Good omens the nice and.., p.13
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.13

           Terry Pratchett
 

  “Any spaceships in it?”

  “Not many,” said Anathema.

  “Robots?” said Adam hopefully.

  “Sorry.”

  “Doesn’t sound very nice to me, then,” said Adam. “Don’t see what the future’s got in it if there’s no robots and spaceships.”

  About three days, thought Anathema glumly. That’s what it’s got in it.

  “Would you like a lemonade?” she said.

  Adam hesitated. Then he decided to take the bull by the horns.

  “Look, ’scuse me for askin’, if it’s not a personal question, but are you a witch?” he said.

  Anathema narrowed her eyes. So much for Mrs. Henderson poking around.

  “Some people might say so,” she said. “Actually, I’m an occultist.”

  “Oh. Well. That’s all right, then,” said Adam, cheering up.

  She looked him up and down.

  “You know what an occultist is, do you?” she said.

  “Oh, yes,” said Adam confidently.

  “Well, so long as you’re happier now,” said Anathema. “Come on in. I could do with a drink myself. And … Adam Young?”

  “Yes?”

  “You were thinking ‘Nothin’ wrong with my eyes, they don’t need examining,’ weren’t you?”

  “Who, me?” said Adam guiltily.

  DOG WAS THE PROBLEM. He wouldn’t go in the cottage. He crouched on the doorstep, growling.

  “Come on, you silly dog,” said Adam. “It’s only old Jasmine Cottage.” He gave Anathema an embarrassed look. “Normally he does everything I say, right off.”

  “You can leave him in the garden,” said Anathema.

  “No,” said Adam. “He’s got to do what he’s tole. I read it in a book. Trainin’ is very important. Any dog can be trained, it said. My father said I can only keep him if he’s prop’ly trained. Now, Dog. Go inside.”

  Dog whined and gave him a pleading look. His stubby tail thumped on the floor once or twice.

  His Master’s voice.

  With extreme reluctance, as if making progress in the teeth of a gale, he slunk over the doorstep.

  “There,” said Adam proudly. “Good boy.”

  And a little bit more of Hell burned away …

  Anathema shut the door.

  There had always been a horseshoe over the door of Jasmine Cottage, ever since its first tenant centuries before; the Black Death was all the rage at the time and he’d considered that he could use all the protection he could get.

  It was corroded and half covered with the paint of centuries. So neither Adam nor Anathema gave it a thought, or noticed how it was now cooling from a white heat.

  Aziraphale’s cocoa was stone cold.

  The only sound in the room was the occasional turning of a page.

  Every now and again there was a rattling at the door when prospective customers of Intimate Books next door mistook the entrance. He ignored it.

  Occasionally he would very nearly swear.

  ANATHEMA HADN’T REALLY made herself at home in the cottage. Most of her implements were piled up on the table. It looked interesting. It looked, in fact, as though a voodoo priest had just had the run of a scientific equipment store.

  “Brilliant!” said Adam, prodding at it. “What’s the thing with the three legs?”

  “It’s a theodolite,” said Anathema from the kitchen. “It’s for tracking ley-lines.”

  “What are they, then?” said Adam.

  She told him.

  “Cor,” he said. “Are they?”

  “Yes.”

  “All over the place?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’ve never seen ’em. Amazin’, there bein’ all these invisible lines of force around and me not seeing ’em.”

  Adam didn’t often listen, but he spent the most enthralling twenty minutes of his life, or at least of his life that day. No one in the Young household so much as touched wood or threw salt over their shoulder. The only nod in the direction of the supernatural was a half-hearted pretense, when Adam had been younger, that Father Christmas came down the chimney.22

  He’d been starved of anything more occult than a Harvest Festival. Her words poured into his mind like water into a quire of blotting paper.

  Dog lay under the table and growled. He was beginning to have serious doubts about himself.

