NICE and ACCURATE
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The authors would like to join the demon Crowley
in dedicating this book to the memory of
G. K. CHESTERTON
A man who knew what was going on.
In the beginning
Eleven Years Ago
About the Authors
Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman
Also by Terry Pratchett
Also by Neil Gaiman
About the Publisher
People say: What was it like writing Good Omens?
And we say: We were just a couple of guys, okay? We still are. It was a summer job. We had a great time doing it, we split the money in half, and we swore never to do it again. We didn’t think it was important.
And, in a way, it still isn’t. Good Omens was written by two people who at the time were not at all well known except by the people who already knew them. They weren’t even certain it would sell. They certainly didn’t know they were going to write the most repaired book in the world. (Believe us: We have signed a delightfully large number of paperbacks that have been dropped in the bath, gone a worrying brown color, got repaired with sticky tape and string, and, in one case, consisted entirely of loose pages in a plastic bag. On the other hand, there was the guy who’d had a special box made up of walnut and silver filigree, with the paperback nestling inside on black velvet. There were silver runes on the lid. We didn’t ask.) Etiquette tip: It’s okay, more or less, to ask an author to sign your arm, but not good manners to then nip around to the tattoo parlor next door and return half an hour later to show them the inflamed result.
We didn’t know we’d do some signing tours that would be weird even by our generous standards, talking about humor in fifteen-second bursts in between newsflashes about the horrific hostage situation down at the local Burger King, being interviewed by an ill-prepared New York radio presenter who hadn’t got the message that Good Omens was a work of what we in the trade call “fiction,” and getting a stern pre-interview warning about swearing from the diminutive Director of Protocol of a public-service radio station “because you English use bad language all the time.”
In fact, neither of us swear much, especially not on the radio, but for the next hour we found ourselves automatically speaking in very short, carefully scanned sentences, while avoiding each other’s eyes.
And then there were the readers, Gawd bless them. We must have signed hundreds of thousands of copies for them by now. The books are often well read to the point of physical disintegration; if
we run across a shiny new copy, it’s usually because the owner’s previous five have been stolen by friends, struck by lightning or eaten by giant termites in Sumatra. You have been warned. Oh, and we understand there’s a copy in the Vatican library. It’d be nice to think so.
It’s been fun. And it continues.
IT WAS A NICE DAY.
All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn’t been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.
The angel of the Eastern Gate put his wings over his head to shield himself from the first drops.
“I’m sorry,” he said politely. “What was it you were saying?”
“I said, that one went down like a lead balloon,” said the serpent.
“Oh. Yes,” said the angel, whose name was Aziraphale.
“I think it was a bit of an overreaction, to be honest,” said the serpent. “I mean, first offense and everything. I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway.”
“It must be bad,” reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can’t see it either, and is worrying about it, “otherwise you wouldn’t have been involved.”
“They just said, Get up there and make some trouble,” said the serpent, whose name was Crawly, although he was thinking of changing it now. Crawly, he’d decided, was not him.
“Yes, but you’re a demon. I’m not sure if it’s actually possible for you to do good,” said Aziraphale. “It’s down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand.”
“You’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a pantomime, though,” said Crawly. “I mean, pointing out the Tree and saying ‘Don’t Touch’ in big letters. Not very subtle, is it? I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain or a long way off? Makes you wonder what He’s really planning.”
“Best not to speculate, really,” said Aziraphale. “You can’t second-guess ineffability, I always say. There’s Right, and there’s Wrong. If you do Wrong when you’re told to do Right, you deserve to be punished. Er.”
They sat in embarrassed silence, watching the raindrops bruise the first flowers.
Eventually Crawly said, “Didn’t you have a flaming sword?”
“Er,” said the angel. A guilty expression passed across his face, and then came back and camped there.
“You did, didn’t you?” said Crawly. “It flamed like anything.”
“It looked very impressive, I thought.”
“Yes, but, well—”
“Lost it, have you?”
“Oh no! No, not exactly lost, more—”
Aziraphale looked wretched. “If you must know,” he said, a trifle testily, “I gave it away.”
Crawly stared up at him.
