William Morrow & Co., 1990
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There is a distinct hint of Armageddon in the air. According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witch-finders are getting ready to fight the good fight, armed with awkwardly antiquated instructions and stick pins. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring.... Right. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.
Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon -- each of whom has lived among Earth's mortals for many millennia and has grown rather fond of the lifestyle -- are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. If Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they've got to find and kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he's a really nice kid). There's just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him....
It was a nice day.
All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn't been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.
The angel of the Eastern Gate put his wings over his head to shield himself from the first drops.
"I'm sorry," he said politely. "What was it you were saying?"
"I said, that one went down like a lead balloon," said the serpent.
"Oh. Yes," said the angel, whose name was Aziraphale.
"I think it was a bit of an overreaction, to be honest," said the serpent. "I mean, first offense and everything. I can't see what's so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway."
"It must be bad," reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can't see it either, and is worrying about it, "otherwise you wouldn't have been involved."
"They just said, Get up there and make some trouble," said the serpent, whose name was Crawly, although he was thinking of changing it now. Crawly, he'd decided, was not him.
"Yes, but you're a demon. I'm not sure if it's actually possible for you to do good," said Aziraphale.
"It's down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand."
"You've got to admit it's a bit of a pantomime, though," said Crawly. "I mean, pointing out the Tree and saying 'Don't Touch' in big letters. Not very subtle, is it? I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain or a long way off? Makes you wonder what He's really planning."
"Best not to speculate, really," said Aziraphale. "You can't second-guess ineffability, I always say. There's Right, and there's Wrong. If you do Wrong when you're told to do Right, you deserve to be punished. Er."
They sat in embarrassed silence, watching the raindrops bruise the first flowers.
Eventually Crawly said, "Didn't you have a flaming sword?"
"Er," said the angel. A guilty expression passed across his face, and then came back and camped there.
"You did, didn't you?" said Crawly. "It flamed like anything."
"It looked very impressive, I thought."
"Yes, but, well-"
"Lost it, have you?"
"Oh no! No, not exactly lost, more-"
Aziraphale looked wretched. "If you must know," he said, a trifle testily, "I gave it away."
Crawly stared up at him.
"Well, I had to," said the angel, rubbing his hands distractedly. "They looked so cold, poor things, and she's expecting already, and what with the vicious animals out there and the storm coming up I thought, well, where's the harm, so I just said, look, if you come back there's going to be an almighty row, but you might be needing this sword, so here it is, don't bother to thank me, just do everyone a big favor and don't let the sun go down on you here."
He gave Crawly a worried grin.
"That was the best course, wasn't it?"
"I'm not sure it's actually possible for you to do evil," said Crawly sarcastically. Aziraphale didn't notice the tone.
"Oh, I do hope so," he said. "I really do hope so. It's been worrying me all afternoon."
They watched the rain for a while.
"Funny thing is," said Crawly, "I keep wondering whether the apple thing wasn't the right thing to do, as well. A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing." He nudged the angel. "Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?"
"Not really," said Aziraphale.
Crawly looked at the rain.
"No," he said, sobering up. "I suppose not."
Slate-black curtains tumbled over Eden. Thunder growled among the hills. The animals, freshly named, cowered from the storm.
Far away, in the dripping woods, something bright and fiery flickered among the trees.
It was going to be a dark and stormy night.
Copyright © 1990 by Neil Gaiman
Copyright © 1990 by Terry Pratchett
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