Cover image for Tales from the nightside
Title:
Tales from the nightside
Author:
Green, Simon R., 1955-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections
Edition:
First edtion.
Publication Information:
New York : Ace Books, 2015.
Physical Description:
viii, 308 pages ; 21 cm
Summary:
"New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green returns to the "bizarre and gleefully dangerous backdrop" (Jim Butcher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Dresden Files) of the Nightside with this landmark collection of short fiction. Welcome to the Nightside. It's the secret heart of London, beating to its own rhythm, pumping lifeblood through the veins of its streets and alleys hidden in eternal darkness, where creatures of the night congregate and where the sun is afraid to shine. It's the place to go if you're looking to indulge the darker side of your nature-and to hell with the consequences. Tales from the Nightside presents ten macabre mysteries that shine a dim beam into the neighborhood's darkest corners to reveal things that should never come to light. Take a walk with such deadly and dangerous denizens of the Nightside as Razor Eddie, Dead Boy, and Larry Oblivion as they encounter things even more inhuman and inhumane than they are. And join John Taylor, the PI with a knack for finding lost things, as he confronts Sir Francis Varney, King of the Vampires, in a never-before-published novella-length adventure. There may be nothing to be afraid of in the dark, but there's plenty to be afraid of in the Nightside... Includes "The Big Game, " a Never-Before-Published Nightside Novella and Nine Other Favorite Nightside Stories"--
Language:
English
Contents:
The Nightside, needless to say -- Razor Eddie's big night out -- Lucy, at Christmastime -- Appetite for murder -- The difference a day makes -- Some of these cons go way back -- The spirit of the thing -- Hungry heart -- How do you feel? -- The big game.
ISBN:
9780425270752
Format :
Book

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Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Science Fiction/Fantasy
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Summary

Summary

New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green returns to the "bizarre and gleefully dangerous backdrop" (Jim Butcher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Dresden Files) of the Nightside with this landmark collection of short fiction.
 
Welcome to the Nightside. It's the secret heart of London, beating to its own rhythm, pumping lifeblood through the veins of its streets and alleys hidden in eternal darkness, where creatures of the night congregate and where the sun is afraid to shine. It's the place to go if you're looking to indulge the darker side of your nature--and to hell with the consequences.
 
Tales from the Nightside presents ten macabre mysteries that shine a dim beam into the neighborhood's darkest corners to reveal things that should never come to light. Take a walk with such deadly and dangerous denizens of the Nightside as Razor Eddie, Dead Boy, and Larry Oblivion as they encounter things even more inhuman and inhumane than they are. And join John Taylor, the PI with a knack for finding lost things, as he confronts Sir Francis Varney, King of the Vampires, in a never-before-published novella-length adventure.
 
There may be nothing to be afraid of in the dark, but there's plenty to be afraid of in the Nightside…

Includes "The Big Game," a Never-Before-Published Nightside Novella and Nine Other Favorite Nightside Stories


Author Notes

Science fiction and fantasy author Simon R. Green was born in 1955 in Bradford-on-Avon, England. He received an M.A. in Modern English and American Literature from Leicester University. He is the author of the Deathstalker series, a member of the British Fantasy Society, and occasionally does some Shakespearean acting.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Excerpts

Excerpts

INTRODUCTION THE NIGHTSIDE, NEEDLESS TO SAY The Nightside is the secret, sick, magical heart of London. A city within a city, where the night never ends and it's always three o'clock in the morning. Hot neon reflects from rain-slick streets, and dreams go walking in borrowed flesh. You can find pretty much anything in the Nightside, except happy endings. Gods and monsters run confidence tricks, and all desires can be satisfied, if you're willing to pay the price. Which might be money and might be service, but nearly always ends up meaning your soul. The Nightside, where the sun never shows its face because if it did, someone would probably try to steal it. When you've nowhere else to go, the Nightside will take you in. Trust no-one, including yourself, and you might get out alive again. Some of us work there, for our sins. Or absolution, or atonement. It's that kind of place. •   •   • Larry! Larry! What's wrong? The sharp, whispered voice pulled me up out of a bad dream; something about running in the rain, running from something awful. I sat up in bed, looked around, and didn't know where I was. It wasn't my bedroom. Harsh neon light flickered red and green through the slats of the closed shutters, intermittently revealing a dark dusty room with cheap and nasty furniture. There was nobody else there, but the words still rang in my ears. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to remember my dream, but it was already fading. I was fully dressed, and there were no bedsheets. I still had my shoes on. I had no idea what day it was. I got up and turned on the bedside light. The room wasn't improved by being seen clearly, but at least I knew where I was. An old safe house, in one of the seedier areas of the Nightside. A refuge I hadn't had to use in years. I still kept up the rent; because you never know when you're going to need a bolt-hole in a hurry. I turned out my pockets. Everything where it should be, and nothing new to explain what I was doing here. I shook my head slowly, then left the room, heading for the adjoining bathroom. Explanations could wait, until I'd taken care of something that couldn't. The bathroom's bright fluorescent light was harsh and unforgiving as I studied my face in the medicine cabinet mirror. Pale and washed-out, under straw-blond hair, good bone structure, and a mouth and eyes that never gave anything away. My hair was a mess, but I didn't need a shave. I shrugged, dropped my trousers and shorts, and sat down on the porcelain throne. There was a vague uneasy feeling in my bowels and then a sudden lurch as something within made a bid for freedom. I tapped my foot impatiently, listening to a series of splashes. Something bad must have happened, even if I couldn't remember it. I needed to get out of here and start asking pointed questions of certain people. Someone would know. Someone always knows. The splashes finally stopped, but something