Arthur materialized, and did so with all the customary staggering about and clasping at his throat, heart and various limbs which he still indulged himself in whenever he made any of these hateful and painful materializations that he was determined not to let himself get used to.
He looked around for the others.
They weren't there.
He looked around for the others again.
They still weren't there.
He closed his eyes.
He opened them
He looked around for the others.
They obstinately persisted in their absence.
He closed his eyes again, preparatory to making this completely futile exercise once more, and because it was only then, whilst his eyes were closed, that his brain began to register what his eyes had been looking at whilst they were open, a puzzled frown crept across his face.
So he opened his eyes again to check his facts and the frown stayed put.
If anything, it intensified, and got a good firm grip. If this was a party it was a very bad one, so bad, in fact, that everybody else had left. He abandoned this line of thought as futile. Obviously this wasn't a party. It was a cave, or a labyrinth, or a tunnel of something - there was insufficient light to tell. All was darkness, a damp shiny darkness. The only sounds were the echoes of his own breathing, which sounded worried. He coughed very slightly, and then had to listen to the thin ghostly echo of his cough trailing away amongst winding corridors and sightless chambers, as of some great labyrinth, and eventually returning to him via the same unseen corridors, as if to say ... "Yes?"
This happened to every slightest noise he made, and it unnerved him. He tried to hum a cheery tune, but by the time it returned to him it was a hollow dirge and he stopped.
His mind was suddenly full of images from the story that Slartibartfast had been telling him. He half-expected suddenly to see lethal white robots step silently from the shadows and kill him. He caught his breath. They didn't. He let it go again. He didn't know what he did expect.
Someone or something, however, seemed to be expecting him, for at that moment there lit up suddenly in the dark distance an eerie green neon sign.
It said, silently:
You have been Diverted
The sign flicked off again, in a way which Arthur was not at all certain he liked. It flicked off with a sort of contemptuous flourish. Arthur then tried to assure himself that this was just a ridiculous trick of his imagination. A neon sign is either on or off, depending on whether it has electricity running through it or not. There was no way, he told himself, that it could possibly effect the transition from one state to the other with a contemptuous flourish. He hugged himself tightly in his dressing gown and shivered, nevertheless.
The neon sign in the depths now suddenly lit up, bafflingly, with just three dots and a comma. Like this:
Only in green neon.
It was trying, Arthur realized after staring at this perplexedly for a second or two, to indicate that there was more to come, that the sentence was not complete. Trying with almost superhuman pedantry, he reflected. Or at least, inhuman pedantry.
The sentence then completed itself with these two words:
He reeled. He steadied himself to have another clear look at it. It still said Arthur Dent, so he reeled again.
Once again, the sign flicked off, and left him blinking in the darkness with just the dim red image of his name jumping on his retina.
Welcome, the sign now suddenly said.
After a moment, it added:
I Don't Think.
The stone-cold fear which had been hovering about Arthur all this time, waiting for its moment, recognized that its moment had now come and pounced on him. He tried to fight it off. He dropped into a kind of alert crouch that he had once seen somebody do on television, but it must have been someone with stronger knees. He peered huntedly into the darkness.
"Er, hello?" he said.
He cleared his throat and said it again, more loudly and without the "er". At some distance down the corridor it seemed suddenly as if somebody started to beat on a bass drum.
He listened to it for a few seconds and realized that it was just his heart beating.
He listened for a few seconds more and realized that it wasn't his heart beating, it was somebody down the corridor beating on a bass drum.
Beads of sweat formed on his brow, tensed themselves, and leapt off. He put a hand out on the floor to steady his alert crouch, which wasn't holding up very well. The sign changed itself again. It said:
Do Not be Alarmed.
After a pause, it added:
Be Very Very Frightened, Arthur Dent.
Once again it flicked off. Once again it left him in darkness. His eyes seemed to be popping out of his head. He wasn't certain if this was because they were trying to see more clearly, or if they simply wanted to leave at this point.
"Hello?" he said again, this time trying to put a note of rugged and aggressive self-assertion into it. "Is anyone there?"
There was no reply, nothing.
