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Authors: Tom Holt

Tags: #Fiction / Fantasy - Contemporary, Fiction / Humorous, Fiction / Satire

Only Human

BOOK: Only Human
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Table of Contents


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © Tom Holt 1999

Cover illustration by Tim Holman. Cover copyright © 2012 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permission[email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.


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First US e-book edition: September 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-23321-7

Also by Tom Holt
Expecting Someone Taller
Who's Afraid of Beowulf?
Flying Dutch
Ye Gods!
Here Comes the Sun
Faust Among Equals
Odds and Gods
Djinn Rummy
My Hero
Paint Your Dragon
Open Sesame
Wish You Were Here
Only Human
Snow White and the Seven Samurai
Nothing But Blue Skies
Falling Sideways
Little People
The Portable Door
In Your Dreams
Earth, Air, Fire and Custard
You Don't Have to be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps
The Better Mousetrap
May Contain Traces of Magic
Blonde Bombshell
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages
For Roger Peyton
My favourite Ferengi
Two men in the early dawn, with fishing rods over their shoulders and tackle boxes in their hands; one late middle-aged, white-haired, tall and powerfully built, the other younger, a little shorter and not quite so broad across the shoulders but still an imposing figure. As you guessed, father and son, off on a fishing trip. A bit of quality time together, away from the pressures of the family business.
A third man, little more than a boy, in dressing gown and slippers, yawning in the doorway; a whole head shorter than his father, with a slope to his shoulders and a pronounced slouch. His eyes want to be closed at this horribly early hour of the morning, a part of the day he's heard about but very rarely seen for himself. His name is Kevin, but you'd have to listen for a long time before you heard anyone call him by it. His name in real life is Our Kid.
‘You sure you'll be all right?'
‘Yes, Dad.'
‘You've got the number if anything happens?'
‘Yes, Dad.'
‘You know, I'm still not sure about this. Maybe we should put it off till after the harvest . . .'
‘Dad.' The elder son interrupts. ‘It'll be all right. He's a big boy now, and besides, nothing's going to happen.'
‘Yes, but . . .'
The elder son puts on a face of comic disapproval. ‘Dad,' he says, ‘you need this holiday. How long's it been?'
The father shrugs. ‘All right,' he says, miming browbeaten submission. ‘You sure you've got that number? If you lose it, Mike or Gabriel'll know where we are . . .'
Yawn. ‘
, Dad. Have a nice trip.'
The father takes two steps away from the door, stops. ‘And promise me,' he says, turning his head. ‘Promise you won't touch
‘Dad . . .'
‘I'll know if you do, and . . . All right, I'm coming. And no parties, you hear?'
, Dad.'
Accordingly, father and son pick up their gear and walk away; through the portals of the sunset, down the Milky Way, a laugh and a joke as they cross the intergalactic gap and off through the stars of Andromeda to where the fish are biting. Before leaving the home galaxy, the father stops and pins a note to the tail of the Great Bear. It reads:
And how they got on, and whether they caught any fish, is no real part of this story; because when God and His elder begotten son take a holiday, their first in over two thousand years, they go where the paparazzi can't follow. So if they say they had a great time and caught a lot of fish, but you should have seen the one that got away, we have to believe them. Religion has a word for it. It's called Faith.
Kevin Christ, younger begotten son of the Father, watched them till they were out of sight, and grinned.
Yippee, he thought.
Because Kevin is eighteen. And however old the cosmos is, that's how long he's been eighteen for; just as Jay's been thirty-two and Dad's been whatever age Dad is, ever since there was nothing but the Word and a whole load of nothing else, covering its ears with its hands and waiting for the Bang.
And Kevin's not part of the family business; after all, why should he be? The family business is Dad and Jay and Uncle Ghost, as it was in the beginning and ever shall be, and the chance of a vacancy cropping up on the board of directors is conclusively non existent. No one ever asked Kevin to start at the bottom, on the shop-floor with the mortals, and work his way up to a green hill far away and two planks nailed together. In fact, all that's ever been asked or expected of Kevin Christ is precisely nothing at all; and that's what he's delivered, right down to the last microgram of vacuum.