didn't feel right. I got up, turned around, and looked down into the bowl. It was full of maggots. Curling and twisting and squirming. I made a horrified sound and stumbled backward. My legs tangled in my lowered trousers, and I fell full length on the floor. My head hit the wall hard. It didn't hurt. I scrambled to my feet, pulled up my shorts and trousers, and backed out of the bathroom, still staring at the toilet. It was the things that weren't happening that scared me most. I should have been hyperventilating. My heart should have been hammering in my chest. My face should have been covered in a cold sweat. But when I checked my wrist, then my throat, there wasn't any pulse. And I wasn't breathing hard because I wasn't breathing at all. I couldn't remember taking a single breath since I woke up. I touched my face with my fingertips, and they both felt cold. I was dead. Someone had killed me. I knew that, though I didn't know how. The maggots suggested I'd been dead for some time. So, who killed me, and why hadn't I noticed it till now? •   •   • My name's Larry Oblivion, and with a name like that I pretty much had to be a private investigator. Mostly I do corporate work: industrial espionage, checking out backgrounds, helping significant people defect from one organization to another. Big business has always been where the real money is. I don't do divorce cases, or solve mysteries, and I've never even owned a trench-coat. I wear Gucci, I make more money than most people ever dream of, and I pack a wand. Don't snigger. I took the wand in payment for a case involving the Unseelie Court, and I've never regretted it. Two feet long, and carved from the spine of a species that never existed in the waking world, the wand could stop time, for everyone except me. More than enough to give me an edge, or a running start. You take all the advantages you can get when you operate in the Nightside. No-one else knew I had the wand. Unless . . . someone had found out and killed me to try and get their hands on it. I found the coffeemaker and fixed myself my usual pick-me-up. Black coffee, steaming hot, and strong enough to jump-start a mummy from its sleep. But when it was ready, I didn't want it. Apparently the walking dead don't drink coffee. Damn. I was going to miss that. Larry! Larry! I spun round, the words loud in my ear, but still there was no-one else in the room. Just a voice, calling my name. For a moment I almost remembered something horrid, then it was gone before I could hold on to it. I scowled, pacing up and down the room to help me think. I was dead, I'd been murdered. So, start with the usual suspects. Who had reason to want me dead? Serious reasons; I had my share of enemies, but that was just the price of doing business. No-one murders anyone over business. No; start with my ex-wife, Donna Tramen. She had reasons to hate me. I fell in love with a client, Margaret Boniface, and left my wife for her. The affair didn't work out, but Maggie and I remained friends. In fact, we worked so well together I made her a partner in my business. My wife hadn't talked to me since I moved out, except through her lawyer, but if she was going to kill me, she would have done it long ago. And the amount of money the divorce judge awarded her gave her a lot of good reasons for wanting me alive. As long as the cheques kept coming. Next up: angry or disappointed clients, where the case hadn't worked out to everyone's satisfaction. There were any number of organizations in and out of the Nightside that I'd stolen secrets or personnel from. But none of them would take such things personally. Today's target might be tomorrow's client, so everyone stayed polite. I never got involved in the kinds of cases where passions were likely to be raised. No-one's ever made movies about the kind of work I do. I kept feeling I already knew the answer, but it remained stubbornly out of reach. Perhaps because . . . I didn't want to remember. I shuddered suddenly, and it wasn't from the cold. I picked up the phone beside the bed, and called my partner. Maggie picked up on the second ring, as though she'd been waiting for a call. "Maggie, this is Larry. Listen, you're not going to believe what's happened . . ." "Larry, you've been missing for three days! Where are you?" Three days . . . A trail could get real cold in three days . . . "I'm at the old safe house on Blaiston Street. I think you'd better come and get me." "What the hell are you doing there? I didn't know we still had that place on the books." "Just come and get me. I'm in trouble." Her voice changed immediately. "What kind of trouble, Larry?" "Let's just say . . . I think I'm going to need some of your old expertise, Mama Bones." "Don't use that name on an open line! It's been a long time since I was a mover and shaker on the voodoo scene, and hopefully most people have forgotten Margaret Boniface was ever involved. I'm clean now. One day at a time, sweet Jesus." "You know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. I need what you used to know. Get here as fast as you can. And, Maggie, don't tell anyone where you're going. We can't trust anyone but each other." She laughed briefly. "Business as usual, in the Nightside." •   •   • I did a lot more pacing and thinking in the half hour it took Maggie to reach Blaiston Street, but I was no wiser at the end of it. My memories stopped abruptly three days ago, with no warning of what was to come. I kept watch on and off through the slats of the window shutters, and was finally rewarded with the sight of Maggie pulling up to the curb in her cherry-red Jaguar. Protective spells sparked briefly around the car as she got out and looked up at my window. Tall and slender, an ice-cool blonde with a buzz cut and a heavy scarlet mouth. She dressed like a diva and walked like a princess, and carried a silver-plated magnum derringer in her purse, next to her aboriginal pointing bone. She had a sharp, incisive mind, and given a few more years' experience and the right contacts, she'd be ten times the operative I was. I never told her that, of course. I didn't want her getting overconfident. She rapped out our special knock on the door, the one that said yes she had checked, and no, no-one had followed her. I let her in, and she checked the room out professionally before turning to kiss my cheek. And then she stopped, and looked at me. "Larry . . . you look half-dead." I smiled briefly. "You don't know the half of it." I gave her the bad news, and she took it as well as could be expected. She insisted on checking my lack of a pulse or heartbeat for herself, then stepped back from me and hugged herself tightly. I don't think she liked the way my cold flesh felt. I tried to make light of what had happened, complaining that my life must have been really dull if neither Heaven nor Hell were interested in claiming me, but neither of