This unnerved Arthur Dent even more than a reply would have done, and he began to back away from the scary nothingness. And the more he backed away, the more scared he became. After a while he realized that the reason for this was because of all the films he had seen in which the hero backs further and further away from some imagined terror in front of him, only to bump into it coming up from behind.
Just then it suddenly occurred to him to turn round rather quickly.
There was nothing there.
This really unnerved him, and he started to back away from that, back the way he had come.
After doing this for a short while it suddenly occurred to him that he was now backing towards whatever it was he had been backing away from in the first place.
This, he couldn't help thinking, must be a foolish thing to do. He decided he would be better off backing the way he had first been backing, and turned around again.
It turned out at this point that his second impulse had been the correct one, because there was an indescribably hideous monster standing quietly behind him. Arthur yawed wildly as his skin tried to jump one way and his skeleton the other, whilst his brain tried to work out which of his ears it most wanted to crawl out of.
"Bet you weren't expecting to see me again," said the monster, which Arthur couldn't help thinking was a strange remark for it to make, seeing as he had never met the creature before. He could tell that he hadn't met the creature before from the simple fact that he was able to sleep at nights. It was ... it was ... it was ...
Arthur blinked at it. It stood very still. It did look a little familiar.
A terrible cold calm came over him as he realized that what he was looking at was a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly.
He wondered why anybody would be showing him a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly at this time. He wondered whose voice he had heard.
It was a terribly realistic hologram.
"Or perhaps you remember me better," said the voice suddenly, and it was a deep, hollow malevolent voice which sounded like molten tar glurping out of a drum with evil on its mind, "as the rabbit."
With a sudden ping, there was a rabbit there in the black labyrinth with him, a huge, monstrously, hideously soft and lovable rabbit - an image again, but one on which every single soft and lovable hair seemed like a real and single thing growing in its soft and lovable coat. Arthur was startled to see his own reflection in its soft and lovable unblinking and extremely huge brown eyes.
"Born in darkness," rumbled the voice, "raised in darkness. One morning I poked my head for the first time into the bright new world and got it split open by what felt suspiciously like some primitive instrument made of flint.
"Made by you, Arthur Dent, and wielded by you. Rather hard as I recall.
"You turned my skin into a bag for keeping interesting stones in. I happen to know that because in my next life I came back as a fly again and you swatted me. Again. Only this time you swatted me with the bag you'd made of my previous skin.
"Arthur Dent, you are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless."
The voice paused whilst Arthur gawped.
"I see you have lost the bag," said the voice. "Probably got bored with it, did you?"
Arthur shook his head helplessly. He wanted to explain that he had been in fact very fond of the bag and had looked after it very well and had taken it with him wherever he went, but that somehow every time he travelled anywhere he seemed inexplicably to end up with the wrong bag and that, curiously enough, even as they stood there he was just noticing for the first time that the bag he had with him at the moment appeared to be made out of rather nasty fake leopard skin, and wasn't the one he'd had a few moments ago before he arrived in this whatever place it was, and wasn't one he would have chosen himself and heaven knew what would be in it as it wasn't his, and he would much rather have his original bag back, except that he was of course terribly sorry for having so peremptorily removed it, or rather its component parts, i.e. the rabbit skin, from its previous owner, viz. the rabbit whom he currently had the honour of attempting vainly to address.
All he actually managed to say was "Erp".
"Meet the newt you trod on," said the voice.
And there was, standing in the corridor with Arthur, a giant green scaly newt. Arthur turned, yelped, leapt backwards, and found himself standing in the middle of the rabbit. He yelped again, but could find nowhere to leap to.
"That was me, too," continued the voice in a low menacing rumble, "as if you didn't know ..."
"Know?" said Arthur with a start. "Know?"
"The interesting thing about reincarnation," rasped the voice, "is that most people, most spirits, are not aware that it is happening to them."
He paused for effect. As far as Arthur was concerned there was already quite enough effect going on.
"I was aware," hissed the voice, "that is, I became aware. Slowly. Gradually."
He, whoever he was, paused again and gathered breath.
"I could hardly help it, could I?" he bellowed, "when the same thing kept happening, over and over and over again! Every life I ever lived, I got killed by Arthur Dent. Any world, any body, any time, I'm just getting settled down, along comes Arthur Dent - pow, he kills me.
