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In which Calcifer tells a story and a tiger appears
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That evening Howl, Sophie and Michael spent it looking over the contents of the book. Sophie looked at some of the pieces of paper inside, which Michael looked at the spells, and Howl wrote down the strange writing and looked through some of his own old language books, trying to find a match. If Michael had seen it before there surely it would be in one of them. Calcifer just watched curiously. He had missed all the excitement floating around the garden, and had only just found out where the book came from in the first place.

“Hasn’t it occurred to you,” he said once it got to eleven o’clock at night, “that you might have thrown this alphabet on me because you thought it was useless.”

“You better not have burnt it,” Howl said angrily, glaring at Calcifer. “Sometimes I do feel like throwing a bucket of water all over you.”

“Yes,” the fire demon hissed. “The only reason you didn’t do it before was because you’d kill yourself if you did. Besides, it’s not my fault if it’s burnt, if it is it was because you did it, not me. I couldn’t reach far out of the grate this time last week.”

Howl groaned and motioned him over, “Well, whether you’ve burnt it or not you better come and have a look.” Calcifer floated out of the grate and looked at the copy Howl had. Howl glanced at him carefully, “Just don’t get any sparks on my suite or my hair.”

“Or the book,” Sophie said, not looking up from her work. She found the other pieces of paper easy to understand because they were written in a language not very different from her own. Some of them didn’t even look like spells. They looked like poems. She was careful with them as she remembered the Witch of the Waste had managed to curse Howl with a poem. She was careful not to read them out loud.

Calcifer fizzed again and spoke, “I know this language but I cannot tell you what it says. This language goes back to the beginning when people first settled here in Ingary. I remember the night I first saw them. They spoke with a language and alphabet as we have now but created this language for their spells and to keep secrets. Normally they would turn words into this writing to hide something or make it unreadable to normal people.”

Michael looked up sleepily after Calcifer finished, “You remember when the first people settled in Ingary?”

“I remember when the first people settled in this world,” he replied proudly. “You must remember that I have lived for millions of years. I remember when the most intelligent forms in the world were the nymphs and the djinns.”

“That must have been interesting,” Sophie said looking up at him. She remembered that day she had called him young and he had told her that he was much older than her spell or no spell. “You must have seen an awful lot.”

“Not as much as you’d think,” Calcifer admittedly, “I was very high up you see. Yet, I recall the first settlers and they seemed to grow and grow in a matter on minutes, even though it took hundreds of years. Before I knew it I fell and was about to die on that earth when Howl caught me.”

Sophie glanced at Howl who was deeply engrossed with the translation books. She motioned Calcifer over, which he did. Michael leaned over to listen too. “I’ve always wondered,” she said, “how did that come about? What happened? Did he purposely go out there to catch a falling star?”

Calcifer crackled and shook his long blue face, “No, not exactly. It happened five years ago when he was twenty-two and still new to these parts. He was out on the Porthaven Marshes watching the stars fall. It was November, which was a time a lot of stars burnt out and died, and that year was my turn. I fell off my place in the sky and fell so quickly that I actually ended up in the palm of his hands. He must have seen me falling towards him and got out his hands in time. Or maybe he didn’t and he was checking for rain, it did rain not long after that.”

“So, Howl just got a lucky catch?” Sophie asked.

“It must have been,” he replied with another crack and snap, “He had never tried to catch one before, and he was sitting down at the time reading so it’s not like he chasing me. I was trapped in the darkness of his hand, close to going out, when he looked down at me. I looked up at him and said without thinking: ‘I don’t want to die!’ he asked me, ‘Is that what happens to you, once you fall from the sky?’ and I nodded and begged him to help me. He obviously felt sorry for me and asked if he could help me. I then told him the only way he could help me was if he gave me heart…”

He looked at Sophie and Michael who had both been listening carefully. They too remembered how they used to watch falling stars as children, and recalled that day they watched one die, trying to get away from taking Michael’s heart. Yet, Calcifer could tell that Sophie was curious about why it had to be the heart. Calcifer went on, “You see demons don’t have hearts. Only animals and humans have hearts, and a human heart is a very valuable thing. A fire demon can live for millions of years and have amazing powers. Humans are weakened in the fact they are just flesh and blood, but their hearts can keep demons alive, and keep them alive more much longer.”

It did answer a few questions Sophie had been asking herself, and she longed to hear the rest of Calcifer’s first encounter with Howl. “Well, he didn’t care about any of that. He has a very soft heart, you see, and he had already started to feel sorry for me. So, he agreed to give me his heart so that I might live. He swallowed me and I emerged from his chest with his heart, still beating.”