“Well, I had to,” said the angel, rubbing his hands distractedly. “They looked so cold, poor things, and she’s expecting already, and what with the vicious animals out there and the storm coming up I thought, well, where’s the harm, so I just said, look, if you come back there’s going to be an almighty row, but you might be needing this sword, so here it is, don’t bother to thank me, just do everyone a big favor and don’t let the sun go down on you here.”
He gave Crawly a worried grin.
“That was the best course, wasn’t it?”
“I’m not sure it’s actually possible for you to do evil,” said Crawly sarcastically. Aziraphale didn’t notice the tone.
“Oh, I do hope so,” he said. “I really do hope so. It’s been worrying me all afternoon.”
They watched the rain for a while.
“Funny thing is,” said Crawly, “I keep wondering whether the apple thing wasn’t the right thing to do, as well. A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing.” He nudged the angel. “Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?”
“Not really,” said Aziraphale.
Crawly looked at the rain.
“No,” he said, sobering up. “I suppose not.”
Slate-black curtains tumbled over Eden. Thunder growled among the hills. The animals, freshly named, cowered from the storm.
Far away, in the dripping woods, something bright and fiery flickered among the trees.
It was going to be a dark and stormy night.
A Narrative of Certain Events occurring in the
last eleven ye
ars of human history, in strict accordance
as shall be shewn with:
The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter
Compiled and edited, with Footnotes of an
by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
Metatron (The Voice of God)
Aziraphale (An angel, and part-time rare book dealer)
Satan (A Fallen Angel; the Adversary)
Beelzebub (A Likewise Fallen Angel and Prince of Hell)
Hastur (A Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)
Ligur (Likewise a Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)
Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall
as Saunter Vaguely Downwards)
Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer (A Witchfinder)
Agnes Nutter (A Prophetess)
Newton Pulsifer (Wages Clerk and Witchfinder Private)
(Practical Occultist and Professional Descendant)
Shadwell (Witchfinder Sergeant)
(Painted Jezebel [mornings only,
Thursdays by arrangement] and Medium)
Sister Mary Loquacious
(A Satanic Nun of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl)
Mr. Young (A Father)
Mr. Tyler (A Chairman of a Residents’ Association)
A Delivery Man
ADAM (An Antichrist)
Pepper (A Girl)
Wensleydale (A Boy)
Brian (A Boy)
Full Chorus of Tibetans, Aliens, Americans, Atlanteans
and other rare and strange Creatures of the Last Days.
Dog (Satanical hellhound and cat-worrier)
Eleven Years Ago
CURRENT THEORIES on the creation of the Universe state that, if it was created at all and didn’t just start, as it were, unofficially, it came into being between ten and twenty thousand million years ago. By the same token the earth itself is generally supposed to be about four and a half thousand million years old.
These dates are incorrect.
Medieval Jewish scholars put the date of the Creation at 3760 B.C. Greek Orthodox theologians put Creation as far back as 5508 B.C.
These suggestions are also incorrect.
Archbishop James Usher (1580–1656) published Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti in 1654, which suggested that the Heaven and the Earth were created in 4004 B.C. One of his aides took the calculation further, and was able to announce triumphantly that the Earth was created on Sunday the 21st of October, 4004 B.C., at exactly 9:00 A.M., because God liked to get work done early in the morning while he was feeling fresh.
This too was incorrect. By almost a quarter of an hour.
The whole business with the fossilized dinosaur skeletons was a joke the paleontologists haven’t seen yet.
This proves two things:
Firstly, that God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players,1 to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
Secondly, the Earth’s a Libra.
The astrological prediction for Libra in the “Your Stars Today” column of the Tadfield Advertiser, on the day this history begins, read as follows:
LIBRA. September 24–October 23.
You may be feeling run down and always in the same old daily round. Home and family matters are highlighted and are hanging fire. Avoid unnecessary risks. A friend is important to you. Shelve major decisions until the way ahead seems clear. You may be vulnerable to a stomach upset today, so avoid salads. Help could come from an unexpected quarter.
This was perfectly correct on every count except for the bit about the salads.
IT WASN’T A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
It should have been, but that’s the weather for you. For every mad scientist who’s had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who’ve sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime.
