Good omens the nice and.., p.25
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.25

           Terry Pratchett
 

  Then he began to smile. He snapped his fingers. A pair of dark glasses materialized out of his eyes. The ash vanished from his suit and his skin.

  What the hell. If you had to go, why not go with style?

  Whistling softly, he drove.

  THEY CAME DOWN the outside lane of the motorway like destroying angels, which was fair enough.

  They weren’t going that fast, all things considered. The four of them were holding a steady 105 mph, as if they were confident that the show could not start before they got there. It couldn’t. They had all the time in the world, such as it was.

  Just behind them came four other riders: Big Ted, Greaser, Pigbog, and Skuzz.

  They were elated. They were real Hell’s Angels now, and they rode the silence.

  Around them, they knew, was the roar of the thunderstorm, the thunder of traffic, the whipping of the wind and the rain. But in the wake of the Horsemen there was silence, pure and dead. Almost pure, anyway. Certainly dead.

  It was broken by Pigbog, shouting to Big Ted.

  “What you going to be, then?” he asked, hoarsely.

  “What?”

  “I said, what you—”

  “I heard what you said. It’s not what you said. Everyone heard what you said. What did you mean, tha’s what I wanter know?”

  Pigbog wished he’d paid more attention to the Book of Revelation. If he’d known he was going to be in it, he’d have read it more carefully. “What I mean is, they’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, right?”

  “Bikers,” said Greaser.

  “Right. Four Bikers of the Apocalypse. War, Famine, Death, and—and the other one. P’lution.”

  “Yeah? So?”

  “So they said it was all right if we came with them, right?”

  “So?”

  “So we’re the other Four Horse—, um, Bikers of the Apocalypse. So which ones are we?”

  There was a pause. The lights of passing cars shot past them in the opposite lane, lightning after-imaged the clouds, and the silence was close to absolute.

  “Can I be War as well?” asked Big Ted.

  “Course you can’t be War. How can you be War? She’s War. You’ve got to be something else.”

  Big Ted screwed up his face with the effort of thought. “G.B.H.,” he said, eventually. “I’m Grievous Bodily Harm. That’s me. There. Wott’re you going to be?”

  “Can I be Rubbish?” asked Skuzz. “Or Embarrassing Personal Problems?”

  “Can’t be Rubbish,” said Grievous Bodily Harm. “He’s got that one sewn up, Pollution. You can be the other, though.”

  They rode on in the silence and the dark, the rear red lights of the Four a few hundred yards in front of them.

  Grievous Bodily Harm, Embarrassing Personal Problems, Pigbog, and Greaser.

  “I wonter be Cruelty to Animals,” said Greaser. Pigbog wondered if he was for or against it. Not that it really mattered.

  And then it was Pigbog’s turn.

  “I, uh … I think I’ll be them answer phones. They’re pretty bad,” he said.

  “You can’t be ansaphones. What kind of a Biker of the Repocalypse is ansaphones? That’s stupid, that is.”

  “S’not!” said Pigbog, nettled. “It’s like War, and Famine, and that. It’s a problem of life, isn’t it? Answer phones. I hate bloody answer phones.”

  “I hate ansaphones, too,” said Cruelty to Animals.

  “You can shut up,” said G.B.H.

  “Can I change mine?” asked Embarrassing Personal Problems, who had been thinking intently since he last spoke. “I want to be Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Thumped Them.”

  “All right, you can change. But you can’t be ansaphones, Pigbog. Pick something else.”

  Pigbog pondered. He wished he’d never broached the subject. It was like the careers interviews he had had as a schoolboy. He deliberated.

  “Really cool people,” he said at last. “I hate them.”

  “Really cool people?” said Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping.

  “Yeah. You know. The kind you see on telly, with stupid haircuts, only on them it dunt look stupid ’cos it’s them. They wear baggy suits, an’ you’re not allowed to say they’re a bunch of wankers. I mean, speaking for me, what I always want to do when I see one of them is push their faces very slowly through a barbed-wire fence. An’ what I think is this.” He took a deep breath. He was sure this was the longest speech he had ever made in his life.44 “What I think is this. If they get up my nose like that, they pro’lly get up everyone else’s.”

