Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
Anathema Device—her mother, who was not a great student of religious matters, happened to read the word one day and thought it was a lovely name for a girl—was eight and a half years old, and she was reading The Book, under the bedclothes, with a torch.
Other children learned to read on basic primers with colored pictures of apples, balls, cockroaches, and so forth. Not the Device family. Anathema had learned to read from The Book.
It didn’t have any apples and balls in it. It did have a rather good eighteenth-century woodcut of Agnes Nutter being burned at the stake and looking rather cheerful about it.
The first word she could recognize was nice. Very few people at the age of eight and a half know that nice also means “scrupulously exact,” but Anathema was one of them.
The second word was accurate.
The first sentence she had ever read out loud was:
“I tell ye thif, and I charge ye with my wordes. Four shalle ryde, and Four shalle alfo ryde, and Three sharl ryde the Skye as twixt, and Wonne shal ryde in flames; and theyr shall be no stopping themme: not fish, nor rayne, nor rode, neither Deville nor Angel. And ye shalle be theyr alfo, Anathema.”
Anathema liked to read about herself.
(There were books which caring parents who read the right Sunday papers could purchase with their children’s names printed in as the heroine or hero. This was meant to interest the child in the book. In Anathema’s case, it wasn’t only her in The Book—and it had been spot on so far—but her parents, and her grandparents, and everyone, back to the seventeenth century. She was too young and too self-centered at this point to attach any importance to the fact that there was no mention made of her children, or indeed, any events in her future further away than eleven years’ time. When you’re eight and a half, eleven years is a lifetime, and of course, if you believed The Book, it would be.)
She was a bright child, with a pale face, and black eyes and hair. As a rule she tended to make people feel uncomfortable, a family trait she had inherited, along with being more psychic than was good for her, from her great-great-great-great-great grandmother.
She was precocious, and self-possessed. The only thing about Anathema her teachers ever had the nerve to upbraid her for was her spelling, which was not so much appalling as 300 years too late.
The nuns took Baby A and swapped it with Baby B under the noses of the Attachés wife and the Secret Service men, by the cunning expedient of wheeling one baby away (“to be weighed, love, got to do that, it’s the law”) and wheeling another baby back, a little later.
The Cultural Attaché himself, Thaddeus J. Dowling, had been called back to Washington in a hurry a few days earlier, but he had been on the phone to Mrs. Dowling throughout the birth experience, helping her with her breathing.
It didn’t help that he had been talking on the other line to his investment counselor. At one point he’d been forced to put her on hold for twenty minutes.
But that was okay.
Having a baby is the single most joyous co-experience that two human beings can share, and he wasn’t going to miss a second of it.
He’d got one of the Secret Service men to videotape it for him.
Evil in general does not sleep, and therefore doesn’t see why anyone else should. But Crowley liked sleep, it was one of the pleasures of the world. Especially after a heavy meal. He’d slept right through most of the nineteenth century, for example. Not because he needed to, simply because he enjoyed it.*
One of the pleasures of the world. Well, he’d better start really enjoying them now, while there was still time.
The Bentley roared through the night, heading east.
Of course, he was all in favor of Armageddon in general terms. If anyone had asked him why he’d been spending centuries tinkering in the affairs of mankind he’d have said, “Oh, in order to bring about Armageddon and the triumph of Hell.” But it was one thing to work to bring it about, and quite another for it to actually happen.
Crowley had always known that he would be around when the world ended, because he was immortal and wouldn’t have any alternative. But he’d hoped it would be a long way off.
Because he rather liked people. It was a major failing in a demon.
Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse. Over the years Crowley had found it increasingly difficult to find anything demonic to do which showed up against the natural background of generalized nastiness. There had been times, over the past millennium, when he’d felt like sending a message back Below saying, Look, we may as well give up right now, we might as well shut down Dis and Pandemonium and everywhere and move up here, there’s nothing we can do to them that they don’t do themselves and they do things we’ve never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They’ve got what we lack. They’ve got imagination.And electricity, of course.
