Good omens the nice and.., p.18
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.18

           Terry Pratchett
 

  “Oh.” Newt turned this over in his mind. “Oh. That’s very kind.”

  “Have you got any idea why we have been asked to bring you this message, sir?” said the toad.

  Newt brightened. “Well, er, I suppose,” he flailed, “what with Mankind’s, er, harnessing of the atom and—”

  “Neither have we, sir.” The toad stood up. “One of them phenomena, I expect. Well, we’d better be going.” It shook its head vaguely, turned around and waddled back to the saucer without another word.

  Newt stuck his head out of the window.

  “Thank you!”

  The small alien walked past the car.

  “CO2 level up 0.5 percent,” it rasped, giving him a meaningful look. “You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?”

  The two of them righted the third alien, dragged it back up the ramp, and shut the door.

  Newt waited for a while, in case there were any spectacular light displays, but it just stood there. Eventually he drove up on the verge and around it. When he looked in his rearview mirror it had gone.

  I must be overdoing something, he thought guiltily. But what?

  And I can’t even tell Shadwell, because he’d probably bawl me out for not counting their nipples.

  “ANYWAY,” SAID ADAM, “you’ve got it all wrong about witches.”

  The Them were sitting on a field gate, watching Dog rolling in cowpats. The little mongrel seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

  “I’ve been reading about them,” he said, in a slightly louder voice. “Actually, they’ve been right all along and it’s wrong to persecute ’em with British Inquisitions and stuff.”

  “My mother said they were just intelligent women protesting in the only way open to them against the stifling injustices of a male-dominated social hierarchy,” said Pepper.

  Pepper’s mother lectured at Norton Polytechnic.30

  “Yes, but your mother’s always saying things like that,” said Adam, after a while.

  Pepper nodded amiably. “And she said, at worst they were just free-thinking worshipers of the progenerative principle.”

  “Who’s the progenratty principle?” said Wensleydale.

  “Dunno. Something to do with maypoles, I think,” said Pepper vaguely.

  “Well, I thought they worshipped the Devil,” said Brian, but without automatic condemnation. The Them had an open mind on the whole subject of devil worship. The Them had an open mind about everything. “Anyway, the Devil’d be better than a stupid maypole.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” said Adam. “It’s not the Devil. It’s another god, or something. With horns.”

  “The Devil,” said Brian.

  “No,” said Adam patiently. “People just got ’em mixed up. He’s just got horns similar. He’s called Pan. He’s half a goat.”

  “Which half?” said Wensleydale.

  Adam thought about it.

  “The bottom half,” he said at length. “Fancy you not knowin’ that. I should of thought everyone knew that.”

  “Goats haven’t got a bottom half,” said Wensleydale. “They’ve got a front half and a back half. Just like cows.”

  They watched Dog some more, drumming their heels on the gate. It was too hot to think.

  Then Pepper said, “If he’s got goat legs, he shouldn’t have horns. They belong to the front half.”

  “I didn’t make him up, did I?” said Adam, aggrieved. “I was just telling you. It’s news to me I made him up. No need to go on at me.”

  “Anyway,” said Pepper. “This stupid Pot can’t go around complaining if people think he’s the Devil. Not with having horns on. People are bound to say, oh, here comes the Devil.”

  Dog started to dig up a rabbit hole.

  Adam, who seemed to have a weight on his mind, took a deep breath.

  “You don’t have to be so lit’ral about everything,” he said. “That’s the trouble these days. Grass materialism. ’S people like you who go round choppin’ down rain forests and makin’ holes in the ozone layer. There’s a great big hole in the ozone layer ’cos of grass materialism people like you.”

  “I can’t do anythin’ about it,” said Brian automatically. “I’m still paying off on a stupid cucumber frame.”

  “It’s in the magazine,” said Adam. “It takes millions of acres of rain forest to make one beefburger. And all this ozone is leakin’ away because of … ” he hesitated, “people sprayin’ the enviroment.”

  “And there’s whales,” said Wensleydale. “We’ve got to save ’em.”

  Adam looked blank. His plunder of New Aquarian’s back issues hadn’t included anything about whales. Its editors had assumed that the readers were all for saving whales in the same way they assumed that those readers breathed and walked upright.

  “There was this program about them,” explained Wensleydale.

  “What’ve we got to save ’em for?” said Adam. He had confused visions of saving up whales until you had enough for a badge.

  Wensleydale paused and racked his memory. “Because they can sing. And they’ve got big brains. There’s hardly any of them left. And we don’t need to kill them anyway ’cos they only make pet food and stuff.”

  “If they’re so clever,” said Brian, slowly, “what are they doin’ in the sea?”

  “Oh, I dunno,” said Adam, looking thoughtful. “Swimmin’ around all day, just openin’ their mouths and eating stuff … sounds pretty clever to me—”

  A squeal of brakes and a long drawn-out crunch interrupted him. They scrambled off the gate and ran up the lane to the crossroads, where a small car lay on its roof at the end of a long skidmark.

  A little further down the road was a hole. It looked as though the car had tried to avoid it. As they looked at it, a small Oriental-looking head darted out of sight.

  The Them dragged the door open and pulled out the unconscious Newt. Visions of medals for heroic rescue thronged Adam’s head. Practical considerations of first aid thronged around that of Wensleydale.

  “We shouldn’t move him,” he said. “Because of broken bones. We ought to get someone.”

  Adam cast around. There was a rooftop just visible in the trees down the road. It was Jasmine Cottage.

  And in Jasmine Cottage Anathema Device was sitting in front of a table on which some bandages, aspirins, and assorted first-aid items had been laid out for the past hour.

  ANATHEMA HAD BEEN looking at the clock. He’ll be coming around any moment now, she’d thought.

  And then, when he got there, he wasn’t what she’d been expecting. More precisely, he wasn’t what she’d been hoping for.

  She had been hoping, rather self-consciously, for someone tall, dark, and handsome.

  Newt was tall, but with a rolled-out, thin look. And while his hair was undoubtedly dark, it wasn’t any sort of fashion accessory; it was just a lot of thin, black strands all growing together out of the top of his head. This was not Newt’s fault; in his younger days he would go every couple of months to the barber’s shop on the corner, clutching a photograph he’d carefully torn from a magazine which showed someone with an impressively cool haircut grinning at the camera, and he would show the picture to the barber, and ask to be made to look like that, please. And the barber, who knew his job, would take one look and then give Newt the basic, all-purpose, short-back-and-sides. After a year of this, Newt realized that he obviously didn’t have the face that went with haircuts. The best Newton Pulsifer could hope for after a haircut was shorter hair.

  It was the same with suits. The clothing hadn’t been invented that would make him look suave and sophisticated and comfortable. These days he had learned to be satisfied with anything that would keep the rain off and give him somewhere to keep his change.

  And he wasn’t handsome. Not even when he took off his glasses.31 And, she discovered when she took off his shoes to lay him on her bed, he wor
e odd socks: one blue one, with a hole in the heel, and one gray one, with holes around the toes.

  I suppose I’m meant to feel a wave of warm, tender female something-or-other about this, she thought. I just wish he’d wash them.

  So … tall, dark, but not handsome. She shrugged. Okay. Two out of three isn’t bad.

  The figure on the bed began to stir. And Anathema, who in the very nature of things always looked to the future, suppressed her disappointment and said:

  “How are we feeling now?”

  Newt opened his eyes.

  He was lying in a bedroom, and it wasn’t his. He knew this instantly because of the ceiling. His bedroom ceiling still had the model aircraft hanging from bits of cotton. He’d never got around to taking them down.

  This ceiling just had cracked plaster. Newt had never been in a woman’s bedroom before, but he sensed that this was one largely by a combination of soft smells. There was a hint of talcum and lily-of-the-valley, and no rank suggestion of old T-shirts that had forgotten what the inside of a tumble-dryer looked like.

  He tried to lift his head up, groaned, and let it sink back onto the pillow. Pink, he couldn’t help noticing.

  “You banged your head on the steering wheel,” said the voice that had roused him. “Nothing broken, though. What happened?”