  “Yeah,” said Cruelty to Animals. “An’ they all wear sunglasses even when they dunt need ’em.”

  “Eatin’ runny cheese, and that stupid bloody No Alcohol Lager,” said Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping. “I hate that stuff. What’s the point of drinking the stuff if it dunt leave you puking? Here, I just thought. Can I change again, so I’m No Alcohol Lager?”

  “No you bloody can’t,” said Grievous Bodily Harm. “You’ve changed once already.”

  “Anyway,” said Pigbog. “That’s why I wonter be Really Cool People.”

  “All right,” said his leader.

  “Don’t see why I can’t be No bloody Alcohol Lager if I want.”

  “Shut your face.”

  Death and Famine and War and Pollution continued biking toward Tadfield.

  And Grievous Bodily Harm, Cruelty to Animals, Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping But Secretly No Alcohol Lager, and Really Cool People traveled with them.

  IT WAS A WET AND BLUSTERY Saturday afternoon, and Madame Tracy was feeling very occult.

  She had her flowing dress on, and a saucepan full of sprouts on the stove. The room was lit by candlelight, each candle carefully placed in a wax-encrusted wine bottle at the four corners of her sitting room.

  There were three other people at her sitting. Mrs. Ormerod from Belsize Park, in a dark green hat that might have been a flowerpot in a previous life; Mr. Scroggie, thin and pallid, with bulging colorless eyes; and Julia Petley from Hair Today,45 the hairdressers’ on the High Street, fresh out of school and convinced that she herself had unplumbed occult depths. In order to enhance the occult aspects of herself, Julia had begun to wear far too much handbeaten silver jewelry and green eyeshadow. She felt she looked haunted and gaunt and romantic, and she would have, if she had lost another thirty pounds. She was convinced that she was anorexic, because every time she looked in the mirror she did indeed see a fat person.

  “Can you link hands?” asked Madame Tracy. “And we must have complete silence. The spirit world is very sensitive to vibration.”

  “Ask if my Ron is there,” said Mrs. Ormerod. She had a jaw like a brick.

  “I will, love, but you’ve got to be quiet while I make contact.”

  There was silence, broken only by Mr. Scroggie’s stomach rumbling. “Pardon, ladies,” he mumbled.

  Madame Tracy had found, through years of Drawing Aside the Veil and Exploring the Mysteries, that two minutes was the right length of time to sit in silence, waiting for the Spirit World to make contact. More than that and they got restive, less than that and they felt they weren’t getting their money’s worth.

  She did her shopping list in her head.

  Eggs. Lettuce. Ounce of cooking cheese. Four tomatoes. Butter. Roll of toilet paper. Mustn’t forget that, we’re nearly out. And a really nice piece of liver for Mr. Shadwell, poor old soul, it’s a shame …

  Time.

  Madame Tracy threw back her head, let it loll on one shoulder, then slowly lifted it again. Her eyes were almost shut.

  “She’s going under now, dear,” she heard Mrs. Ormerod whisper to Julia Petley. “Nothing to be alarmed about. She’s just making herself a Bridge to the Other Side. Her spirit guide will be along soon.”

  Madame Tracy found herself rather irritated at being upstaged, an
d she let out a low moan. “Oooooooooh.”

  Then, in a high-pitched, quavery voice, “Are you there, my Spirit Guide?”

  She waited a little, to build up the suspense. Washing-up liquid. Two cans of baked beans. Oh, and potatoes.

  “How?” she said, in a dark brown voice.

  “Is that you, Geronimo?” she asked herself.

  “Is um me, how,” she replied.

  “We have a new member of the circle with us this afternoon,” she said.

  “How, Miss Petley?” she said, as Geronimo. She had always understood that Red Indian spirit guides were an essential prop, and she rather liked the name. She had explained this to Newt. She didn’t know anything about Geronimo, he realized, and he didn’t have the heart to tell her.

  “Oh,” squeaked Julia. “Charmed to make your acquaintance.”

  “Is my Ron there, Geronimo?” asked Mrs. Ormerod.

  “How, squaw Beryl,” said Madame Tracy. “Oh there are so many um of the poor lost souls um lined up against um door to my teepee. Perhaps your Ron is amongst them. How.”

