Good omens the nice and.., p.20
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.20

           Terry Pratchett
 

  It was as if a large part of the twentieth century had marked a few square miles Out of Bounds.

  Anathema pulled another a card out of her index and flicked it across the table.

  2315. Sum say It cometh in London Town, or New Yorke, butte they be Wronge, for the plase is Taddes Fild, Stronge inne hys powr, he cometh like a knight inne the fief, he divideth the Worlde into 4 partes, he bringeth the storme. [. . . 4 years early [New Amsterdam till 1664] … . . . Taddville, Norfolk … . . . Tardesfield, Devon … . . . Tadfield, Oxon … < . . ! . . See Revelation, C6, v10]

  “I had to go and look through a lot of county records,” said Anathema.

  “Why’s this one 2315? It’s earlier than the others.”

  “Agnes was a bit slapdash about timing. I don’t think she always knew what went where. I told you, we’ve spent ages devising a sort of system for chaining them together.”

  Newt looked at a few cards. For example:

  1111. An the Great Hound sharl coom, and the Two Powers sharl watch in Vane, for it Goeth where is its Master, Where they Wot Notte, and he sharl name it, True to Ittes Nature, and Hell sharl flee it. [? Is this something to do with Bismark? [A F Device, June 8, 1888] . . . ? . . . Schleswig-Holstein?]

  “She’s being unusually obtuse for Agnes,” said Anathema.

  3017. I see Four Riding, bringing the Ende, and the Angells of Hell ride with them, And Three sharl Rise. And Four and Four Together be Four, an the Dark Angel sharl Own Defeat, Yette the Manne sharl claim his Own. [The Apocalyptic Horsemen The Man = Pan, The Devil (The Witch Trials of Lancashire, Brewster, 1782). ?? I feel good Agnes had drunk well this night, [Quincy Device, Octbr. 15, 1789] I concur. We are all human, alas. [Miss O J Device, Janry. 5, 1854]]

  “Why Nice and Accurate?” said Newt.

  “Nice as in exact, or precise,” said Anathema, in the weary tones of one who’d explained this before. “That’s what it used to mean.”

  “But look,” said Newt—

  —he’d nearly convinced himself about the non-existence of the UFO, which was clearly a figment of his imagination, and the Tibetan could have been a, well, he was working on it, but whatever it was it wasn’t a Tibetan, but what he was more and more convinced of was that he was in a room with a very attractive woman, who appeared actually to like him, or at least not to dislike him, which was a definite first for Newt. And admittedly there seemed to be a lot of strange stuff going on, but if he really tried, poling the boat of common sense upstream against the raging current of the evidence, he could pretend it was all, well, weather balloons, or Venus, or mass hallucination.

  In short, whatever Newt was now thinking with, it wasn’t his brain.

  “But look,” he said, “the world isn’t really going to end now, is it? I mean, just look around. It’s not like there’s any international tension … well, any more than there normally is. Why don’t we leave this stuff for a while and just go and, oh, I don’t know, maybe we could just go for a walk or something, I mean—”

  “Don’t you understand? There’s something here! Something that affects the area!” she said. “It’s twisted all the ley-lines. It’s protecting the area against anything that might change it! It’s … it’s … ” There it was again: the thought in her mind that she could not, was not allowed to grasp, like a dream upon waking.

  The windows rattled. Outside, a sprig of jasmine, driven by the wind, started to bang insistently on the glass.

  “But I can’t get a fix on it,” said Anathema, twisting her fingers together. “I’ve tried everything.”

  “Fix?” said Newt.

  “I’ve tried the pendulum. I’ve tried the theodolite. I’m psychic, you see. But it seems to move around.”

  Newt was still in control of his own mind enough to do the proper translation. When most people said “I’m psychic, you see,” they meant “I have an overactive but unoriginal imagination / wear black nail varnish / talk to my budgie”; when Anathema said it, it sounded as though she was admitting to a hereditary disease which she’d much prefer not to have.

