The creeps, p.9
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       The Creeps, p.9

           John Connolly
 
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  Samuel wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t know how to make life better for Nurd. If he’d had money, he’d have given it to Nurd so that he could travel and see a bit more of the world, but Samuel and his mum were barely making ends meet as it was, even with the wages that Nurd and Wormwood earned from testing cars.

  “Look,” said Samuel, “maybe you should come along to the opening of the toy shop after all. It’ll do you good.”

  Nurd shook his head.

  “No, what you said downstairs was right. We shouldn’t attract any more attention to ourselves, and we wouldn’t want to frighten anyone.”

  He picked up his travel supplement again. On the cover, a young couple smiled in front of the Taj Mahal in India.

  “I’m sorry,” said Samuel as he climbed down from the bunk. “I thought you’d be happy here.”

  “I am happy,” said Nurd. “I just wish I was . . . happier.”28

  • • •

  Maria, accompanied by Tom, came round to Samuel’s house later that evening. Samuel showed the invitation to them, and they were both impressed.

  “Maybe if we keep hanging around with you, some of your celebrity will rub off on us and we’ll get invited to openings, too,” said Tom.

  “Well, can you keep rubbing, then,” said Samuel, “because I don’t want to be a celebrity at all.”

  “Still, it’s nice to be asked,” said Tom. “I mean, if the only reward for being famous was being chased by demons and dragged off to Hell every so often, then it really wouldn’t be worth being famous at all, would it? Are you going to bring someone along with you? I’d go, but my mum and dad are keeping me out of school that day so we can visit my gran in Liverpool.”

  “I expect Lucy will want to go,” said Samuel.

  Maria winced, but said nothing. The nature of her friendship with Samuel had changed a lot since Samuel had started seeing Lucy Highmore. Lucy didn’t like Maria, and Maria certainly didn’t like Lucy, so when Samuel was with Lucy he couldn’t be with Maria, and even when he was with Maria without Lucy, there was now a certain chill between them. Samuel wondered if it was always that way when a group of friends had to deal with the fact that one of them now had a girlfriend or boyfriend. He wished there was somebody he could ask about it, but the person he would usually have asked was Maria. There was no point in asking Tom: Tom was as close to being married to the rest of the rugby First Fifteen as it was possible to be without them all exchanging rings and sprinkling confetti on one another.

  “Since we’re all here,” said Maria, “we may as well get some work done on our project.”

  Tom groaned.

  “I hate this project. I have to look at old buildings and try to find something to say about them other than that they’re a bit gloomy and should probably have been demolished a long time ago. Yesterday I nearly got knocked out by a piece of brick that dropped off one of them. I’m lucky to be alive. Whose idea was it to write about Hilary Mould anyway?”

  “It was mine,” said Maria icily. “And you really will be lucky to stay alive if you don’t stop complaining. We either studied the Mould buildings or spent our Saturdays wandering around shopping centers counting shoe shops. At least Mould is interesting.”

  “Only if you’re a depressed pigeon with no friends,” said Tom. “And then there’s that business with his statue.”

  They all agreed that the statue was odd. Nobody ever saw it moving around. It would be in one place for an hour, or a day, or a week, and then it would be somewhere else. Some weeks earlier, Maria had suggested that their science class should do a study of the statue, but Mr. Lugosi, the science teacher, didn’t believe it was a good idea.

  “Who knows what might happen if we start paying attention to it?” he said, a statement which led Maria to suspect that Mr. Lugosi wasn’t really cut out to teach science.

  “Perhaps it’s a quantum statue,” Tom had suggested, “so that it’s in every possible place in Biddlecombe until someone observes it.”

  “Very clever, Hobbes,” said Mr. Lugosi, “except that the statue appears to have only six known preferred locations.”

  “Sir?” called Mooch, who always sat at the back of the class and walked with a slight stoop, as though auditioning for the role of bell ringer in an old cathedral.

  “Yes, Mooch?”

  “Seven, sir.”

  “Seven what?”