"Hard not to notice. Bit of a memory jogger. Bit of a pointer. Bit of a bloody giveaway!
"`That's funny,' my spirit would say to itself as it winged its way back to the netherworld after another fruitless Dent-ended venture into the land of the living, `that man who just ran over me as I was hopping across the road to my favourite pond looked a little familiar ...' And gradually I got to piece it together, Dent, you multiple-me-murderer!"
The echoes of his voice roared up and down the corridors. Arthur stood silent and cold, his head shaking with disbelief.
"Here's the moment, Dent," shrieked the voice, now reaching a feverish pitch of hatred, "here's the moment when at last I knew!"
It was indescribably hideous, the thing that suddenly opened up in front of Arthur, making him gasp and gargle with horror, but here's an attempt at a description of how hideous it was. It was a huge palpitating wet cave with a vast, slimy, rough, whale-like creature rolling around it and sliding over monstrous white tombstones. High above the cave rose a vast promontory in which could be seen the dark recesses of two further fearful caves, which ...
Arthur Dent suddenly realized that he was looking at his own mouth, when his attention was meant to be directed at the live oyster that was being tipped helplessly into it.
He staggered back with a cry and averted his eyes.
When he looked again the appalling apparition had gone. The corridor was dark and, briefly, silent. He was alone with his thoughts. They were extremely unpleasant thoughts and would rather have had a chaperone.
The next noise, when it came, was the low heavy roll of a large section of wall trundling aside, revealing, for the moment, just dark blackness behind it. Arthur looked into it in much the same way that a mouse looks into a dark dog-kennel.
And the voice spoke to him again.
"Tell me it was a coincidence, Dent," it said. "I dare you to tell me it was a coincidence!"
"It was a coincidence," said Arthur quickly.
"It was not!" came the answering bellow.
"It was," said Arthur, "it was ..."
"If it was a coincidence, then my name," roared the voice, "is not Agrajag!!!"
"And presumably," said Arthur, "you would claim that that was your name."
"Yes!" hissed Agrajag, as if he had just completed a rather deft syllogism.
"Well, I'm afraid it was still a coincidence," said Arthur.
"Come in here and say that!" howled the voice, in sudden apoplexy again.
Arthur walked in and said that it was a coincidence, or at least, he nearly said that it was a coincidence. His tongue rather lost its footing towards the end of the last word because the lights came up and revealed what it was he had walked into.
It was a Cathedral of Hate.
It was the product of a mind that was not merely twisted, but actually sprained.
It was huge. It was horrific.
It had a Statue in it.
We will come to the Statue in a moment.
The vast, incomprehensibly vast chamber looked as if it had been carved out of the inside of a mountain, and the reason for this was that that was precisely what it had been carved out of. It seemed to Arthur to spin sickeningly round his head as he stood and gaped at it.
It was black.
Where it wasn't black you were inclined to wish that it was, because the colours with which some of the unspeakable details were picked out ranged horribly across the whole spectrum of eye-defying colours from Ultra Violent to Infra Dead, taking in Liver Purple, Loathsome Lilac, Matter Yellow, Burnt hombre and Gan Green on the way.
The unspeakable details which these colours picked out were gargoyles which would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch.
The gargoyles all looked inwards from the walls, from the pillars, from the flying buttresses, from the choir stalls, towards the Statue, to which we will come in a moment.
And if the gargoyles would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch, then it was clear from the gargoyles' faces that the Statue would have put them off theirs, had they been alive to eat it, which they weren't, and had anybody tried to serve them some, which they wouldn't.
Around the monumental walls were vast engraved stone tablets in memory of those who had fallen to Arthur Dent.
The names of some of those commemorated were underlined and had asterisks against them. So, for instance, the name of a cow which had been slaughtered and of which Arthur Dent had happened to eat a fillet steak would have the plainest engraving, whereas the name of a fish which Arthur had himself caught and then decided he didn't like and left on the side of the plate had a double underlining, three sets of asterisks and a bleeding dagger added as decoration, just to make the point.
And what was most disturbing about all this, apart from the Statue, to which we are, by degrees, coming, was the very clear implication that all these people and creatures were indeed the same person, over and over again.
And it was equally clear that this person was, however unfairly, extremely upset and annoyed.
In fact it would be fair to say that he had reached a level of annoyance the like of which had never been seen in the Universe. It was an annoyance of epic proportions, a burning searing flame of annoyance, an annoyance which now spanned the whole of time and space in its infinite umbrage.
And this annoyance had been given its fullest expression in the Statue in the centre of all this monstrosity, which was a statue of Arthur Dent, and an unflattering one. Fifty feet tall if it was an inch, there was not an inch of it which wasn't crammed with insult to its subject matter, and fifty feet of that sort of thing would be enough to make any subject feel bad. From the small pimple on the side of his nose to the poorish cut of his dressing gown, there was no aspect of Arthur Dent which wasn't lambasted and vilified by the sculptor.
Arthur appeared as a gorgon, an evil, rapacious, ravenning, bloodied ogre, slaughtering his way through an innocent one-man Universe.
With each of the thirty arms which the sculptor in a fit of artistic fervour had decided to give him, he was either braining a rabbit, swatting a fly, pulling a wishbone, picking a flea out of his hair, or doing something which Arthur at first looking couldn't quite identify.
His many feet were mostly stamping on ants.
Arthur put his hands over his eyes, hung his head and shook it slowly from side to side in sadness and horror at the craziness of things.
And when he opened his eyes again, there in front of him stood the figure of the man or creature, or whatever it was, that he had supposedly been persecuting all this time.
"HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!" said Agrajag.
He, or it, or whatever, looked like a mad fat bat. He waddled slowly around Arthur, and poked at him with bent claws.
"Look ...!" protested Arthur.
"HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!!!" explained Agrajag, and Arthur reluctantly accepted this on the grounds that he was rather frightened by this hideous and strangely wrecked apparition.
Agrajag was black, bloated, wrinkled and leathery.
His batwings were somehow more frightening for being the pathetic broken floundering things they were that if they had been strong, muscular beaters of the air. The frightening thing was probably the tenacity of his continued existence against all the physical odds.
He had the most astounding collection of teeth.
They looked as if they each came from a completely different animal, and they were ranged around his mouth at such bizarre angles it seemed that if he ever actually tried to chew anything he'd lacerate half his own face along with it, and possibly put an eye out as well.
Each of his three eyes was small and intense and looked about as sane as a fish in a privet bush.
"I was at a cricket match," he rasped.
This seemed on the face of it such a preposterous notion that Arthur practically choked.
"Not in this body," screeched the creature, "not in this body! This is my last body. My last life. This is my revenge body. My kill-Arthur-Dent body. My last chance. I had to fight to get it, too."
"I was at," roared Agrajag, "a cricket match! I had a weak heart condition, but what, I said to my wife, can happen to me at a cricket match? As I'm watching, what happens?
"Two people quite maliciously appear out of thin air just in front of me. The last thing I can't help but notice before my poor heart gives out in shock is that one of them is Arthur Dent wearing a rabbit bone in his beard. Coincidence?"
"Yes," said Arthur.
"Coincidence?" screamed the creature, painfully thrashing its broken wings, and opening a short gash on its right cheek with a particularly nasty tooth. On closer examination, such as he'd been hoping to avoid, Arthur noticed that much of Agrajag's face was covered with ragged strips of black sticky plasters.
He backed away nervously. He tugged at his beard. He was appalled to discover that in fact he still had the rabbit bone in it. He pulled it out and threw it away.
"Look," he said, "it's just fate playing silly buggers with you. With me. With us. It's a complete coincidence."
"What have you got against me, Dent?" snarled the creature, advancing on him in a painful waddle.
"Nothing," insisted Arthur, "honestly, nothing."
Agrajag fixed him with a beady stare.
"Seems a strange way to relate to somebody you've got nothing against, killing them all the time. Very curious piece of social interaction, I would call that. I'd also call it a lie!"
"But look," said Arthur, "I'm very sorry. There's been a terrible misunderstanding. I've got to go. Have you got a clock? I'm meant to be helping save the Universe." He backed away still further.
Agrajag advanced still further.
