Good omens the nice and.., p.35
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.35
 

           Terry Pratchett

  The plane was at that point passing right above the Lower Tadfield bedroom of Greasy Johnson, who was aimlessly leafing through a photography magazine that he’d bought merely because it had a rather good picture of a tropical fish on the cover.

  A few pages below Greasy’s listless finger was a spread on American football, and how it was really catching on in Europe. Which was odd—because when the magazine had been printed, those pages had been about photography in desert conditions.

  It was about to change his life.

  And Warlock flew on to America. He deserved something (after all, you never forget the first friends you ever had, even if you were all a few hours old at the time) and the power that was controlling the fate of all mankind at that precise time was thinking: Well, he’s going to America, isn’t he? Don’t see how you could have anythin’ better than going to America.

  They’ve got thirty-nine flavors of ice cream there. Maybe even more.

  THERE WERE A MILLION exciting things a boy and his dog could be doing on a Sunday afternoon. Adam could think of four or five hundred of them without even trying. Thrilling things, stirring things, planets to be conquered, lions to be tamed, lost South American worlds teeming with dinosaurs to be discovered and befriended.

  He sat in the garden, and scratched in the dirt with a pebble, looking despondent.

  His father had found Adam asleep on his return from the air base—sleeping, to all intents and purposes, as if he had been in bed all evening. Even snoring once in a while, for verisimilitude.

  At breakfast the next morning, however, it was made clear that this had not been enough. Mr. Young disliked gallivanting about of a Saturday evening on a wild-goose chase. And if, by some unimaginable fluke, Adam was not responsible for the night’s disturbances—whatever they had been, since nobody had seemed very clear on the details, only that there had been disturbances of some sort—then he was undoubtedly guilty of something. This was Mr. Young’s attitude, and it had served him well for the last eleven years.

  Adam sat dispiritedly in the garden. The August sun hung high in an August blue and cloudless sky, and behind the hedge a thrush sang, but it seemed to Adam that this was simply making it all much worse.

  Dog sat at Adam’s feet. He had tried to help, chiefly by exhuming a bone he had buried four days earlier and dragging it to Adam’s feet, but all Adam had done was stare at it gloomily, and eventually Dog had taken it away and inhumed it once more. He had done all he could.

  “Adam?”

  Adam turned. Three faces stared over the garden fence.

  “Hi,” said Adam, disconsolately.

  “There’s a circus come to Norton,” said Pepper. “Wensley was down there, and he saw them. They’re just setting up.”

  “They’ve got tents, and elephants and jugglers and pratic’ly wild animals and stuff and—and everything!” said Wensleydale.

  “We thought maybe we’d all go down there an’ watch them setting up,” said Brian.

  For an instant Adam’s mind swam with visions of circuses. Circuses were boring, once they were set up. You could see better stuff on television any day. But the setting up … Of course they’d all go down there, and they’d help them put up the tents, and wash the elephants, and the circus people would be so impressed with Adam’s natural rappore with animals such that, that night, Adam (and Dog, the World’s Most Famous Performing Mongrel) would lead the elephants into the circus ring and …

  It was no good.

  He shook his head sadly. “Can’t go anywhere,” he said. “They said so.”

  There was a pause.

  “Adam,” said Pepper, a trifle uneasily, “what did happen last night?”

  Adam shrugged. “Just stuff. Doesn’t matter,” he said. “’Salways the same. All you do is try to help, and people would think you’d murdered someone or something.”

  There was another pause, while the Them stared at their fallen leader.

  “When d’you think they’ll let you out, then?” asked Pepper.

  “Not for years an’ years. Years an’ years an’ years. I’ll be an old man by the time they let me out,” said Adam.

  “How about tomorrow?” asked Wensleydale.

  Adam brightened. “Oh, tomorrow’ll be all right,” he pronounced. “They’ll have forgotten about it by then. You’ll see. They always do.” He looked up at them, a scruffy Napoleon with his laces trailing, exiled to a rose-trellissed Elba. “You all go,” he told them, with a brief, hollow laugh. “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be all right. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

  The Them hesitated. Loyalty was a great thing, but no lieutenants should be forced to choose between their leader and a circus with elephants. They left.

  The sun continued to shine. The thrush continued to sing. Dog gave up on his master, and began to stalk a butterfly in the grass by the garden hedge. This was a serious, solid, impassible hedge, of thick and well-trimmed privet, and Adam knew it of old. Beyond it stretched open fields, and wonderful muddy ditches, and unripe fruit, and irate but slow-of-foot owners of fruit trees, and circuses, and streams to dam, and walls and trees just made for climbing …

  But there was no way through the hedge.

  Adam looked thoughtful.

  “Dog,” said Adam, sternly, “get away from that hedge, because if you went through it, then I’d have to chase you to catch you, and I’d have to go out of the garden, and I’m not allowed to do that. But I’d have to … if you went an’ ran away.”

  Dog jumped up and down excitedly, and stayed where he was.

  Adam looked around, carefully. Then, even more carefully, he looked Up, and Down. And then Inside.

  Then …

  And now there was a large hole in the hedge—large enough for a dog to run through, and for a boy to squeeze through after him. And it was a hole that had always been there.