  “Seven places the statue seems to prefer.”

  “Why do you say that, Mooch?”

  “Sir, it’s outside the window.”

  And it was.

  “Don’t look at it,” said Mr. Lugosi. “Ignore it and it will go away.”

  Everybody ignored Mr. Lugosi instead and looked at the statue, but after a while it began to give them the creeps, so they looked away again. Seconds later, the statue had gone.

  “If anyone asks, that never happened,” said Mr. Lugosi.

  But Maria in particular continued to be intrigued, and when Mr. Franklin, the geography teacher, had told them to form groups of three and come up with a project on buildings and public spaces in Biddlecombe, she had twisted the arms of Samuel and Tom until they’d agreed to look at the work of Hilary Mould. The subject was now quite topical due to the reopening of Wreckit & Sons.

  “This bloke Grimly will have to do something pretty spectacular with Wreckit’s if he doesn’t want to send little kids home crying and wondering what the point of life is,” said Tom.

  “It is a strange building to turn into a toy store,” said Samuel. “I know it’s right in the center of town, but it still looks like it should be used for something else.”

  “Storing dead bodies,” Tom suggested.

  “Storing undead bodies,” Samuel offered.

  “A rest home for retired vampires.”

  “Kennels for werewolves.”

  “Will you two shut up!” said Maria. “Look, I’ve printed off a map of Biddlecombe. I thought we could use it as the centerpiece for the project, and mark the Mould buildings on it. Then we could add a picture of each building, and a little potted history of it. Now that Samuel is going to the grand opening, maybe he can find a way to interview Mr. Grimly. Samuel might have more luck than the local paper has had. How does that sound?”

  It was certainly better than anything Samuel or Tom had come up with. There were six Mould buildings in total in Biddlecombe, and they had taken two each to study. Samuel and Tom hadn’t done much more than walk by their buildings, which in Samuel’s case included Wreckit’s, and then move along as quickly as possible, but Maria had already completed her histories and taken her photos. Now, as they sat around the table, she placed dots on the map indicating the locations of the six Mould buildings.

  Maria sat back. She appeared troubled.

  “What is it?” asked Samuel. “Did you make a mistake?”

  “She doesn’t make mistakes,” said Tom, which was kind of true. What Maria did, she did well.

  “Don’t you see it?” said Maria.

  Samuel and Tom didn’t see anything at all, apart from the names of streets and buildings, and six black dots. Maria picked up her pen again, grabbed a ruler, and began drawing lines on the map, connecting the dots.

  “Now do you see it?” she asked.

  They did. It might have been a coincidence, but if it was, then it was a very large one. The dots, when joined by lines, made a very distinct pattern. It looked like this, with Wreckit & Sons at the center:

  “I could be wrong,” said Maria, “but that looks very like a pentagram.”29

  Samuel, Maria, and Tom talked for a long time about the pentagram. Maria was the most worried about it, and Tom the least. Samuel was stranded somewhere in the middle. It was unusual, he had to admit, but so what if weird Hilary Mould had set out to position his awful buildings in the shape of a pentagram? It just confirmed what everyone had always thought: he was as odd as two left shoes.

  “Maybe you shouldn’t go to the grand reopening,” said Maria, “not until
we know more. In fact, we should try to have the reopening postponed.”

  “Are you mad?” said Tom. “The reopening is tomorrow, and it’s the biggest thing to have happened to Biddlecombe in years. Everybody is looking forward to it. Do you really think they’re going to call it off just because you’ve made the shape of a star on a map?”

  “Tom’s right,” said Samuel. “It doesn’t mean anything, beyond the fact that Hilary Mould had an unusual sense of humor.”

  “But what if it’s more than that?” said Maria. “What if it’s dangerous?”

  “How can it be?” said Samuel. “Those buildings have been around for more than a century and they’ve done nothing worse than make the town look a bit uglier. Why should they start being dangerous now?”

  And that was how things ended, because Maria had no answer to Samuel’s question. She had only her instincts to go on, and they told her that something was very wrong here. She didn’t want anything bad to happen to the people of Biddlecombe, and especially not to Samuel and Boswell. She didn’t even want any harm to befall Lucy Highmore.

  Or not much harm, anyway.

  * * *

  27. No matter how great your job is, there will be days when you might wish that you were doing something else. Everybody feels the need to have a bit of a moan once in a while. Your job could be knocking baseballs through the windows of buildings and every so often you’d still feel the urge to complain that your arm was tired.

  28. Which is, in a way, the story of life.

  29. It was only in the nineteenth century that the pentagram—a five-pointed star—came to be regarded as a symbol for evil, and its use in old manuscripts of the supernatural is rare. Just to be clear, if it has one point at the top, then it’s a symbol of good, and if there are two points at the top, like the one Maria found, it’s a symbol for evil. Then again, like most things in life, it rather depends upon how one looks at it, doesn’t it?

  XIV

  In Which the Worst Date in the History of Dating Begins

  LUCY HIGHMORE LOOKED LOVELY when she arrived at Samuel’s house on the evening of the grand reopening. Her dress was lovely, her face was lovely, and her hair was lovely. Her dad had dropped her off at Samuel’s house in a car that was so big it qualified as a boat, and he had glowed in the light of his daughter’s sheer loveliness. If there had been a town called Lovely and its residents were looking for a statue of Loveliness to represent it, they would have modeled it on Lucy Highmore. Samuel felt slightly awkward standing beside her, as though he were somehow dragging her down just by being around.

  Lucy Highmore had agreed to go with Samuel to Wreckit & Sons because it was such a big event, even though she knew that, pretty soon, she and Samuel would not be going anywhere together; and Samuel had asked Lucy to go to the special event even though he knew that, pretty soon, he and Lucy would not be going anywhere together; and Boswell had gone with Samuel and Lucy to the special event because Samuel had put a leash on him and said, “Come on, Boswell,” which was all that Boswell needed to hear.

  “You two—um, three—have a lovely time,” said Mrs. Johnson as they left the house. “I just hope that it’s a special evening for you.”

  Even if the reopening of Wreckit & Sons had been the grandest event that Biddlecombe had ever seen, the evening would not have been destined to go well for these two young people and one small dachshund. As things happened, it was destined to be an opening unlike any other.

  Dimensions were fragmenting.

  Cracks were appearing in the Multiverse.

  The Shadows were gathering.

  Eternal Darkness was coming.

  Not a good evening for a date, then. Not a good evening at all.

  XV

  In Which Brian the Tea Boy Really Wishes That He Had Found Himself a Safer Job, like Hand-Feeding Great White Sharks, or Juggling Scorpions

  BRIAN THE TEA BOY was still not used to the ghosts. Oh, he understood that they weren’t really ghosts as such. Professor Stefan had sat him down shortly after the policemen had paid their visit, and explained to Brian in some detail his theory about why a former sweet factory seemed to be quite the hive of activity for people who had been dead for a long time.

  “Think of the Multiverse as a series of bubbles, and each bubble is a universe,” said Professor Stefan. “But they’re not like the bubbles in a glass of fizzy pop. Instead, they’re pressed very tightly together, so tightly that the ‘skin’ of one universe almost, but not quite, shares the skin of another. And what is in these universes, you might ask?”

  “Ghosts,” said Brian.

  “No, Brian,” said Professor Stefan in the tone of a man who has just discovered a large hole in his bucket of patience, and is now considering hitting someone over the head with the bucket, “not ghosts. Ghosts don’t exist. Let’s say it together on the count of three. One, two, three. Ghosts don’t exist.”

  “G-ghosts don’t exist,” echoed Brian dully, casting an anxious glance over his shoulder in case one decided to pop up and prove him wrong. Brian felt that he had been reduced to a big jellied spine waiting for a shiver to run down it.

  “Very good,” said Professor Stefan. “If you could say it without stammering, that would be even better.”