  “Armageddon moves around?” said Newt.

  “Various prophecies say the Antichrist has to arise first,” said Anathema. “Agnes says he. I can’t spot him—”

  “Or her,” said Newt.

  “What?”

  “Could be a her,” said Newt. “This is the twentieth century, after all. Equal opportunities.”

  “I don’t think you’re taking this entirely seriously,” she said severely. “Anyway, there isn’t any evil here. That’s what I don’t understand. There’s just love.”

  “Sorry?” said Newt.

  She gave him a helpless look. “It’s hard to describe it,” she said. “Something or someone loves this place. Loves every inch of it so powerfully that it shields and protects it. A deep-down, huge, fierce love. How can anything bad start here? How can the end of the world start in a place like this? This is the kind of town you’d want to raise your kids in. It’s a kids’ paradise.” She smiled weakly. “You should see the local kids. They’re unreal! Right out of the Boys’ Own Paper! All scabby knees and ‘brilliant!’ and bulls-eyes—”

  She nearly had it. She could feel the shape of the thought, she was gaining on it.

  “What’s this place?” said Newt.

  “What?” Anathema screamed, as her train of thought was derailed.

  Newt’s finger tapped at the map.

  “‘Disused aerodrome,’ it says. Just here, look, west of Tadfield itself—”

  Anathema snorted. “Disused? Don’t you believe it. Used to be a wartime fighter base. It’s been Upper Tadfield Air Base for about ten years or so. And before you say it, the answer’s no. I hate everything about the bloody place, but the colonel’s saner than you are by a long way. His wife does yoga, for God’s sake.”

  Now. What was it she’d said before? The kids round here …

  She felt her mental feet slipping away from under her, and she fell back into the more personal thought waiting there to catch her. Newt was okay, really. And the thing about spending the rest of your life with him was, he wouldn’t be around long enough to get on your nerves.

  The radio was talking about South American rainforests.

  New ones.

  It began to hail.

  BULLETS OF ICE shredded the leaves around the Them as Adam led them down into the quarry.

  Dog slunk along with his tail between his legs, whining.

  This wasn’t right, he was thinking. Just when I was getting the hang of rats. Just when I’d nearly sorted out that bloody German Shepherd across the road. Now He’s going to end it all and I’ll be back with the ole glowin’ eyes and chasin’ lost souls. What’s the sense in that? They don’t fight back, and there’s no taste to ’em …

  Wensleydale, Brian, and Pepper were not thinking quite so coherently. All that they were aware of was that they could no more not follow Adam than fly; to try to resist the force marching them forward would simply result in multiply broken legs, and they’d still have to march.

  Adam wasn’t thinking at all. Something had opened in his mind and was aflame.

  He sat them down on the crate.

  “We’ll all be all right down here,” he said.

  “Er,” said Wensleydale, “don’t you think our mothers and fathers—”

  “Don’t you worry about them,” said Adam loftily. “I can make some new ones. There won’t be any of this being in bed by half past nine, either. You don’t ever have to go to bed ever, if you don’t want to. Or tidy your room or anything. You just leave it all to me and it will be great.” He gave them a manic smile. “I’ve got some new friends comin’,” he confided. “You’ll like ’em.”

  “But—” Wensleydale began.

  “You jus’ think of all the amazin’ stuff afterwards,” said Adam enthusiastically. “You can fill up America with all new cowboys an’ Indians an’ policemen an’ gangsters an’ cartoons an’ spacemen and stuff. Won’t that be fantasti
c?”

  Wensleydale looked miserably at the other two. They were sharing a thought that none of them would be able to articulate very satisfactorily even in normal times. Broadly, it was that there had once been real cowboys and gangsters, and that was great. And there would always be pretend cowboys and gangsters, and that was also great. But real pretend cowboys and gangsters, that were alive and not alive and could be put back in their box when you were tired of them—this did not seem great at all. The whole point about gangsters and cowboys and aliens and pirates was that you could stop being them and go home.

  “But before all that,” said Adam darkly, “we’re really goin’ to show ’em … ”

  THERE WAS A TREE in the plaza. It wasn’t very big and the leaves were yellow and the light it got through the excitingly dramatic smoked glass was the wrong sort of light. And it was on more drugs than an Olympic athlete, and loudspeakers nested in the branches. But it was a tree, and if you half-closed your eyes and looked at it over the artificial waterfall, you could almost believe that you were looking at a sick tree through a fog of tears.

  Jaime Hernez liked to have his lunch under it. The maintenance supervisor would shout at him if he found out, but Jaime had grown up on a farm and it had been quite a good farm and he had liked trees and he didn’t want to have to come into the city, but what could you do? It wasn’t a bad job and the money was the kind of money his father hadn’t dreamed of. His grandfather hadn’t dreamed of any money at all. He hadn’t even known what money was until he was fifteen. But there were times when you needed trees, and the shame of it, Jaime thought, was that his children were growing up thinking of trees as firewood and his grandchildren would think of trees as history.

  But what could you do? Where there were trees now there were big farms, where there were small farms now there were plazas, and where there were plazas there were still plazas, and that’s how it went.

  He hid his trolley behind the newspaper stand, sat down furtively, and opened his lunchbox.

  It was then that he became aware of the rustling, and a movement of shadows across the floor. He looked around.

  The tree was moving. He watched it with interest. Jaime had never seen a tree growing before.

  The soil, which was nothing more than a scree of some sort of artificial chippings, was actually crawling as the roots moved around under the surface. Jaime saw a thin white shoot creep down the side of the raised garden area and prod blindly at the concrete of the floor.

  Without knowing why, without ever knowing why, he nudged it gently with his foot until it was close to the crack between the slabs. It found it, and bored down.

  The branches were twisting into different shapes.

  Jaime heard the screech of traffic outside the building, but didn’t pay it any attention. Someone was yelling something, but someone was always yelling in Jaime’s vicinity, often at him.

  The questing root must have found the buried soil. It changed color and thickened, like a fire hose when the water is turned on. The artificial waterfall stopped running; Jaime visualized fractured pipes blocked with sucking fibers.

  Now he could see what was happening outside. The street surface was heaving like a sea. Saplings were pushing up between the cracks.

  Of course, he reasoned; they had sunlight. His tree didn’t. All it had was the muted gray light that came through the dome four stories up. Dead light.

  But what could you do?

  You could do this:

  The elevators had stopped running because the power was off, but it was only four flights of stairs. Jaime carefully shut his lunchbox and padded back to his cart, where he selected his longest broom.

  People were pouring out of the building, yelling. Jaime moved amiably against the flow like a salmon going upstream.

  A white framework of girders, which the architect had presumably thought made a dynamic statement about something or other, held up the smoked glass dome. In fact it was some sort of plastic, and it took Jaime, perched on a convenient strip of girder, all his strength and the full leverage of the broom’s length to crack it. A couple more swings brought it down in lethal shards.

  The light poured in, lighting up the dust in the plaza so that the air looked as though it was full of fireflies.

  Far below, the tree burst the walls of its brushed concrete prison and rose like an express train. Jaime had never realized that trees made a sound when they grew, and no one else had realized it either, because the sound is made over hundreds of years in waves twenty-four hours from peak to peak.

  Speed it up, and the sound a tree makes is vroooom.

  Jaime watched it come toward him like a green mushroom cloud. Steam was billowing out from around its roots.

  The girders never stood a chance. The remnant of the dome went up like a ping-pong ball on a water spray.

  It was the same over all the city, except that you couldn’t see the city any more. All you could see was the canopy of green. It stretched from horizon to horizon.

  Jaime sat on his branch, clung to a liana, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

  Presently, it began to rain.

  THE KAPPAMAKI, a whaling research ship, was currently researching the question: How many whales can you catch in one week?