"At one point," he hissed, "at one point, I decided to give up. Yes, I would not come back. I would stay in the netherworld. And what happened?"
Arthur indicated with random shakes of his head that he had no idea and didn't want to have one either. He found he had backed up against the cold dark stone that had been carved by who knew what Herculean effort into a monstrous travesty of his bedroom slippers. He glanced up at his own horrendously parodied image towering above him. He was still puzzled as to what one of his hands was meant to be doing.
"I got yanked involuntarily back into the physical world," pursued Agrajag, "as a bunch of petunias. In, I might add, a bowl. This particularly happy little lifetime started off with me, in my bowl, unsupported, three hundred miles above the surface of a particularly grim planet. Not a naturally tenable position for a bowl of petunias, you might think. And you'd be right. That life ended a very short while later, three hundred miles lower. In, I might add, the fresh wreckage of a whale. My spirit brother."
He leered at Arthur with renewed hatred.
"On the way down," he snarled, "I couldn't help noticing a flashy-looking white spaceship. And looking out of a port on this flashy-looking spaceship was a smug-looking Arthur Dent. Coincidence?!!"
"Yes!" yelped Arthur. He glanced up again, and realized that the arm that had puzzled him was represented as wantonly calling into existence a bowl of doomed petunias. This was not a concept which leapt easily to the eye.
"I must go," insisted Arthur.
"You may go," said Agrajag, "after I have killed you."
"No, that won't be any use," explained Arthur, beginning to climb up the hard stone incline of his carved slipper, "because I have to save the Universe, you see. I have to find a Silver Bail, that's the point. Tricky thing to do dead."
"Save the Universe!" spat Agrajag with contempt. "You should have thought of that before you started your vendetta against me! What about the time you were on Stavromula Beta and someone ..."
"I've never been there," said Arthur.
"... tried to assassinate you and you ducked. Who do you think the bullet hit? What did you say?"
"Never been there," repeated Arthur. "What are you talking about? I have to go."
Agrajag stopped in his tracks.
"You must have been there. You were responsible for my death there, as everywhere else. An innocent bystander!" He quivered.
"I've never heard of the place," insisted Arthur. "I've certainly never had anyone try to assassinate me. Other than you. Perhaps I go there later, do you think?"
Agrajag blinked slowly in a kind of frozen logical horror.
"You haven't been to Stavromula Beta ... yet?" he whispered.
"No," said Arthur, "I don't know anything about the place. Certainly never been to it, and don't have any plans to go."
"Oh, you go there all right," muttered Agrajag in a broken voice, "you go there all right. Oh zark!" he tottered, and stared wildly about him at his huge Cathedral of Hate. "I've brought you here too soon!"
He started to scream and bellow. "I've brought you here too zarking soon!"
Suddenly he rallied, and turned a baleful, hating eye on Arthur.
"I'm going to kill you anyway!" he roared. "Even if it's a logical impossibility I'm going to zarking well try! I'm going to blow this whole mountain up!" He screamed, "Let's see you get out of this one, Dent!"
He rushed in a painful waddling hobble to what appeared to be a small black sacrificial altar. He was shouting so wildly now that he was really carving his face up badly. Arthur leaped down from his vantage place on the carving of his own foot and ran to try to restrain the three-quarters-crazed creature.
He leaped upon him, and brought the strange monstrosity crashing down on top of the altar.
Agrajag screamed again, thrashed wildly for a brief moment, and turned a wild eye on Arthur.
"You know what you've done?" he gurgled painfully. "You've only gone and killed me again. i mean, what do you want from me, blood?"
He thrashed again in a brief apoplectic fit, quivered, and collapsed, smacking a large red button on the altar as he did so.
Arthur started with horror and fear, first at what he appeared to have done, and then at the loud sirens and bells that suddenly shattered the air to announce some clamouring emergency. He stared wildly around him.
The only exit appeared to be the way he came in. He pelted towards it, throwing away the nasty fake leopard-skin bag as he did so.
He dashed randomly, haphazardly through the labyrinthine maze, he seemed to be pursued more and more fiercely by claxons, sirens, flashing lights.
Suddenly, he turned a corner and there was a light in front of him.
It wasn't flashing. It was daylight.