  Anathema didn’t only believe in ley-lines, but in seals, whales, bicycles, rain forests, whole grain in loaves, recycled paper, white South Africans out of South Africa, and Americans out of practically everywhere down to and including Long Island. She didn’t compartmentalize her beliefs. They were welded into one enormous, seamless belief, compared with which that held by Joan of Arc seemed a mere idle notion. On any scale of mountain moving it shifted at least point five of an alp.23

  No one had even used the word environment in Adam’s hearing before. The South American rain forests were a closed book to Adam, and it wasn’t even made of recycled paper.

  The only time he interrupted her was to agree with her views on nuclear power: “I’ve been to a nucular power station. It was boring. There was no green smoke and bubbling stuff in tubes. Shouldn’t be allowed, not having proper bubbling stuff when people have come all the way to see it, and having just a lot of men standin’ around not even wearin’ space suits.”

  “They do all the bubbling after visitors have gone home,” said Anathema grimly.

  “Huh,” said Adam.

  “They should be done away with this minute.”

  “Serve them right for not bubblin’,” said Adam.

  Anathema nodded. She was still trying to put her finger on what was so odd about Adam, and then she realized what it was.

  He had no aura.

  She was quite an expert on auras. She could see them, if she stared hard enough. They were a little glow of light around people’s heads, and according to a book she’d read the color told you things about their health and general well-being. Everyone had one. In mean-minded, closed-in people they were a faint, trembling outline, whereas expansive and creative people might have one extending several inches from the body.

  She’d never heard of anyone without one, but she couldn’t see one around Adam at all. Yet he seemed cheerful, enthusiastic, and as well-balanced as a gyroscope.

  Maybe I’m just tired, she thought.

  Anyway, she was pleased and gratified to find such a rewarding student, and even loaned him some copies of New Aquarian Digest, a small magazine edited by a friend of hers.

  It changed his life. At least, it changed his life for that day.

  To his parents’ astonishment he went to bed early, and then lay under the blankets until after midnight with a torch, the magazines, and a bag of lemon drops. The occasional “Brilliant!” emerged from his ferocious-chewing mouth.

  When the batteries ran out he emerged into the darkened room and lay back with his head pillowed in his hands, apparently watching the squadron of X-wing™ fighters that hung from the ceiling. They moved gently in the night breeze.

  But Adam wasn’t really watching them. He was staring instead into the brightly lit panorama of his own imagination, which was whirling like a fairground.

  This wasn’t Wensleydale’s aunt and a wineglass. This sort of occulting was a lot more interesting.

  Besides, he liked Anathema. Of course, she was very old, but when Adam liked someone he wanted to make them happy.

  He wondered how he could make Anathema happy.

  It used to be thought that the events that changed the world

  were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that really change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in

  the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.

  Somewhere in Ada
m’s sleeping head, a butterfly had emerged.

  It might, or might not, have helped Anathema get a clear view of things if she’d been allowed to spot the very obvious reason why she couldn’t see Adam’s aura.

  It was for the same reason that people in Trafalgar Square can’t see England.

  Alarms went off.

  Of course, there’s nothing special about alarms going off in the control room of a nuclear power station. They do it all the time. It’s because there are so many dials and meters and things that something important might not get noticed if it doesn’t at least beep.

  And the job of Shift Charge Engineer calls for a solid, capable, unflappable kind of man, the kind you can depend upon not to make a beeline for the car-park in an emergency. The kind of man, in fact, who gives the impression of smoking a pipe even when he’s not.

  It was 3:00 A.M. in the control room of Turning Point power station, normally a nice quiet time when there is nothing much to do but fill in the log and listen to the distant roar of the turbines.

  Until now.

  Horace Gander looked at the flashing red lights. Then he looked at some dials. Then he looked at the faces of his fellow workers. Then he raised his eyes to the big dial at the far end of the room. Four hundred and twenty practically dependable and very nearly cheap megawatts were leaving the station. According to the other dials, nothing was producing them.

