Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 4 –

– 4 –

— It’s not his fault.

You have to understand this. It wasn’t Linus’ fault. He wasn’t being heartless.

It had just never even occurred to him that the goat could be an actual problem for anybody. He’s been on the threat list for Agencies and cleaning men and the like his whole life, and he was going to be for the rest of it, and it wouldn’t have mattered whether he was Gandhi, or Cheney, or Tony Hawk. So he’d just assumed that the goat was like he was —

A danger, but hardly a threat.

He’d assumed that this was a fun opportunity. That he could see Jeremiah Clean in operation; sabotage him, if he could; and revel in the fact that, as Jeremiah Clean’s organizational superior, he could have the man’s job if he complained.

Only —

And he realizes this slowly —

There’s more to the situation than a sharpened goat.

I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who have lost loved ones to sharpened goats. I’m not trying to say that that’s not a real problem or a real tragedy. It is. Listen. I know it. I gave to the fund. There’s a fund, right? If there’s a fund I gave to it. But — this is more than just your standard, everyday unusually-sharp-goat situation. It’s more even than an ordinary, everyday outbreak of the sene-goat, this first one, the most deadly sene-goat of all.

Today it is a goat that has cut its way up from Hell to the surface. It has slaughtered the army that guarded the bridge. It has left the centipede bleeding and dying, and the gorgon, that might have got it, was apparently gone.

Behind it have come all the legions of the damned and the Hell megacolony of ants.

The goat is the lamb and the piper: it has opened the seals and the gates.

There are some in that army who are probably just — going home now. Dead souls, who’ve slipped away, and gone back to their husbands, their children, their wives. Their sisters, their brothers. Their fathers, their mothers. Their lovers, their best friends, their work.

There are others who are wrong and cruel and want revenge on the world for their damning.

There are demons —

But mostly, there are ants.

They are a white wave across the city — Hell-bleached and hungry. They are pouring up from the sewers and they are filling the land. And Jeremiah Clean, who could stop them, can’t stop them, because there’s a goat in his way. A goat, and that goat —

It’s too sharp.

Linus turns. He looks up the building behind him. He sees the half-eaten face of a dead man, pressed against the window within. He smells death on the air now. He hears the screaming.

He pales.

He looks at Jeremiah Clean and he says, “I didn’t know.”

The janitor doesn’t seem to hear him, or maybe just — doesn’t seem to care about him. He fights the goat, and it can’t stop him, because his heart is pure; and the goat cuts him, makes him bleed, because its heart is sharp, sharper than pain, sharper than grief, sharper than metal, sharper than life.

Linus stands up.

He goes and he stands beside the cleaning man. The newest mop wavers in his direction, then turns back towards the goat.

“I can help,” says the antichrist, softly.

“That’s kind of you, sir,” says Jeremiah, with icy control in his voice, “but I think I’m all right here.”

“Please let me —”

Linus looks apologetic. The walls have started to bleed.

What can Jeremiah say?

He shrugs. He cannot worry about Linus Evans. Not when Hell has opened up onto the surface, and there are ants, and a sharpened goat.

It takes them one hundred and seventy-two minutes, in all.



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