, like any ordinary child. So Borribles are outcasts, but unlike most outcasts they enjoy themselves and wouldn't be anything else. They delight in feeling independent and it is this feeling that is most important to them. Consequently they have no real leaders, though someone may rise into prominence from time to time, but on the whole they manage without authority and they get on well enough together, though like everybody, they quarrel. They don't get on with adults at all, or anyone who isn't Borrible, and they see no reason why they should. Nobody has ever tried to get on with them, quite the contrary. They are ignored and that suits them down to the ground because that way they can do what they want to do in their own quiet and crafty way. Knocker and Lightfinger had been on night patrol in Battersea Park when they'd stumbled across the Rumbles and the discovery had made them uneasy. Borribles like to make sure that no other Borrible tribe is encroaching on their territory, that's bad enough. They live in fear of being driven away from their markets and houses, of seeing their independence destroyed; that is why scouting round the frontiers of their borough is a regular duty. Unearthing a Rumble was a calamity. They are the real enemies of the Borribles and the Borribles hate them for their riches, their power, their haughtiness and their possessions. If the Rumbles were coming all the way down from Rumbledom to colonize the Park, what price Battersea High Street?  
Knocker and Lightfinger harried Timbucktoo along in front of them. They went through Battersea Church Road, by St Mary's down by the river, and then into the High Street. They saw no one and no one saw them, it being well into the early hours of the morning. They were making for an empty house standing opposite the end of Trott Street. It wastall and wide and the bottom windows were boarded up and a sheet of corrugated iron covered the main doorway. The facade of the building was painted over in grey, and in black letters was written, 'Bunham's Patent Locks Ltd. Locksmiths to the trade.' It was a typical Borrible hideaway, derelict and decaying, and Knocker and Lightfinger lived there. Borribles live where they can in the streets of the big cities, but they like these abandoned houses best of all. The two Borribles halted on the pavement and glanced up and down the street. Nobody. They opened a gate in the railings and Knocker pushed Timbucktoo down some stone steps that led to a basement. The two lookouts followed, opened a door and dragged the Rumble into the house by the neck. Once the door was closed Knocker switched on the light. The Borribles had entered a large room furnished with orange boxes for use as chairs and tables. Two doors opened from it; one into an underground larder, which served as a storeroom, the other to some stairs which led to the rest of the house. The bay window was covered with scraps of old blanket to prevent light shining into the street and alerting the police that someone was squatting in a dwelling that was supposed to be empty. 'What we gonna do with him, now we've got him here?' wondered Lightfinger, and he pushed Timbucktoo down into a seat. 'Yes,' said the Rumble, looking up, his eyes glinting crimson, 'you won't get away with this you know, it's iwwesponsible. You Bowwibles must be insane. I'll see you get your ears clipped.' 'Clip me ears, will yer?' said Knocker tight-lipped, and he went into the store cupboard. A second later he was out again, carrying a roll of sticky tape. He went over to the Rumble, grasped its head and wound the tape round and round the animal's snout so that it could no longer speak. He stood back to admire his work. Lightfinger sat and cupped his face in his hands and rested his elbows on his knees. 'There,' said Knocker, 'that's the way to deal with a talking mattress.' 'I'm glad all animals can't speak,' said Lightfinger. 'We'd have meningitis within the week, or run out of sticky tape.' 'I'll go and get Spiff,' said Knocker. He ran up to the ground floor ofthe house and tapped on the door of a large room that overlooked the back garden, a back garden that Knocker knew was a wilderness of weeds; a dangerous dump of rusting oil drums and broken bicycles. The door opened a crack and another Borrible appeared. He was perhaps an inch taller than Knocker and his ears were very pointed. He was dressed in a bright orange dressing gown made from new warm towelling. His carpet slippers were comfortable. 'Who are you? Ah, Knocker, what do you want then?' 'Sorry to wake you, Spiff,' said Knocker, 'but me and Lightfinger found something in the park and think you ought to have a look at it. It's down in the basement.' 'Oh Lor',' groaned Spiff, 'can't it wait till morning? You haven't got the law on your trail, have you?' 'No,' said Knocker, 'it's nothing like that. What we've got is worse. It's a Rumble! There was a whole lot of them in a posh car and we caught this one tunnelling. Cheek, ain't it, coming down here without a by-yer-leave and digging?' Spiff had become more and more intent on what Knocker had been saying until finally he seemed quite beside himself. 'A bloody Rumble, in the park? You get back downstairs, me lad, and I'll come right away. I'll put me hat on.' He closed the door and Knocker darted back down the uncarpeted stairs. He understood Spiff's caution; no Borrible ever left his room without putting on a woollen hat to cover the tops of his ears. It wasn't that they were ashamed of them, quite the contrary, but they liked to be prepared for an emergency. Any unforeseen circumstance could force them into the streets and it wouldn't do to be spotted as a Borrible. 'He's coming,' said Knocker as soon as he re-entered the room. 'He's a good bloke, you know ... short-tempered sometimes, but they don't come any craftier than Spiff.' 'You can't get anything past him and that's a fact,' said Lightfinger. 'They say he's pulled more strokes than the Oxford and Cambridge boat race put together. And they say that he won dozens of names in fights with the Rumbles, and we're only s'posed to have one. Nobody knows how many names, nobody ... He's a mystery, but one thing's for sure, he hates Rumbles.' 'Yeah, I know,' said Knocker. 'There's millions of stories about his names and some of them not very Borrible either, but I'd rather have him for me than against me.' He sat down and looked at Timbucktoo and thought about names and the gaining of them, something that occupied his every waking hour. A Borrible name has to be earned because that is the only way a Borrible can get one. He has to have an adventure of some sort, and the name comes out of that adventure--stealing, burglary, a journey or a trick played on someone. That was the rule and Knocker was against it; it made it difficult, if not impossible, for a Borrible to join an adventure once he was in possession of a name. The first chance was always given to those who were nameless and this infuriated Knocker for he had a secret ambition to collect more names and have more adventures than any other Borrible alive. A noise on the stairs disturbed Knocker's reflections. He stood up and at the same moment Spiff flung open the door and strode theatrically into the room. His head was adorned with a magnificent hat ...

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Michael De Larrabeiti
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