  He didn’t say “That’s weird.” He wouldn’t have said “That’s weird” if a flock of sheep had cycled past playing violins. It wasn’t the sort of thing a responsible engineer said.

  What he did say was: “Alf, you’d better ring the station manager.”

  Three very crowded hours went past. They involved quite a lot of phone calls, telexes, and faxes. Twenty-seven people were got out of bed in quick succession and they got another fifty-three out of bed, because if there is one thing a man wants to know when he’s woken up in a panic at 4:00 A.M., it’s that he’s not alone.

  Anyway, you need all sorts of permissions before they let you unscrew the lid of a nuclear reactor and look inside.

  They got them. They unscrewed it. They had a look inside.

  Horace Gander said, “There’s got to be a sensible reason for this. Five hundred tons of uranium don’t just get up and walk away.”

  A meter in his hand should have been screaming. Instead, it let out the occasional halfhearted tick.

  Where the reactor should have been was an empty space. You could have had quite a nice game of squash in it.

  Right at the bottom, all alone in the center of the bright cold floor, was a lemon drop.

  Outside in the cavernous turbine hall the machines roared on.

  And, a hundred miles away, Adam Young turned over in his sleep.

  Friday

  RAVEN SABLE, slim and bearded and dressed all in black, sat in the back of his slimline black limousine, talking on his slimline black telephone to his West Coast base.

  “How’s it going?” he asked.

  “Looking good, chief,” said his marketing head. “I’m doing breakfast with the buyers from all the leading supermarket chains tomorrow. No problem. We’ll have MEALS™ in all the stores this time next month.”

  “Good work, Nick.”

  “No problem. No problem. It’s knowing you’re behind us, Rave. You give great leadership, guy. Works for me every time.”

  “Thank you,” said Sable, and he broke the connection.

  He was particularly proud of MEALS™.

  The Newtrition corporation had started small, eleven years ago. A small team of food scientists, a huge team of marketing and public relations personnel, and a neat logo.

  Two years of Newtrition investment and research had produced CHOW™. CHOW™ contained spun, plaited, and woven protein molecules, capped and coded, carefully designed to be ignored by even the most ravenous digestive tract enzymes; no-cal sweeteners; mineral oils replacing vegetable oils; fibrous materials, colorings, and flavorings. The end result was a foodstuff almost indistinguishable from any other except for two things. Firstly, the price, which was slightly higher, and secondly the nutritional content, which was roughly equivalent to that of a Sony Walkman. It didn’t matter how much you ate, you lost weight.24

  Fat people had bought it. Thin people who didn’t want to get fat had bought it. CHOW™ was the ultimate diet food—carefully spun, woven, textured, and pounded to imitate anything, from potatoes to venison, although the chicken sold best.

  Sable sat back and watched the money roll in. He watched CHOW™ gradually fill the ecological niche that used to be filled by the old, untrademarked food.

  He followed CHOW™ with SNACKS™—junk food made from real junk.

  MEALS™ was Sable’s latest brainwave.

  MEALS™ was CHOW™ with added sugar and fat. The theory was that if you ate enough MEALS™ you would a) get very fat, and b) die of malnutrition.

  The paradox delighted Sable.

  MEALS™ were currently being tested all over America. Pizza MEALS, Fish MEALS, Szechuan MEALS, macrobiotic rice MEALS. Even Hamburger MEALS.

  Sable’s limousine was parked in the lot of a Des Moines, Iowa, Burger Lord—a fast food franchise wholly owned by his organization. It was here they’d been piloting Hamburger MEALS for the last six months. He wanted to see what kind of results they’d been getting.

  He leaned forward, tapped the chauffeur’s glass partition. The chauffeur pressed a switch, and the glass slid open.

  “Sir?”

  “I’m going to take a look at our operation, Marlon. I’ll be ten minutes. Then back to L.A.”

  “Sir.”