  “S-sorry,” s-said Brian.

  “D-don’t— Blast it, you have me at it now. Don’t worry, just listen.”

  “Right,” said Brian.

  “What I think we are seeing in this sweet factory are quantum universes parallel to our own, but we’re being given glimpses of different points in their time lines, which is why the people who keep popping up are wearing the clothing of Victorian servants, or Tudor courtiers, or, in that slightly disturbing incident involving the elderly gentleman climbing into his bathtub, nothing at all. Similarly, it’s entirely possible that somewhere on their time lines, people are glimpsing scientists in false beards who are pretending to run a sweetshop, although so far we’ve seen no evidence of that.

  “Look, people think of time as a single straight line, like this,” said Professor Stefan. He drew a straight line for Brian, just to be helpful.

  Past

  Present

  Future

  *

  “But suppose,” he continued, “time isn’t like that at all. Suppose time really looks like this.”

  “Handy that you happened to have a picture of twigs with you, wasn’t it?” said Brian.

  “Yes,” said Professor Stefan. “I have to explain this often. So, imagine that, every time you made a decision, like whether to come here to work with us—”

  “So a bad decision?”

  “Yes. No. Maybe. Anyway, suppose that every time you made a decision, the universe branched off, and another universe came into being. So there’s this universe, the universe in which you work here, and there’s another universe, in which—”

  “In which I work somewhere there are no ghosts,” said Brian. “Sorry, no not-ghosts.”

  “Precisely. Now, if you think about all the decisions and actions that you take in a single day, suddenly time begins to seem a lot more complicated, doesn’t it, with lots and lots of lines running alongside each other. And perhaps they’re not straight lines either. Perhaps they tangle and cross over at points, just like those twigs. And sometimes, if the circumstances are right, we get a glimpse of one of those other universes, those alternative realities.”

  “And you believe that’s what’s happening here?”

  “It’s a possibility,” Professor Stefan said. He decided not to mention that some of these universes might not contain just other, equally slow, versions of Brian, but potentially destructive beings. He was making some progress with Brian, and didn’t want to spoil it all by introducing nameless horrors from the beyond.

  “But how has this happened?” said Brian.

  Professor Stefan shifted awkwardly on his seat.

  “What may have occurred—and I stress ‘may,’ because we don’t want people blaming us for things
that we might not have done, and especially not for things that we might actually have done—is that, in the course of the Collider experiments, the skins separating some of the universes within the Multiverse might have been worn a little thin, thus enabling us to peer through them into other realms.”

  “Weren’t we talking about twigs a moment ago?”

  “We were, but forget the twigs. We’re back on skins.”

  “So why can’t the people in these other universes see us when we see them?”

  Brian really was asking the most awkward questions, thought Professor Stefan. He began mentally weighing his empty patience bucket and practicing his swing.

  “Think of them as those windows in police stations that look like plain old mirrors on one side but, if you’re sitting on the other side, allow you to watch suspects being questioned.” Professor Stefan had just thought of this explanation, and was quite pleased with it, even if it meant moving from twigs to skins to police stations. “That would explain why we can see them, but they can’t see us.”

  “Oh,” said Brian.

  It made a kind of sense, in a not very sensible way.

  “So we’re not going to talk about ghosts anymore, okay?” said Professor Stefan.

  “Okay.”

  “Because they’re not ghosts, not in the way that you think, and they can’t see you or hurt you.”

  “Er, yes, right.”

  “And we’re not going to mention them to policemen, or anyone else, isn’t that right?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “There’s a good chap. Now, back to work you go. Milk, two sugars, and a Jammie Dodger, please.”

  Brian did as he was told. He made a large pot of tea, put some mugs and a plate of Jammie Dodgers beside it on the tray, added a jug of milk and a bowl of sugar, and looked at his handiwork. It was all very neat and tidy. He picked up the tray, and instantly his hands began shaking so much that the Jammie Dodgers were awash with tea and milk before he even managed to get halfway to the door.

 
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