Philip Gross The Lastling

ISBN 13: 9780618659982

The Lastling

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9780618659982: The Lastling
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Fourteen-year-old Paris is thrilled when her rich, influential uncle Franklin decides to take her on a trip to the Himalayas. She hopes this will be her chance to prove just how mature and worthy of his company she is. But this will be no pleasure trip. Franklin and his friends are searching for rare and endangered species, and they travel deep into the war-ravaged forest to find them. There they come across Tahr, a twelve-year-old monk who has just seen a shocking vision—the face of a creature known before only in legends . . . and one that Franklin is determined to capture alive.
Set in an exotic land wracked by violence, cruelty, and a threatened ecosystem, this edgy and strikingly original novel offers a riveting look at morality and the harshness of nature—both human and otherwise.

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About the Author:

Philip Gross is a poet whose work has won several prizes; his collection THE WASTING GAME was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize. He lives in Bristol, England, and teaches creative writing at Glamorgan University. THE LASTLING is his third novel, his first to be published by Clarion Books.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Four
Paris on Location

Paris was going to be a movie director. That was the life plan, as of today.
She slumped back in the canvas chair, and her fair hair flopped over her
eyes. She flicked it away. She was fed up with it. If there'd been a good pair
of scissors handy, she'd have chopped it there and then. There were lots of
things she'd like to change right now. This place—this campsite—for a start.
And the waiting. If this was a movie, she thought, she'd clap her hands now
and say, "Cameras . . . Action," and something would start to roll. Sheesh,
they had the scenery in place—all the Himalayan forest Uncle Franklin's
friends in high places could fix. But nothing was happening. There was a
general clatter of expedition business going on among the tents, but nobody
seemed to be thinking about her. And Paris was bored.
She could be a movie director if she wanted. Most girls her age
wanted to be movie stars; not her. She was going to be the one who called
the shots. The one who said "Action." Sure, there was the problem of finance,
but her pop would probably stump up the odd million just to keep her out of
his hair, and he'd write it off against expenses. The main thing was contacts.
Uncle Franklin would know people in the business, of course, When she'd
mentioned the plan to him, on the way to the airport, he hadn't answered
straightaway. Pop would just have said, "Sure, sure," without meaning it.
Franklin was different. He'd stopped, and looked at her a moment. "A one-
person brat pack," he'd said, with his brief, dry smile. They'd hardly talked—
not really talked—since then.
On the edge of the clearing, one leaf let go of its twig and slowly
fell.
What did Franklin think he was doing, Paris wondered, bringing
them here at this time of year? There'd been rubbish movies on the long
flight, so she'd read the trekkers' guide from end to end. It was full of the
glories of the place in spring—huge rhododendron blossoms, Technicolor
butterflies, and all the other stuff that wasn't there now, in October. It was
getting cool, too, and they'd pitched camp out of the sun. Very carefully out
of the sun, out of sight. So much for the famous views of snow-capped
peaks—a glimpse, maybe, between these stupid trees, which weren't very
different from the trees in any of the places she'd called home.
Still, Paris was here. That was what mattered. All these years,
she'd picked up hints, from things he said, about these "expeditions." Other
people in the family smirked. "Franklin's Boy's Own adventures," Pop said.
Fine, thought Paris. I'll be one of the boys. She'd started dropping hints to
Franklin, and he hadn't said no. "In time," he'd said, "in time. . . ."
And here she was. She was a member of a very special club
indeed—just how special, she was starting to understand. She'd had a
glimpse of the quiet phone calls to friends of a friend in this foreign ministry or
that. In this language or that. Uncle Franklin could fix anything. So there'd
been someone there to meet them on touchdown and to ghost them past the
customs queue, on to where their sealed baggage would be waiting for them
in the chartered jeep, untouched by prying hands. There'd been the police
chief at the bottom of the valley, who had been expecting them, like a man
who had his orders: point them on their way and then forget. And there was
the local guide, Shikarri. He'd stepped out of the shadows in the final village,
where the road ran out, like a man who'd been waiting, watching for them.
He'd had no expression on his thin, sharp hunter's face, but when his eyes
rested on her for a moment, Paris flinched. In the background was the team
of porters, small silent men who sat in the shade and didn't mix with the
villagers. They weren't local—Shikarri had brought them, and they waited for
his orders. Five minutes later, they were unloading the jeeps, keeping their
heads down, braced against the great unwieldy packs. They didn't look as if
they were doing it for the fun of it, thought Paris, any more than the mules
they piled high with the strange-shaped baggage.
Then again, the members of the expedition didn't look like people
on vacation, either. They'd arrived in the lounge of the Ashok Hotel, New
Delhi, one by one: Donald from London, Renaud from Paris, Harriet by
chartered plane out of somewhere unspeakable in central Africa, Gavin by
local flight from the Karakoram . . . and none of them talked about their flights
at all. They were people on business, and they knew why they were there.
Not for relaxing in the five-star comforts of the Ashok, that was clear. They
had greeted each other with nods and Paris with a shrewd look, weighing her
up, before they spoke. They didn't look so much like old friends as
conspirators. They'd raised a glass—hard liquor or fine wine, depending on
their style—in a silent toast. They'd clinked; then they were on their way.
Even now they weren't wasting much time on sightseeing, though
as the trek got under way, they kept coming over rises to horizons crisp and
sharp with snow peaks, a gift for the wide-angle lens. Shikarri kept the
porters moving with his whip-crack tongue, and beside him, on a leash of
thick, black plaited hair, came the dog. This was nobody's pet. It was a great
gray brindled mastiff—bull-like shoulders, a wide head that hung with the
weight of its square muzzle—and it would not be led or touched by anybody
but its master.
"What—what's it called?" Paris had said to Shikarri, just to break
the silence.
"Do khyi."
Franklin had come up beside them. "Not so much a name," he'd
said, "as what it is. It means 'the dog who is chained.'"
Paris hadn't asked why. Franklin had caught her look and
smiled. "I wouldn't want to meet it, not without Shikarri—would you?"
They had trekked on in silence, hours and hours, until Shikarri
called a halt. It was nowhere in particular that Paris could see, but the guide
had been definite. Here, he'd said, we make a base camp. Now most of the
porters had been paid off and gone, all but a few, the ones Shikarri had
picked for their loyalty and silence. They camped a little way off and sat
quiet, waiting to be sent for, passing whole days playing vague, unfathomable
games of chance.

