Good omens the nice and.., p.27
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.27

           Terry Pratchett
 

  Crowley was getting sick of it.

  He’d taken the opportunity to reread Aziraphale’s notes, and to thumb through Agnes Nutter’s prophecies, and to do some serious thinking.

  His conclusions could be summarized as follows:

  Armageddon was under way.

  There was nothing Crowley could do about this.

  It was going to happen in Tadfield. Or to begin there, at any rate. After that it was going to happen everywhere.

  Crowley was in Hell’s bad books.47

  Aziraphale was—as far as could be estimated—out of the equation.

  All was black, gloomy and awful. There was no light at the end of the tunnel—or if there was, it was an oncoming train.

  He might just as well find a nice little restaurant and get completely and utterly pissed out of his mind while he waited for the world to end.

  And yet …

  And that was where it all fell apart.

  Because, underneath it all, Crowley was an optimist. If there was one rock-hard certainty that had sustained him through the bad times—he thought briefly of the fourteenth century—then it was utter surety that he would come out on top; that the universe would look after him.

  Okay, so Hell was down on him. So the world was ending. So the Cold War was over and the Great War was starting for real. So the odds against him were higher than a vanload of hippies on a blotterful of Owlsley’s Old Original. There was still a chance.

  It was all a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

  The right place was Tadfield. He was certain of that; partly from the book, partly from some other sense: in Crowley’s mental map of the world, Tadfield was throbbing like a migraine.

  The right time was getting there before the end of the world. He checked his watch. He had two hours to get to Tadfield, although probably even the normal passage of Time was pretty shaky by now.

  Crowley tossed the book into the passenger seat. Desperate times, desperate measures: he had maintained the Bentley without a scratch for sixty years.

  What the hell.

  He reversed suddenly, causing severe damage to the front of the red Renault 5 behind him, and drove up onto the pavement.

  He turned on his lights, and sounded his horn.

  That should give any pedestrians sufficient warning that he was coming. And if they couldn’t get out of the way … well, it’d all be the same in a couple of hours. Maybe. Probably.

  “Heigh ho,” said Anthony Crowley, and just drove anyway.

  THERE WERE SIX WOMEN and four men, and each of them had a telephone and a thick wodge of computer printout, covered with names and telephone numbers. By each of the numbers was a penned notation saying whether the person dialed was in or out, whether the number was currently connected, and, most importantly, whether or not anybody who answered the phone was avid for cavity-wall insulation to enter their lives.

  Most of them weren’t.

  The ten people sat there, hour after hour, cajoling, pleading, promising through plastic smiles. Between calls they made notations, sipped coffee, and marveled at the rain flooding down the windows. They were staying at their posts like the band on the Titanic. If you couldn’t sell double glazing in weather like this, you couldn’t sell it at all.

  Lisa Morrow was saying, “. . . Now, if you’ll only let me finish, sir, and yes, I understand that, sir, but if you’ll only … ,” and then, seeing that he’d just hung up on her, she said, “Well, up yours, snot-face.”

  She put down the phone.

  “I got another bath,” she announced to her fellow telephone salespersons. She was well in the lead in the office daily Getting People Out of the Bath stakes, and only needed two more points to win the weekly Coitus Interruptus award.

  She dialed the next number on the list.

  Lisa had never intended to be a telephone salesperson. What she really wanted to be was an internationally glamorous jet-setter, but she didn’t have the O-levels.

  Had she been studious enough to be accepted as an internationally glamorous jet-setter, or a dental assistant (her second choice of profession), or indeed, anything other than a telephone salesperson in that particular office, she would have had a longer, and probably more fulfilled, life.

  Perhaps not a very much longer life, all things considered, it being the Day of Armageddon, but several hours anyway.

  For that matter, all she really needed to do for a longer life was not ring the number she had just dialed, listed on her sheet as the Mayfair home of, in the best traditions of tenth-hand mail-order lists, Mr. A. J. Cowlley.