One of them had written it, hadn’t he… “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
Crowley had got a commendation for the Spanish Inquisition. He had been in Spain then, mainly hanging around cantinas in the nicer parts, and hadn’t even known about it until the commendation arrived. He’d gone to have a look, and had come back and got drunk for a week.
That Hieronymous Bosch. What a weirdo.
And just when you’d think they were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this free-will thing, of course. It was a bugger.
Aziraphale had tried to explain it to him once. The whole point, he’d said—this was somewhere around 1020, when they’d first reached their little Arrangement—the whole point was that when a human was good or bad it was because they wanted to be. Whereas people like Crowley and, of course, himself, were set in their ways right from the start. People couldn’t become truly holy, he said, unless they also had the opportunity to be definitively wicked.
Crowley had thought about this for some time and, around about 1023, had said, Hang on, that only works, right, if you start everyone off equal, okay? You can’t start someone off in a muddy shack in the middle of a war zone and expect them to do as well as someone born in a castle.
Ah, Aziraphale had said, that’s the good bit. The lower you start, the more opportunities you have.
Crowley had said, That’s lunatic.
No, said Aziraphale, it’s ineffable.
Aziraphale. The Enemy, of course. But an enemy for six thousand years now, which made him a sort of friend.
Crowley reached down and picked up the car phone.
Being a demon, of course, was supposed to mean you had no free will. But you couldn’t hang around humans for very long without learning a thing or two.
Mr. Young had not been too keen on Damien, or Wormwood. Or any of Sister Mary Loquacious’ other suggestions, which had covered half of Hell, and most of the Golden Years of Hollywood.
“Well,” she said finally, a little hurt, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Errol. Or Cary. Very nice American names, both of them.”
“I had fancied something more, well, traditional,” explained Mr. Young. “We’ve always gone in for good simple names in our family.”
Sister Mary beamed. “That’s right. The old names are always the best, if you ask me.”
“A decent English name, like people had in the Bible,” said Mr. Young. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John,” he said, speculatively. Sister Mary winced. “Only they’ve never struck me as very good Bible names, really,” Mr. Young added. “They sound more like cowboys and footballers.”
“Saul’s nice,” said Sister Mary, making the best of it.
“I don’t want something too old-fashioned,” said Mr. Young.
“Or Cain. Very modern sound, Cain, really,” Sister Mary tried.
“Hmm.” Mr. Young looked doubtful.
“Or there’s always… well, there’s always Adam,” said Sister Mary. That should be safe enough, she thought.
“Adam?” said Mr. Young.
It would be nice to think that the Satanist Nuns had the surplus baby—Baby B—discreetly adopted. That he grew to be a normal, happy, laughing child, active and exuberant; and after that, grew further to become a normal, fairly contented adult.
And perhaps that’s what happened.
Let your mind dwell on his junior school prize for spelling; his unremarkable although quite pleasant time at university; his job in the payroll department of the Tadfield and Norton Building Society; his lovely wife. Possibly you would like to imagine some children, and a hobby—restoring vintage motorcycles, perhaps, or breeding tropical fish.
You don’t want to know what could have happened to Baby B.
We like your version better, anyway.
He probably wins prizes for his tropical fish.
In a small house in Dorking, Surrey, a light was on in a bedroom window.
Newton Pulsifer was twelve, and thin, and bespectacled, and he should have been in bed hours ago.
His mother, though, was convinced of her child’s genius, and let him stay up past his bedtime to do his “experiments.”
His current experiment was changing a plug on an ancient Bakelite radio his mother had given him to play with. He sat at what he proudly called his “work-top,” a battered old table covered in curls of wire, batteries, little light bulbs, and a homemade crystal set that had never worked.
He hadn’t managed to get the Bakelite radio working yet either, but then again, he never seemed able to get that far.
Three slightly crooked model airplanes hung on cotton cords from his bedroom ceiling. Even a casual observer could have seen that they were made by someone who was both painstaking and very careful, and also no good at making model airplanes. He was hopelessly proud of all of them, even the Spitfire, where he’d made rather a mess of the wings.
He pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, squinted down at the plug, and put down the screwdriver.
