The infernals, p.1
The Infernals, p.1John Connolly
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THE CHARLIE PARKER STORIES
Every Dead Thing
The Killing Kind
The White Road
The Reflecting Eye
(novella in the Nocturnes collection)
The Black Angel
The Burning Soul
The Book of Lost Things
THE SAMUEL JOHNSON STORIES
(for young adults)
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by John Connolly
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe, 1929, by René Magritte (1898–1967) page 59, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2011. Photo: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The infernals : a novel / by John Connolly.
1. Hell—Fiction. 2. Good and evil—Fiction. I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4516-4310-7 (ebook)
For Cameron and Alistair
In Which We Find Ourselves in Hell, but Only Temporarily, So It’s Not All Bad News
In Which We Learn a Little About How Hard It Is to Be in Love
In Which We Delve Deeper into the Bowels of Hell, Which Is One of Those Chapter Headings That Make Parents Worry About the Kind of Books Their Children Are Reading
In Which We Reacquaint Ourselves with Nurd, formerly “Nurd, The Scourge of Five Deities,” Which Was All Something of a Misunderstanding, Really
In Which We Encounter Mr. Merryweather’s Dwarfs—or Elves—and Rather Wish We Hadn’t
In Which Samuel Is Reunited with Boswell, and We Learn Why One Should Not Trust a Mirror
In Which We Pay a Visit to Mrs. Abernathy’s House. Which Is Nice. Not.
In Which We Wonder Just How Smart Really Smart People Sometimes Are
In Which Mr. Merryweather’s Elves Embark on a New Adventure
In Which Mr. Merryweather’s Dwarfs Make an Unpleasant Discovery
In Which Samuel Arrives, and Nurd Departs
In Which Dozy Is the Bearer of Bad News
In Which We Meet a Ram, and Some Old Friends Are Reunited
In Which the Forces of Law and Order Assert Themselves
In Which Something of the Nature of this World Is Revealed Through Old Ram
In Which Hell Gets Stranger, and the Scientists Grow More Curious
In Which the True Faces of the Conspirators Are Revealed, and an Ugly Bunch They Are Too
In Which Those Who Will Be of Help to Samuel Begin to Come Together
In Which We Encounter Some of the Other Unfortunate Residents of Hell
In Which We Meet the Blacksmith
In Which Nurd Considers Changing His Name to “Nurd, Unlucky in Numerous Dimensions”
In Which We Learn That There Is Always Hope, as Long as One Chooses Not to Abandon It
In Which Mrs. Abernathy Loses Her Temper, and We Meet Up Again with an Unpleasant Personage from Earlier in Our Tale
In Which We Speculate on What, If Anything, Might Be Worse Than Evil
In Which a Familiar Odor Sends the Dwarfs’ Spirits Soaring
In Which We Learn of the Difficulties in Re-creating the Taste of Something Truly Horrible
In Which We Hear a Surprising Confession
In Which Everything Goes Horribly Wrong
In Which Various August Personages Put Their Plans in Motion
In Which the Watcher Is Torn
In Which We Learn a Little of the Responsibilities of Command, and the Perils of Being Commanded
In Which Samuel and Mrs. Abernathy Meet Again, Which Only Delights 50 Percent of Those Involved
In Which a Third Force Intervenes in the Conflict
In Which We Encounter Some Cunning Disguises
In Which Battle Commences, and a Rescue Mission Is Mounted
In Which a Certain Someone Wakes Up with a Sore Head
In Which We Get to the “Happy Ever After” Part
In Which We Discover the Limitations of the Term Happily Ever After
In Which We Find Ourselves in Hell, but Only Temporarily, So It’s Not All Bad News
THE PLACE GENERALLY REFERRED to as Hell but also known variously as Hades, the Kingdom of Fire, Old Nick’s Place,1 and assorted other names designed to indicate that this is not somewhere in which you might want to spend eternity, let alone a short vacation, was in a state of turmoil. Its ruler, its dark king, was unwell, and by “unwell” I mean mad as a parade of March hares.