us was fooled. In the end, we sat side by side on the bed, and discussed what we should do next in calm, professional voices. "You've no memory at all of being killed?" Maggie said finally. "No. I'm dead, but not yet departed. Murdered, but still walking around. Which puts me very much in your old territory, oh mistress of the mystic arts." "Oh please! So I used to know a little voodoo . . . Practically everyone in my family does. Where we come from, it's no big thing. And I was never involved in anything like this . . ." "Can you help me, or not?" She scowled. "All right. Let me run a few diagnostics on you." "Are we going to have to send out for a chicken?" "Be quiet, heathen." She ran through a series of chants in Old French, lit up some incense, then took off all her clothes and danced around the room for a while. I'd probably have enjoyed it if I hadn't been dead. The room grew darker, and there was a sense of unseen eyes watching. Shadows moved slowly across the walls, deep disturbing shapes, though there was nothing in the room to cast them. And then Maggie stopped dancing, and stood facing me, breathing hard, sweat running down her bare body. "Did you feel anything then?" she said. "No. Was I supposed to?" Maggie shrugged briefly and put her clothes back on in a businesslike way. The shadows and the sense of being watched were gone. "You've been dead for three days," said Maggie. "Someone killed you, then held your spirit in your dead body. There's a rider spell attached, to give you the appearance of normality, but inside you're already rotting. Hence the maggots." "Can you undo the spell?" I said. "Larry, you're dead. The dead can be made to walk, but no one can bring them all the way back, not even in the Nightside. Whatever we decide to do, your story's over, Larry." I thought about that for a while. I always thought I would have achieved more, before the end. All the things I meant to do, and kept putting off, because I was young and imagined I had all the time in the world. Larry Oblivion, who always dreamed of something better, but never had the guts to go after it. One ex-wife, one ex-lover, no kids, no legacy. No point and no purpose. "When all else fails," I said finally, "there's always revenge. I need to find out who killed me and why, while I still can. While there's still enough of me left to savor it." "Any ideas who it might have been?" said Maggie. "Anyone new you might have upset recently?" I thought hard. "Prometheus Inc. weren't at all happy over my handling of their poltergeist saboteur. Count Entropy didn't like what I found out about his son, even though he paid me to dig it up. Big Max always said he'd put me in the ground someday . . ." "Max," Maggie said immediately. "Has to be Max. You've been rivals for years, hurt his business and made him look a fool, more than once. He must have decided to put an end to the competition." "Why would he want to keep me around after killing me?" "To gloat! He hated your guts, Larry; it has to be him!" I thought about it. I'd rubbed Max's nose in it before, and all he ever did was talk. Maybe . . . he'd got tired of talking. "All right," I said. "Let's go see the big man and ask him a few pointed questions." "He's got a lot of protection," said Maggie. "Not at all an easy man to get to see." "Do I look like I care? Are you in or not?" "Of course I'm in! I'm just pointing out that Big Max is known for surrounding himself with heavy-duty firepower." I smiled. "Baby, I'm dead. How are they going to stop me?" •   •   • We went out into the streets, and walked through the Nightside. The rain had stopped, and the air was sharp with new possibilities. Hot neon blazed on every side, advertising the kinds of love that might not have names, but certainly have prices. Heavy bass lines surged out of open club doors, reverberating in the ground and in my bones. All kinds of people swept past us, intent on their own business. Only some of them were human. Traffic roared constantly up and down the road, and everyone was careful to give it plenty of room. Not everything that looked like a car was a car, and some of them were hungry. In the Nightside, taxis can run on deconsecrated altar wine, and motorcycle messengers snort powdered virgin's blood for that extra kick. Max's place wasn't far. He holed up in an upmarket cocktail bar called the Spider's Web. Word is he used to work there once. And that he had his old boss killed when he took it over, then had the man stuffed and mounted and put on display. Max never left the place any more, and held court there from behind more layers of protection than some presidents can boast. The big man had a lot of enemies, and he gloried in it. Along the way I kept getting quick flashes of déjà vu. Brief glimpses of my dream of running through the rain. Except I was pretty sure by now that it wasn't a dream but a memory. I could feel the desperation as I ran, pursued by something without a face. The only entrance to the Spider's Web was covered by two large gentlemen with shoulder holsters, and several layers of defensive magics. I knew about the magics because a client had once hired me to find out exactly what Max was using. Come to think of it, no-one had seen that client for some time. I murmured to Maggie to hang on to my arm, then drew my wand and activated it. It shone with a brilliant light, too bright to look at, and all around us the world seemed to slow down, and become flat and unreal. The roar of the traffic shut off, and the neon stopped flickering. Maggie and I were outside Time. We walked between the two bodyguards, and they didn't even see us. I could feel the defensive magics straining, reaching out, unable to touch us. We walked on through the club, threading our way through the frozen crowds. Deeper and deeper, into the lair of the beast. There were things going on that sickened even me, but I didn't have the time to stop and do anything. I only had one shot at this. Maggie held my arm tightly. It would probably have hurt if I'd still been alive. "Well," she said, trying for a light tone and not even coming close. "A genuine wand of the Faerie. That explains a lot of things." "It always helps to have an unsuspected edge." "You could have told me. I am your partner." "You can never tell who's listening, in the Nightside." I probably would have told her, if she hadn't ended our affair. "But I think I'm past the point of needing secrets any more." We found the big man sitting behind a desk in a surprisingly modest inner office. He was playing solitaire with tarot cards, and cheating. Thick mats of ivy crawled across the walls, and the floor was covered with cabalistic symbols. I closed the door behind us so we wouldn't be interrupted, and shut down the wand. Max looked up sharply as we appeared suddenly in front of him. His right hand reached for something, but Maggie already had her silver