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Authors: P. B. Kerr

Eye of the Forest

BOOK: Eye of the Forest
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Children of the Lamp

BOOK FIVE

THE EYE
OF THE FOREST

P. B. KERR

This book is for Joe Gilmour

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Prologue

CHAPTER 1: THE THREE DRUIDS

CHAPTER 2: THE TALKING BOARD

CHAPTER 3: MANCO CAPAC

CHAPTER 4: PACHACUTI

CHAPTER 5: BRING ME THE HEAD OF FRANCISCO PIZARRO

CHAPTER 6: SICKY’S SHRUNKEN HEAD AND SOME OTHER REVOLTING AFTER-DINNER STORIES

CHAPTER 7: HERE BE MONSTERS

CHAPTER 8: CAT PEOPLE

CHAPTER 9: A LITTLE TOUCH OF FROGGY IN THE NIGHT

CHAPTER 10: HOW LIKE A GOD

CHAPTER 11: The Piranha Pool

CHAPTER 12: GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE

CHAPTER 13: THE RETURN OF THE CONQUERORS

CHAPTER 14: EL TUNCHI

CHAPTER 15: THE RISING

CHAPTER 16: THE EYE OF THE FOREST

CHAPTER 17: COMING THROUGH THE DOOR

CHAPTER 18: SPEAKING IN TONGUES

CHAPTER 19: THE HOSTAGE

CHAPTER 20: IN SEARCH OF MR. GAUNT

CHAPTER 21: THE TEARS OF THE SUN

CHAPTER 22: HANNIBAL AND THE CANNIBALS

CHAPTER 23: THE WRATH OF LAYLA

CHAPTER 24: THROUGH THE EYE

CHAPTER 25: SLIPPED DISK

CHAPTER 26: STRAWBERRY SLIPPERS

CHAPTER 27: SPLIT PERSONALITY

CHAPTER 28: DOING THE RIGHT THING

About the Author

Other Books in P. B. Kerr’s Children of the Lamp Series

Copyright

PROLOGUE
DOCTOR KOWALSKI

A
ll happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy in its own peculiar way.”

This is the first sentence of a great novel called
Anna Karenina
by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy, who wrote several great novels, had an abiding interest in children’s literature and wrote a number of tales and fables for them. But even with his fertile imagination Tolstoy could hardly have explained the peculiar way in which the Gaunts of East 77th Street, New York, were unhappy.

To say the least, theirs was an unusual family with a human father, Edward, a djinn mother, Layla, and djinn twins, John and Philippa. This mixture of djinn — or less correctly, genie — and human was not, directly, what made the Gaunts unhappy, although it had something to do with it, of course. For a long time the Gaunts had been very happy and, to all outside eyes, they had even seemed like a model family with a
glamorous mother, an extremely wealthy father, and two well-behaved and amiable children.

If you could have made a criticism of the Gaunts it would have been this: that they were rather richer than was, perhaps, good for them — although, in defense of their enormous wealth, it is hard to imagine that any family that includes at least one djinn as a member would not also be stinking rich.

No, what made them unhappy was this: During her flight back to New York from a recent trip to the Middle East, Mrs. Gaunt had suffered a serious accident resulting in the total destruction of her physical body. In humans — or mundanes, as the djinn persist in calling this apparently similar but entirely different species — such an occurrence would always have been fatal. But Mrs. Gaunt had cleverly managed to eject her spirit from her incinerated self and, having made her way back home to New York City in the shape of an albatross, she then set about finding herself a new body. She hardly fancied becoming a dog or a cat any more than she cared for the idea of continuing on in life as an albatross. Gooney birds, as Americans horribly call them, drink salt water and eat rotten fish heads. And having grown tired of this unappetizing diet, naturally Mrs. Gaunt was soon on the lookout for a human-shaped body.

This wasn’t as easy as it might sound. Mrs. Gaunt was a member of a tribe of djinn called the Marid, which is a good tribe of djinn — one of three good tribes. Had she been a member of an evil tribe, like the Ifrit — one of three evil
tribes — she would have just stolen someone else’s body. But while body-borrowing is permitted to a good djinn, body-snatching is strictly forbidden by
The Baghdad Rules,
which is the code that covers all djinn conduct. At least it is forbidden unless the body is not being used.

Now it so happened that the Gaunts employed a faithful housekeeper called Mrs. Trump who, as the result of a frightful fall down a flight of stairs, ended up in the hospital and in a coma. An investigation of Mrs. Trump’s situation had persuaded Mrs. Gaunt that while the housekeeper’s body remained in perfect working order, the poor woman’s medical condition was irreversible; and so, certain that Mrs. Trump would have approved of what she was doing, Mrs. Gaunt decided to assume total control of Mrs. Trump’s body.

She could have done worse. Mrs. Trump was not a bad-looking woman. Indeed, she was a former beauty queen, although she lacked Mrs. Gaunt’s obvious glamour and personality. Nevertheless, while Layla Gaunt herself could sometimes forget that she had a different body, the rest of her family seldom did. Mr. Gaunt and his two children struggled to get used to the idea that Mrs. Gaunt was now inside Mrs. Trump.