That almost unnerved Sophie; the thought of Howl standing there holding his own heart in his hand. Yet, if she had been in the same place she wondered if she would have done the same. She imagined so as watching that star dying had quite upset her. It also made a lot of sense of why Howl had given his heart to Calcifer. Howl liked to slither out of things, but he was actually a kind and good-natured man, when it came down to it. It seemed very like Howl to sign a contract and only read the small print later on.

“And he took you home after that?” Sophie asked.

“Yes, just them it started to rain,” he explained. “He kept me dry by placing his coat over me. He took me back to his home in Porthaven, put some logs on and placed me in the hearth. It was then I told him that now I could never leave the hearth unless he took me out. If anyone were to drop me or if I were to go out, both of us might die. Well, that terrified him and he threw several more logs on me. ‘I don’t want to die!’ he said, explaining his actions. He put some more logs near by, and told me not to burn them all at once. The rest was history. He actually got used to it and whenever he wanted peace he spread the rumour that he had devils living in his house. Of course the devil was me. A year or so later Michael moved in. A year or so after that we created the moving castle. And a year or so after that you came here, and now here we are.”

Sophie nodded and thought about where she was five years ago when this was all happened. She would have been thirteen-years-old, living in the hat shop, cooking dinner for her sisters while her father went over the accounts, Fanny worked the customers, and her sister fought over who would get to marry the prince. What would she have thought if she knew somewhere out there was Wizard Howl, catching a falling star?

She looked at Michael to see that he was falling asleep. Howl came out of his own daydream and gave Michael a snap pat on the back. He sat up quickly and looked at Howl. “I’m sorry about that Howl.”

“Go to bed, Michael,” he ordered, looking back to the translation books. “You’re no good to me with one-eye open.”

Michael pulled himself out of his chair, bid Sophie goodnight and dragged himself upstairs to his room. She listened as he shut the door to his room and collapse into his bed, no doubt falling straight away to asleep. Sophie rubbed her own eyes, not feeling tired but overworked. She put the papers down and stretched, groaning as she did, happy to strength her muscles after so long. Howl looked up at her. He threw the book down and also groaned.

“I can’t find that book,” Howl said in annoyance. “If Michael has seen it, it wasn’t in one of my books.”

“Maybe Calcifer did burn it,” Sophie suggested.

“Oh yes,” said the fire demon, also falling asleep in the hearth, “blame the fire demon.”

“Why not,” Howl said turning to Calcifer, resuming their argument, “it normally is his fault, isn’t Calcifer?”

Calcifer fizzled, sizzled and cracked at this, replying sleepily, “Because he can’t blame anyone else for his faults he decides ‘It’s all Calcifer’s fault’!”

“Or mine,” Sophie said, deciding to back Calcifer up on this. Even if it was burnt it wasn’t really Calcifer’s fault.

“That’s because you both do things wrong and someone has to tell you,” Howl replied, feeling ganged up on. “Your nosey nose gets everywhere, Miss Nose, and very often gets stuck in places it best left alone. Like that Mr Perfect Alan Smith. He’s been sniffing around looking suspicious. Everyday between when we first met him and Lettie’s party he’d been here ‘paying his respects’ and asking questions. I can’t stand snoopy people. Why can’t you tell your ‘friends’ to keep their long noses out of my business?”

“It’s not a club, Howl,” Sophie retorted, not really feeling like a fight so late but ready to give one if he demanded. “It’s not like I see them at the meetings.”

“You once asked why I created this castle, didn’t you,” Howl asked her. “Well, it was because of snooping people unable to keep their long noses out of my life.”

Sophie rolled her eyes, “Well, on behalf of myself and all the nosey parkers in the country and the world, forgive us. I had no idea my presence bothered you.”

Howl shook his head, “It doesn’t. I just don’t like it when too many people snoop about. Like that Alan.”

“What have you got against Alan?” Sophie asked curiously. Part of her wondered, maybe hoped, that he was jealous. It would give her some idea of just how much Howl meant happily ever after. Did he mean ever, or forever? “He seems like such a nice man, and Mr Smith doesn’t seem to mind him. He’s his nephew. If there was something wrong with him he would certainly know.”

“There’s something odd about him,” Howl said plainly. “I feel as if there is more to him that what everyone sees, something not good.”

“There is something more to you than what people see,” Sophie reminded him. “And not all people think that’s good either.” Howl glared at her. Since he got back his heart he didn’t seem nearly as scary to look at. They were a dark green and no longer looking like large glass marbles. They had more feeling and Sophie was not scared by them. Sophie went on, “You should know better than to judge people by what you think is underneath.”