He had high hopes for it this time; he had followed all the instructions on plug-changing on page five of the Boy’s Own Book of Practical Electronics, Including A Hundred and One Safe and Educational Things to Do With Electricity. He had attached the correct color-coded wires to the correct pins; he’d checked that it was the right amperage fuse; he’d screwed it all back together. So far, no problems.
He plugged it in to the socket. Then he switched the socket on.
Every light in the house went out.
Newton beamed with pride. He was getting better. Last time he’d done it he’d blacked out the whole of Dorking, and a man from the Electric had come over and had a word with his mum.
He had a burning and totally unrequited passion for things electrical. They had a computer at school, and half a dozen studious children stayed on after school doing things with punched cards. When the teacher in charge of the computer had finally acceded to Newton’s pleas to be allowed to join them, Newton had only ever got to feed one little card into the machine. It had chewed it up and choked fatally on it.
Newton was certain that the future was in computers, and when the future arrived he’d be ready, in the forefront of the new technology.
The future had its own ideas on this. It was all in The Book.
Adam, thought Mr. Young. He tried saying it, to see how it sounded. “Adam.” Hmm…
He stared down at the golden curls of the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness.
“You know,” he concluded, after a while, “I think he actually looks like an Adam.”
It had not been a dark and stormy night.
The dark and stormy night occurred two days later, about four hours after both Mrs. Dowling and Mrs. Young and their respective babies had left the building. It was a particularly dark and stormy night, and just after midnight, as the storm reached its height, a bolt of lightning struck the Convent of the Chattering Order, setting fire to the roof of the vestry.
No one was badly hurt by the fire, but it went on for some hours, doing a fair amount of damage in the process.
The instigator of the fire lurked on a nearby hilltop and watched the blaze. He was tall, thin, and a Duke of Hell. It was the last thing that needed to be done before his return to the nether regions, and he had done it.
He could safely leave the rest to Crowley.
Hastur went home.
Technically Aziraphale was a Principality, but people made jokes about that these days.
On the whole, neither he nor Crowley would have chosen each other’s company, but they were both men, or at least men-shaped creatures, of the world, and the Arrangement had worked to their advantage all this time. Besides, you grew accustomed to the only other face that had been around more or less consistently for six millennia.
The Arrangement was very simple, so simple in fact that it didn’t really deserve the capital letter, which it had got for simply being in existence for so long. It was the sort of sensible arrangement that many isolated agents, working in awkward conditions a long way from their superiors, reach with their opposite number when they realize that they have more in common with their immediate opponents than their remote allies. It meant a tacit non-interference in certain of each other’s activities. It made certain that while neither really won, also neither really lost, and both were able to demonstrate to their masters the great strides they were making against a cunning and well-informed adversary.
It meant that Crowley had been allowed to develop Manchester, while Aziraphale had a free hand in the whole of Shropshire. Crowley took Glasgow, Aziraphale had Edinburgh (neither claimed any responsibility for Milton Keynes,* but both reported it as a success).
And then, of course, it had seemed even natural that they should, as it were, hold the fort for one another whenever common sense dictated. Both were of angel stock, after all. If one was going to Hull for a quick temptation, it made sense to nip across the city and carry out a standard brief moment of divine ecstasy. It’d get done anyway, and being sensible about it gave everyone more free time and cut down on expenses.
Aziraphale felt the occasional pang of guilt about this, but centuries of association with humanity was having the same effect on him as it was on Crowley, except in the other direction.
Besides, the Authorities didn’t seem to care much who did anything, so long as it got done.
Currently, what Aziraphale was doing was standing with Crowley by the duck pond in St. James’ Park. They were feeding the ducks.
The ducks in St. James’ Park are so used to being fed bread by secret agents meeting clandestinely that they have developed their own Pavlovian reaction. Put a St. James’ Park duck in a laboratory cage and show it a picture of two men—one usually wearing a coat with a fur collar, the other something somber with a scarf—and it’ll look up expectantly. The Russian cultural Attaché’s black bread is particularly sought after by the more discerning duck, while the head of MI9’s soggy Hovis with Marmite is relished by the connoisseurs.