This source of all Evil, the ancient thing that hid itself in the darkest part of Hell, also had many names, but his followers called him the Great Malevolence. He wished for many things: he wished for every star in every universe to be snuffed out like cand
Most of all, he wished for the end of mankind. He had grown weary of trying to corrupt every human being, one by one, because it was time-consuming, and frustrating, and a lot of human beings continued to defy him by being decent and kind. While he hadn’t exactly decided to give up on his efforts entirely, it just seemed easier to destroy the Earth and have done with it, and so he had come up with a plan. At the time, it had seemed like a very good plan, and as far as the Great Malevolence and his followers had been concerned, there was absolutely no way that it could go wrong. None whatsoever. Not a chance. This plan positively and without a shadow of a doubt could not fail.
Naturally, it failed spectacularly.
Now, for those of you who may not be entirely familiar with our story so far, here is a chance for you to catch up.2 When last we met, the Great Malevolence, aided by the demon known as Ba’al, was trying to harness the power of the Large Hadron Collide in order to open the gates of Hell and force his way into our world. The LHC was a massive particle accelerator in Switzerland designed to re-create the moments after the Big Bang that brought our universe into being. In other words, the LHC was dealing with very primal forces indeed, and buried somewhere in those primal forces was the seed of Evil. Thus it was that the Collider created a fissure between worlds, and the Great Malevolence saw his chance.
Ba’al, his most trusted servant, passed through a portal connecting Hell to Earth, and disguised itself as a woman named Mrs. Abernathy in Biddlecombe, England, having first killed the original Mrs. Abernathy and taken on her appearance. At the last minute, just as the Great Malevolence and his armies were about to take over the Earth, Mrs. Abernathy’s plans were foiled by a small boy named Samuel Johnson, his dachshund Boswell, and an inept, although well-meaning, demon named Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities. The Great Malevolence blamed Mrs. Abernathy for this, and as a result was now refusing to meet with her, causing her much humiliation and not a little concern for her future.
All clear? Good.
The Great Malevolence still wasn’t quite sure how his plan had failed, and he didn’t care. For a moment he had glimpsed a hole between dimensions, a possibility of escape from Hell, and then that portal had been closed just as he was about to leave his dreary kingdom behind. All of his bloodied hopes, his shadowy dreams, had come to nothing, and the closeness of his triumph had driven him insane.
This is not to say that he wasn’t nuts already: the Great Malevolence had always been madder than a bag of badgers, madder even than a colony of bats trapped in a cookie tin. Now, though, he had passed into another realm of craziness entirely, and significant portions of Hell had been filled with the sounds of his wailing ever since the portal had blinked out of existence. It was a terrible sound, that cry of rage and sorrow, ceaseless and unvarying. Even by the standards of Hell, it was very annoying, echoing from the Great Malevolence’s lair deep inside the Mountain of Despair, through tunnels and labyrinths, through dungeons and the bowels of the odd dragon, until at last it reached the doorway that led from its hiding place into the dreadful landscape beyond.
The doorway was most impressive, intricately carved with terrifying faces whose expressions were ever changing, and horrific forms whose bodies intertwined, so that the very entrance itself seemed to be alive. At this precise moment the doorway was being guarded by two demons. In the classic manner of double acts everywhere, they were exact opposites. One guard was tall and thin, with features that suggested an irritating, and somewhat overweight, child who had spent a lot of time hanging from the guard’s chin by his hands, thereby stretching the guard’s face into a very mournful expression. His colleague was shorter and fatter. In fact he looked like he might have eaten the irritating, overweight child as a favor to his fellow guard.
Brompton, the thinner of the two, had been guarding the doorway for so long that he had forgotten what he was supposed to be guarding it against, given that the most awful being it was possible to imagine was already in residence inside the mountain. During the centuries that he had spent leaning on his spear, occasionally dozing or scratching himself where polite demons didn’t usually scratch themselves in public, he could not, until recently, recall a great many instances of individuals trying to get in who weren’t already entitled to pass freely. Oh, a couple of demons had tried to escape from inside the mountain, largely to avoid being torn apart as a punishment for something or other, or occasionally just for a bet, but otherwise things had been very quiet around there, in a Hellish way, for a long time.