Still grinning, Kevin shut the door and galloped up the stairs to his bedroom. Pause and examine; the first thing you can't help but see is a vast swarm of plastic model aircraft, thousands upon thousands of them, hanging from the spider's web of monofilament nylon thread two feet or so from the ceiling. Every single one was a model kit assembled by Kevin; and every single one is botched, misshapen, asymmetrical or covered in splodged glue. Because there are things that run in all families; and being good with one's hands, able to construct and build, is one of the things that, in this family, doesn't. Jay with his carpentry - a million miles of spirit-level-perfect shelving from one end of Heaven to another bear witness to his consummate skill. As for Dad, everything from the retina of an ant's eye to the endless flocks of galaxies herded into the curve of the Universe is proof of his abilities. And Kevin; Kevin can't even follow the instructions for an Airfix Sopwith Camel. That's Kevin.
. . . Who now ducks under the teeming squadrons of bent and wobbly aeroplanes, kicks off his slippers and starts to dress. From the drawer under his bed comes a baggy, shapeless T-shirt with the name of a mortal rock band printed on it. Under that, there's a pair of fluorescent beach shorts, the kind that went out of fashion three or four years ago. Twelve hundred years they've been there, bought with Kevin's own money from a renegade Hell's Angel, and never a chance to wear them . . . On his feet a pair of brand-new Reeboks, and from the secret hiding place under the loose floorboard—
(Secret? Get real. Imagine what it's like being a teenager and having a Dad to whom all desires are known and from whom no secrets are hid. He's known about the contraband Walkman stashed under the boards all the nine hundred years it's been there; but since He's also known that Kevin would never dare take it out, He's never said anything. Just occasionally allowed His eyes to rest there, to show that He knows. And, worse somehow, forgives . . .) —the Walkman and the Madonna tape, never yet listened to. The rather shady seraph who swapped it for a thousand years of Grace and Absolution had said, when asked, that no, it wasn't quite like the St Matthew Passion. Or, come to that, the Missa Solemnis or Gregorian chant or any of the kinds of music Kevin's ever experienced before. Rather different, he'd said. The term
, for instance, used in a context Kevin may not have encountered before. A few other words that he might find it necessary to look up in a good dictionary.
Educational, in other words. Where could the harm be in that?
Having dressed, he takes a moment to admire himself in the bathroom mirror. As always he's struck by the marked family resemblance, and the way that the Jehovah nose and cheekbones, which make Dad look so fine and paternal and which look so lovable and reassuring on Jay, contrive to make him appear quite spectacularly unfinished, as if he was a sculpture whose creator had been called away on another job and who reckoned that with luck he might be able to come back and finish off a week Tuesday. Never mind; he shrugs his shoulders, grins lopsidedly at his reflection and sets off for the office.
This will involve going past Uncle Ghost's room; and nominally Uncle Ghost is in charge while Dad and Jay are away. But Uncle Ghost, who had once been such a vigorous and dynamic member of the Trinity, manifesting himself as a spinning tornado of Pentecostal fire and inspiring whole congregations of the Early Church with the urge to talk absolute gibberish at the tops of their voices, rarely leaves his room these days, particularly if there's snooker on the telly. The word
is an exaggeration as well as uncharitable, but the fact remains that ever since Jay installed Mainframe, which is capable of doing everything Uncle used to do, twice as well in half the time, he's got no real part to play in the running of the business. Fair enough; he'd done his bit back in the old days, so if he wants to spend the twilight of his eternal years munchingTwiglets and watching two men in waistcoats hitting coloured balls with overgrown cocktail sticks, jolly good luck to him. In practice, it means there's no real need to tiptoe when passing his door. In fact, if only he could find the levers and switches that controlled the subsection of Destiny relating to professional snooker players, there's a good chance he won't stir from his sofa until Dad and Jay get back.
BOOK: Only Human
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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