  Newt opened his eyes again.

  “Car all right?” he said.

  “Apparently. A little voice inside it keeps repeating ‘Prease to frasten sleat-bert.’”

  “See?” said Newt, to an invisible audience. “They knew how to build them in those days. That plastic finish hardly takes a dent.”

  He blinked at Anathema.

  “I swerved to avoid a Tibetan in the road,” he said. “At least, I think I did. I think I’ve probably gone mad.”

  The figure walked around into his line of sight. It had dark hair, and red lips, and green eyes, and it was almost certainly female. Newt tried not to stare. It said, “If you have, no one’s going to notice.” Then she smiled. “Do you know, I’ve never met a witchfinder before?”

  “Er—” Newt began. She held up his open wallet.

  “I had to look inside,” she said.

  Newt felt extremely embarrassed, a not unusual state of affairs. Shadwell had given him an official witchfinder’s warrant card, which among other things charged all beadles, magistrates, bishops, and bailiffs to give him free passage and as much dry kindling as he required. It was incredibly impressive, a masterpiece of calligraphy, and probably quite old. He’d forgotten about it.

  “It’s really just a hobby,” he said wretchedly. “I’m really a … a … ” he wasn’t going to say wages clerk, not here, not now, not to a girl like this, “a computer engineer,” he lied. Want to be, want to be; in my heart I’m a computer engineer, it’s only the brain that’s letting me down. “Excuse me, could I know—”

  “Anathema Device,” said Anathema. “I’m an occultist, but that’s just a hobby. I’m really a witch. Well done. You’re half an hour late,” she added, handing him a small sheet of cardboard, “so you’d better read this. It’ll save a lot of time.”

  NEWT DID IN FACT own a small home computer, despite his boyhood experiences. In fact, he’d owned several. You always knew which ones he owned. They were desktop equivalents of the Wasabi. They were the ones which, for example, dropped to half price just after he’d bought them. Or were launched in a blaze of publicity and disappeared into obscurity within a year. Or only worked at all if you stuck them in a fridge. Or, if by some fluke they were basically good machines, Newt always got the few that were sold with the early, bug-infested version of the operating system. But he persevered, because he believed.

  Adam also had a small computer. He used it for playing games, but never for very long. He’d load a game, watch it intently for a few minutes, and then proceed to play it until the High Score counter ran out of zeroes.

  When the other Them wondered about this strange skill, Adam professed mild amazement that everyone didn’t play games like this.

  “All you have to do is learn how to play it, and then it’s just easy,” he said.

  QUITE A LOT OF THE FRONT parlor in Jasmine Cottage was taken up, Newt noticed with a sinking feeling, with piles of newspapers. Clippings were stuck around the walls. Some of them had bits circled in red ink. He was mildly gratified to spot several he had cut out for Shadwell.

  Anathema owned very little in the way of furniture. The only thing she’d bothered to bring with her had been her clock, one of the family heirlooms. It wasn’t a full-cased grandfather clock, but a wall clock with a free-swinging pendulum that E. A. Poe would cheerfully have strapped someone under.

  Newt kept finding his eye drawn to it.

  “It was built by an ancestor of mine,” said Anathema, putting the coffee cups down on the table. “Sir Joshua Device. You may have heard of him? He invented the little rocking thing that made it possible to build accurate clocks cheaply? They named it after him.”

  “The Joshua?” said Newt guardedly.

  “The device.”

  In the last half hour Newt had heard some pretty unbelievable stuff and was close to believing it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

  “The device is named after a real person?” he said.

  “Oh, yes. Fine old Lancashire name. From the French, I believe. You’ll be telling me next you’ve never heard of Sir Humphrey Gadget—”

  “Oh, now come on—”

  “—who devised a gadget that made it possible to pump out flooded mineshafts. Or Pietr Gizmo? Or Cyrus T. Doodad, America’s foremost black inventor? Thomas Edison said that the only other contemporary practical scientists he admired were Cyrus T. Doodad and Ella Reader Widget. And—”

  She looked at Newt’s blank expression.