  But she had dialed. And she had waited while it rang four times. And she had said, “Oh, poot, another ansaphone,” and started to put down the handset.

  But then something climbed out of the earpiece. Something very big, and very angry.

  It looked a little like a maggot. A huge, angry maggot made out of thousands and thousands of tiny little maggots, all writhing and screaming, millions of little maggot mouths opening and shutting in fury, and every one of them was screaming “Crowley.”

  It stopped screaming. Swayed blindly, seemed to be taking stock of where it was.

  Then it went to pieces.

  The thing split into thousands of thousands of writhing gray maggots. They flowed over the carpet, up over the desks, over Lisa Morrow and her nine colleagues; they flowed into their mouths, up their nostrils, into their lungs; they burrowed into flesh and eyes and brains and lights, reproducing wildly as they went, filling the room with a towering mess of writhing flesh and gunk. The whole began to flow together, to coagulate into one huge entity that filled the room from floor to ceiling, pulsing gently.

  A mouth opened in the mass of flesh, strands of something wet and sticky adhering to each of the not-exactly lips, and Hastur said:

  “I needed that.”

  Spending half an hour trapped on an ansaphone with only Aziraphale’s message for company had not improved his temper.

  Neither did the prospect of having to report back to Hell, and having to explain why he hadn’t returned half an hour earlier, and, more importantly, why he was not accompanied by Crowley.

  Hell did not go a bundle on failures.

  On the plus side, however, he at least knew what Aziraphale’s message was. The knowledge could probably buy him his continued existence.

  And anyway, he reflected, if he were going to have to face the possible wrath of the Dark Council, at least it wouldn’t be on an empty stomach.

  The room filled with thick, sulphurous smoke. When it cleared, Hastur was gone. There was nothing left in the room but ten skeletons, picked quite clean of meat, and some puddles of melted plastic with, here and there, a gleaming fragment of metal that might once have been part of a telephone. Much better to have been a dental assistant.

  But, to look on the bright side, all this only went to prove that evil contains the seeds of its own destruction. Right now, across the country, people who would otherwise have been made just that little bit more tense and angry by being summoned from a nice bath, or having their names mispronounced at them, were instead feeling quite untroubled and at peace with the world. As a result of Hastur’s action a wave of low-grade goodness started to spread exponentially through the population, and millions of people who ultimately would have suffered minor bruises of the soul did not in fact do so. So that was all right.

  YOU WOULDN’T HAVE KNOWN it as the same car. There was scarcely an inch of it undented. Both front lights were smashed. The hubcaps were long gone. It looked like the veteran of a hundred demolition derbies.

  The pavements had been bad. The pedestrian underpass had been worse. The worst bit had been crossing the River Thames. At least he’d had the foresight to roll up all the windows.

  Still, he was here, now.

  In a few hundred yards he’d be on the M40; a fairly clear run up to Oxfordshire. There was only one snag: once more between Crowley and the open road was the M25. A screaming, glowing ribb
on of pain and dark light.48 Odegra. Nothing could cross it and survive.

  Nothing mortal, anyway. And he wasn’t sure what it would do to a demon. It couldn’t kill him, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.

  There was a police roadblock in front of the flyover before him. Burnt-out wrecks—some still burning—testified to the fate of previous cars that had to drive across the flyover above the dark road.

  The police did not look happy.

  Crowley shifted down into second gear, and gunned the accelerator.

  He went through the roadblock at sixty. That was the easy bit.

  Cases of spontaneous human combustion are on record all over the world. One minute someone’s quite happily chugging along with their life; the next there’s a sad photograph of a pile of ashes and a lonely and mysteriously uncharred foot or hand. Cases of spontaneous vehicular combustion are less well documented.

  Whatever the statistics were, they had just gone up by one.

  The leather seatcovers began to smoke. Staring ahead of him, Crowley fumbled left-handedly on the passenger seat for Agnes Nutter’s Nice and Accurate Prophecies, moved it to the safety of his lap. He wished she’d prophecied this.49

  Then the flames engulfed the car.