  Adam winked at Dog.

  Dog ran through the hole in the hedge. And, shouting clearly, loudly and distinctly, “Dog, you bad dog! Stop! Come back here!” Adam squeezed through after him.

  Something told him that something was coming to an end. Not the world, exactly. Just the summer. There would be other summers, but there would never be one like this. Ever again.

  Better make the most of it, then.

  He stopped halfway across the field. Someone was burning something. He looked at the plume of white smoke above the chimney of Jasmine Cottage, and he paused. And he listened.

  Adam could hear things that other people might miss.

  He could hear laughter.

  It wasn’t a witch’s cackle; it was the low and earthy guffaw of someone who knew a great deal more than could possibly be good for them.

  The white smoke writhed and curled above the cottage chimney. For a fraction of an instant Adam saw, outlined in the smoke, a handsome, female face. A face that hadn’t been seen on Earth for over three hundred years.

  Agnes Nutter winked at him.

  The light summer breeze dispersed the smoke; and the face and the laughter were gone.

  Adam grinned, and began to run once more.

  In a meadow a short distance away, across a stream, the boy caught up with the wet and muddy dog. “Bad Dog,” said Adam, scratching Dog behind the ears. Dog yapped ecstatically.

  Adam looked up. Above him hung an old apple tree, gnarled and heavy. It might have been there since the dawn of time. Its boughs were bent with the weight of apples, small and green and unripe.

  With the speed of a striking cobra the boy was up the tree. He returned to the ground seconds later with his pockets bulging, munching noisily on a tart and perfect apple.

  “Hey! You! Boy!” came a gruff voice from behind him. “You’re that Adam Young! I can see you! I’ll tell your father about you, you see if I don’t!”

  Parental retribution was now a certainty, thought Adam, as he bolted, his dog by his side, his pockets stuffed with stolen fruit.

  It always was. But it wouldn’t be till this even
ing.

  And this evening was a long way off.

  He threw the apple core back in the general direction of his pursuer, and he reached into a pocket for another.

  He couldn’t see why people made such a fuss about people eating their silly old fruit anyway, but life would be a lot less fun if they didn’t. And there never was an apple, in Adam’s opinion, that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into for eating it.

  IF YOU WANT TO IMAGINE the future, imagine a boy and his dog and his friends. And a summer that never ends.

  And if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot … no, imagine a sneaker, laces trailing, kicking a pebble; imagine a stick, to poke at interesting things, and throw for a dog that may or may not decide to retrieve it; imagine a tuneless whistle, pounding some luckless popular song into insensibility; imagine a figure, half angel, half devil, all human …

  Slouching hopefully towards Tadfield. …

  . . . forever.

  About the Authors

  TERRY PRATCHETT is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty books, including his phenomenally successful Discworld series. His young adult novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents won the Carnegie Medal, and Where’s My Cow?, his Discworld book for “readers of all ages,” was a New York Times bestseller. Named an Officer of the British Empire “for services to literature,” Pratchett lives in England. (He has drunk enough banana daiquiris, thank you. It’s G & Ts from now on.)

  www.terrypratchettbooks.com

  NEIL GAIMAN is the critically acclaimed and award-winning creator of the Sandman series of graphic novels and author of the novels Anansi Boys, American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, and Coraline, the short fiction collections Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors, and the New York Times bestselling children’s books The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in the United States. (He is still 5’11” tall and continues to be partial to black T-shirts.)

  www.neilgaiman.com

  Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

  HEAVENLY PRAISE FOR

  Good Omens

  “Full-bore contemporary lunacy. A steamroller of silliness that made me giggle out loud.”

  —San Diego Union-Tribune

  “Something like what would have happened if Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins, and Don DeLillo had collaborated on the screenplay of a remake of the Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight. … It’s a wow. … It would make one hell of a movie. Or a heavenly one. Take your pick.”

  —Washington Post

  “It reads like the Book of Revelation as penned by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

  —Phoenix New Times

  “Terrifically entertaining.”

  —Dayton Daily News

  “A direct descendant of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

  —New York Times

  “Outrageous. … Good Omens shouldn’t be pegged into a category. It should just be enjoyed. … Read it for a riotous good laugh.”

  —Orlando Sentinel

  “The Apocalypse has never been funnier.”

  —Clive Barker

  “What’s so funny about Armageddon? More than you’d think. … Good Omens has arrived just in time.”

  —Detroit Free Press

  DEVILISHLY GOOD REVIEWS FOR TERRY PRATCHETT …

  “A master of laugh-out-loud fiction.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Terry Pratchett seems constitutionally unable to write a page without at least a twitch of the grin muscles. … [But] the notions Pratchett plays with are nae so narrow or nae so silly as your ordinary British farce.”

  —San Diego Union-Tribune

  “Pratchett is well able to combine the hilarious with the topical, acerbic, and incisive.”

  —Toronto Star

  “A top-notch satirist.”

  —Denver Post

  “Terry Pratchett may still be pegged as a comic novelist, but … he’s a lot more. In his range of invented characters, his adroit storytelling, and his clear-eyed acceptance of humankind’s foibles, he reminds me of no one in English literature as much as Geoffrey Chaucer. No kidding.”