magnum derringer out and covering him. Max shrugged, sat back in his chair, and studied us curiously. Max Maxwell, so big they named him twice. A giant of a man, huge and lowering even behind his oversized mahogany desk. Eight feet tall and impressively broad across the shoulders, with a harsh and craggy face, he looked like he was carved out of stone. A gargoyle in a Savile Row suit. Max traded in secrets, and stayed in business because he knew something about everyone. Or at least, everyone who mattered. Even if he hadn't killed me, there was a damned good chance he knew who had. "Larry Oblivion," he said, in a voice like grinding stone. "My dearest rival and most despised competitor. To what do I owe the displeasure of this unexpected visit?" "Like you don't already know," said Maggie, her derringer aimed directly between his eyes. Max ignored her, his gaze fixed on me. "Provide me with one good reason why I shouldn't have both of you killed for this impertinence?" "How about, you already killed me? Or haven't you noticed that I only breathe when I talk?" Max studied me thoughtfully. "Yes. You are dead. You have no aura. I wish I could claim the credit, but alas, it seems someone else has beaten me to it. And besides, if I wanted you dead, you'd be dead and gone, not hanging around to trouble me." "He's right," I said to Maggie. "Max is famous for never leaving loose ends." "You want me to kill him anyway?" said Maggie. "No," I said. "Tell me, Max. If you didn't kill me, who did?" "I haven't the faintest idea," said Max, smiling slowly, revealing grey teeth behind the grey lips. "Which means it isn't any of your usual enemies. And if I don't know, no-one does." I felt suddenly tired. Max had been my best bet, my last hope. He could have been lying, but I didn't think so. Not when he knew the truth could hurt me more. My body was decaying, I had no more leads, and I didn't have the time left to go anywhere else. So Maggie and I walked out the way we came in. Maggie would have killed Max, if I'd asked, but I didn't see the point. Feuds and vendettas are for the living; when you're dead you just can't be bothered with the small shit. •   •   • Maggie took me back to her place. I needed time out, to sit and think. I was close to despair. I didn't have enough time left to investigate all the enemies I'd made in my personal and professional life. A disturbing and depressing thought, for someone facing eternity. So many enemies, and so few friends . . . I sat on Maggie's couch, and looked fondly at her as she made us some coffee. We'd been so good together, for a while. Why didn't it work out? If I knew the answer to that, we'd still be together. She came in from the kitchen, carrying two steaming mugs. I took one, and held it awkwardly. I wanted to drink the coffee to please her, but I couldn't. She looked at me, puzzled. "Larry? What's the matter?" And just like that, I knew. Because I finally recognized the voice I'd been hearing ever since I woke up dead. I was at Maggie's place, drinking coffee. It tasted funny. Larry? she said. Larry? What's wrong? I felt something burning in my throat, and knew she'd poisoned me. I stopped time with my wand, and ran. It was raining. I didn't dare go home. She'd find me. I didn't know where to go for help, so I went to ground, in my old safe house at Blaiston Street. And I died there, still wondering why my partner and ex-lover had killed me. "It was you," I said, and something in my voice made her flinch. "You poisoned me. Why?" "The how is more interesting," Maggie said calmly. She sat down opposite me, entirely composed. "An old voodoo drug in your coffee, to kill you and set you up for the zombie spell. But of course I didn't know about the wand. It interacted with my magic, buying you more time. The wand's magic is probably what's holding you together now." "Talk to me, Maggie. We were lovers. Friends. Partners." "That last one is the only one that matters." She blew on her coffee, and sipped it cautiously. "I wanted our business. All of it. I was tired of being the junior partner, especially when I did most of the work. But you had the name, and the reputation, and the contacts. I didn't see why I should have to go on sharing my money with you. I was the brains in our partnership, and you were only the muscle. You can always hire muscle. And . . . I was bored with you. Our affair was fun, and it got me the partnership I wanted; but, Larry darling, while you might have been adequate in bed, you were just so damned dull out of it. "I couldn't split up the business. I needed the cachet your name brings. And I couldn't simply have you killed, because under the terms of your will, your ex would inherit your half of the business. And I really didn't see why I should have to go to all the trouble and expense of buying her out. "So I got out my old books and put together a neat little package of poisons and voodoo magics. As a zombie under my control, you would have made and signed a new will, leaving everything to me. Then I'd dispose of your body. But clearly I didn't put enough sugar in your coffee. Or maybe you saw something in my face, at the last. Either way, that damned secret wand of yours let you escape. To a safe house I didn't even know we had any more. You have no idea how surprised I was when you rang me three days later. "Why didn't you remember? The poison, the spells, the trauma? Or maybe you just didn't want to believe your old sweetie could have a mind of her own and the guts to go after what she wanted." "So why point me at Max?" I said numbly. "To use up what time you've got left. And there was always the chance you'd take each other out and leave the field even more open for me." "How could you do this? I loved you, Maggie!" "That's sweet, Larry. But a girl's got to live." She put aside her coffee, stood up, and looked down at me. Frowning slightly, as though considering a necessary but distasteful task. "But it's not too late to put things right. I made you what you are, and I can unmake you." She pulled a silver dagger out of her sleeve. The leaf-shaped blade was covered with runes and sigils. "Just lie back and accept it, Larry. You don't want to go on as you are, do you? I'll cut the consciousness right out of you, then you won't care any more. You'll sign the necessary papers like a good little zombie, and I'll put your body to rest. It's been fun, Larry. Don't spoil it." She came at me with the dagger while she was still talking, expecting to catch me off guard. I activated my wand, and time crashed to a halt. She hung over me, suspended in midair. I studied her for a moment; and then it was the easiest thing in the world to take the dagger away from her and slide it slowly into her heart. I let time start up again. She fell forward into my arms, and I held her while she died, because I had loved her once. I didn't want to kill her, even after