Hogfather Page 1

Author: Terry Pratchett

Series: Discworld #20

Genres: Fantasy , Humorous

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder aloud how the snowplough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of the words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, ravelling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that here, here, is the point where it all began... Something began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things differently from other people was in seeing other people as things (later, Lord Downey of the Guild said, 'We took pity on him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that.') But it was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving 1 ), and then wondered where the stories went. And earlier still when something in the darkness of the deepest caves and gloomiest forests thought: what are they, these creatures? I will observe them. And much, much earlier than that, when the Discworld was formed, drifting onwards through space atop four elephants on the shell of the giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. Possibly, as it moves, it gets tangled like a blind man in a cobwebbed house in those highly specialized little spacetime strands that try to breed in every history they encounter, stretching them and breaking them and tugging them into new shapes. Or possibly not, of course. The philosopher Didactylos has summed up an alternative hypothesis as 'Things just happen. What the hell.' The senior wizards of Unseen University stood and looked at the door. There was no doubt that whoever had shut it wanted it to stay shut. Dozens of nails secured it to the door frame. Planks had been nailed right across. And finally it had, up until this morning, been hidden by a bookcase that had been put in front of it. 'And there's the sign, Ridcully,' said the Dean. 'You have read it, I assume. You know? The sign which says “Do not, under any circumstances, open this door”?'

'Of course I've read it,' said Ridcully. 'Why d'yer think I want it opened?'

'Er ... why?' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'To see why they wanted it shut, of course.` 2 He gestured to Modo, the University's gardener and oddjob dwarf, who was standing by with a crowbar. 'Go to it, lad.' The gardener saluted. 'Right you are, sir.' 1 That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids. 2 This exchange contains almost all you need to know about human civilization. At least, those bits of it that are now under the sea, fenced off or still smoking.

Against a background of splintering timber, Ridcully went on: 'It says on the plans that this was a bathroom. There's nothing frightening about a bathroom, for gods' sake. I want a bathroom. I'm fed up with sluicing down with you fellows. It's unhygienic. You can catch stuff. My father told me that. Where you get lots of people bathing together, the Verruca Gnome is running around with his little sack.'

'Is that like the Tooth Fairy?' said the Dean sarcastically. 'I'm in charge here and I want a bathroom of my own,' said Ridcully firmly. 'And that's all there is to it, all right? I want a bathroom in time for Hogswatchnight, understand?' And that's a problem with beginnings, of course. Sometimes, when you're dealing with occult realms that have quite a different attitude to time, you get the effect a little way before the cause. From somewhere on the edge of hearing came a glingleglingleglingle noise, like little silver bells. At about the same time as the Archchancellor was laying down the law, Susan Sto-Helit was sitting up in bed, reading by candlelight. Frost patterns curled across the windows. She enjoyed these early evenings. Once she had put the children to bed she was more or less left to herself. Mrs Gaiter was pathetically scared of giving her any instructions even though she paid Susan's wages. Not that the wages were important, of course. What was important was that she was being her Own Person and holding down a Real job. And being a governess was a real job. The only tricky bit had been the embarrassment when her employer found out that she was a duchess, because in Mrs Gaiter's book, which was a rather short book with big handwriting, the upper crust wasn't supposed to work. It was supposed to loaf around. It was all Susan could do to stop her curtseying when they met. A flicker made her turn her head. The candle flame was streaming out horizontally, as though in a howling wind. She looked up. The curtains billowed away from the window, which- -flung itself open with a clatter. But there was no wind. At least, no wind in this world. Images formed in her mind. A red ball ... The sharp smell of snow... And then they were gone, and instead there were... 'Teeth?' said Susan, aloud. 'Teeth, again?' She blinked. When she opened her eyes the window was, as she knew it would be, firmly shut. The curtain hung demurely. The candle flame was innocently upright. Oh, no, not again. Not after all this time. Everything had been going so well 'Thusan?' She looked around. Her door had been pushed open and a small figure stood there, barefoot in a nightdress. She sighed. 'Yes, Twyla?'

'I'm afwaid of the monster in the cellar, Thusan. It's going to eat me up.' Susan shut her book firmly and raised a warning finger. 'What have I told you about trying to sound ingratiatingly cute, Twyla?' she said. The little girl said, 'You said I mustn't. You said that exaggerated lisping is a hanging offence and I only do it to get attention.'

'Good. Do you know what monster it is this time?'

'It's the big hairy one wif-' Susan raised the finger. 'Uh?' she warned. ‘-with eight arms,' Twyla corrected herself.

'What, again? Oh, all right.' She got out of bed and put on her dressing gown, trying to stay quite calm while the child watched her. So they were coming back. Oh, not the monster in the cellar. That was all in a day's work. But it looked as if she was going to start remembering the future again. She shook her head. However far you ran away, you always caught yourself up. But monsters were easy, at least. She'd learned how to deal with monsters. She picked up the poker from the nursery fender and went down the back stairs, with Twyla following her. The Gaiters were having a dinner party. Muffled voices came from the direction of the dining room. Then, as she crept past, a door opened and yellow light spilled out and a voice said, 'Ye gawds, there's a gel in a nightshirt out here with a poker!' She saw figures silhouetted in the light and made out the worried face of Mrs Gaiter. 'Susan? Er ... what are you doing?' Susan looked at the poker and then back at the woman. 'Twyla said she's afraid of a monster in the cellar, Mrs Gaiter.'