  Madame Tracy had learned her lesson years earlier, and now never brought Ron through until near the end. If she didn’t, Beryl Ormerod would occupy the rest of the seance telling the late Ron Ormerod everything that had happened to her since their last little chat. (“. . . now Ron, you remember, our Eric’s littlest, Sybilla, well you wouldn’t recognize her now, she’s taken up macramé, and our Letitia, you know, our Karen’s oldest, she’s become a lesbian but that’s all right these days and is doing a dissertation on the films of Sergio Leone as seen from a feminist perspective, and our Stan, you know, our Sandra’s twin, I told you about him last time, well, he won the darts tournament, which is nice because we all thought he was a bit of a mother’s boy, while the guttering over the shed’s come loose, but I spoke to our Cindi’s latest, who’s a jobbing builder, and he’ll be over to see to it on Sunday, and ohh, that reminds me … ”)

  No, Beryl Ormerod could wait. There was a flash of lightning, followed almost immediately by a rumble of distant thunder. Madame Tracy felt rather proud, as if she had done it herself. It was even better than the candles at creating ambulance. Ambulance was what mediuming was all about.

  “Now,” said Madame Tracy in her own voice. “Mr. Geronimo would like to know, is there anyone named Mr. Scroggie here?”

  Scroggie’s watery eyes gleamed. “Erm, actually that’s my name,” he said, hopefully.

  “Right, well there’s somebody here for you.” Mr. Scroggie had been coming for a month now, and she hadn’t been able to think of a message for him. His time had come. “Do you know anyone named, um, John?”

  “No,” said Mr. Scroggie.

  “Well, there’s some celestial interference here. The name could be Tom. Or Jim. Or, um, Dave.”

  “I knew a Dave when I was in Hemel Hempstead,” said Mr. Scroggie, a trifle doubtfully.

  “Yes, he’s saying, Hemel Hempstead, that’s what he’s saying,” said Madame Tracy.

  “But I ran into him last week, walking his dog, and he looked perfectly healthy,” said Mr. Scroggie, slightly puzzled.

  “He says not to worry, and he’s happier beyond the veil,” soldiered on Madame Tracy, who felt it was always better to give her clients good news.

  “Tell my Ron I’ve got to tell him about our Krystal’s wedding,” said Mrs. Ormerod.

  “I will, love. Now, hold on a mo’, there’s something coming through … ”

  And then something came through. It sat in Madame Tracy’s head and peered out.

  “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” it said, using Madame Tracy’s mouth. “Parlez-vous français? Wo bu hui jiang zhongwen?”

  “Is that you, Ron?” asked Mrs. Ormerod. The reply, when it came, was rather testy.

  “No. Definitely not. However, a question so manifestly dim can only have been put in one country on this benighted planet—most of which, incidentally, I have seen during the last few hours. Dear lady, this is not Ron.”

  “Well, I want to speak to Ron Ormerod,” said Mrs. Ormerod, a little testily. “He’s rather short, balding on top. Can you put him on, please?”

  There was a pause. “Actually there does appear to be a spirit of that description hovering over here. Very well. I’ll hand you over, but you must make it quick. I am attempting to avert the apocalypse.”

  Mrs. Ormerod and Mr. Scroggie gave each other looks. Nothing like this had happened at Madame Tracy’s previous sittings. Julia Petley was rapt. This was more like it. She hoped Madame Tracy was going to start manifesting ectoplasm next.

  “H-hello?” said Madame Tracy in another voice. Mrs. Ormerod started. It sounded exactly like Ron. On previous occasions Ron had sounded like Madame Tracy.

  “Ron, is that you?”

  “Yes, Buh-Beryl.”

  “Right. Now I’ve quite a bit to tell you. For a start I went to our Krystal’s wedding, last Saturday, our Marilyn’s eldest … ”

  “Buh-Beryl. You-you nuh-never let me guh-get a wuh-word in edgewise wuh-while I was alive. Nuh-now I’m duh-dead, there’s juh-just one thing to suh-say … ”

  Beryl Ormerod was a little disgruntled by all this. Previously when Ron had manifested, he had told her that he was happier beyond the veil, and living somewhere that sounded more than a little like a celestial bungalow. Now he sounded like Ron, and she wasn’t sure that was what she wanted. And she said what she had always said to her husband when he began to speak to her in that tone of voice.