  “I did my Ph.D. on them,” she said. “The people who invented things so simple and universally useful that everyone forgot that they’d ever actually needed to be invented. Sugar?”

  “Er—”

  “You normally have two,” said Anathema sweetly.

  Newt stared back at the card she’d handed him.

  She’d seemed to think it would explain everything.

  It didn’t.

  It had a ruled line down the middle. On the left-hand side was a short piece of what seemed to be poetry, in black ink. On the right-hand side, in red ink this time, were comments and annotations. The effect was as follows:

  3819: When Orient’s chariot inverted be, four wheles in the skye, a man with bruises be upon Youre Bedde, achinge his hedd for willow fine, a manne who testeth with a pyn yette his hart be clene, yette seed of myne own undoing, take the means of flame from himme for to mayk ryght certain, together ye sharle be, untyl the Ende that is to come. [Japanese car? Upturned. Car smash … not serious injury?? . . . take in … . . . willowfine = Aspirin (cf.3757) Pin = witchfinder (cf.102) Good witchfinder?? Refers to Pulsifer (cf.002) Search for matches, etc. In the 1990s! . . .. … hmm … . . . less than a day (cf.712, 3803, 4004)]

  Newt’s hand went automatically to his pocket. His cigarette lighter had gone.

  “What’s this mean?” he said hoarsely.

  “Have you ever heard of Agnes Nutter?” said Anathema.

  “No,” said Newt, taking a desperate defense in sarcasm. “You’re going to tell me she invented mad people, I suppose.”

  “Another fine old Lancashire name,” said Anathema coldly. “If you don’t believe, read up on the witch trials of the early seventeenth century. She was an ancestress of mine. As a matter of fact, one of your ancestors burned her alive. Or tried to.”

  Newt listened in fascinated horror to the story of Agnes Nutter’s death.

  “Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer?” he said, when she’d finished.

  “That sort of name was quite common in those days,” said Anathema. “Apparently there were ten children and they were a very religious family. There was Covetousness Pulsifer, False-Witness Pulsifer—”


  “I think I understand,” said Newt. “Gosh. I thought Shadwell said he’d heard the name before. It must be in the Army records. I suppose if I’d gone around being called Adultery Pulsifer I’d want to hurt as many people as possible.”

  “I think he just didn’t like women very much.”

  “Thanks for taking it so well,” said Newt. “I mean, he must have been an ancestor. There aren’t many Pulsifers. Maybe … that’s why I sort of met up with the Witchfinder Army? Could be Fate,” he said hopefully.

  She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No such thing.”

  “Anyway, witchfinding isn’t like it was in those days. I don’t even think old Shadwell’s ever done more than kick over Doris Stokes’s dustbins.”

  “Between you and me, Agnes was a bit of a difficult character,” said Anathema, vaguely. “She had no middle gears.”

  Newt waved the bit of paper.

  “But what’s it got to do with this?” he said.

  “She wrote it. Well, the original. It’s No. 3819 of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, first published 1655.”

  Newt stared at the prophecy again. His mouth opened and shut.

  “She knew I’d crash my car?” he said.

  “Yes. No. Probably not. It’s hard to say. You see, Agnes was the worst prophet that’s ever existed. Because she was always right. That’s why the book never sold.”

  MOST PSYCHIC ABILITIES are caused by a simple lack of temporal focus, and the mind of Agnes Nutter was so far adrift in Time that she was considered pretty mad even by the standards of seventeenth-century Lancashire, where mad prophetesses were a growth industry.

  But she was a treat to listen to, everyone agreed.

  She used to go on about curing illnesses by using a sort of mold, and the importance of washing your hands so that the tiny little animals who caused diseases would be washed away, when every sensible person knew that a good stink was the only defense against the demons of ill health. She advocated running at a sort of gentle bouncing trot as an aid to living longer, which was extremely suspicious and first put the Witchfinders onto her, and stressed the importance of fiber in diet, although here she was clearly ahead of her time since most people were less bothered about the fiber in their diet than the gravel. And she wouldn’t cure warts.

 
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