Anathema Device – her mother, who was not a great student of religious matters, happened to read the word one day and thought it was a lovely name for a girl—was eight and a half years old, and she was reading The Book, under the bedclothes, with a torch.
Other children learned to read on basic primers with colored pictures of apples, balls, cockroaches, and so forth. Not the Device family. Anathema had learned to read from The Book.
It didn’t have any apples and balls in it. It did have a rather good eighteenth-century woodcut of Agnes Nutter being burned at the stake and looking rather cheerful about it.
The first word she could recognize was nice. Very few people at the age of eight and a half know that nice also means “scrupulously exact,” but Anathema was one of them.
The second word was accurate.
The first sentence she had ever read out loud was:
“I tell ye thif, and I charge ye with my wordes. Four shalle ryde, and Four shalle alfo ryde, and Three sharl ryde the Skye as twixt, and Wonne shal ryde in flames; and theyr shall be no stopping themme: not fish, nor rayne, nor rode, neither Deville nor Angel. And ye shalle be theyr alfo, Anathema.”
Anathema liked to read about herself.
(There were books which caring parents who read the right Sunday papers could purchase with their children’s names printed in as the heroine or hero. This was meant to interest the child in the book. In Anathema’s case, it wasn’t only her in The Book—and it had been spot on so far—but her parents, and her grandparents, and everyone, back to the seventeenth century. She was too young and too self-centered at this point to attach any importance to the fact that there was no mention made of her children, or indeed, any events in her future further away than eleven years’ time. When you’re eight and a half, eleven years is a lifetime, and of course, if you believed The Book, it would be.)
A seventeenth-century tome, pages lined with witching herbs and lightly spattered by gunpowder residue.