Aziraphale tossed a crust to a scruffy-looking drake, which caught it and sank immediately.
The angel turned to Crowley.
“Really, my dear,” he murmured.
“Sorry,” said Crowley. “I was forgetting myself.” The duck bobbed angrily to the surface.
“Of course, we knew something was going on,” Aziraphale said. “But one somehow imagines this sort of thing happening in America. They go in for that sort of thing over there.”
“It might yet do, at that,” said Crowley gloomily. He gazed thoughtfully across the park to the Bentley, the back wheel of which was being industriously clamped.
“Oh, yes. The American diplomat,” said the angel. “Rather showy, one feels. As if Armageddon was some sort of cinematographic show that you wish to sell in as many countries as possible.”
“Every country,” said Crowley. “The Earth and all the kingdoms thereof.”
Aziraphale tossed the last scrap of bread at the ducks, who went off to pester the Bulgarian naval Attaché and a furtive-looking man in a Cambridge tie, and carefully disposed of the paper bag in a wastepaper bin.
He turned and faced Crowley.
“We’ll win, of course,” he said.
“You don’t want that,” said the demon.
“Why not, pray?”
“Listen,” said Crowley desperately, “how many musicians do you think your side have got, eh? First grade, I mean.”
Aziraphale looked taken aback.
“Well, I should think—” he began.
“Two,” said Crowley. “Elgar and Liszt. That’s all. We’ve got the rest. Beethoven, Brahms, all the Bachs, Mozart, the lot. Can you imagine eternity with Elgar?”
Aziraphale shut his eyes. “All too easily,” he groaned.
“That’s it, then,” said Crowley, with a gleam of triumph. He knew Aziraphale’s weak spot all right. “No more compact discs. No more Albert Hall. No more Proms. No more Glyndbourne. Just celestial harmonies all day long.”
“Ineffable,” Aziraphale murmured.
“Like eggs without salt, you said. Which reminds me. No salt, no eggs. No gravlax with dill sauce. No fascinating little restaurants where they know you. No Daily Telegraph crossword. No small antique shops. No bookshops, either. No interesting old editions. No”—Crowley scraped the bottom of Aziraphale’s barrel of interests—”Regency silver snuffboxes…”
“But after we win life will be better!” croaked the angel.
“But it won’t be as interesting. Look, you know I’m right. You’d be as happy with a harp as I’d be with a pitchfork.”
“You know we don’t play harps.”
“And we don’t use pitchforks. I was being rhetorical.”
They stared at one another.
Aziraphale spread his elegantly manicured hands.
“My people are more than happy for it to happen, you know. It’s what it’s all about, you see. The great final test. Flaming swords, the Four Horsemen, seas of blood, the whole tedious business.” He shrugged.
“And then Game Over, Insert Coin?” said Crowley.
“Sometimes I find your methods of expression a little difficult to follow.”
“I like the seas as they are. It doesn’t have to happen. You don’t have to test everything to destruction just to see if you made it right.”
Aziraphale shrugged again.
“That’s ineffable wisdom for you, I’m afraid.” The angel shuddered, and pulled his coat around him. Gray clouds were piling up over the city.
“Let’s go somewhere warm,” he said.
“You’re asking me?” said Crowley glumly.
They walked in somber silence for a while.
“It’s not that I disagree with you,” said the angel, as they plodded across the grass. “It’s just that I’m not allowed to disobey. You know that.”
“Me too,” said Crowley.
Aziraphale gave him a sidelong glance. “Oh, come now,” he said, “you’re a demon, after all.”
“Yeah. But my people are only in favor of disobedience in general terms. It’s specific disobedience they come down on heavily.”
“Such as disobedience to themselves?”
“You’ve got it. You’d be amazed. Or perhaps you wouldn’t be. How long do you think we’ve got?” Crowley waved a hand at the Bentley, which unlocked its doors.
“The prophecies differ,” said Aziraphale, sliding into the passenger seat. “Certainly until the end of the century, although we may expect certain phenomena before then. Most of the prophets of the past millennium were more concerned with scansion than accuracy.”
Crowley pointed to the ignition key. It turned.