His colleague, Edgefast, was a new arrival. Brompton regarded him suspiciously from beneath his helmet. Edgefast wasn’t leaning sufficiently on his spear for Brompton’s liking, and he had not yet proposed skiving off for a cup of tea, or a nap. Instead, Edgefast seemed to be standing up very straight, and he had a disconcerting gleam in his eye, the kind of gleam associated with someone who actually likes his job and, even worse, plans to do it as well as possible. Brompton, by contrast, had not yet found a job that he might be inclined to like or do well, and was of the opinion that such an occupation did not exist, which suited him just fine. A job, as far as Brompton was concerned, was something that somebody made you do when you’d rather be doing nothing at all.
Edgefast glanced nervously at Brompton.
“Why do you keep staring at me like that?” he asked.
“You’re not slouching,” said Brompton.
“I said, ‘You’re not slouching.’ Making me look bad, you are. Making me look untidy. Making me look like I don’t care.”
“But, er, you don’t care,” said Edgefast, who understood, from the moment he had set eyes on Brompton, that here was a demon with “waste of space” written all over him.
“That’s as may be,” said Brompton, “but I don’t want everyone to know that I don’t care. You’ll get me fired, looking all enthusiastic like that. I might not like this job, but there are worse ones out there.”
“Don’t I know it,” said Edgefast, in the manner of a demon who has seen the worst that Hell has to offer, and for whom anything else is pure gravy.
“Yeah?” said Brompton, interested now despite himself. “What were you doing before this, then?”
Edgefast sighed. “You remember that time Duke Kobal3 lost his favorite ring?”
Brompton did. As demonic lords went, Kobal wasn’t the worst, which meant that, when he was sticking sharp needles into your flesh, or finding out just how many spiders you could hold in your mouth at once, he would always provide coffee and cake for everyone who was watching, and tell you how sorry he was that it had come to this, even as he tried to fit one last spider between your lips. Kobal had lost his best skull ring down one of Hell’s sewers, and it had never been found. Following this incident, a law had been passed requiring that all of Hell’s rotten vegetables, old food, unidentified limbs, and assorted demonic bodily waste products should be searched by hand before being swept into the Sea of Unpleasantness, just in case anything valuable might have been mislaid.
“Well,” continued Edgefast. “You know all that searching business?”
“You mean, going down on your claws and knees and raking through poo ’n stuff?”
“With your nose right in it, so you could be certain that nothing slipped by?”
“And with nowhere to wash, so you had to try and eat your sandwich at break by holding it right at the edges with your claws while hoping that you didn’t drop it?”
“But your hands smelled bad so your sandwich smelled bad too?”
“’Orrible. Just ’orrible.” Brompton shuddered. “Doesn’t bear thinking about. Worst job in Hell. Anyway, go on.”
“Well, that was me.”
“I thought you smelled a bit funny, even for a demon.”
“It’s not my fault. I’ve tried everything: water, soap, acid. It won’t go away.”
“Very unfortunate for you, and anyone who happens to be downwind of you, I must say. Well, this must be quite the promotion for you, then.”
“Oh, it is, it is!” said Edgefast fervently.
“Somebody likes you.”
Brompton nudged him. Edgefast giggled.
“Oh yes, you’re quite the special one. Satan’s little pet!”
“Don’t know I’m born,” said Edgefast. “Happiest day of my existence, getting away from all that.”
Edgefast beamed. Brompton beamed back. Just then, a large slot opened above their heads, and the hourly emptying of Hell’s drains began, dousing the two guards in the foulest waste imaginable before coming to rest in a series of large, stinking pits at the base of the mountain. When the last drop had fallen, and the slot had closed, a small demon dressed in Wellington boots, and wearing a peg on its nose, entered the pits and began searching through the latest delivery.
“That was me once, that was,” said Edgefast, carefully removing a piece of rotting vegetation from his ear.
“You lucky, lucky sod,” said Brompton.
They watched the demon quietly for a time.
“Good of them to give us helmets, though,” said Edgefast.
“One of the perks of the job,” said Brompton. “Wouldn’t be half as nice without the helmets.”
“I meant to ask,” said Edgefast. “What happened to the bloke who had this job before me?”
The Infernals by John Connolly / Fantasy / Young Adult / Horror / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes