The creeps, p.3
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       The Creeps, p.3

           John Connolly
 
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  But the worst of the unknowable entities dwelt in the Kingdom of Shadows. They had taken the concept of nothingness—the aching absence of absolute emptiness—and added one simple ingredient to the mix.

  Darkness.

  And not just any old Darkness either, but a dense, suffocating blackness that coated the body and the mind and the soul, a Darkness like eternal drowning, a Darkness from which all hope of light had fled because it came from a place in which light had never been known. Even calling the place in which they lurked the “Kingdom of Shadows” was a kind of mistake because real shadows required light to form. The Great Malevolence, who had seen so much and recorded it all, had shown Crudford the fate of universes invaded by the Darkness, and it had always begun with shadows where no shadows should have been.

  So Crudford moved carefully through the spaces between universes, and he watched every shadow. He listened, too, for Crudford could hear the rips widening in the fabric of space and time, just as he could see the light through the new gaps. Now, as he moved through the Multiverse to return to Hell with his shiny blue prizes, he became aware of a rhythmic, pulsing sound coming from somewhere distant. It was familiar to him.

  It was a heartbeat.

  Crudford’s senses were so keen that he could tell the beating of one heart from another, for each heart had its own unique beat. But this was a very special heart. He alone, sensitive beyond any other demon, had heard its secret rhythm in Hell. It was a human heart through which no blood flowed, only malice.

  Somewhere in the Multiverse, Mrs. Abernathy’s heart was beating.

  * * *

  9. Which was probably to be expected, given that the slime was usually his own. “I’ve produced more slime, sludge, glop, gunk, mucus, and mire than you’ve had hot dinners,” he would boast proudly to anyone who might listen. Which would usually be enough to put someone about to sit down to a hot dinner right off the idea.

  10. An adventure described in The Infernals, available from all good bookshops and some bad ones. If you haven’t read it, please find a copy and turn to the second footnote in Chapter One, which will wag a finger disapprovingly at you for picking up the later books in a series without first reading the earlier ones.

  11. See what I did there?

  IV

  In Which We Go Shopping, and Rather Wish That We Hadn’t

  LET’S DRIFT BACK THROUGH Biddlecombe on this cold dark night, drift like smoke.

  Like Shadows.

  Wreckit & Sons had once been the largest shop in Biddlecombe. It sold almost everything that anyone could possibly want: pins and pots, breadbaskets and bicycles, televisions and tea trays. It was four stories tall, took up an entire block of the town’s center, and its shelves stretched for miles and miles. Its basement was so huge and poorly lit that a man named Ernest Tuttle had once got lost there while trying to buy a tennis racket and a socket wrench, and promptly vanished. His ghost—a pale, moaning figure—was said to haunt the store, until it was discovered that it was not, in fact, Ernest Tuttle’s ghost but Ernest Tuttle himself. He had spent two years trying to find a way out, and couldn’t understand why people kept running away from him. When they pointed out that he was pale and moaning, he replied that they’d be pale, too, if they’d been trapped in a basement for two years living only on rice cakes, and they’d probably moan a bit as well. His feet hurt, he told reporters, and he believed that the mice had adopted him as their king. He still hadn’t managed to find a tennis racket or a socket wrench either.

  The store was another of Hilary Mould’s buildings, but it wasn’t quite as offensively awful as the others. There was something almost grand about Wreckit & Sons. In the right light—somewhat dim, a bit murky—it resembled a cathedral, or a temple. Arthur Bunce, the man who had originally asked Hilary Mould to design the store, took one look at it and promptly went mad. Instead Mould bought the building himself, and he disappeared shortly after. The building remained empty for many years until a gentleman named Wreckit took a fancy to it, and opened his department store there.

  But if Wreckit & Sons sold a lot of things that people might want, it also tried to sell a lot of things that nobody could possibly want. As he grew older, Mr. Wreckit became more and more eccentric. He began calling it Wreckit & Sons for starters, which annoyed his daughters greatly, as he didn’t have any sons. His buying habits changed. For example, he bought two thousand three-dimensional Chinese-made photographs of this man:

  The man’s name was Max Schreck, and he was famous for playing the vampire in an old film called Nosferatu. Max Schreck was so strange-looking that it was whispered he might even be a real vampire. The 3-D nature of the photos bought by Mr. Wreckit meant that Max Schreck’s eyes followed you around the room, and NOBODY wanted this man’s eyes following them around the room. Mr. Wreckit sold precisely one of the pictures, and that was to himself. He kept it hidden under a blanket.

  Mr. Wreckit also bought one hundred unicycles, but it was only when they were shipped to him that he discovered they were not actual unicycles but merely bicycles that were missing one wheel. If it is hard to ride a unicycle, it is significantly harder to ride a bicycle that is 50 percent down in the wheel department. Mr. Wreckit tried. The resulting bang on the head made him even stranger.

  He bought teapots with no spouts, sieves with no holes, and steel piggy banks with a slot for the money to go in but no way of getting it out again. He bought televisions that only picked up signals from North Korea, and radios that tuned in to frequencies only dogs could hear. He sold gloves for people with six fingers, and gloves for people with three fingers, but no gloves for people with four fingers and a thumb. His fire extinguishers started fires, and his fire lighters wouldn’t light. His fridges boiled milk, and his ovens were so cold that when a penguin escaped from Biddlecombe’s Little World of Animal Wonders, it was later found to be living in one of them, along with its entire family and a single confused chicken.

  Nobody seemed able to reason with Mr. Wreckit. He had simply gone bonkers. He was nutty as a fruitcake. Nevertheless, as he was the sole owner of Wreckit & Sons due to the absence of any real sons, and refused to talk to his daughters because they weren’t men, he was free to run the business into the ground and there wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop him.

  So Mr. Wreckit did, in the end, wreck it. The store went out of business. Mr. Wreckit, broke and crazy, retired to a cottage on the Devon coast. When asked what had possessed him to destroy his own business, he replied, strangely, “That’s a very good question. What did possess me?”

  But he had no answer. On his deathbed, he apologized to his daughters. His last words were: “The Voice in the Wall made me do it.”

  Nobody wanted to take over Wreckit & Sons after that, and the building stayed empty. It stood at the end of Biddlecombe’s main street, a great block of not-quite-nothing, for it always seemed as though the spirit of the old store was still present, infusing its bricks and mortar, its wood and its windows, waiting for the moment when its doors might be opened again, and people could get lost in its basement.

  But nobody came, and the spirit slept.

  • • •

  So it was that the store had been closed for what seemed like a very long time—and was, actually, a very long time.12 Two generations of Biddlecombe children had grown up without any memory of  Wreckit & Sons being anything other than an empty shell, its ground-floor windows boarded and its doors locked. Eventually people just stopped noticing it, although strangers would sometimes pass through the town and gaze up at it. And when they asked who had designed such a building, the residents of Biddlecombe would shrug their shoulders and point at the statue of Hilary Mould, assuming they could find it.

  But if the history of Wreckit & Sons was odd, its oddness didn’t stand out quite so much when monsters and demons began invading Biddlecombe, even if they didn’t leave a lot of proof behind once they went away again, monsters in ponds and spectral voices from golf courses excepted. Ps
ychiatrists spoke of mass hysteria, and comedians made jokes about the townsfolk. Experts arrived and took readings. They dug in the ground, and tested the air, and poked at people who didn’t want to be poked, thank you very much, and warned that, if the experts continued to poke them, they’d find their poking sticks stuck somewhere the sun didn’t shine.13 With so much strangeness going on, suddenly Mr Wreckit’s old store began to seem not so strange after all. But it was. It was very, very strange, and strange things have a habit of attracting more strangeness to them.

  • • •

  In the basement of Wreckit & Sons, something moved. It was pale and naked, but it eventually managed to find a suit that fitted it, and a shirt that wasn’t too yellowed, and a smart gray tie. As thousands of eyes followed it round the room, it wiped the dust from an old mirror and smoothed its hair.

  “What is my name?” it asked.

  The Voice in the Wall told him.

  You shall be called Mr. St. John-Cholmondeley.

  “How do you spell that?”

  The Voice in the Wall spelled the name.

  “But you say it’s pronounced Sinjin-Chumley?”

  Yes.

  “Are you sure that’s right?”

  Yes.

  The Voice in the Wall sounded a bit miffed. It was so difficult to find good help these days.

  The newly animated Mr. St. John-Cholmondeley looked doubtful.

  “If you say so.”

  I do.

  The Voice in the Wall directed Mr. St. John-Cholmondeley to a safe, and told him the combination. Inside the safe was a great deal of gold, along with details of secret bank accounts. The bank accounts were all in the name of St. John-Cholmondeley, even though they had been set up more than a century earlier.

  “What do you want me to do?” asked Mr. St. John-Cholmondeley.

  The Voice in the Wall told him, and Mr. St. John-Cholmondeley set to work.

  Wreckit & Sons was about to reopen for business.14

  * * *

  12. Well, long in human terms, which is all that concerns most people. That’s a little narrow-minded, though, and if you only think in those terms then perhaps you should take a long, critical look at yourself in the mirror. Frankly, you’re not the center of the Multiverse, no matter what your mum and dad might say, or your nan, or your auntie Betty who never got married—mainly because, according to your dad, nobody could get her to shut up long enough to ask her—but comes around to “babysit” occasionally and just seems to drink a lot of your parents’ sherry before falling asleep.

  Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, long lives. Anyway, what seems like a long time to you is the blink of an eye to lots of other species. The Llangernyw Yew is the oldest tree in Europe, and is reckoned to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old, while certain specimens of black coral have been found to be over 4,200 years old. Meanwhile, the giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta, which lives in the Caribbean, is one of the longest-lived animals on Earth, with some such sponges now over 2,300 years old. Mind you, they don’t do a lot of shopping, your black sponges, and so couldn’t really have done much to help Wreckit & Sons stay open. Then again, Wreckit & Sons did sell sponges, so the black sponges, had they known, would probably have been quite pleased to see it close. Things that live for thousands of years tend to have long memories, and know how to hold a grudge.

  13. “In a cave?”

  No.

  “In a very deep ocean?”

  No.

  “Hmm. Up someone’s bottom?”

  Possibly.

  14. Are you on the edge of your seats now? If we had a sound track to this book (of which more later) that kind of ending to a chapter would come with a three-note theme along the lines of “Dun-dun-dah!”

  About that edge-of-the-seat business: in a sense, we are always on the edge of our seats because of electromagnetic repulsion, which means that the atoms that make up matter never actually touch one another. The closer atoms get, the more repulsion there is between the electrical charges of each atom. It’s a bit like trying to make the same poles of a pair of magnets touch: it just doesn’t work. So you may at this moment think that you’re sitting in a chair reading this footnote, but you’re actually hovering ever so slightly above it, suspended by a force of electromagnetic repulsion a billion billion billion billion times stronger than the force of gravity. You are officially a hoverperson.

  V

  In Which We Go on a Date—Well, Not “We” as in You and I, Because That Would Just Be Awkward, but We Go on a Date with Other People. No, Hang on, That’s Still Not Right. Oh, Never Mind. Just Read the Chapter.