everything she'd done and planned to do. But when a man's partner kills him, he's supposed to do something about it. •   •   • So here I am. Dead, but not departed. My body seems to have stabilized. No more maggots. Presumably the wand interacting with the voodoo magics. I never really understood that stuff. I don't know how much longer I've got, but then, who does? Maybe I'll have new business cards made up. Larry Oblivion, deceased detective. The postmortem private eye. I still have my work. And I need to do some good, to balance out all the bad I did while I was alive. The hereafter's a lot closer than it used to be. Even when you're dead, there's no rest for the wicked. RAZOR EDDIE'S BIG NIGHT OUT London has a secret. Deep in the heart of that ancient city, there is a place where gods and monsters walk openly, often hand in hand, and all the forbidden knowledge and unnatural pleasures of the world are up for sale if you can afford the price. Which might be your soul, or someone else's. Far older than the city that surrounds and conceals it, and far more dangerous, the Nightside waits for all of us. Here the sun has never shone and never will, and it's always three o'clock in the morning; the hour of the wolf, when most babies are born and most people die. The Nightside is a terrible, vicious place, but it doesn't bother me. I come from somewhere much worse. I walked unhurriedly through streets lit by hot neon, past the propped-open doors of clubs where the music never stops, and you can dance till your feet bleed, and the Devil's music is always in season. Shops and establishments offered ecstasy and damnation, lost treasures and your heart's desire, all at knock-down prices and only a little shop-soiled. In the Nightside, you can talk with spirits or lie down with demons, and no-one will give a damn as long as your credit holds out. None of it tempted me. Men and women, and things that were both and neither, hurried past me as I made my way through the crowded streets. They were all careful to give me plenty of room. People tend not to bother priests in the Nightside. You can never be sure what kind of backup they might have. I smiled and nodded pleasantly to everyone I passed because nothing upsets the lost souls of the Nightside more than a confident smile. And, finally, I came to Uptown, which passes for the fashionable end of the Nightside. Here the swells and celebrities and Major Players gather to enjoy the very best clubs and restaurants and meeting-places. I passed them all by. The man I was looking for wouldn't be seen dead in such establishments. Unless he was there to kill someone. Behind the expensive and brightly lit watering holes is a darker place called Rats' Alley. A cold and miserable square of stained stone walls and grimy cobble-stones, where the homeless and the down-and-outs gather, to beg food from the backdoors and service entrances of the Uptown restaurants. Sometimes they sleep there, in cardboard boxes or improvised lean-tos, or wrapped in whatever blankets or heavy coats they can beg, borrow, or steal. The wheel turns for everyone, and nowhere more so than in the Nightside. Rats' Alley was a mess, with dirt and grime and slime everywhere. Ragged forms huddled together, people who had lost everything, or at least, everything that mattered. Sister Morphine, in her ragged robes, arguing resignedly with one of the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Chain-saw. Herne the Hunter, once a god in his own right and spirit of the wild woods, but now much diminished, snarling miserably from under soggy cardboard. A single Grey alien, left behind by his abducting fellows, with a sign saying WILL PROBE FOR FOOD. I stopped abruptly as a hunger-thin and ghostly pale woman lurched out of the shadows to block my way, clutching her filthy rags about her. "This is no place for tourists. Leave now, while you still can." "Hello, Jacqueline," I said gently. "It's all right. I'm not here for you. I'm looking for Eddie." Her bony hands clenched into fists. "You know me?" "Yes. You're Jacqueline Hyde." "Wrong! I'm Jacqueline; he's Hyde. And we don't like snoopers!" She changed in a moment, her bones cracking loudly as they lengthened, her scrawny body bulking out with new muscle. The shoulders broadened, the face coarsened, and just like that, the man called Hyde was blocking my way, a great hulking brute scowling at me from under a lowering brow. His large, hairy hands twitched eagerly, ready to maim or murder. The homeless and down-and-outs only watched listlessly, from a safe distance. None of them would help. "Leave him alone." It was a quiet, almost ghostly voice, but it stopped Hyde in his tracks. He glanced back over his shoulder. He knew the voice, and he was afraid. His clenched hands beat on the air in frustration, then he lurched back into the concealing shadows, his face and form already shrinking, changing back. At the back of the square, a length of plastic sheeting had been formed into a lean-to, from which Razor Eddie studied me thoughtfully with his cold, cold eyes. He emerged unhurriedly, pulling his ancient coat about him, and came forward to join me. "A sad tale," he said. "Jacqueline is in love with Hyde, and he with her, but they can never meet." "The Nightside is full of sad tales," I said. "That's why I'm here, Eddie." He nodded. No-one ever came to see Razor Eddie unless they wanted something from him, and mostly he liked it that way. Razor Eddie, the Punk God of the Straight Razor, was a tall, thin presence in an oversized grey raincoat held together by accumulated filth and grease. His face was sallow and unshaven, with deep hollows and fever-bright eyes. Flies hung around him, and he smelled really bad. A wild child, and already an experienced killer by the age of fourteen, Eddie was a street kid who'd run with any gang that promised him kicks or killing. But he finally went too far, even for them, and so he ran to the Street of the Gods for shelter. The one place even his many enemies might not dare follow. The Street of the Gods is where all the Powers and Forces and Beings too powerful for the Nightside are segregated. You can find any kind of church or temple there, any kind of faith or racket, and pretty much any kind of god or devil you can think of. Big or small, famous or forgotten by the outside world, you can find whatever you're looking for on the Street of the Gods. A place where prayers are heard and answered whether you want it or not. Eddie had an epiphany on the Street of the Gods, and it changed him forever. He came back into the Nightside with a new and terrible power in him, determined to do penance for his old, evil ways. But since all he knew was killing, he turned his rage upon the Bad Guys, the important people no-one else could touch. He killed them in horrible, disturbing ways, and his reputation grew. He lived on hand-outs and slept in shop doorways, a god of back streets and shadows, whose name was known and feared in all the highest and lowest places of the Nightside. And that was Razor Eddie--an extremely upsetting force for the Good. (And no, the Good didn't get a say in the matter.) Eddie and I are friends, I suppose. It's hard to tell, with people like us. Mad Old Alice passed by, muttering querulously to herself, still searching for the giant white rabbit she says led her into the Nightside, then abandoned her. Still, that's Pookahs for you. Eddie led me a little away from watching eyes and ears, so we could talk privately. "What do you want?" he said, blunt as always. "Bad things are happening on the Street of the Gods," I said. "Good. Let them all fall. Gods always were more trouble than they're worth." I had to smile. "How can you not approve of gods when you are one?" He sniffed. "I never asked to be worshipped. Feared, yes." "That's how most religions start. Eddie, the Street is in danger, and so am I." He studied me with his bright, unblinking gaze, but I didn't flinch or back away, and after a while, he sighed heavily. "I never wanted to go back there. But I owe you. Let's go." •   •   • We left the gloom of Rats' Alley for the sleazy neon and endless roar of the Nightside streets. Everyone gave Razor Eddie plenty of room. Some even turned and ran when they saw him coming. We headed for the nearest Underground tube station. The Street of the Gods isn't actually in the Nightside, as such, for security reasons, but there are trains that will take you there. You can get to pretty much anywhere from the Nightside, including places that don't officially exist any more. It should have taken the best part of half an hour to reach the nearest station, but Eddie led me suddenly down a narrow alleyway that hadn't been there a moment before, and when we came out the other end, we were right at the station entrance. Eddie didn't make a big deal out of it, but then he never does. The one time I asked him about it, he smiled his disturbing smile, and said, I can move in mysterious ways, too, when I feel like it. We went down into the station. The crowds were even thicker here, with eager eyes and impatient mouths, bad intentions heavy on the air. The white-tiled walls were covered in the usual graffiti, in a variety of languages, some of which hadn't been spoken in centuries. Deeply gouged claw-marks and recent blood and hair crusted high up on the walls. A busker with Multiple Personality Disorder sang close harmony with himself, while a small, winged monkey plaintively held out a plastic cup for spare change. I dropped in a few coins. It never hurts to have some spare karma in the bank. The platform was packed with all sorts of interesting types, but then, the Nightside has interesting like a dog has fleas. A small group of furry animals walked on two legs with bowed heads, following a bear in priestly robes, holding up a cross with the image of a small green frog nailed to it. A princess chatted amiably with her unicorn. A fifteenth-century Crusader in full plate armour scowled disapprovingly about him. A red cross was painted on his breast-plate, in what looked like fresh blood. The train pulled in. A long, shining silver bullet with no windows anywhere. You have to pass through strange, dangerous places getting to and from the Nightside, and you really don't want to see them. Eddie and I sat alone in our carriage. No-one felt like joining us. I didn't blame them. Eddie's smell got really bad in confined spaces, and the leather seats were already beginning to sweat. •   •   • And so we came at last to the Street of the Gods. Where everything that has ever been worshipped, or ever will be, makes its home. No-one knows for sure how long the Street is. Some say it expands and contracts to fit in all the sanctity and abominations available. I warned Eddie the place had changed a lot since he was last here, but even so, I think he was shocked. These days the Street of the Gods is determinedly modern, very now, and in your face. Church fronts blazed with gaudy neon, promising delights and damnations, while barkers worked the crowds, tempting and cajoling the passers-by. Beings and Powers walked openly on the Street, showing off their peacock glory, out and about to See and be Seen. Animal-headed gods from antiquity, elemental spirits, awful creatures from higher and lower dimensions, and energy forms so abstract you sensed as much as saw them. In the old days, they would have stopped to chat pleasantly together, share the latest news and catch up on the gossip. It was a big Street, and there was room for everyone. But not now. There was a distinct tension on the air, and the gods walked like gun-slingers, wary for insult or attack. Their followers banded together like street gangs, shouting slogans and dogmas at each other. And here and there, burned and bombed-out churches left gaps in the Street like pulled teeth. What had once been unthinkable was now a sign of the times, of gods no longer able to protect themselves. We passed by the Egyptian cat goddess Bast, now reduced to singing "Memory" out on the Street, for the tourists. "This isn't the way to your church," said Eddie, after a while. "I don't have a church any more," I said steadily. "As the one and only representative of my religion, I have been evicted from my church, so it could be handed over to some more successful god. I have a street stall now." Eddie stopped and looked at me, so I stopped, too, and met his angry gaze calmly. He started to say something, but we were interrupted by an approaching zealot, calling out Eddie's name like an insult. He was a Kali worshipper, in black leather bondage trousers under an open robe, pulled back to show off the ritual scars on his shaven chest. A thugee strangling cord hung ostentatiously from his fist. He was big and muscular but very young. Anyone else would have had more sense. No doubt Someone else put him up to it, to see if Razor Eddie still had it. The zealot shoved his face right into Eddie's. I decided to retreat several steps, so I wouldn't get any of the blood on me. "Have You Been Saved?" the zealot barked. "I saved myself," said Razor Eddie. "But who will save you from me?" "I serve Kali, mistress of death!" "Met her once. We didn't get on. She said I was too extreme." An old-fashioned pearl-handled straight razor appeared in his hand, out of nowhere. The steel blade shone supernaturally bright. The zealot brought up his strangling cord, and Razor Eddie fell upon him. He moved supernaturally quickly, his razor rising and falling, and the zealot cried out in terror as his clothes fell away in tatters, sliced clean through. In a moment, he was entirely naked, his strangling cord in pieces on the ground. Eddie stood with his razor pressed lightly against the zealot's throat, and he wasn't even breathing