Howl didn’t want to get angry with her. He hated getting angry and didn’t want to get angry with Sophie. On the other hand he liked Sophie when she was angry. She was one of those women who became more beautiful the angrier she became. There was nothing more gorgeous than a woman with a beautiful scowl. In the end, he made a forced smile. “Well, then I’m sure you’ll both be very happy together if things don’t work out for you here,” and he walked towards the bathroom. “I’m going to have a bath and go to bed.”

“What do you mean by ‘very happy together’?” Sophie said, but Howl ignored her. As he closed the door, Sophie threw the papers down and looked at Calcifer sleeping in the hearth. She had a good mind to throw the book on him and forget about it. But then she remembered what she had forgotten in all the excitement. These belonged to her mother and were probably her last connection to who she was as a person. So, she grabbed the papers, and went out into the place of flowers by the wastes to calm down.

Just near the door she settled down, making sure the ground was hard, and in the light of the castle she began reading them. There were several poems with titles and names next to them. These surely were not spells. One of them was called ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davis. Sophie quite liked that one and wanted to say it out loud. But she stopped again, remembering the poem ‘Song’ and thought for a moment before she spoke.

“Now, Leisure, I’m going to read you and you are not going to curse me,” she commanded to the paper. “Understand? Alright then, here we go.” And so she read looking briefly at the night around her as she spoke:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Sophie thought that quite a sad poem and couldn’t really see a curse in it. Besides, she thought, this is my mother. Surely she wouldn’t leave curses around for anyone to come across and read. Then she remembered that Miss Angorian had been the one to read the poem last time. Howl had not realised at the time the poem was a curse until she said it. This assured Sophie a bit more in reading these poems and she didn’t have the power to curse people as the Witch and Miss Angorian did. She read several others: ‘Stars’ by Emily Bronte, and several other poems by people she had never heard of.

Finally she looked at a poem she had glanced at earlier. It had grabbed her attention at the time because it had drawings all over it. It had the picture of a tiger on it, at night, with the words to the poem to it. ‘THE TYGER’ it said in block capitals ‘BY WILLIAM BLAKE’.

“I’m sure that is supposed to be ‘tiger’,” Sophie said to the paper, looking it through trying to get the feel of it. She scowled, at it all and said, “What a strange poem. This Mr. Blake thought too much of this tiger of his.” She wondered how her mother came by these poems, if she did, and if not how they got into the book. She thought she should ask Howl about them. In the mean time, she cleared her voice and began to read the poem before her:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he—

Sophie stopped as she heard a rustling amongst the flowers, and the trees and the grass, which was the warm wind of the wastes. The sound was too strong. She looked up straight away from her reading and stood, trying to see what it was. The rustling seemed to get closer and closer. She was frozen to the spot and peeled her eyes for whatever it was that was coming towards her. It was quite scary having to come face to face with whatever it was. As with most things scary her mind imagined the worst. Nonetheless, she did not call out to it as she knew that was the sort of thing that ended up getting killed. She did, however, prepare herself to scream for Howl if she had to.

Suddenly, the rustling stopped, as abruptly as they had begun. Sophie’s heart had been pounding painfully in her chest started to settle down. A week or so ago such a thing would have sent Sophie’s heart mad with fear, it would be hurting her inside and she’d wonder if she would die. She clutched where her pounding heart was and thanked it for being so good, and young.

She was just about settled down when she saw it, and her heart went right up again. Despite the fact it was dark the light from the castle shone on the creature, making it all the more terrifying. There, right in front of her, stood a huge tiger. It stood there staring at her, crouched down as if it wanted to pounce on her. Sophie stood staring at it, too terrified to scream. It was as if her reading the poem had brought the creature described to evil life. It had fiery purple eyes, which glowed red in the light of the castle like a normal cat’s eyes, and a not an orange coat but a blue one.

Quivering with fear, Sophie turned her head slightly towards the door, unable to take her eyes of the huge beast staring at her. It was as if it had a hold on her. Sophie called inside the castle, croaking a small “Howl?” knowing well that with Howl in the bathroom it was unlikely he’d hear her. She didn’t want to turn and run for the door as the chances of her getting there before the tiger were slim. She called again, a little louder, “Howl?”

The tiger then growled, roared, so loud it made the ground between Sophie’s feet shake. Or maybe it was just her legs about to give way on her. She closed her eyes tightly, certain the tiger was about of pounce on her, and she let out one last terrified shriek of fear: “HOWL!”

Eyes closed, she waited for the weight, the claws and the blood. She shook and shivered as she waited for merely seconds to come face to face with the blue tiger. But all she did feel didn’t come from in front of her but behind her. Howl had come rushing out and clasped her shoulders. “What is heavens name is wrong?”