'And yer going to attack it with a poker, eh?' said one of the guests. There was a strong atmosphere of brandy and cigars. 'Yes,' said Susan simply. 'Susan's our governess,' said Mrs Gaiter. 'Er ... I told you about her.' There was a change in the expression on the faces peering out from the dining room. It became a sort of amused respect. 'She beats up monsters with a poker?' said someone. 'Actually, that's a very clever idea,' said someone else. 'Little gel gets it into her head there's a monster in the cellar, you go in with the poker and make a few bashing noises while the child listens, and then everything's all right. Good thinkin', that girl. Ver' sensible. Ver' modem.'

'Is that what you're doing Susan?' said Mrs Gaiter anxiously. 'Yes, Mrs Gaiter,' said Susan obediently. 'This I've got to watch, by Io! It's not every day you see monsters beaten up by a gel,' said the man behind her. There was a swish of silk and a cloud of cigar smoke as the diners poured out into the hall. Susan sighed again and went down the cellar stairs, while Twyla sat demurely at the top, hugging her knees. A door opened and shut. There was a short period of silence and then a terrifying scream. One woman fainted and a man dropped his cigar. 'You don't have to worry, everything will be all right,' said Twyla calmly. 'She always wins. Everything will be all right.' There were thuds and clangs, and then a whirring noise, and finally a sort of bubbling. Susan pushed open the door. The poker was bent at right angles. There was nervous applause. 'Ver' well done,' said a guest. 'Ver' persykological. Clever idea, that, bendin' the poker. And I expect you're not afraid any more, eh, little girl?'

'No,' said Twyla 'Ver' persykological.'

'Susan says don't get afraid, get angry,' said Twyla. 'Er, thank you, Susan,' said Mrs Gaiter, now a trembling bouquet of nerves. 'And, er, now, Sir Geoffrey, if you'd all like to come back into the parlour - I mean, the drawing room-' The party went back up the hall. The last thing Susan heard before the door shut was 'Dashed convincin', the way she bent the poker like that-'

She waited. 'Have they all gone, Twyla?'

'Yes, Susan.'

'Good.' Susan went back into the cellar and emerged towing something large and hairy with eight legs. She managed to haul it up the steps and down the other passage to the back yard, where she kicked it out. It would evaporate before dawn. 'That's what we do to monsters,' she said. Twyla watched carefully. 'And now it's bed for you, my girl,' said Susan, picking her up. 'C'n I have the poker in my room for the night?'

'All right.'

'It only kills monsters, doesn't it...?' the child said sleepily, as Susan carried her upstairs. 'That's right,' Susan said. 'All kinds.' She put the girl to bed next to her brother and leaned the poker against the toy cupboard. The poker was made of some cheap metal with a brass knob on the end. She would, Susan reflected, give quite a lot to be able to use it on the children's previous governess. 'G'night.'

'Goodnight.' She went back to her own small bedroom and got back into bed, watching the curtains suspiciously. It would be nice to think she'd imagined it. It would also be stupid to think that, too. But she'd been nearly normal for two years now, making her own way in the real world, never remembering the future at all... Perhaps she had just dreamed things (but even dreams could be real...). She tried to ignore the long thread of wax that suggested the candle had, just for a few seconds, streamed in the wind. As Susan sought sleep, Lord Downey sat in his study catching up on the paperwork. Lord Downey was an assassin. Or, rather, an Assassin. The capital letter was important. It separated those curs who went around murdering people for money from the gentlemen who were occasionally consulted by other gentlemen who wished to have removed, for a consideration, any inconvenient razorblades from the candyfloss of life. The members of the Guild of Assassins considered themselves cultured men who enjoyed good music and food and literature. And they knew the value of human life. To a penny, in many cases. Lord Downey's study was oak-panelled and well carpeted. The furniture was very old and quite worn, but the wear was the wear that comes only when very good furniture is carefully used over several centuries. It was matured furniture. A log fire burned in the grate. In front of it a couple of dogs were sleeping in the tangled way of large hairy dogs everywhere. Apart from the occasional doggy snore or the crackle of a shifting log, there were no other sounds but the scratching of Lord Downey's pen and the ticking of the longcase clock by the door ... small, private noises which only served to define the silence. At least, this was the case until someone cleared their throat. The sound suggested very clearly that the purpose of the exercise was not to erase the presence of a troublesome bit of biscuit, but merely to indicate in the politest possible way the presence of the throat. Downey stopped writing but did not raise his head. Then, after what appeared to be some consideration, he said in a businesslike voice, 'The doors are locked. The windows are barred. The dogs do not appear to have woken up. The squeaky

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