Good omens the nice and.., p.26
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.26

           Terry Pratchett
 
Newt opened his mouth two or three times, then said, “She didn’t. She bloody didn’t. She couldn’t predict that. I don’t believe it.”

  Anathema, fully dressed, walked over to her card index, pulled one out, and passed it to him.

  Newt read it and blushed and gave it back, tight-lipped.

  It wasn’t simply the fact that Agnes had known, and had expressed herself in the most transparent of codes. It was that, down the ages, various Devices had scrawled encouraging little comments in the margin.

  She passed him the damp towel. “Here,” she said. “Hurry up. I’ve got to make the sandwiches, and we’ve got to get ready.”

  He looked at the towel. “What’s this for?”

  “Your shower.”

  Ah. So it was something men and women both did. He was pleased he’d got that sorted out.

  “But you’ll have to make it quick,” she said.

  “Why? Have we got to get out of here in the next ten minutes before the building explodes?”

  “Oh no. We’ve got a couple of hours. It’s just that I’ve used up most of the hot water. You’ve got a lot of plaster in your hair.”

  The storm blew a dying gust around Jasmine Cottage, and holding the damp pink towel, no longer fluffy, in front of him, strategically, Newt edged off to take a cold shower.

  IN SHADWELL’S DREAM, he is floating high above a village green. In the center of the green is a huge pile of kindling wood and dry branches. In the center of the pile is a wooden stake. Men and women and children stand around on the grass, eyes bright, cheeks pink, expectant, excited.

  A sudden commotion: ten men walk across the green, leading a handsome, middle-aged woman; she must have been quite striking in her youth, and the word “vivacious” creeps into Shadwell’s dreaming mind. In front of her walks Witchfinder Private Newton Pulsifer. No, it isn’t Newt. The man is older, and dressed in black leather. Shadwell recognizes approvingly the ancient uniform of a Witchfinder Major.

  The woman climbs onto the pyre, thrusts her hands behind her, and is tied to the stake. The pyre is lit. She speaks to the crowd, says something, but Shadwell is too high to hear what it is. The crowd gathers around her.

  A witch, thinks Shadwell. They’re burning a witch. It gives him a warm feeling. That was the right and proper way of things. That’s how things were meant to be.

  Only …

  She looks directly up at him now, and says “That goes for yowe as welle, yowe daft old foole.”

  Only she is going to die. She is going to burn to death. And, Shadwell realizes in his dream, it is a horrible way to die.

  The flames lick higher.

  And the woman looks up. She is staring straight at him, invisible though he is. And she is smiling.

  And then it all goes boom.

  A crash of thunder.

  That was thunder, thought Shadwell, as he woke up, with the unshakable feeling that someone was still staring at him.

  He opened his eyes, and thirteen glass eyes watched from the various shelves of Madame Tracy’s boudoir, staring out from a variety of fuzzy faces.

  He looked away, and into the eyes of someone staring intently at him. It was him.

  Och, he thought in terror, I’m havin’ one o’ them out-o’-yer-body experiences, I can see mah ane self, I’m a goner this time right enough …

  He made frantic swimming motions in an effort to reach his own body and then, as these things do, the perspectives clicked into place.

  Shadwell relaxed, and wondered why anyone would want to put a mirror on his bedroom ceiling. He shook his head, baffled.

  He climbed out of the bed, pulled on his boots, and stood up, warily. Something was missing. A cigarette. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets, pulled out a tin, and began to roll a cigarette.

  He’d been dreaming, he knew. Shadwell didn’t remember the dream, but it made him feel uncomfortable, whatever it was.

  He lit the cigarette. And he saw his right hand: the ultimate weapon. The doomsday device. He pointed one finger at the one-eyed teddy bear on the mantelpiece.

  “Bang,” he said, and chuckled, dustily. He wasn’t used to chuckling, and he began to cough, which meant he was back on familiar territory. He wanted something to drink. A sweet can of condensed milk.

  Madame Tracy would have some.

  He stomped out of her boudoir, heading toward the kitchen.

  Outside the little kitchen he paused. She was talking to someone. A man.

  “So what exactly do you want me to do about this?” she was asking.

  “Ach, ye beldame,” muttered Shadwell. She had one of her gentlemen callers in there, obviously.