It is sometimes said that appearances can be deceptive. This was certainly very true in Mrs. Trump/Gaunt’s case with the unfortunate result that Mr. Gaunt tended only to speak to her about domestic issues such as his laundry and dry cleaning and what was for dinner, while the children persisted in calling her Mrs. Trump instead of Mother or
Mom, and kept asking her to add things to the weekly grocery list.

What was worse, perhaps, was that those family friends who were unaware of Mrs. Trump’s true identity or that three of the Gaunts had djinn or genie powers, found the housekeeper’s apparent overfamiliarity with Mr. Gaunt a little hard to take. The way she took his hand or sometimes kissed him on the cheek. The way she never seemed to do any actual housework. The way she treated the house as if it belonged to her. The way she wore Mrs. Gaunt’s furs and drove her car.

Mr. Gaunt steadfastly maintained that his wife, Layla, had gone to pursue a career as a sculptor in Australia. But keener-eyed women friends, who noticed the fact that Mrs. Trump was now wearing Mrs. Gaunt’s jewelry, wondered if this might be a lie. One or two of them even speculated that Layla Gaunt had been done away with.

An increasingly unhappy situation came to a head when, one day, a police detective came to the Gaunt family house. He was a large, hairy bear of a man with a walrus mustache who was originally from the Bronx. His name was Detective Michael Wolff. He showed his detective’s shield to the well-dressed woman answering the door who identified herself — to him, at any rate — as the Gaunt family housekeeper, Mrs. Trump.

“Is Mr. Gaunt at home?” asked Detective Wolff.

“No, he won’t be back until this evening,” said Mrs. Trump. “Might I ask what this is about?”

“I’d like to speak to him about his wife,” said the detective. “She has been reported as a missing person.”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Trump. “By whom?”

“Some of her friends. Do you know where she is, Mrs. Trump?”

“She’s in Australia. I spoke to her myself just the other day.”

“I checked with the Australian authorities,” said the detective, “and they have no record of her ever having entered the country.”

“I see.” Reluctantly, Mrs. Trump/Gaunt began to consider the possibility that she would have to use djinn power on the detective. “Perhaps you’d better come in.”

Hardly aware of the threat that now hung over him, the detective stepped into the fine hallway and, as Mrs. Trump closed the heavy black door behind him, he glanced around his surroundings with appreciation. “Nice place,” he said. “I love these big houses on the Upper East Side of New York.”

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Trump. Remembering who she was supposed to be she added, hurriedly, “Difficult to keep clean though.”

“You don’t look like no house cleaner, lady,” observed the detective. “With all due respect ma’am, I never saw any house cleaner wearing jewelry like yours and a dress like that. I should know. My wife is a house cleaner.”

Mrs. Gaunt usually turned humans who posed some kind of threat to her or her family into animals. But she hardly wanted to turn Detective Wolff into a wolf. A wolf on the
streets of Manhattan might well be shot by another policeman in case it tried to harm anyone. And it was the detective’s good fortune that she now struggled to think of a more suitable animal into which she could transform him.

“It’s a matter of public record that I won the New York State Lottery a few years back,” said Mrs. Trump/Gaunt.

This was true. For a long time to win the lottery had been Mrs. Trump’s dearest wish and, thanks to Philippa, her wish had been granted.

“How much did you win?”

“Thirty-three million dollars.”

The detective whistled. “And you kept on working as a housekeeper?”

A parrot perhaps,
she thought. He whistled just like a parrot.

“I like this family,” said Mrs. Trump/Gaunt. “They’re like my own. I didn’t want the money to change my life. You know how that story goes.”

“Gee, I guess that explains a lot,” said the detective. “Like why you’re dressed so nicely.”

Mrs. Trump/Gaunt began to relax again: Maybe she could talk her way out of this after all.

“I hope so. And thank you for the compliment, Detective Wolff.”

“Only it still doesn’t explain where Mrs. Gaunt is.”

“As I said, Detective Wolff, I spoke to her the other day. She called here. But I have no idea where she was calling from if she wasn’t calling from Australia.” She paused as she
came to an important decision about her own future. “However.”

“Yes?”

“She did tell me that she would be coming back to New York. At the end of the month.”

“She did, huh?” The detective took out his wallet and thumbed a business card that he handed to Mrs. Trump. “Would you mind asking her to give me a call when she returns home?”

“It’ll be my pleasure, Detective,” said Mrs. Trump/Gaunt and showed the detective out again, considerably relieved that he was leaving on two legs instead of four.

After dinner that evening, Mrs. Trump/Gaunt said that she had an important announcement to make. “I’ve decided to go away for a few weeks,” she said.

“Where are you going, Mrs. Trump?” asked Mr. Gaunt. “Er, that is, what I meant to say was, where are you going, honey?”

“Brazil.”

“What are you going there for, Mrs. Trump, I mean, Mother?” asked John.