  “Ron, remember your heart condition.”

  “I duh-don’t have a huh-heart any longer. Remuhmember? Anyway, Buh-Beryl … ?”

  “Yes, Ron.”

  “Shut up,” and the spirit was gone. “Wasn’t that touching? Right, now, thank you very much, ladies and gentleman, I’m afraid I shall have to be getting on.”

  Madame Tracy stood up, went over to the door, and turned on the lights.

  “Out!” she said.

  Her sitters stood up, more than a little puzzled, and, in Mrs. Ormerod’s case, outraged, and they walked out into the hall.

  “You haven’t heard the last of this, Marjorie Potts,” hissed Mrs. Ormerod, clutching her handbag to her breast, and she slammed the door.

  Then her muffled voice echoed from the hallway, “And you can tell our Ron that he hasn’t heard the last of this either!”

  Madame Tracy (and the name on her scooters-only driving license was indeed Marjorie Potts) went into the kitchen and turned off the sprouts.

  She put on the kettle. She made herself a pot of tea. She sat down at the kitchen table, got out two cups, filled both of them. She added two sugars to one of them. Then she paused.

  “No sugar for me, please,” said Madame Tracy.

  She lined up the cups on the table in front of her, and took a long sip from the tea-with-sugar.

  “Now,” she said, in a voice that anyone who knew her would have recognized as her own, although they might not have recognized her tone of voice, which was cold with rage. “Suppose you tell me what this is about. And it had better be good.”

  A LORRY HAD SHED its load all over the M6. According to its manifest the lorry had been filled with sheets of corrugated iron, although the two police patrolmen were having difficulty in accepting this.

  “So what I want to know is, where did all the fish come from?” asked the sergeant.

  “I told you. They fell from the sky. One minute I’m driving along at sixty, next second, whap! a twelve-pound salmon smashes through the windscreen. So I pulls the wheel over, and I skidded on that,” he pointed to the remains of a hammerhead shark under the lorry, “and ran into that.” That was a thirty-foot-high heap of fish, of different shapes and sizes.

  “Have you been drinking, sir?” asked the sergeant, less than hopefully.

  “Course I haven’t been drinking, you great wazzock. You can see the fish, can’t you?”

  On the top of the pile a rather large octopus waved a languid tentacle at them. The
sergeant resisted the temptation to wave back.

  The police constable was leaning into the police car, talking on the radio. “. . . corrugated iron and fish, blocking off the southbound M6 about half a mile north of junction ten. We’re going to have to close off the whole southbound carriageway. Yeah.”

  The rain redoubled. A small trout, which had miraculously survived the fall, gamely began to swim toward Birmingham.

  “THAT WAS WONDERFUL,” SAID NEWT.

  “Good,” said Anathema. “The earth moved for everybody.” She got up off the floor, leaving her clothes scattered across the carpet, and went into the bathroom.

  Newt raised his voice. “I mean, it was really wonderful. Really really wonderful. I always hoped it was going to be, and it was.”

  There was the sound of running water.

  “What are you doing?” he asked.

  “Taking a shower.”

  “Ah.” He wondered vaguely if everyone had to shower afterwards, or if it was just women. And he had a suspicion that bidets came into it somewhere.

  “Tell you what,” said Newt, as Anathema came out of the bathroom swathed in a fluffy pink towel. “We could do it again.”

  “Nope,” she said, “not now.” She finished drying herself, and started picking up clothes from the floor, and, unself-consciously, pulling them on. Newt, a man who was prepared to wait half an hour for a free changing cubicle at the swimming baths, rather than face the possibility of having to disrobe in front of another human being, found himself vaguely shocked, and deeply thrilled.

  Bits of her kept appearing and disappearing, like a conjurer’s hands; Newt kept trying to count her nipples and failing, although he didn’t mind.

  “Why not?” said Newt. He was about to point out that it might not take long, but an inner voice counseled him against it. He was growing up quite quickly in a short time.

  Anathema shrugged, not an easy move when you’re pulling on a sensible black skirt. “She said we only did it this once.”

 
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