  “To be frank, dear lady, my plans at this point are perforce somewhat fluid.”

  Shadwell’s blood ran cold. He marched through the bead curtain, shouting, “The sins of Sodom an’ Gomorrah! Takin’ advantage of a defenseless hoor! Over my dead body!”

  Madame Tracy looked up, and smiled at him. There wasn’t anyone else in the room.

  “Whurrizee?” asked Shadwell.

  “Whom?” asked Madame Tracy.

  “Some Southern pansy,” he said, “I heard him. He was in here, suggestin’ things to yer. I heard him.”

  Madame Tracy’s mouth opened, and a voice said, “Not just A Southern Pansy, Sergeant Shadwell. THE Southern Pansy.”

  Shadwell dropped his cigarette. He stretched out his arm, shaking slightly, and pointed his hand at Madame Tracy.

  “Demon,” he croaked.

  “No,” said Madame Tracy, in the voice of the demon. “Now, I know what you’re thinking, Sergeant Shadwell. You’re thinking that any second now this head is going to go round and round, and I’m going to start vomiting pea soup. Well, I’m not. I’m not a demon. And I’d like you to listen to what I have to say.”

  “Daemonspawn, be silent,” ordered Shadwell. “I’ll no listen to yer wicked lies. Do yer know what this is? It’s a hand. Four fingers. One thumb. It’s already exorcised one of yer number this morning. Now get ye out of this gud wimmin’s head, or I’ll blast ye to kingdom come.”

  “That’s the problem, Mr. Shadwell,” said Madame Tracy in her own voice. “Kingdom come. It’s going to. That’s the problem. Mr. Aziraphale has been telling me all about it. Now stop being an old silly, Mr. Shadwell, sit down, and have some tea, and he’ll explain it to you as well.”

  “I’ll ne’r listen tae his hellish blandishments, woman,” said Shadwell.

  Madame Tracy smiled at him. “You old silly,” she said.

  He could have handled anything else.

  He sat down.

  But he didn’t lower his hand.

  THE SWINGING OVERHEAD SIGNS proclaimed that the southbound carriageway was closed, and a small forest of orange cones had sprung up, redirecting motorists onto a co-opted lane of the northbound carriageway. Other signs directed motorists to slow down to thirty miles per hour. Police cars herded the drivers around like red-striped sheepdogs.

  The four bikers ignored all the signs, and cones, and police cars, and continued down the empty southbound carriageway of the M6. The other four bikers, just behind them, slowed a little.

  “Shouldn’t we, uh, stop or something?” asked Really Cool People.

  “Yeah. Could be a pileup,” said Treading in Dogshit (formerly All Foreigners Especially The French, formerly Things Not Working Properly Even When You’ve Given Them a Good Thumping, never actually No Alcohol Lager, briefly Embarrassing Personal Problems, formerly known as Skuzz).

  “We’re the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” said G.B.H. “We do what they do. We follow them.”

  They rode south.

  “IT’LL BE A WORLD JUST FOR US,” said Adam. “Everything’s always been messed up by other people but we can get rid of it all an’ start again. Won’t that be great?”

  “YOU ARE, I TRUST, familiar with the Book of Revelation?” said Madame Tracy with Aziraphale’s voice.

  “Aye,” said Shadwell, who wasn’t. His biblical e
xpertise began and ended with Exodus, chapter twenty-two, verse eighteen, which concerned Witches, the suffering to live of, and why you shouldn’t. He had once glanced at verse nineteen, which was about putting to death people who lay down with beasts, but he had felt that this was rather outside his jurisdiction.

  “Then you have heard of the Antichrist?”

  “Aye,” said Shadwell, who had seen a film once which explained it all. Something about sheets of glass falling off lorries and slicing people’s heads off, as he recalled. No proper witches to speak of. He’d gone to sleep halfway through.

  “The Antichrist is alive on earth at this moment, Sergeant. He is bringing about Armageddon, the Day of Judgment, even if he himself does not know it. Heaven and Hell are both preparing for war, and it’s all going to be very messy.”

  Shadwell merely grunted.

  “I am not actually permitted to act directly in this matter, Sergeant. But I am sure that you can see that the imminent destruction of the world is not something any reasonable man would permit. Am I correct?”