  Except that, today, there weren’t any whales. The crew stared at the screens, which by the application of ingenious technology could spot anything larger than a sardine and calculate its net value on the international oil market, and found them blank. The occasional fish that did show up was barreling through the water as if in a great hurry to get elsewhere.

  The captain drummed his fingers on the console. He was afraid that he might soon be conducting his own research project to find out what happened to a statistically small sample of whaler captains who came back without a factory ship full of research material. He wondered what they did to you. Maybe they locked you in a room with a harpoon gun and expected you to do the honorable thing.

  This was unreal. There ought to be something.

  The navigator punched up a chart and stared at it.

  “Honorable sir?” he said.

  “What is it?” said the captain testily.

  “We seem to have a miserable instrument failure. Seabed in this area should be two hundred meters.”

  “What of it?”

  “I’m reading 15,000 meters, honorable sir. And still falling.”

  “That is foolish. There is no such depth.”

  The captain glared at several million yen worth of cutting-edge technology, and thumped it.

  The navigator gave a nervous smile.

  “Ah, sir,” he said, “it is shallower already.”

  Beneath the thunders of the upper deep, as Aziraphale and Tennyson both knew, Far, far beneath in the abyssal sea / The kraken sleepeth.

  And now it was waking up.

  Millions of tons of deep ocean ooze cascade off its flanks as it rises.

  “See,” said the navigator. “Three thousand meters already.”

  The kraken doesn’t have eyes. There has never been anything for it to look at. But as it billows up through the icy waters it picks up the microwave noise of the sea, the sorrowing beeps and whistles of the whalesong.

  “Er,” said the navigator, “one thousand meters?”

  The kraken is not amused.

  “Five hundred meters?”

  The factory ship rocks on the sudden swell.

  “A hundred meters?”

  There is a tiny metal thing above it. The kraken stirs.

  And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance.

  The cottage windows burst inward. This wasn’t a storm, it was war. Fragments of jasmine whirled across the room, mingled with the rain of file cards.

  Newt and Anathema clung to one another in the space between the overturned table and the wall.

  “Go on,” muttered Newt. “Tell me Agnes predicted this.”

  “She did say he bringeth the storm,” said Anathema.

>   “This is a bloody hurricane. Did she say what’s supposed to happen next?”

  “2315 is cross-referenced to 3477,” said Anathema.

  “You can remember details like that at a time like this?”

  “Since you mention it, yes,” she said. She held out a card.

  3477. Lette the wheel of Fate turne, let harts enjoin, there are othere fyres than mine; when the wynd blowethe the blossoms, reach oute one to anothere, for the calm cometh when Redde and Whyte and Blacke and Pale approche to Peas is Our Professioune. [? Some mysticism here, one fears. [A F Device, Octbr 17, 1889] Peas/blossoms? [OFD, 1929, Sept 4] Revelations Ch 6 again, I presume. [Dr Thos. Device, 1835]]

  Newt read it again. There was a sound outside like a sheet of corrugated iron pinwheeling across the garden, which was exactly what it was.

  “Is this supposed to mean,” he said slowly, “that we’re supposed to become an, an item? That Agnes, what a joker.”

  Courting is always difficult when the one being courted has an elderly female relative in the house; they tend to mutter or cackle or bum cigarettes or, in the worst cases, get out the family photograph album, an act of aggression in the sex war which ought to be banned by a Geneva Convention. It’s much worse when the relative has been dead for three hundred years. Newt had indeed been harboring certain thoughts about Anathema; not just harboring them, in fact, but dry-docking them, refitting them, giving them a good coat of paint and scraping the barnacles off their bottom. But the idea of Agnes’s second sight boring into the back of his neck sloshed over his libido like a bucketful of cold water.

  He had even been entertaining the idea of inviting her out for a meal, but he hated the idea of some Cromwellian witch sitting in her cottage three centuries earlier and watching him eat.

 
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