  Sable sauntered into the Burger Lord. It was exactly like every other Burger Lord in America.25 McLordy the Clown danced in the Kiddie Korner. The serving staff had identical gleaming smiles that never reached their eyes. And behind the counter a chubby, middle-aged man in a Burger Lord uniform slapped burgers onto the griddle, whistling softly, happy in his work.

  Sable went up to the counter.

  “Hello-my-name-is-Marie,” said the girl behind the counter. “How-can-I-help-you?”

  “A double blaster thunder biggun, extra fries, hold the mustard,” he said.

  “Anything-to-drink?”

  “A special thick whippy chocobanana shake.”

  She pressed the little pictogram squares on her till. (Literacy was no longer a requirement for employment in these restaurants. Smiling was.) Then she turned to the chubby man behind the counter.

  “DBTB, E F, hold mustard,” she said. “Choc-shake.”

  “Uhnnhuhn,” crooned the cook. He sorted the food into little paper containers, pausing only to brush the graying cowlick from his eyes.

  “Here y’are,” he said.

  She took them without looking at him, and he returned cheerfully to his griddle, singing quietly, “Loooove me tender, looooove me long, neeever let me go … ”

  The man’s humming, Sable noted, clashed with the Burger Lord background music, a tinny tape loop of the Burger Lord commercial jingle, and he made a mental note to have him fired.

  Hello-my-name-is-Marie gave Sable his MEAL™ and told him to have a nice day.

  He found a small plastic table, sat down in the plastic seat, and examined his food.

  Artificial bread roll. Artificial burger. Fries that had never even seen potatoes. Foodless sauces. Even (and Sable was especially pleased with this) an artificial slice of dill pickle. He didn’t bother to examine his milkshake. It had no actual food content, but then again, neither did those sold by any of his rivals.

  All around him people were eating their unfood with, if not actual evidence of enjoyment, then with no more actual disgust than was to be found in burger chains all over the planet.

  He stood up, took his tray over to the please dispose of your refuse with care receptacle, and dumped the whole thing. If you had told him that there were children starving in Africa he would have been flattered that you’d noticed.

 
; There was a tug at his sleeve. “Party name of Sable?” asked a small, bespectacled man in an International Express cap, holding a brown paper parcel.

  Sable nodded.

  “Thought it was you. Looked around, thought, tall gent with a beard, nice suit, can’t be that many of them here. Package for you, sir.”

  Sable signed for it, his real name—one word, six letters. Sounds like examine.

  “Thank you kindly, sir,” said the delivery man. He paused. “Here,” he said. “That bloke behind the counter. Does he remind you of anyone?”

  “No,” said Sable. He gave the man a tip—five dollars—and opened the package.

  In it was a small pair of brass scales.

  Sable smiled. It was a slim smile, and was gone almost instantly.

  “About time,” he said. He thrust the scales into his pocket, unheeding of the damage being done to the sleek line of his black suit, and went back to the limo.

  “Back to the office?” asked the chauffeur.

  “The airport,” said Sable. “And call ahead. I want a ticket to England.”

  “Yessir. Return ticket to England.”

  Sable fingered the scales in his pocket. “Make that a single,” he said. “I’ll be making my own way back. Oh, and call the office for me, cancel all appointments.”

  “How long for, sir?”

  “The foreseeable future.”

  And in the Burger Lord, behind the counter, the stout man with the cowlick slid another half-dozen burgers onto the grill. He was the happiest man in the whole world and he was singing, very softly.

  “. . . y’ain’t never caught a rabbit,” he hummed to himself, “and y’ain’t no friend of mine … ”

  THE THEM LISTENED with interest. There was a light drizzle which was barely kept at bay by the old iron sheets and frayed bits of lino that roofed their den in the quarry, and they always looked to Adam to think up things to do when it was raining. They weren’t disappointed. Adam’s eyes were agleam with the joy of knowledge.

  It had been 3:00 a.m. before he’d gone to sleep under a pile of New Aquarians.

  “An’ then there was this man called Charles Fort,” he said. “He could make it rain fish and frogs and stuff.”

 
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