“What?” he said.
“You know,” said the angel helpfully, “‘And thee Worlde Unto An Ende Shall Come, in tumpty-tumpty-tumpty One.’ Or Two, or Three, or whatever. There aren’t many good rhymes for Six, so it’s probably a good year to be in.”
“And what sort of phenomena?”
“Two-headed calves, signs in the sky, geese flying backwards, showers of fish. That sort of thing. The presence of the Antichrist affects the natural operation of causality.”
Crowley put the Bentley in gear. Then he remembered something. He snapped his fingers.
The wheel clamps disappeared.
“Let’s have lunch,” he said. “I owe you one from, when was it…”
“Paris, 1793,” said Aziraphale.
“Oh, yes. The Reign of Terror. Was that one of yours, or one of ours?”
“Wasn’t it yours?”
“Can’t recall. It was quite a good restaurant, though.”
As they drove past an astonished traffic warden his notebook spontaneously combusted, to Crowley’s amazement.
“I’m pretty certain I didn’t mean to do that,” he said.
“That was me,” he said. “I had always thought that your people invented them.”
“Did you? We thought they were yours.”
Crowley stared at the smoke in the rearview mirror.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s do the Ritz.”
Crowley had not bothered to book. In his world, table reservations were things that happened to other people.
Aziraphale collected books. If he were totally honest with himself he would have to have admitted that his bookshop was simply somewhere to store them. He was not unusual in this. In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand book seller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours—he was incredibly good at it.
He had been collecting for a long time, and, like all collectors, he specialized.
He had more than sixty books of predictions concerning developments in the last handful of centuries of the second millennium. He had a penchant for Wilde first editions. And he had a complete set of the Infamous Bibles, individually named from error’s in typesetting.
These Bibles included the Unrighteous Bible, so called from a printer’s error which caused it to proclaim, in I Corinthians, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?”; and the Wicked Bible, printed by Barker and Lucas in 1632, in which the word not was omitted from the seventh commandment:, making it “Thou shaft commit Adultery.” There were the Discharge bible, the Treacle Bible, the Standing Fishes Bible, the Charing Cross Bible and the rest. Aziraphale had them all. Even the very rarest, a Bible published in 1651 by the London publishing firm of Bilton and Scaggs.
It had been the first of their three great publishing disasters.
The book was commonly known as the Buggre Alle This Bible. The lengthy compositor’s error, if such it may be called, occurs in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 48, verse five.
2. And bye the border of Dan, from rne the east side to the west side, a portion for Afher.
3. And bye the border of Afher, fromme the east side even untoe the west side, a portion for Naphtali.
4. And bye the border of Naphtali from the east side untoe the west side, a portion for Manaff ‘eh.
5. Buggre Alle this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye Hart of typefettinge. Master Biltonn if no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbefticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike thif Ennywone withe half an oz of Sense shoulde bee oute in the Sunneshain, ane nott Stucke here alle the liuelong daie inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workefhoppe. @ *”Æ@;!*
6. And bye the border of Ephraim, from the east fide even untoe the west fide, a portion for Reuben.*
Bilton and Scaggs’ second great publishing disaster occurred in 1653. By a stroke of rare good fortune they had obtained one of the famed “Lost Quartos”—the three Shakespeare plays never reissued in folio edition, and now totally lost to scholars and playgoers. Only their names have come down to us. This one was Shakespeare’s earliest play, The Comedie of Robin Hoode, or, The Forest of Sherwoode.*
Master Bilton had paid almost six guineas for the quarto, and believed he could make nearly twice that much back on the hardcover folio alone.
Then he lost it.
Bilton and Scaggs’ third great publishing disaster was never entirely comprehensible to either of them. Everywhere you looked, books of prophecy were selling like crazy. The English edition of Nostradamus’ Centuries had just gone into its third printing, and five Nostradamuses, all claiming to be the only genuine one, were on triumphant signing tours. And Mother Shipton’s Collection of Prophecies was sprinting out of the shops.
