Good omens the nice and.., p.19
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.19
 

           Terry Pratchett

  “Itt is alle in youre Minde,” she’d say, “fogett about Itte, ane it wille goe Away.”

  It was obvious that Agnes had a line to the Future, but it was an unusually narrow and specific line. In other words, almost totally useless.

  “How do you mean?” said Newt.

  “She managed to come up with the kind of predictions that you can only understand after the thing has happened,” said Anathema. “Like ‘Do Notte Buye Betamacks.’ That was a prediction for 1972.”

  “You mean she predicted videotape recorders?”

  “No! She just picked up one little fragment of information,” said Anathema. “That’s the point. Most of the time she comes up with such an oblique reference that you can’t work it out until it’s gone past, and then it all slots into place. And she didn’t know what was going to be important or not, so it’s all a bit hit and miss. Her prediction for November 22, 1963, was about a house falling down in King’s Lynn.”

  “Oh?” Newt looked politely blank.

  “President Kennedy was assassinated,” said Anathema helpfully. “But Dallas didn’t exist then, you see. Whereas King’s Lynn was quite important.”

  “Oh.”

  “She was generally very good if her descendants were involved.”

  “Oh?”

  “And she wouldn’t know anything about the internal combustion engine. To her they were just funny chariots. Even my mother thought it referred to an Emperor’s carriage overturning. You see, it’s not enough to know what the future is. You have to know what it means. Agnes was like someone looking at a huge picture down a tiny little tube. She wrote down what seemed like good advice based on what she understood of the tiny little glimpses.

  “Sometimes you can be lucky,” Anathema went on. “My great-grandfather worked out about the stock market crash of 1929, for example, two days before it actually happened. Made a fortune. You could say we’re professional descendants.”

  She looked sharply at Newt. “You see, what no one ever realized until about two hundred years ago is that The Nice and Accurate Prophecies was Agnes’s idea of a family heirloom. Many of the prophecies relate to her descendants and their well-being. She was sort of trying to look after us after she’d gone. That’s the reason for the King’s Lynn prophecy, we think. My father was visiting there at the time, so from Agnes’s point of view, while he was unlikely to be struck by stray rounds from Dallas, there was a good chance he might be hit by a brick.”

  “What a nice person,” said Newt. “You could almost overlook her blowing up an entire village.”

  Anathema ignored this. “Anyway, that’s about it,” she said. “Ever since then we’ve made it our job to interpret them. After all, it averages out at about one prophecy a month—more now, in fact, as we get closer to the end of the world.”

  “And when is that going to be?” said Newt.

  Anathema looked meaningfully at the clock.

  He gave a horrible little laugh that he hoped sounded suave and worldly. After the events so far today, he wasn’t feeling very sane. And he could smell Anathema’s perfume, which made him uncomfortable.

  “Think yourself lucky I don’t need a stopwatch,” said Anathema. “We’ve got, oh, about five or six hours.”

  Newt turned this over in his mind. Thus far in his life he’d never had the urge to drink alcohol, but something told him there had to be a first time.

  “Do witches keep drink in the house?” he ventured.

  “Oh, yes.” She smiled the sort of smile Agnes Nutter probably smiled when unpacking the contents of her lingerie drawer. “Green bubbly stuff with strange Things squirming on the congealing surface. You should know that.”

  “Fine. Got any ice?”

  It turned out to be gin. There was ice. Anathema, who had picked up witchcraft as she went along, disapproved of liquor in general but approved of it in her specific case.

  “Did I tell you about the Tibetan coming out of a hole in the road?” Newt said, relaxing a bit.

  “Oh, I know about them,” she said, shuffling the papers on the table. “The two of them came out of the front lawn yesterday. The poor things were quite bewildered, so I gave them a cup of tea and then they borrowed a spade and went down again. I don’t think they quite know what they’re supposed to be doing.”

  Newt felt slightly aggrieved. “How did you know they were Tibetan?” he said.

  “If it comes to that, how did you know? Did he go ‘Ommm’ when you hit him?”

  “Well, he—he looked Tibetan,” said Newt. “Saffron robes, bald head … you know … Tibetan.”

