I have another story to tell.
The story of what happened next, when summer was over. When the mosquitoes had stopped singing and the nights turned cold.
Autumn set in, and Joel Gustafson had other things to think about. He hardly ever went to his rock by the river, to gaze up at the sky.
It was as if the dog that had headed for its star no longer existed.
Or perhaps it had never existed? Had it all been a dream?
Joel didn't know. But in the end he decided it was all to do with the fact that he'd soon be twelve. After his twelfth birthday he'd be too big to sit on a rock and dream about a strange dog that might never have existed in the real world.
Reaching the age of twelve was a great event. It would mean there were only three years to go before his fifteenth birthday. Then he'd be able to ride a moped and watch films in the Community Center that children were not allowed to see. When you were fifteen you were more of a grown-up than a child.
These were the thoughts whirring around in Joel's head one afternoon in September 1957. It was a Sunday, and he'd set out on an expedition into the vast forest that surrounded the little northern Swedish town he lived in.
Joel had decided to test if it was possible to get lost on purpose. At the same time he had two other important questions to think through. One was whether it would have been an advantage to have been born a girl, and called Joella instead of Joel. The other was what he was going to do when he grew up.
Needless to say, he hadn't mentioned any of this to his dad, Samuel. He'd been curled up by the kitchen window, watching Samuel get shaved. As Samuel always cut himself while shaving, Joel had decided long ago that he would grow a beard when he grew up. Once, when he'd been alone in the house, he'd carefully drawn a black beard on his face, using the burnt end of a stick of wood from the stove. To find out what it felt like to have hair on his face, he'd also wrapped a fox fur round his cheeks. He'd decided that having a beard was better than repeatedly cutting his face with a razor. But he hoped his beard wouldn't smell like a fox.
When Samuel had finished shaving, he'd put on his best suit. Then Joel had knotted his tie for him.
Now Samuel was ready to pay a visit to Sara, who had a day off from her work as a waitress in the local bar.
Now he's going to say that he won't be late, Joel thought.
"I won't be late," said Samuel. "What are you going to do with yourself this afternoon?"
Joel had prepared an answer to that question in advance.
"I'm going to do a jigsaw puzzle," he said. "That big one with the Indian chief, Geronimo. The one with nine hundred and fifty-four pieces."
Samuel eyed him up and down thoughtfully.
"Why don't you go out to play?" he asked. "It's lovely weather."
"I want to complete the puzzle against the clock," said Joel. "I'm going to try to set a new record. It took me four hours last time. Now I'm going to do it in three."
Samuel nodded, and left. Joel waved to him through the window. Then he took out an old rucksack he kept under his bed and packed some sandwiches. He'd put the kettle on to boil while he was doing that, and when it was ready he made some tea and poured it into Samuel's red thermos flask.
Borrowing Samuel's thermos flask was a bit risky. If he broke it or lost it, Samuel would be angry. Joel would be forced to produce a lot of complicated explanations. But it was a risk he would have to take. You couldn't possibly set out on an expedition without a thermos flask.
Last of all he took his logbook from the case where the sailing ship Celestine was displayed, collecting dust. He closed his rucksack, pulled on his Wellingtons and put on his jacket. He cleared the stairs in three jumps--it had taken him four only six months before.
The sun was shining, but you could feel it was autumn. To get to the forest as quickly as possible, Joel decided that the Indian Chief Geronimo was lying in ambush with his warriors behind the Co-operative Society's warehouse. So he would have to proceed on horseback. He geed himself up, imagined that his boots were the newly shod hooves of a dappled pony, and set off across the street. The reddish brown goods wagons in the railway siding were rocks he could hide behind. Once he got that far, Geronimo and his braves would never be able to catch up with him. And just beyond there was the forest....
When he'd reached the trees he closed down the game. Nowadays he thought that his imagination was something he could turn on or off like a water tap. He went into the forest.
As the sun was already low in the sky, it seemed to be twilight in among the trees. The shadows were growing longer and longer among the thick trunks.
Then the path petered out. There was nothing but forest all around him.
Just one more step, Joel thought. If I take one more step the whole world will disappear.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell. Copyright © 2008 by Henning Mankell. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.