Sophie dared to open her eyes. He was still wet from being in the bath but Sophie didn’t care and buried her face in his said, and said, still quite scared. “T-t-tiger; there was a tiger! It was big and loud and blue, and it was terrifying!”

“What?” Howl said, not really understand what she meant, “What tiger?”

“A tiger,” Sophie cried again. “There was a big, blue, large teethed tiger, right there!” she pointed to where the tiger had been. Turning around, she saw that it was gone, but was still terrified it was out there. “It was right there. I was so scared that I could barely move. Then it growled and—oh, it was horrible!”

Howl looked around, putting an arm around Sophie and looking about to see if there was any evidence of a tiger. “There are no tigers in this part of the country, cariad. I’ve never seen or heard of one around; no orange, no white, and certainly no blue.”

She looked up at him with a scowl, “Don’t make fun of me! I was terrified by it!”

Howl laughed, “So you keep saying, and I’m sure you were scared. But I’m saying there are no blue tigers around. Are you sure it wasn’t your imagination? Or dreaming, you did see a blue tiger after all.”

“No!” she cried quickly before she stopped and remembered the poem. Sheepishly, she picked up the papers she had dropped in her fear and handed the tiger poem to him. “But I was reading this just before I heard it.”

Howl looked at the piece of paper, “Where did you get this?”

“From my mother’s old book,” she explained clutching the other papers. “I found all of these in there. That was what I was looking at earlier. Do you know that they are?”

“Of course I do,” he replied looking at the poem called ‘The Tyger’, “this is a poem by William Blake.”

“I understand that but who is William Blake?”

“He was a man who lived in my world, very famous poet.”

Sophie’s eyes widened, “Your world? Then how did it get here?”

Howl shrugged, “Not sure. It’s possible it fell through the portal at some point and your mother found them. It happens sometimes. It would explain why you saw a tiger; you were either seeing things or briefly fell asleep and thought it was real.”

“But I saw it, Howl!” Sophie said, as if she was trying to convince herself she hadn’t seen things. “I heard it coming towards me.”

“Sometimes dreams do that,” Howl said, motioning her back into the castle. “You said it growled didn’t you? Well I didn’t hear it and look,” he said pointing to the hearth where Calcifer flickered, sleeping quietly, “Calcifer is still asleep so he didn’t hear it, and he would have sensed it and woken up.”

Sophie knew he was right, but it had felt so real. Looking at the piece of paper she spoke gravely, “You don’t think it’s another curse do you?”

Howl laughed, “No, I don’t think so unless you want to curse yourself. The only reason the old poem cursed me was because of that fire demon. It activated the curse.”

Sophie managed a smile but still couldn’t forget that tiger. She tried to find something in the room to distract her from her thoughts of the tiger. Starting to become aware of everything she looked at Howl again, and looked away quickly. She only just realised that all Howl was wearing was a towel. Looking at the wall she spoke quietly, “I think you better put your pyjamas on and go to bed.”

Howl was suddenly aware of his state also but laughed, “Yes, that sounds like a good idea. It’s just I heard your screams and didn’t think I had enough time to…”

“Yes, thank you,” Sophie said, still looking at the wall, “Very grateful.”

Awkwardly, Howl rushed into the bathroom. Once she heard the door close, Sophie turned around, seeing the poem ‘The Tyger’ lying on the table. She rushed over and shoved it in between the pages of the old spell book and closed it, as if the tiger might rise from the page and finish the work her scream and Howl’s appearance interrupted. Before she finally retired to her cubby hole, she turned the knob from purple down to orange down. It was unlikely a tiger would get away with running down the smart streets of the valley to try and get into the castle.

She rushed to her gap under the stairs, closed her curtains, and got into her nightdress. Hiding under the covers she tried to think of something other than the tiger, or Howl, or the book which contained the poem. Instead, she decided to think about the other poem she had read about not being able to stand and stare. She played it over and over in her head until she was almost asleep.

She jumped out of her sleepy state briefly as Howl left the bathroom and walked upstairs, whistling what sounded like the saucepan song. She listened silently as both his steps and whistling faded away upstairs and into his room. It then stopped. From lack of anything else to do, Sophie laughed. It was better than being scared of an imaginary tiger, and she finally fell asleep.


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‘Howl's Moving Castle’ 1986-2008, Diana Wynne Jones. 'Hauru no ugoku shiro' AKA 'Howl's Moving Castle' 2004-2008 Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli Studios. Text/Website Sophie Withall, 2004-2008. Based upon Diana Wynne Jones' novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animated film 'Hauru no ugoku shiro'. Layout Tripod. All characters are entirely fictional. 

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