hard. "I've been away too long," said the Punk God of the Straight Razor, in his soft, ghostly voice. "I think I need to set an example. So I'm going to flay every inch of skin from your body. Nothing personal, you understand." The young zealot cried out miserably, but no-one came forward to help him. "No," I said. Eddie looked at me. One doesn't say No to the Punk God of the Straight Razor, even if he is an old friend. "Please," I said. Eddie sighed and shrugged. "You always were too soft for your own good." His razor flashed once, briefly, and the zealot cried out in agony as he was instantly and expertly circumcised. "You can go now," said Razor Eddie, and the zealot ran, howling all the way down the Street. And everyone who'd been watching went about their business again. "Well," I said, trying to keep it light. "At least he's not a complete prick any more." "It's all in the wrist action," said Eddie. We continued down the Street of the Gods, Razor Eddie studying everything and everyone with his hot, intense gaze. Some of the names on the churches were clearly familiar to him even though their exteriors had changed greatly. The Speaking Stone, Soror Marium, The Carrion In Tears, and a whole bunch of the Transient Beings, honoured mostly in the hope they'd stay away. The Transient Beings aren't actually gods, but it doesn't stop them behaving as though they are. "I don't see the problem," Eddie said finally. "The Street of the Gods may have undergone a make-over, but it all still seems very much business as usual. A business where souls are currency, and the suckers still get fleeced." "Not everyone is doing well," I said. "A lot of the lesser gods are suffering." He looked sideways at me. "Do the gods who can't hack it any more still suffer the same fate?" "Oh yes," I said. "Faith and worshippers bestow power, and without that, the gods are as vulnerable as anyone else. Take away a god's congregation, and they wither up and fade away. Some keep going by merging with other, more successful gods and pantheons, and some choose to become mortal rather than disappear entirely. There's always a chance of a comeback. This is a place of miracles, after all." "The Street . . . feels different," said Eddie. He might have been listening to me, or he might not. "There's no . . . community any more. Tell me what's been happening here. What's so important that you would leave the Street to look for me?" "There are moves afoot," I said carefully, "to modernise, organise, and regulate all the various gods and religions that make up the Street. Those with the most worshippers, the most powerful and adored, are to be given dominion over all the best locations. The rest will be ranked, according to power and status, and positioned accordingly on the Street. The lowest will actually have to pay the highest, in order to be allowed to stay on the Street. Those at the very bottom, like Bast, are being forced out. It seems we lesser religions lower the tone and might scare off the paying customers. At the end of the day, it's all about the Big Boys wanting more power and more money and less competition. It seems doctrines and articles of faith aren't enough any more. The Big Boys want job security." "That sounds more like Nightside thinking than Street of the Gods," said Eddie. "Who brought it here?" "Who do you think?" I said. "Who's behind all the bad news in our lives?" "How unkind," murmured a calm, cultured voice behind us. "After all, I was invited." We both looked round. Walker was standing right behind us even though neither of us had heard him approach. A smart city gent in a smart city suit, complete with old-school tie and a bowler hat, Walker was the public face of the Authorities: those shadowy background figures who run the Nightside, inasmuch as anybody does. Walker's word is law, and he can call on all kinds of nasty people to back him up. Few people argue with him. They say he once made a dead man sit up on his mortuary slab and answer questions. Walker smiled easily at Eddie, ignoring me. "It had to happen eventually, Eddie. The Street of the Gods was getting terribly old-fashioned. It was time to spruce the place up, clear out the dead wood, bring a little order and efficiency to things. Just because you're immortal doesn't mean you're guaranteed a job for life. Think of what's happening here as survival of the fittest, divine evolution in action." "I've always been on the side of the underdog," said Eddie. "And the undergod. There's room enough here for everyone, Walker." "Yes, there is," said Walker. "But the Big Boys have decided they don't want to share any more." Eddie smiled slowly. "I wonder who put that idea into their heads. And I wonder how much they've had to promise the Authorities in return for your help, Walker. Who's working with you on this? You couldn't hope to pull this off without really heavy-duty backup." "True," said Walker. "But even gods can be smacked down and made to behave if you have powerful enough attack dogs. Let me present the Holy Trio." A man and a woman appeared suddenly out of nowhere on either side of Walker. Tall, cadaverous, and dressed in long black priestly robes, I could feel magic crackling threateningly on the air around them. Their eyes were cold, and their smiles colder still. "Don't you need three for a Trio?" said Eddie, entirely unmoved. "The Holy Trio consists of a man, a woman, and a disembodied spirit," Walker said calmly. "All of them Jesuit demonologists. They specialise in the flip side of tantric magic, channelling the accumulated tensions of a lifetime's celibacy to power their magics. They have energy to burn and a really spiteful attitude towards the world in general. It helps that they strongly disapprove of worshipping any god except their own. Perfect enforcers for whipping the gods into shape. I have dozens of units like this, working the whole length of the Street." "Spiritual storm-troopers," said Eddie. "What next, the Inquisition?" Walker sighed. "I knew you were going to be difficult," he murmured. "Jonathon, Martha, Francis, if you wouldn't mind . . ." The two visible members of the Holy Trio stepped forward, their cold smiles widening, and I could feel a power building around them, like a coming storm. I could feel a third presence, too, even if I couldn't see it. A bitter wind blew out of nowhere, and all around us the shadows were very dark. On the Street, men and gods ran for cover. Lightning bolts slammed down around us, blasting holes in the road. Eddie didn't move an inch. The man and woman in black raised their hands, and dark energies manifested. My feet were suddenly very cold, and I looked down to find a vast black pool forming under me, and under Eddie. Already, we had sunk a few inches into it. Eddie laughed softly. "Is that it? Open up a bottomless hole, drop us into it, then disappear the hole? I'm disappointed in