  THERE MAY COME A time in your life—I hope that it does not come, for your sake, but it might—when you realize that you may be with the wrong person. By this I don’t mean being in Russia with Napoleon just as the weather starts to turn chilly, or on a raised platform while a chap with a hood over his face raises a big ax and looks for a way to make you roughly a head shorter, although neither of those things would be good.15

  No, what I mean is that you may ask someone out on a date, and during the course of the date you may discover that you have made a terrible mistake. You may even get a clear signal that a terrible mistake has been made. The person sitting across the table from you, or next to you in the cinema, may announce that she wasn’t sure that she was going to make the date because she was certain the jury was going to find her guilty, even though she hadn’t really murdered anyone because her last boyfriend had simply tripped and fallen on the knife she just happened to be holding at the time, ha-ha-ha, what a silly boy he was, and DON’T EVER MAKE ME MAD! Other subtle signs that you may have erred in asking someone out for an evening include: shooting the waiter for spilling the soup; laughing very loudly any time anyone dies in a film, especially if they die horribly, and everyone else in the cinema is weeping; or telling you that they’ve never gone out with anyone quite like you before, and when you ask them what that means you get the reply, “You know, a real person. One that I didn’t imagine, or build from LEGO.”16

  Samuel Johnson was having one of those moments. In fact, he’d been having them for quite some time, but had hoped that things might get better. After all, he’d had a crush on Lucy Highmore for so long that he couldn’t actually remember a time when he didn’t have a crush on her. Occasionally in life we will wish for something that may not be very good for us simply because we think it will make us feel better about ourselves, or make us seem more important in the eyes of the world. This is why people buy expensive cars that they don’t need, or wear gold watches bigger than their heads. It is also why people will often date someone simply because he or she is wealthy, or famous, or beautiful. In case you didn’t already know—and if you’re clever enough to be reading a book, and have managed to get this far without stumbling over any words longer than five letters, then you probably do know—let me explain a truth to you: it doesn’t work. You’re trying to fix a flaw in yourself by shoving the problem onto someone, or something, else. It’s like having a cut on your finger and bandaging your toe instead. It’s like feeling hungry, and hoping that you’ll feel less hungry by buying yourself a hat.

  A wise man once said that you should be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. Samuel wanted to meet that wise man and ask him why he hadn’t been there to advise Samuel when he’d started wishing that Lucy Highmore would go out with him. That was the trouble with wise men: they were never around when you needed them, and by the time you became a wise man yourself it was too late to use any of your wisdom on yourself, and nobody else wanted to listen to you.

  Lucy Highmore didn’t particularly like Samuel’s friends. She didn’t like where he lived, and she didn’t like how he dressed. She didn’t like the sunlight because it damaged her skin, and she didn’t like the cold because, well, it made her feel cold. She didn’t like going out, and she didn’t like staying in. (When Samuel suggested that they could just stand at her front door with one foot inside and one foot outs
ide, she had looked at him in a troubled way.) She didn’t like Samuel’s dog, Boswell, because he smelled funny. Boswell, who understood people better than people understood him, found this very unfair, as he wasn’t one of those dogs inclined to roll in stuff that smelled bad. He had yet to find a dead animal or a pile of deer poo that made him think, Wow, now why don’t I have a bit of a spin in that because I bet everyone will want to hug me after, and there’s no way they’ll make me take a bath that I don’t want. Furthermore, Lucy Highmore smelled funny to Boswell, too, but there wasn’t much that he could do about it. She smelled of peculiar perfumes with French names that sounded like Mwah-mwoh, or Zejung, names that were only impressive when spoken by an invisible man with a deep voice. She also smelled slightly of vegetables because that was all she seemed to eat. She could live for a week on a stick of celery and half a carrot, and there were camels that consumed more liquid.

  On their first date, Samuel had taken Lucy to Pete’s Pies. Everyone loved Pete’s Pies. It was a small pie shop run—and you’re ahead of me here—by a man named Pete. Pete’s pies were perfect pastry constructions filled with meat and vegetables, or just vegetables if you were that way inclined, and just meat if you really, really liked meat. The pastry was as golden as the most perfect dawn, the filling never too hot and never too cold. Pete also made what he called his “dessert pies,” triangles of apple, or rhubarb, or pear that made grown men weep for their sheer loveliness, and grown women weep with them. There was nobody—I mean, nobody—who didn’t like Pete’s pies. No one. You’d have to be mad not to like them. You’d have to be impossible to please. You’d have to be—

 
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