  “Aye. S’pose,” said Shadwell, sipping condensed milk from a rusting can Madame Tracy had discovered under the sink.

  “Then there is only one thing to be done. And you are the only man I can rely on. The Antichrist must be killed, Sergeant Shadwell. And you must do it.”

  Shadwell frowned. “I wouldna know about that,” he said. “The witchfinder army only kills witches. ’Tis one of the rules. And demons and imps, o’ course.”

  “But, but the Antichrist is more than just a witch. He—he’s THE witch. He’s just about as witchy as you can get.”

  “Wud he be harder to get rid of than, say, a demon?” asked Shadwell, who had begun to brighten.

  “Not much more,” said Aziraphale, who had never done other to get rid of demons than to hint to them very strongly that he, Aziraphale, had some work to be getting on with, and wasn’t it getting late? And Crowley had always got the hint.

  Shadwell looked down at his right hand, and smiled. Then he hesitated.

  “This Antichrist—how many nipples has he?”

  The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale. And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.46 And he lied cheerfully and convincingly: “Oodles. Pots of them. His chest is covered with them—he makes Diana of the Ephesians look positively nippleless.”

  “I wouldna know about this Diana of yours,” said Shadwell, “but if he’s a witch, and it sounds tae me like he is, then, speaking as a sergeant in the WA, I’m yer man.”

  “Good,” said Aziraphale through Madame Tracy.

  “I’m not sure about this killing business,” said Madame Tracy herself. “But if it’s this man, this Antichrist, or everybody else, then I suppose we don’t really have any choice.”

  “Exactly, dear lady,” she replied. “Now, Sergeant Shadwell. Have you a weapon?”

  Shadwell rubbed his right hand with his left, clenching and unclenching the fist. “Aye,” he said. “I have that.” And he raised two fingers to his lips and blew on them gently.

  There was a pause. “Your hand?” asked Aziraphale.

  “Aye. ’Tis a turrible weapon. It did for ye, daemonspawn, did it not?”

  “Have you anything more, uh, substantial? How about the Golden Dagger of Meggido? Or the Shiv of Kali?”

  Shadwell shook his head. “I’ve got some pins,” he suggested. “And the Thundergun of Witchfinder-Colonel Ye-Shall-Not-Eat-Any-Living-Thing-With-The-Blood-Neither-Shall-Ye-Use-Enchantment-Nor-Observe-Times Dalrymple … I could load it with silver bullets.”

  “That’s werewolves, I believe,” said Aziraphale.

  “Garlic?”

  “Vampires.”

  Shadwell shrugged. “Aye, weel, I dinna have any fancy bullets anyway. But the Thundergun will fire anything. I’ll go and fetch it.”

  He shuffled out, thinking, why do I need another weapon? I’m a man with a hand.

  “Now, dear lady,” said Aziraphale. “I trust you have a reliable mode of transportation at your disposal.”

  “Oh, yes,” said Madame Tracy. She went over to the corner of the kitchen and picked up a pink motorbike helmet, with a yellow sunflower painted on it, and put it on, strapping it under her chin. Then she rummaged in a cupboard, pulled out three or four hundred plastic shopping bags and a heap of yellowing local newspapers, then a dusty day-glo green helmet with EASY RIDER written across the top, a present from her niece Petula twenty years before.

  Shadwell, returning with the Thundergun over his shoulder, stared at her unbelieving.

  “I don’t know what you’re staring at, Mr. Shadwell,” she told him. “It’s parked in the road downstairs.” She passed him the helmet. “You’ve got to put it on. It’s the law. I don’t think you’re really allowed to have three people on a scooter, even if two of them are, er, sharing. But it’s an emergency. And I’m sure you’ll be quite safe, if you hold on to me nice and tight.” And she smiled. “Won’t that be fun?”

  Shadwell paled, muttered something inaudible, and put on the green helmet.

  “What was that, Mr. Shadwell?” Madame Tracy looked at him sharply.

  “I said, De’il ding a divot aff yer wame wi’ a flaughter spade,” said Shadwell.

  “That’ll be quite enough of that kind of language, Mr. Shadwell,” said Madame Tracy, and she marched him out of the hall and down the stairs to Crouch End High Street, where an elderly scooter waited to take the two, well, call it three of them away.