But don’t let the fog (with rain later, temperatures dropping to around forty-five degrees) give anyone a false sense of security. Just because it’s a mild night doesn’t mean that dark forces aren’t abroad. They’re abroad all the time. They’re everywhere.
They always are. That’s the whole point.
Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic-grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded “Born to Lurk,” these two would have been on the album cover. They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn.
Finally, after another twenty minutes, one of them said: “Bugger this for a lark. He should of been here hours ago.”
The speaker’s name was Hastur. He was a Duke of Hell.
MANY PHENOMENA—wars, plagues, sudden audits—have been advanced as evidence for the hidden hand of Satan in the affairs of Man, but whenever students of demonology get together the M25 London orbital motorway is generally agreed to be among the top contenders for Exhibit A.
Where they go wrong, of course, is in assuming that the wretched road is evil simply because of the incredible carnage and frustration it engenders every day.
In fact, very few people on the face of the planet know that the very shape of the M25 forms the sigil odegra in the language of the Black Priesthood of Ancient Mu, and means “Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds.” The thousands of motorists who daily fume their way around its serpentine lengths have the same effect as water on a prayer wheel, grinding out an endless fog of low-grade evil to pollute the metaphysical atmosphere for scores of miles around.
It was one of Crowley’s better achievements. It had taken years to achieve, and had involved three computer hacks, two break-ins, one minor bribery and, on one wet night when all else had failed, two hours in a squelchy field shifting the marker pegs a few but occultly incredibly significant meters. When Crowley had watched the first thirty-mile-long tailback he’d experienced the lovely warm feeling of a bad job well done.
It had earned him a commendation.
Crowley was currently doing 110 mph somewhere east of Slough. Nothing about him looked particularly demonic, at least by classical standards. No horns, no wings. Admittedly he was listening to a Best of Queen tape, but no conclusions should be drawn from this because all tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums. No particularly demonic thoughts were going through his head. In fact, he was currently wondering vaguely who Moey and Chandon were.
Crowley had dark hair and good cheekbones and he was wearing snakeskin shoes, or at least presumably he was wearing shoes, and he could do really weird things with his tongue. And, whenever he forgot himself, he had a tendency to hiss.
He also didn’t blink much.
The car he was driving was a 1926 black Bentley, one owner from new, and that owner had been Crowley. He’d looked after it.
The reason he was late was that he was enjoying the twentieth century immensely. It was much better than the seventeenth, and a lot better than the fourteenth. One of the nice things about Time, Crowley always said, was that it was steadily taking him further away from the fourteenth century, the most blo
ody boring hundred years on God’s, excuse his French, Earth. The twentieth century was anything but boring. In fact, a flashing blue light in his rearview mirror had been telling Crowley, for the last fifty seconds, that he was being followed by two men who would like to make it even more interesting for him.
He glanced at his watch, which was designed for the kind of rich deep-sea diver who likes to know what the time is in twenty-one world capitals while he’s down there.2
The Bentley thundered up the exit ramp, took the corner on two wheels, and plunged down a leafy road. The blue light followed.
Crowley sighed, took one hand from the wheel, and, half turning, made a complicated gesture over his shoulder.
The flashing light dimmed into the distance as the police car rolled to a halt, much to the amazement of its occupants. But it would be nothing to the amazement they’d experience when they opened the hood and found out what the engine had turned into.
IN THE GRAVEYARD, Hastur, the tall demon, passed a dogend back to Ligur, the shorter one and the more accomplished lurker.
“I can see a light,” he said. “Here he comes now, the flash bastard.”
“What’s that he’s drivin’?” said Ligur.
“It’s a car. A horseless carriage,” explained Hastur. “I expect they didn’t have them last time you was here. Not for what you might call general use.”
“They had a man at the front with a red flag,” said Ligur.
“They’ve come on a bit since then, I reckon.”
“What’s this Crowley like?” said Ligur.
Hastur spat. “He’s been up here too long,” he said. “Right from the Start. Gone native, if you ask me. Drives a car with a telephone in it.”
Ligur pondered this. Like most demons, he had a very limited grasp of technology, and so he was just about to say something like, I bet it needs a lot of wire, when the Bentley rolled to a halt at the cemetery gate.