There were a lot of men about, thought Paris. A Boy's Own adventure? There
was Harriet, of course, but she hardly seemed like a woman. Harriet kept
pace with Gavin on the whisky and with Donald on the slim cigars. Paris kind
of admired that, yes, but Harriet, with that famous war-worn face, was kind of
scary, too.
Paris found herself scanning the opposite sex—you know, the
way you do. Not that she was crazy over them, like most of her classmates
were. Creamy-faced kids from boy bands left her cold. When she let her mind
wander, she remembered the black guy she'd seen break dancing once in
the subway. He was lean—no muscle man—but graceful, all alive, and deep
in his dance. She wanted him to look up when she dropped some money in
his hat, but afterward she was kind of pleased he hadn't. No fake grin
and "Thank you, ma'am." . . . He just went on with his dance.
Boys of her age bored her, and she wasn't sorry that there weren't
any here. Still, let's be honest, she'd expected something from the
expedition. From what she'd heard, it was Gavin who might just be
promising, but when she'd seen him at the airport, she'd revised her plans.
He was the commando type—beefy, leathery-tanned, and crop-headed—and
he wasn't going to like her, she knew at a glance. He didn't see the use of
her, and he'd said as much to Franklin, in that rough, dry Scottish way. Then
he'd held out his hand. Paris flinched. There were the stump ends of his three
long fingers, missing at the tips. He'd seen her staring, and he pushed the
hand toward her—Go on, shake it—with a private smile.
After that there was Donald. No thanks. And there was Renaud,
whom she'd scarcely seen. There were the porters, of course. Sometimes
they worked naked to the waist, manhandling the tent poles upright. The
question of fancying didn't arise. She was taller than most of them, for one
thing. But they were very much there. It was a bit unsettling.
Meanwhile, Shikarri was everywhere. Talking to Franklin, getting
his instructions. Pointing to distances, poring over maps with Gavin. And
when the first of the rifles came out of its packing, he was there to weigh it in
his hands, squint down the sights, and nod approval. Shikarri looked straight
through Paris, and she didn't feel inclined to find out more. She'd seen the
way he cut through obstacles like fallen branches on the trail, with one hack
of the glinting kukri—half knife, half machete—he wore at his belt.
Most of the day the mastiff sat tethered. Now and then it would
leap up, straining at something it had heard or smelt, and the weight of it
shuddered its stake. Then its mantrap jaws would open and rake at the
air . . . but no sound came out. "Debarked," Franklin had said, casually, and
Paris tried not to think what that meant. Shikarri was a hunter, he said, of a
rather special kind, and in his profession stealth was of the essence. By
night, Shikarri would p...

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