  “One of mine spoke quite good English. It seems that one minute he was repairing radios in Lhasa, next minute he was in a tunnel. He doesn’t know how he’s going to get home.”

  “If you’d sent him up the road, he could probably have got a lift on a flying saucer,” said Newt gloomily.

  “Three aliens? One of them a little tin robot?”

  “They landed on your lawn too, did they?”

  “It’s about the only place they didn’t land, according to the radio. They keep coming down all over the world delivering a short trite message of cosmic peace, and when people say ‘Yes, well?’ they give them a blank look and take off again. Signs and portents, just like Agnes said.”

  “You’re going to tell me she predicted all this too, I suppose?”

  Agnes leafed through a battered card index in front of her.

  “I kept meaning to put it all on computer,” she said. “Word searches and so forth. You know? It’d make it a lot simpler. The prophecies are arranged in any old order but there are clues, handwriting and so.”

  “She did it all in a card index?” said Newt.

  “No. A book. But I’ve, er, mislaid it. We’ve always had copies, of course.”

  “Lost it, eh?” said Newt, trying to inject some humor into the proceedings. “Bet she didn’t foresee that!”

  Anathema glowered at him. If looks could kill, Newt would have been on a slab.

  Then she went on: “We’ve built up quite a concordance over the years, though, and my grandfather came up with a useful cross-referencing system … ah. Here we are.”

  She pushed a sheet of paper in front of Newt.

  3988. Whene menne of crocus come frome the Earth and green manne frome thee Sky, yette ken not why, and Pluto’s barres quitte the lightning castels, and sunken landes riseth, and Leviathan runneth free, and Brazil is vert, then Three cometh together and Four arise, upon iron horses ride; I tell you the ende draweth nigh. [. . . Crocus = saffron (cf.2003) . . . Aliens … ?? . . . paratroops? . . . nuclear power stations (see cuttings Nos. 798–806) Atlantis, cuttings 812–819 . . . leviathan = whale (cf.1981)? South America is green? ? 3 = 4? Railways? (‘iron road,’ cf.2675)]

  “I didn’t get all of this one in advance,” Anathema admitted. “I filled it in after listening to the news.”

  “You must be incredibly good at crosswords in your family,” said Newt.

  “I think Agnes is getting a bit out of her depth here, anyway. The bits about leviathan and South America and threes and fours could mean anything.” She sighed. “The problem is newspapers. You never know if Agnes is referring to some tiny little incident that you might miss. Do you know how long it takes to go through every daily paper thoroughly every morning?”

  “Three hours and ten minutes,” said Newt automatically.

  “I EXPECT WE’LL GET a medal or something,” said Adam optimistically. “Rescuing a man from a blazing wreck.”

  “It wasn’t blazing,” said Pepper. “It wasn’t even very wrecked when we put it back rightside up.”

  “It could of been,” Adam pointed out. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a medal just because some old car doesn’t know when to catch fire.”

  They stood looking down at the hole. Anathema had called the police, who had put it down to subsidence and put some cones around it; it was dark, and went down a long way.

  “Could be go
od fun, going to Tibet,” said Brian. “We could learn marital arts and stuff. I saw this old film where there’s this valley in Tibet and everyone there lives for hundreds of years. It’s called Shangri-La.”

  “My aunt’s bungalow’s called Shangri-La,” said Wensleydale.

  Adam snorted.

  “Not very clever, naming a valley after some ole bungalow,” he said. “Might as well call it Dunroamin’, or, or The Laurels.”

  “’S lot better than Shambles, anyway,” said Wensleydale mildly.

  “Shambala,” corrected Adam.

  “I expect it’s the same place. Prob’ly got both names,” said Pepper, with unusual diplomacy. “Like our house. We changed the name from The Lodge to Norton View when we moved in, but we still get letters addressed to Theo C. Cupier, The Lodge. Perhaps they’ve named it Shambala now but people still call it The Laurels.”

  Adam flicked a pebble into the hole. He was becoming bored with Tibetans.

  “What shall we do now?” said Pepper. “They’re dipping sheep over at Norton Bottom Farm. We could go and help.”

  Adam threw a larger stone into the hole, and waited for the thump. It didn’t come.