“To undergo a procedure,” she said. “A surgical procedure.”

“Are you sick?” asked John.

“In a way I am, I suppose,” said Mrs. Trump/Gaunt. “But not like you imagine, John, dear. I suppose you might say that I’m sick of everyone forgetting who I really am. I’m sick
of people forgetting that only the outside of me is Mrs. Trump. I’m sick of people forgetting that on the inside I’m still Layla Gaunt.”

“Sorry, dear,” said Mr. Gaunt. Even though Mrs. Trump/Gaunt looked nothing like the woman he had married, he could tell that she was upset. So he got up from his dining chair and came over and kissed Mrs. Trump/Gaunt on the forehead. But it was not an affectionate kiss. Mr. Gaunt found it hard to treat a woman who looked like his former housekeeper with much affection, even if she was wearing his wife’s clothes. Recognizing this, he kissed her twice on the forehead for good measure. It was fortunate Mrs. Trump/Gaunt was sitting down because, like Mrs. Gaunt before her, she was taller than Mr. Gaunt by a head. “I keep trying to remember that it’s you inside Mrs. Trump’s body. But sometimes I forget, that’s all. I’m only human, dear. Unlike you.”

“Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but mine,” she said. “I should have realized that this would be more difficult than I thought it would be. Anyway, it just got a bit more difficult, I think. You see, a detective came to the house today.”

“A detective?” John’s voice betrayed excitement. “Has there been a murder?”

“No, but the police think it’s possible there might have been. You see, apparently someone has reported me — by which I mean me, Layla Gaunt — as a missing person.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Gaunt. “I was wondering when something like that might happen. This kind of thing was only to be expected.” He nodded. “What did you tell him, dear?”

“I told him that I — by which I mean Layla Gaunt — in person — would be back from Australia by the end of the month. Which would prove I’m still alive, of course. And forestall any embarrassing police investigation.”

“How are you going to manage that?” asked Philippa. “I mean, your body. It was destroyed when you flew over that volcano in Hawaii. On your way back from Baghdad. Burned to a potato chip, you said. By the heat from a pyroclastic flow.”

“And that’s perfectly true, my dear. It was. I am very lucky that my spirit survived at all. No, it’s just that I’ve decided the shape I’m in needs a bit of fine-tuning. Which is why I’m going to Brazil. You see, Brazil is recognized as the world capital of cosmetic and plastic surgery. There’s a doctor there — Dr. Stanley Kowalski — who is the best plastic surgeon in the world. A number of movie stars I know have said he can work magic. And since I know Kowalski also happens to be a djinn, I’m certain that reputation is well-deserved. I intend to have him make me look exactly the way I used to look before the accident.”

“How long will you be gone for, Mrs. —?” asked Mr. Gaunt.

Mrs. Trump/Gaunt smiled patiently. “Several weeks. Perhaps longer. As long as it takes, I guess.”

“Can we come?” asked John. “I’ve never been to Brazil.”

“I think not, dear,” said the woman who was his mother. “Besides, I’d like you both to stay here and look after your father.”

“But I don’t need anyone looking after me,” insisted Mr. Gaunt. “I am quite recovered, as you can see. I am myself again.”

By which he meant that he was completely recovered from the Methusaleh binding that Layla Gaunt had put on her husband. This had caused him to age very rapidly. For a while Mr. Gaunt had looked like he was two hundred years old. But now he was back to his old self: a small, dapper, gray-haired man of about fifty-two, which is old enough.

“Well, at least one of us is.” Mrs. Trump/Gaunt sighed. “I’m not sure who I am. Not anymore. Every time I look in the mirror I want to ask myself if there are any clean towels. Or if I could organize a visit from the window cleaner. Or if I could run down to the shops and get some coffee. You see, it’s not just you who sees Mrs. Trump. It’s me, too.”

“Couldn’t you do it with djinn power?” asked Philippa. “I mean, alter your appearance?”

“Too risky,” said Mrs. Trump/Gaunt. “It’s one thing to change yourself into smoke. It’s quite another when you try to change the shape of your face. Believe me, terrible things have happened to djinn who’ve tried to make themselves better looking. For example, there was a girl I knew at school who tried to make her nose smaller. She ended up with no nose at all. And a friend of Nimrod’s, whose ears stuck out like the handles on a trophy, tried to pin them back with djinn power but instead managed to make them join around
the back of his head. Horrible. Which necessitated a trip to a plastic surgeon. And then there’s your father. Look at him. Don’t you think if I could I’d have made him taller? You can’t control that kind of thing. You set out to give someone a few extra inches and they end up being the tallest man in the world.”

Mr. Gaunt looked at his children and nodded. “It’s true. We once discussed the idea and rejected it. Did you know that some of those guys playing pro basketball were short guys who got three wishes?”

“So what’s wrong with that?” said John.

“Nothing,” said Mr. Gaunt. “If playing basketball is all you want from life. I mean, when you’re seven feet tall what else can you do?”

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