  THE LORRY BLOCKED THE ROAD. And the corrugated iron blocked the road. And a thirty-foot-high pile of fish blocked the road. It was one of the most effectively blocked roads the sergeant had ever seen.

  The rain wasn’t helping.

  “Any idea when the bulldozers are likely to get here?” he shouted into his radio.

  “We’re crrrrk doing the best we crrrrk,” came the reply.

  He felt something tugging at his trouser cuff, and looked down.

  “Lobsters?” He gave a little skip, and a jump, and wound up on the top of the police car. “Lobsters,” he repeated. There were about thirty of them—some over two feet long. Most of them were on their way up the motorway; half a dozen had stopped to check out the police car.

  “Something wrong, Sarge?” asked the police constable, who was taking down the lorry driver’s details on the hard shoulder.

  “I just don’t like lobsters,” said the sergeant, grimly, shutting his eyes. “Bring me out in a rash. Too many legs. I’ll just sit up here a bit, and you can tell me when they’ve all gone.”

  He sat on the top of the car, in the rain, and felt the water seeping into the bottom of his trousers.

  There was a low roar. Thunder? No. It was continuous, and getting closer. Motorbikes. The sergeant opened one eye.

  Jesus Christ!

  There were four of them, and they had to be doing over a hundred. He was about to climb down, to wave at them, to shout, but they were past him, heading straight for the upturned lorry.

  There was nothing the sergeant could do. He closed his eyes again, and listened for the collision. He could hear them coming closer. Then:

  Whoosh.

  Whoosh.

  Whoosh.

  And a voice in his head that said, I’LL CATCH UP WITH THE REST OF YOU.

  (“Did you see that?” asked Really Cool People. “They flew right over it!”

  “’kin’ell!” said G.B.H. “If they can do it, we can too!”)

  The sergeant opened his eyes. He turned to the police constable and opened his mouth.

  The police constable said, “They. They actually. They flew righ … ”

  Thud. Thud. Thud.

  Splat.

  There was another rain of fish, although of shorter duration, and more easily explicable. A leather-jacketed arm waved feebly from the large pile of fish. A motorbike wheel spun hopelessly.

  That was Skuzz, semi-conscious, deciding that if there was one thing he hated even more than the French it was bei
ng up to his neck in fish with what felt like a broken leg. He truly hated that.

  He wanted to tell G.B.H. about his new role; but he couldn’t move. Something wet and slippery slithered up one sleeve.

  Later, when they’d dragged him out of the fish pile, and he’d seen the other three bikers, with the blankets over their heads, he realized it was too late to tell them anything.

  That was why they hadn’t been in that Book of Revelations Pigbog had been going on about. They’d never made it that far down the motorway.

  Skuzz muttered something. The police sergeant leaned over. “Don’t try to speak, son,” he said. “The ambulance’ll be here soon.”

  “Listen,” croaked Skuzz. “Got something important to tell you. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse … they’re right bastards, all four of them.”

  “He’s delirious,” announced the sergeant.

  “I’m sodding not. I’m People Covered In Fish,” croaked Skuzz, and passed out.

  THE LONDON TRAFFIC SYSTEM is many hundreds of times more complex than anyone imagines.

  This has nothing to do with influences, demonic or angelic. It’s more to do with geography, and history, and architecture.

  Mostly this works to people’s advantage, although they’d never believe it.

  London was not designed for cars. Come to that, it wasn’t designed for people. It just sort of happened. This created problems, and the solutions that were implemented became the next problems, five or ten or a hundred years down the line.

  The latest solution had been the M25: a motorway that formed a rough circle around the city. Up until now the problems had been fairly basic—things like it being obsolete before they had finished building it, Einsteinian tailbacks that eventually became tailforwards, that kind of thing.

  The current problem was that it didn’t exist; not in normal human spatial terms, anyway. The tailback of cars unaware of this, or trying to find alternate routes out of London, stretched into the city center, from every direction. For the first time ever, London was completely gridlocked. The city was one huge traffic jam.

  Cars, in theory, give you a terrifically fast method of traveling from place to place. Traffic jams, on the other hand, give you a terrific opportunity to stay still. In the rain, and the gloom, while around you the cacophonous symphony of horns grew ever louder and more exasperated.

 
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