  He had to keep driving.

  On the other side of the flyover was a further police roadblock, to prevent the passage of cars trying to come into London. They were laughing about a story that had just come over the radio, that a motorbike cop on the M6 had flagged down a stolen police car, only to discover the driver to be a large octopus.

  Some police forces would believe anything. Not the Metropolitan police, though. The Met was the hardest, most cynically pragmatic, most stubbornly down-to-earth police force in Britain.

  It would take a lot to faze a copper from the Met.

  It would take, for example, a huge, battered car that was nothing more nor less than a fireball, a blazing, roaring, twisted metal lemon from Hell, driven by a grinning lunatic in sunglasses, sitting amid the flames, trailing thick black smoke, coming straight at them through the lashing rain and the wind at eighty miles per hour.

  That would do it every time.

  THE QUARRY WAS THE CALM center of a stormy world.

  Thunder didn’t just rumble overhead, it tore the air in half.

  “I’ve got some more friends coming,” Adam repeated. “They’ll be here soon, and then we can really get started.”

  Dog started to howl. It was no longer the siren howl of a lone wolf, but the weird oscillations of a small dog in deep trouble.

  Pepper had been sitting staring at her knees.

  There seemed to be something on her mind.

  Finally she looked up and stared Adam in the blank gray eyes.

  “What bit ’re you going to have, Adam?” she said.

  The storm was replaced by a sudden, ringing silence.

  “What?” said Adam.

  “Well, you divided up the world, right, and we’ve all of us got to have a bit—what bit’re you going to have?”

  The silence sang like a harp, high and thin.

  “Yeah,” said Brian. “You never told us what bit you’re having.”

  “Pepper’s right,” said Wensleydale. “Don’t seem to me there’s much left, if we’ve got to have all these countries.”

  Adam’s mouth opened and shut.

  “What?” he said.

  “What bit’s yours, Adam?” said Pepper.

  Adam stared at her. Dog had stopped howling and had fixed his master with an intent, thoughtful mongrel stare.

  “M-me?” he said.

  The silence went on and on, one note that could drown out the noises of the world.

  “But I’ll have Tadfield,” said Adam.

  They stared at him.

  “An’, an’ Lower Tadfield, and Norton, and Norton Woods—”

  They still stared.

  Adam’s gaze dragged itself across their faces.

  “They’re all I’ve ever wanted,” he said.

  They shook their heads.

  “I can have ’em if I want,” said Adam, his voice tinged with sullen defiance and his defiance edged with sudden doubt. “I can make them better, too. Better trees to climb, better ponds, better … ”

  His voice trailed off.

  “You can’t,” said Wensleydale flatly. “They’re not like America and those places. They’re really real. Anyway, they belong to all of us. They’re ours.”

  “And you couldn’t make ’em better,” said Brian.

  “Anyway, even if you did we’d all know,” said Pepper.

  “Oh, if that’s all that’s worryin’ you, don’t you worry,” said Adam airily, “ ’cos I could make you all just do whatever I wanted—”

  He stopped, his ears listening in horror to the words his mouth was speaking. The Them were backing away.

  Dog put his paws over his head.

  Adam’s face looked like an impersonation of the collapse of empire.

  “No,” he said hoarsely. “No. Come back! I command you!”

  They froze in mid-dash.

  Adam stared.

  “No, I dint mean it—” he began. “You’re my friends—”

  His body jerked. His head was thrown back. He raised his arms and pounded the sky with his fists.

  His face twisted. The chalk floor cracked under his sneakers.

  Adam opened his mouth and screamed. It was a sound that a merely mortal throat should not have been able to utter; it wound out of the quarry, mingled with the storm, caused the clouds to curdle into new and unpleasant shapes.

  It went on and on.

  It resounded around the universe, which is a good deal smaller than physicists would believe. It rattled the celestial spheres.

  It spoke of loss, and it did not stop for a very long time.

  And then it did.

  Something drained away.