Each of the great London publishers—there were eight of them―had at least one Book of Prophecy on its list. Every single one of the books was wildly inaccurate, but their air of vague and generalized omnipotence made them immensely popular. They sold in the thousands, and in the tens of thousands.
“It is a licence to printe monney!” said Master Bilton to Master Scaggs.* “The public are crying out for such rubbishe! We must straightway printe a booke of prophecie by some hagge!”
The manuscript arrived at their door the next morning; the author’s sense of timing, as always, was exact.
Although neither Master Bilton nor Master Scaggs realized it, the manuscript they had been sent was the sole prophetic work in all of human history to consist entirely of completely correct predictions concerning the following three hundred and forty-odd years, being a precise and accurate description of the events that would culminate in Armageddon. It was on the money in every single detail.
It was published by Bilton and Scaggs in September 1655, in good time for the Christmas trade,* and it was the first book printed in England to be remaindered.
It didn’t sell.
Not even the copy in the tiny Lancashire shop with “Locale Author” on a piece of cardboard next to it.
The author of the book, one Agnes Nutter, was not surprised by this, but then, it would have taken an awful lot to surprise Agnes Nutter.
Anyway, she had not written it for the sales, or the royalties, or even for the fame. She had written it for the single gratis copy of the book that an author was entitled to.
No one knows what happened to the legions of unsold copies of her book. Certainly none remain in any museums or private collections. Even Aziraphale does not possess a copy, but would go weak at the knees at the thought of actually getting his exquisitely manicured hands on one.
In fact, only one copy of Agnes Nutter’s prophecies remained in the entire world.
It was on a bookshelf about forty miles away from where Crowley and Aziraphale were enjoying a rather good lunch and, metaphorically, it had just begun to tick.
And now it was three o’clock. The Antichrist had been on Earth for fifteen hours, and one angel and one demon had been drinking solidly for three of them.
They sat opposite one another in the back room of Aziraphale’s dingy old bookshop in Soho.
Most bookshops in Soho have back rooms, and most of the back rooms are filled with rare, or at least very expensive, books. But Aziraphale’s books didn’t have illustrations. They had old brown covers and crackling pages. Occasionally, if he had no alternative, he’d sell one.
And, occasionally, serious men in dark suits would come calling and suggest, very politely, that perhaps he’d like to sell the shop itself so that it could be turned into the kind of retail outlet more suited to the area. Sometimes they’d offer cash, in large rolls of grubby fifty-pound notes. Or, sometimes, while they were talking, other men in dark glasses would wander around the shop shaking their heads and saying how inflammable paper was, and what a fire trap he had here.
And Aziraphale would nod and smile and say that he’d think about it. And then they’d go away. And they’d never come back.
Just because you’re an angel doesn’t mean you have to be a fool.
The table in front of the two of them was covered with bottles.
“The point is,” said Crowley, “the point is. The point is.” He tried to focus on Aziraphale.
“The point is,” he said, and tried to think of a point.
“The point I’m trying to make,” he said, brightening, “is the dolphins. That’s my point.”
“Kind of fish,” said Aziraphale.
“Nononono,” said Crowley, shaking a finger. “‘-S mammal. Your actual mammal. Difference is—” Crowley waded through the swamp of his mind and tried to remember the difference. “Difference is, they—”
“Mate out of water?” volunteered Aziraphale.
Crowley’s brow furrowed. “Don’t think so. Pretty sure that’s not it. Something about their young. Whatever.” He pulled himself together. “The point is. The point is. Their brains.”
He reached for a bottle.
“What about their brains?” said the angel.
“Big brains. That’s my point. Size of. Size of. Size of damn big brains. And then there’s the whales. Brain city, take it from me. Whole damn sea full of brains.”
“Kraken,” said Aziraphale, staring moodily into his glass.
Crowley gave him the long cool look of someone who has just had a girder dropped in front of his train of thought.
“Great big bugger,” said Aziraphale. “Sleepeth beneath the thunders of the upper deep. Under loads of huge and unnumbered polypol-polipo-bloody great seaweeds, you know. Supposed to rise to the surface right at the end, when the sea boils.”
