Authors: Simon R. Green
Tags: #Urban Fantasy, #Supernatural, #Horror, #Mystery, #Science Fiction
Light and Darkness
Simon R. Green
Everyone Believes in Something
here is only the one church in the Nightside. It’s called St. Jude’s. I only ever go there on business. It’s nowhere near the Street of the Gods, with its many and varied places of worship. It’s tucked away in a quiet corner, shadowed and obscured, no part of the Nightside’s usual bright and gaudy neon noir. It doesn’t advertise, and it doesn’t care if you habitually pass by on the other side. It’s just there, for when you need it. Dedicated to the patron saint of lost causes, St. Jude’s is an old, old place; a cold stone structure possibly older even than Christianity itself. The bare stone walls are grey and featureless, unmarked by time or design, with only a series of narrow slits for windows. One great slab of stone, covered with a cloth of white samite, serves as an altar, facing two rows of blocky wooden pews. A single silver cross hangs on the wall beyond the altar; and that’s it. St. Jude’s isn’t a place for comfort, for frills and fancies and the trappings of religion. There is no priest or attendant, and there are no services. St. Jude’s is, quite simply, your last chance in the Nightside for salvation, sanctuary, or one final desperate word with your God. Come to this church looking for a spiritual Band-Aid, and you could end up with a hell of a lot more than you bargained for.
Prayers are heard in St. Jude’s; and sometimes answered.
I use the church occasionally as a meeting place. Neutral ground is so hard to come by in the Nightside. Only occasionally, though. All are welcome to enter St. Jude’s, but not everyone comes out again. The church protects and preserves itself, and no-one wants to know how. But this time, I had a specific reason for being here. I was counting on the nature of the place to protect me from the terrible thing that was coming. From the awful creature I had very reluctantly agreed to meet.
I sat stiffly on the hard wooden seat of the front pew, huddled inside my white trench coat against the bitter chill that always permeated the place. I glared about me and tried not to fidget. Nothing to look a and nothing to do, and I wasn’t about to waste my time in prayer. Ever since my enemies first tried to kill me as a child, I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t depend on anyone but myself. I stirred restlessly, resisting the urge to get up and pace back and forth. Somewhere out there in the night, a force of destruction was heading straight for me, and all I could do was sit tight and wait for it to come. I let one hand drift down to the shoe box on the seat beside me, just to reassure myself it hadn’t gone anywhere since the last time I checked. What was in the box might protect me from what was coming, or it might not. Life’s like that; particularly in the Nightside. And especially when you’re the famous—or infamous—John Taylor, who has been known to boast he can find anything. Even when it gets him into situations like this.
The dozen candles I’d brought and lit and placed around the church didn’t do much to dispel the general gloom of the place. The air was still and cold and dank, and there were far too many shadows. Sitting there, in the quiet, listening to the dust fall, I could feel the age of the place, feel all the endless centuries pressing down on me. St. Jude’s was supposed to be one of the oldest surviving buildings in the Nightside. Older than the Street of the Gods, or the Time Tower, older even than Strangefellows, the longest-running bar in the world. So old, in fact, and so long established as a place of worship that there are those who hint it might not even have been a church, originally.
Just a place where you could talk to your God, and sometimes get an answer. Whether you liked the answer you got was, of course, your problem.
It’s only a short step from a burning bush to a burning heretic, after all. I try not to bother God, and hope He’ll do me the same courtesy.
I don’t know why there aren’t any other churches in the Nightside. It’s not that the people who come here aren’t religious; it’s more that the Nightside is where you go to do the things you know your God wouldn’t approve of. Souls aren’t lost here; they’re sold or bartered or just plain thrown away in utter abandon. There are presences and avatars, and even Powers and Dominations, to be found on the Street of the Gods; and you can bargain with them for all the things you know your God wouldn’t want you to have.
There are those who’ve tried to destroy St. Jude’s, down the centuries. They aren’t around any more, and St. Jude’s still is. Though that could change this night, if I was wrong about what I had in the shoe box.
It was three o’clock in the morning, but then it always is in the Nightside. The night that never ends, and the hour that stretches. Three o’clock in the morning, the hour of the wolf, when a man’s defenses are at their weakest. The time when most babies are born and most people die. That lowest of points, when a man can lie awake in his bed and wonder how his life could have turned out so very differently fro what he’d intended. And, of course, the very best time to make deals with the devil.
All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up suddenly, and my heart missed a beat, as though a cold hand had closed fleetingly around it. I lurched to my feet, an almost violent shudder running through me. She was close now. I could feel her presence, feel her gaze and cold intent turned upon me as she drew nearer. I grabbed up my shoe box and clutched it to my chest like a life preserver. I moved reluctantly out into the aisle, and turned to stand facing the only door. A single great slab of solid oak, five feet tail and five inches thick, locked and bolted. It wouldn’t stop her. Nothing could. She was Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever, and nothing in the world could stand against her. She was close now, very close. The monster, the abomination, the Unbeliever. There was a stillness to the air, like the tension that precedes the coming storm. The kind of storm that rips off roofs and drops dead birds out of the sky. Jessica Sorrow was coming to St. Jude’s, because she’d been told I was there, and I had what she was looking for. And if they and I were wrong about that, she would make us all pay.