  “Dunno,” he said distantly. “I reckon we should do something about whales and forests and suchlike.”

  “Like what?” said Brian, who enjoyed the diversions available at a good sheep-dipping. He began to empty his pockets of crisp packets and drop them, one by one, into the hole.

  “We could go into Tadfield this afternoon and not have a hamburger,” said Pepper. “If all four of us don’t have one, that’s millions of acres of rainforest they won’t have to cut down.”

  “They’ll be cutting ’em down anyway,” said Wensleydale.

  “It’s grass materialism again,” said Adam. “Same with the whales. It’s amazin’, the stuff that’s goin’ on.” He stared at Dog.

  He was feeling very odd.

  The little mongrel, noticing the attention, balanced expectantly on its hind legs.

  “’S people like you that’s eating all the whales,” said Adam severely. “I bet you’ve used up nearly a whole whale already.”

  Dog, one last tiny satanic spark of his soul hating himself for it, put his head on one side and whined.

  “’S gonna be a fine ole world to grow up in,” Adam said. “No whales, no air, and everyone paddlin’ around because of the seas risin’.”

  “Then the Atlantisans’d be the only ones well off,” said Pepper cheerfully.

  “Huh,” said Adam, not really listening.

  Something was happening inside his head. It was aching. Thoughts were arriving there without him having to think them. Something was saying, You can do something, Adam Young. You can make it all better. You can do anything you want. And what was saying this to him was … him. Part of him, deep down. Part of him that had been attached to him all these years and not really noticed, like a shadow. It was saying: yes, it’s a rotten world. It could have been great. But now it’s rotten, and it’s time to do something about it. That’s what you’re here for. To make it all better.

  “Because they’d be able to go everywhere,” Pepper went on, giving him a worried look. “The Atlantisans, I mean. Because—”

  “I’m fed up with the ole Atlantisans and Tibetans,” snapped Adam.

  They stared at him. They’d never seen him like this before.

  “It’s all very well for them,” said Adam. “Everyone’s goin’ around usin’ up all the whales and coal and oil and ozone and rainforests and that, and there’ll be none left for us. We should be goin’ to Mars and stuff, instead of sittin’ around in the dark and wet with the air spillin’ away.”

  This wasn’t the old Adam the Them knew. The Them avoided one another’s faces. With Adam in this mood, the world seemed a chillier place.

  “Seems to me,” said Brian, pragmatically, “seems to me, the best thing you could do about it is stop readin’ about it.”

  “It’s like you said the other day,” said Adam. “You grow up readin’ about pirates and cowboys and spacemen and stuff, and jus’ when you think the world’s all full of amazin’ things, they tell you it’s really all dead whales and chopped-down forests and nucular waste hang-in’ about for millions of years. ’Snot worth growin’ up for, if you ask my opinion.”

  The Them exchanged glances.

  There was a shadow over the whole world. Storm clouds were building up in the north, the sunlight glowing yellow off them as though the sky had been painted by an enthusiastic amateur.

  “Seems to me it ought to be rolled up and started all over again,” said Adam.

  That hadn’t sounded like Adam’s voice.

  A bitter wind blew through the summer woods.

  Adam looked at Dog, who tried to stand on his head. There was a distant mutter of thunder. He reached down and patted the dog absentmindedly.

  “Serve everyone right if all the nucular bombs went off and it all started again, only prop’ly organized,” said Adam. “Sometimes I think that’s what I’d like to happen. An’ then we could sort everythin’ out.”

  The thunder growled again. Pepper shivered. This wasn’t the normal Them mobius bickering, which passed many a slow hour. There was a look in Adam’s eye that his friend couldn’t quite fathom—not devilment, because that was more or less there all the time, but a sort of blank grayness that was far worse.

  “Well, I dunno about we,” Pepper tried. “Dunno about the we, because, if there’s all these bombs goin’ off, we all get blown up. Speaking as a mother of unborn generations, I’m against it.”

  They looked at her curiously. She shrugged.