you, Walker. You used to have style; this is just a cheap party trick. I prefer something a little more . . . humorous." He moved suddenly, in a direction I couldn't comprehend, and abruptly we were all somewhere else, leaving the black pool behind. Eddie had moved in his mysterious way again, and we were all standing before a completely different church. Tall white pillars of the purest marble fronted the Church of the Glorious Marilyn. A huge statue of the modern goddess towered over us, holding down her iconic flapping white dress. Raw sexuality poured out of the church, beating on the air like heavy breathing. Walker and I had the sense to step back immediately, moving out of range, but Jonathon and Martha were rooted to the spot by unfamiliar feelings and emotions surging through them. Eddie's razor flashed, and all their clothes fell away. Naked, and overwhelmed by sudden lust and a lifetime's frustrated needs, Jonathon and Martha fell upon each other, and did it right there in the Street. There was a horrified howl from the unseen presence, fading rapidly away to nothing as the living pair's ecstasy exorcised the unquiet spirit. Eddie smiled briefly at Walker. "Holy Trio, eh? I liked them. They were fun. What else have you got?" "You're going to be trouble, aren't you?" said Walker. "Always," said Razor Eddie. Walker sighed again, tipped his bowler hat to Eddie and to me with his usual impeccable manners, and turned away and strode unhurriedly off down the Street of the Gods. He'd be back, once he'd thought of something sufficiently distressing to do to us. Eddie looked at me thoughtfully. "What happened to your old church? You were the last follower of Dagon. Is he to be forgotten now?" "Oh no," I said. "Nothing's ever wasted under the new regime. That wouldn't be efficient. They've installed a new, modernised Dagon in my old church--a Dagon for the twenty-first century." "A new Dagon?" I shrugged. "Some semi-divine wannabe, looking for his big break. A lot of the more recalcitrant weaker gods are being ousted and replaced." "A new Dagon, in the church where I was . . . reborn." Eddie shook his head slowly. "No. I won't have that. Take me there." "Are you going to make trouble?" "Yes." "Then let's go. But I have to warn you, Eddie; the church won't look at all like you remember. It's been remade, in the image of its new deity, along with all new dogmas and doctrines." "How can he be Dagon if everything that used to represent Dagon has been changed?" "The name is everything, these days," I said. "The name and the brand and the logo are all anyone cares about." •   •   • Eddie could have transported us both to my old church in a moment if he'd wanted, but I think he needed to walk, to give him time to think and consider and remember. I remembered him, as he was then. Fourteen years old and on the lam, having outraged absolutely everybody. He'd kill anyone back then, striking out blindly at a world that had always hurt him and done him wrong. He was out-of-control, and everyone knew it. The word went out, and Eddie ran, and once on the Street of the Gods, dazzled and overwhelmed by forces even more dangerous than he, he somehow found his way to the old, small church of Dagon, a fish god once worshipped by the Pharisees. Forgotten by pretty much everyone except the one man who still maintained his church. Eddie came in like a wild dog seeking shelter from the storm, and he let me feed and look after him, perhaps because he could tell I was never going to be any threat to him. He didn't care about the god of my church, but my stubborn persistence fascinated him. He stayed with me, and somehow . . . we connected. Perhaps because we both had nobody else. I gave him sanctuary, and we talked for many hours. I asked him what he believed in. "I don't know," he said. "I never came across anything or anyone worth believing in." "Then why not try believing in yourself," I said. "That you can be more than you are, better than you are. That's a start, at least." "What if I'm not . . . worth believing in?" he said. "Everyone can change," I said. "You wouldn't believe how much I've changed, down the years." Sometime later, another lost soul came bursting into my church, desperate and bedraggled, begging for sanctuary and protection. He was a flower child from the 1960s who'd been attending the Summer of Love festival when he fell through a Timeslip and ended up on the Street of the Gods. Half out of his mind with fear and culture shock, he'd made the mistake of appealing to the wrong god for help, and now he had a killer on his trail. Another figure came striding into my church, a broad and stocky man in old-fashioned armour, carrying a short-sword. He had come for the flower child, and his scarred face was ugly with rage and contempt. Mithras was an old soldier's god. He had fallen far from what he once was, but he still had his pride and the convictions of his old beliefs. The flower child was everything he detested. The very idea that a man could turn his back on war and embrace peace was anathema to Mithras. It offended everything he was. He advanced on the young man, murder in his eyes. I stepped forward and stood between the soldier and his victim. "Not in my church," I said. "This isn't a church," said Mithras. "How can it be a church when its god is no more? You're just a man. Get out of my way." "I still follow the way of Dagon," I said. "I have given this man sanctuary." "Get out of the way, or I'll kill you, too." I don't know what made me so stubborn. Perhaps all those hours of talking with Eddie had reminded me of what I used to be. But I wouldn't move. Mithras drew back his sword to run me through. And Eddie, wild child, cut-throat, and killer, who had never had a friend before, threw himself forward. Mithras turned at the unexpected attack, and Eddie opened up the god's throat with his straight razor. Mithras staggered backwards, choking on his own blood, then fell to his knees, more mortal than he had realised. He tried to lift his sword, but it fell from his hand. Eddie stepped forward and finished the job, and Mithras fell dead at his feet. And Razor Eddie cried out in shock and astonishment, as all of Mithras's remaining power flooded out of the dead god and into him. All in a moment the street kid was gone, and a new god was created. Razor Eddie, Punk God of the Straight Razor. I found a way to send the flower child back to where and when he belonged, and Eddie stayed with me for some time. We learned much from each other. It was fascinating to watch a new person being born, right before my eyes. He asked me once exactly what it was I believed in since Dagon no longer existed as a god. I thought for a long while before I answered. Excerpted from Tales from the Nightside by Simon R. Green All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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