“There you are, then,” said Crowley, sitting back. “Whole sea bubbling, poor old dolphins so much seafood gumbo, no one giving a damn. Same with gorillas. Whoops, they say, sky gone all red, stars crashing to ground, what they putting in the bananas these days? And then—”
“They make nests, you know, gorillas,” said the angel, pouring another drink and managing to hit the glass on the third go.
“God’s truth. Saw a film. Nests.”
“That’s birds,” said Crowley.
“Nests,” insisted Aziraphale.
Crowley decided not to argue the point.
“There you are then,” he said. “All creatures great and smoke. I mean small. Great and small. Lot of them with brains. And then, bazamm.”
“But you’re part of it,” said Aziraphale. “You tempt people. You’re good at it.”
Crowley thumped his glass on the table. “That’s different. They don’t have to say yes. That the ineffable bit, right? Your side made it up. You’ve got to keep testing people. But not to destruction.”
“All right. All right. I don’t like it any more than you, but I told you. I can’t disod-disoy-not do what I’m told. ‘M a’nangel.”
“There’s no theaters in Heaven,” said Crowley. “And very few films.”
“Don’t you try to tempt me,” said Aziraphale wretchedly. “I know you, you old serpent.”
“Just you think about it,” said Crowley relentlessly. “You know what eternity is? You know what eternity is? I mean, d’you know what eternity is? There’s this big mountain, see, a mile high, at the end of the universe, and once every thousand years there’s this little bird—”
“What little bird?” said Aziraphale suspiciously.
“This little bird I’m talking about. And every thousand years—”
“The same bird every thousand years?”
Crowley hesitated. “Yeah,” he said.
“Bloody ancient bird, then.”
“Okay. And every thousand years this bird flies—”
“flies all the way to this mountain and sharpens its beak—”
“Hold on. You can’t do that. Between here and the end of the universe there’s loads of—” The angel waved a hand expansively, if a little unsteadily. “Loads of buggerall, dear boy.”
“But it gets there anyway,” Crowley persevered.
“It doesn’t matter!”
“It could use a space ship,” said the angel.
Crowley subsided a bit. “Yeah,” he said. “If you like. Anyway, this bird—”
“Only it is the end of the universe we’re talking about,” said Aziraphale. “So it’d have to be one of those space ships where your descendants are the ones who get out at the other end. You have to tell your descendants, you say, When you get to the Mountain, you’ve got to—” He hesitated. “What have they got to do?”
“Sharpen its beak on the mountain,” said Crowley. “And then it flies back—”
“—in the space ship—”
“And after a thousand years it goes and does it all again,” said Crowley quickly.
There was a moment of drunken silence.
“Seems a lot of effort just to sharpen a beak,” mused Aziraphale.
“Listen,” said Crowley urgently, “the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right, then—”
Aziraphale opened his mouth. Crowley just knew he was going to make some point about the relative hardness of birds’ beaks and granite mountains, and plunged on quickly.
“—then you still won’t have finished watching The Sound of Music.”
“And you’ll enjoy it,” Crowley said relentlessly. “You really will.”
“My dear boy—”
“You won’t have a choice.”
“Heaven has no taste.”
“And not one single sushi restaurant.”
A look of pain crossed the angel’s suddenly very serious face.
“I can’t cope with this while ‘m drunk,” he said. “I’m going to sober up.”
They both winced as the alcohol left their bloodstreams, and sat up a bit more neatly. Aziraphale straightened his tie.
“I can’t interfere with divine plans,” he croaked.
Crowley looked speculatively into his glass, and then filled it again. “What about diabolical ones?” he said.
“Well, it’s got to be a diabolical plan, hasn’t it? We’re doing it. My side.”
“Ah, but it’s all part of the overall divine plan,” said Aziraphale. “Your side can’t do anything without it being part of the ineffable divine plan,” he added, with a trace of smugness.
“No, that’s the—” Aziraphale snapped his finger irritably. “The thing. What d’you call it in your colorful idiom? The line at the bottom.”
“The bottom line.”
“Yes. It’s that.”
“Well… if you’re sure…” said Crowley.
“No doubt about it.”
Crowley looked up slyly.