  Adam’s head tilted down again. His eyes opened.

  Whatever had been standing in the old quarry before, Adam Young was standing there now. A more knowledgeable Adam Young, but Adam Young nevertheless. Possibly more of Adam Young than there had ever been before.

  The ghastly silence in the quarry was replaced by a more familiar, comfortable silence, the mere and simple absence of noise.

  The freed Them cowered against the chalk cliff, their eyes fixed on him.

  “It’s all right,” said Adam quietly. “Pepper? Wensley? Brian? Come back here. It’s all right. It’s all right. I know everything now. And you’ve got to help me. Otherwise it’s all goin’ to happen. It’s really all goin’ to happen. It’s all goin’ to happen, if we don’t do somethin’.”

  THE PLUMBING IN Jasmine Cottage heaved and rattled and showered Newt with water that was slightly khaki in color. But it was cold. It was probably the coldest cold shower Newt had ever had in his life.

  It didn’t do any good.

  “There’s a red sky,” he said, when he came back. He was feeling slightly manic. “At half past four in the afternoon. In August. What does that mean? In terms of delighted nautical operatives, would you say? I mean, if it takes a red sky at night to delight a sailor, what does it take to amuse the man who operates the computers on a supertanker? Or is it shepherds who are delighted at night? I can never remember.”

  Anathema eyed the plaster in his hair. The shower hadn’t got rid of it; it had merely dampened it down and spread it out, so that Newt looked as though he was wearing a white hat with hair in it.

  “You must have got quite a bump,” she said.

  “No, that was when I hit my head on the wall. You know, when you—”

  “Yes.” Anathema looked quizzically out of the broken window. “Would you say it’s blood-colored?” she said. “It’s very important.”

  “I wouldn’t say that,” said Newt, his train of thought temporarily derailed. “Not actual blood. More pinkish. Probably the storm put a lot of dust in the air.”

  Anathema was rummaging through The Nice and
Accurate Prophecies.

  “What are you doing?” he said.

  “Trying to cross-reference. I still can’t be—”

  “I don’t think you need to bother,” said Newt. “I know what the rest of 3477 means. It came to me when I—”

  “What do you mean, you know what it means?”

  “I saw it on my way down here. And don’t snap like that. My head aches. I mean I saw it. They’ve got it written down outside that air base of yours. It’s got nothing to do with peas. It’s ‘Peace Is Our Profession.’ It’s the kind of thing they put up on boards outside air bases. You know: SAC 8657745th Wing, The Screaming Blue Demons, Peace Is Our Profession. That sort of thing.” Newt clutched his head. The euphoria was definitely fading. “If Agnes is right, then there’s probably some madman in there right now winding up all the missiles and cranking open the launch windows. Or whatever they are.”

  “No, there isn’t,” said Anathema firmly.

  “Oh, yes? I’ve seen films! Name me one good reason why you can be so sure.”

  “There aren’t any bombs there. Or missiles. Everyone round here knows that.”

  “But it’s an air base! It’s got runways!”

  “That’s just for transport planes and things. All they’ve got up there is communications gear. Radios and stuff. Nothing explosive at all.”

  Newt stared at her.

  LOOK AT CROWLEY, doing 110 mph on the M40 heading toward Oxfordshire. Even the most resolutely casual observer would notice a number of strange things about him. The clenched teeth, for example, or the dull red glow coming from behind his sunglasses. And the car. The car was a definite hint.

  Crowley had started the journey in his Bentley, and he was damned if he wasn’t going to finish it in the Bentley as well. Not that even the kind of car buff who owns his own pair of motoring goggles would have been able to tell it was a vintage Bentley. Not any more. They wouldn’t have been able to tell that it was a Bentley. They would only offer fifty-fifty that it had ever even been a car.

  There was no paint left on it, for a start. It might still have been black, where it wasn’t a rusty, smudged reddish-brown, but this was a dull charcoal black. It traveled in its own ball of flame, like a space capsule making a particularly difficult re-entry.

 
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