I don’t carry a gun, or any other kind of weapon. I’ve never felt the need. And weapons wouldn’t do any good against Jessica Sorrow anyway. Nothing could touch her any more. Something happened to her, long ago, and she gave up her humanity to become the Unbeliever. Now she doesn’t believe in anything. And because she doesn’t believe with such utter certainty, all the world and everything in it are nothing to her. None of it can affect her in the least. She can go anywhere, and do anything, and she does. She can do terrible, distressing things, and she does, and nothing touches her. She has no conscience and no morality, no pity and no restraint. The material world is like paper to her, and she rips it apart as she walks through it. Luckily for the world, she doesn’t leave the Nightside much. And luckily for the rest of us here, there are long periods when she just sleeps or drops out of sight. But when she’s up and walking, everyone gets the hell out of her way. Because when she concentrates her unbelief on anything or anyone, they disappear. Gone forever. Even the Street of the Gods closes up shop and goes home early when Jessica Sorrow is abroad in the night.
Her most recent rampage had been one of her worst, as she stormed through all the most sensitive parts of the Nightside, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction behind her as she searched obsessively for … something. No one seemed too sure of exactly what that might be, and absolutely no one had any intention of getting close enough to her to ask. It had to be something special, something really powerful… but this was Jessica Sorrow, who was famous for not believing anything was special or powerful. What use could the Unbeliever have for material possessions any more? There was no shortage of objects of power in the Nightside, anything from wishing rings to description theory bombs, and every damn one of them was up for sale. But Jessica Sorrow would have none of them, and people and places vanished under her angry glare as she continued her rampage. The word was, she was looking for something so real she would
to believe in it… perhaps something real enough and powerful enough finally to kill her, and put her out of everyone’s misery.
So Walker came to me, and told me to find it. Walker represents the Authorities. No-one really runs the Nightside, though many have tried, but the Authorities are the ones who step in and bang heads together whenever any of the movers and shakers look like they’re getting out of hand. Walker is a calm and quiet sort, in a neat city suit, and he never raises his voice because he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t approve of lone operatives like me, but he throws me the odd job occasionally, because no-one else can do the things I can. And because as far as he’s concerned, I am entirely expendable.
Which is why I make him pay through the nose for those jobs.
I can find anything. It’s a gift. From my dear departed mother, who turned out not to be human. She’s really not dead; that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
Anyway, I found what Jessica Sorrow was looking for, and now it lay in the shoe box I was crushing to my chest. She knew it was here, and she was coming to get it. My job was to present it to her in exactly the right way, so that it would defuse her anger and send her back to wherever she went when she wasn’t scaring the crap out of the rest of us. Assuming, of course, that I had found the right thing. And that she didn’t just storm right in and unbelieve me out of existence. She was outside the church now. The solid flagstones under my feet vibrated strongly, echoing to the tread of her approaching feet, crashing down heavily on the world she refused to believe in. All the candle flames were dancing wildly, and the shadows leapt around me, as though they were frightened too. My mouth was very dry, and my hands were crushing the shoe box out of shape. I made myself put it down on the pew, then straightened up and thrust my hands deep into my coat pockets. Looking casual was out of the question, but I couldn’t afford to seem weak or indecisive in the presence of Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever. I had hoped that St. Jude’s accumulated centuries of faith and sanctity would offer me some protection against the force of Jessica’s unbelief, but I wasn’t so sure about that any more. She was coming, like a storm, like a tidal wave, like some implacable force of nature that would sweep me effortlessly aside in a moment. She was coming, like cancer or depression, and all the other things that cannot be denied or negotiated with. She was the Unbeliever, and compared to that St. Jude’s was nothing and I was nothing … I took a deep breath, and held my head up. To hell with that. I was John Taylor, dammit, and I’d talked my way out of worse scrapes than this. I’d
her believe in me.
The heavy oaken door was reinforced with heavy bands of black iron. It must have weighed five hundred pounds, easy. It didn’t even slow Jessica down. Her thunderous feet marched right up to the door, then her fingers plunged through the thick wood and tore it like cloth. The whole door came apart in her hands, and she walked through it like a hanging curtain. She came striding down the aisle towards me, naked and emaciated and corpse pale, the heavy flagstones exploding under the tread of her bare feet. Her eyes were wide and staring, as focused as a feral cat’s, and as impersonal. Her thin lips were stretched wide in something that was as much a snarl as a smile. She had no hair, her face was as drawn and gaunt as the rest of her, and her eyes were yellow as urine. But there was a force to her, a terrible energy that drove her on even as it ate her up. I held my ground, giving her back glare for glare, until finally she crashed to a halt right in front of me. She smelled… bad, like something that had spoiled. Her eyes didn’t blink, and her breathing was unsteady, as though it was something she had to keep reminding herself to do. She was hardly five feet tall, but she seemed to tower over me. I could feel my thoughts and plans disintegrating in my head, blown away by the sheer force of her presence. I made myself smile at her.
“Hello, Jessica. You’re looking… very yourself. I have what you need.”
“How can you know what I need?” she said, in a voice that was frightening because it was so nearly normal. “How can you, when I don’t know myself?”
“Because I’m John Taylor, and I find things. I found what you need. But you have to believe in me, or you’ll never get what I have for you. If I just disappear, you’ll never know…”
“Show me,” she said, and I knew I’d pushed it as far as I could. I reached carefully down into the pew, picked up the shoe box, and presented it to her. She snatched it from me, and the cardboard box disintegrated under her gaze, revealing the contents. A battered old teddy bear with one glass eye missing. Jessica Sorrow held the bear in her dead white hands, looking and looking at it with her wild unblinking eyes, and then, finally, she held it to her shrunken chest and cuddled it to her, like a sleeping child. And I began to breathe once more.
“This is mine,” she said, still looking at the bear rather than at me, for which I was grateful. “It… was mine, when I was a small child. Long ago, when I was still human. I haven’t thought of him in … so long, so very long…”