  “And then giant ants take over the world,” said Wensleydale nervously. “I saw this film. Or you go around with sawn-off shotguns and everyone’s got these cars with, you know, knives and guns stuck on—”

  “I wouldn’t allow any giant ants or anything like that,” said Adam, brightening up horribly. “And you’d all be all right. I’d see to that. It’d be wicked, eh, to have all the world to ourselves. Wouldn’t it? We could share it out. We could have amazing games. We could have War with real armies an’ stuff.”

  “But there wouldn’t be any people,” said Pepper.

  “Oh, I could make us some people,” said Adam airily. “Good enough for armies, at any rate. We could all have a quarter of the world each. Like, you”—he pointed to Pepper, who recoiled as though Adam’s finger were a white-hot poker—”could have Russia because it’s red and you’ve got red hair, right? And Wensley can have America, and Brian can have, can have Africa and Europe, an’, an’—”

  Even in their state of mounting terror the Them gave this the consideration it deserved.

  “H-huh,” stuttered Pepper, as the rising wind whipped at her T-shirt, “I don’t s-see why Wensley’s got America an’ all I’ve g-got is just Russia. Russia’s boring.”

  “You can have China and Japan and India,” said Adam.

  “That means I’ve got jus’ Africa and a lot of jus’ borin’ little countries,” said Brian, negotiating even on the curl of the catastrophe curve. “I wouldn’t mind Australia,” he added.

  Pepper nudged him and shook her head urgently.

  “Dog’s goin’ to have Australia,” said Adam, his eyes glowing with the fires of creation, “on account of him needin’ a lot of space to run about. An’ there’s all those rabbits and kangaroos for him to chase, an’—”

  The clouds spread forwards and sideways like ink poured into a bowl of clear water, moving across the sky faster than the wind.

  “But there won’t be any rab—” Wensleydale shrieked.

  Adam wasn’t listening, at least to any voices outside his own head. “It’s all too much of a mess,” he said. “We should start again. Just save the ones we want and start again. That’s the best way. It’d be doing the Earth a favor, when you come to think about it. It makes me angry, seeing the way those old loonies are messing it up … ”

  “IT’S MEMORY,
YOU SEE,” said Anathema. “It works backwards as well as forwards. Racial memory, I mean.”

  Newt gave her a polite but blank look.

  “What I’m trying to say,” she said patiently, “is that Agnes didn’t see the future. That’s just a metaphor. She remembered it. Not very well, of course, and by the time it’d been filtered through her own understanding it’s often a bit confused. We think she’s best at remembering things that were going to happen to her descendants.”

  “But if you’re going to places and doing things because of what she wrote, and what she wrote is her recollection of the places you went to and the things you did,” said Newt, “then—”

  “I know. But there’s, er, some evidence that that’s how it works,” said Anathema.

  They looked at the map spread out between them. Beside them the radio murmured. Newt was very aware that a woman was sitting next to him. Be professional, he told himself. You’re a soldier, aren’t you? Well, practically. Then act like a soldier. He thought hard for a fraction of a second. Well, act like a respectable soldier on his best behavior, then. He forced his attention back to the matter at hand.

  “Why Lower Tadfield?” said Newt. “I just got interested because of the weather. Optimal microclimate, they call it. That means it’s a small place with its own personal nice weather.”

  He glanced at her notebooks. There was definitely something odd about the place, even if you ignored Tibetans and UFOs, which seemed to be infesting the whole world these days. The Tadfield area didn’t only have the kind of weather you could set your calendar by, it was also remarkably resistant to change. No one seemed to build new houses there. The population didn’t seem to move much. There seemed to be more woods and hedges than you’d normally expect these days. The only battery farm to open in the area had failed after a year or two, and been replaced by an old-fashioned pig farmer who let his pigs run loose in his apple orchards and sold the pork at premium prices. The two local schools seemed to soldier on in blissful immunity from the changing fashions of education. A motorway which should have turned most of Lower Tadfield into little more than the Junction 18 Happy Porker Rest Area changed course five miles away, detoured in a great semicircle, and continued on its way oblivious to the little island of rural changelessness it had avoided. No one quite seemed to know why; one of the surveyors involved had a nervous breakdown, a second had become a monk, and a third had gone off to Bali to paint nude women.

 
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