  —Washington Post Book World

  . . . AND NEIL GAIMAN

  “A writer imbued with rich storytelling qualities and a boundless imagination.”

  —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  “Neil Gaiman is a writer to make readers rejoice.”

  —Minneapolis Star Tribune

  “Gaiman is fast becoming one of the most important of modern writers.”

  —Denver Rocky Mountain News

  “Gaiman is a trickster in the best sense of the word.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “He is a treasure house of story and we are lucky to have him.”

  —Stephen King

  “When you take the free-fall plunge into a Neil Gaiman book, anything can happen and anything invariably does.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  Facts

  GOOD OMENS, THE FACTS

  (or, at least, lies that have been hallowed by time)

  Once upon a time Neil Gaiman wrote half a short story. He didn’t know how it ended. He sent it to Terry Pratchett, who didn’t know, either. But it festered away in Terry’s mind and he rang Neil about a year later and said: “I don’t know how it ends, but I do know what happens next.” The first draft took about two months, the second draft took about six months. Quite why, we don’t know, but it did include explaining the jokes to the American publishers.

  WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH NEIL GAIMAN/TERRY PRATCHETT?

  Ah. You have to remember, you see, that in those days Neil Gaiman was barely Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was only just Terry Pratchett. They’d known one another for years, Neil having done an interview with Terry in 1985, after the first Discworld book came out. Look, it wasn’t a big deal, okay? At no point in the whole thing did either of them say to the other, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m working with you!”

  HOW DID YOU WRITE IT?

  Mostly by shouting excitedly at one another down the phone a couple of times a day for two months, and sending a disk off to the other guy several times a week. There were attempts toward the end of the writing process at machine-to-machine communication via 300 / 75 baud modems, but as a means of communication this turned out to be slightly less efficient than underwater yodeling.

  Neil was mostly nocturnal back then, so he’d get up in the early afternoon and see the flashing red light on his ansaphone, which would mean there would be a message from Terry that would usually begin “Get up, get up, you bastard, I’ve just written a good bit!” And then the first phone call of the day would happen, when Terry would read Neil what he’d written that morning, and Neil would read Terry what he’d written much earlier that morning. Then they’d talk excitedly at each other, and it would be a race to get to the next good bit before the other guy.

  IS THAT WHY THERE’S AN ANSAPHONE IN THE STORY?

  Probably. It was a long time ago, you know.

  WHO WROTE WHAT BIT?

  Ah. Another tricky one. As the official Keeper of the One True Copy, Terry physically wrote more of Draft 1 than Neil. But if 2,000 words are written down after a lot of excited shouting, it’s a moot point whose words they are. And, in any case, as a matter of honor both of them rewrote and footnoted the other guy’s stuff, and both can write passably in the other one’s style. The Agnes Nutter scenes and the kids mostly originated with Terry, the Four Horsemen and anything that involved maggots started with Neil. Neil had most influence on the opening, Terry on the ending. Apart from that, they just shouted excitedly a lot.

  The point they both realized the text had wandered into its own world was in the basement of the old Gollancz books, where they’d got together to proofread the final copy, and Neil congratulated Terry on a line that Terry knew he hadn’t written, and N
eil was certain he hadn’t written either. They both privately suspect that at some point the book had started to generate text on its own, but neither of them will actually admit this publicly for fear of being thought odd.

  WHY DID YOU WRITE IT?

  It seemed a shame not to. Besides, not writing it would mean that generations of readers would not have a book that could be dropped regularly in the bath.

  WHY ISN’T THERE A SEQUEL?

  We played around with ideas, but we could never work up the enthusiasm. Besides, we wanted to do other things (and some of those ideas probably ended up, bent to a different shape, in the works of both of us). Recently, though, we’ve both been wondering if “never again” is set in stone. So there might be a sequel one day. Maybe. Perhaps. Who knows? We don’t.

  DID YOU KNOW IT WOULD BE A “CULT CLASSIC” WHEN YOU WROTE IT?

  If by “cult classic” you mean that all over the world there are people with their own copies of Good Omens, which they’ve read over and over and over, books they’ve dropped in baths and in puddles and in bowls of parsnip soup, books held together with duct tape and putty and string, books that are no longer lent out because no one in their right mind would actually borrow something like that without having it clinically sterilized first, then no, we didn’t.

  Whereas if by “cult classic” you mean a book that’s sold millions and millions of copies around the world, many of them to the same people, because they buy them and then lend them out to their friends and never see them again so buy more copies, then no, we didn’t.

  Actually it doesn’t really matter what definition of cult classic you use, we didn’t think we were writing one. We were writing a book we thought was funny and we were trying to make each other laugh. We weren’t even sure that anyone would actually want to publish it.

  OH, COME ON, YOU’RE NEIL GAIMAN AND TERRY PRATCHETT.

  Yes, but we weren’t then (see What was it like working with Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett? above). We were these two blokes with an idea, who were telling each other a story.

  WILL THERE BE A MOVIE, THEN?

 
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