In the background, he could hear Gaspode saying, 'I expect I've saved the day, right?'
The brain normally echoes with the shouts of various inconsequential thoughts seeking attention. It takes a real emergency to get them to shut up. It was happening now. One clear thought that had been trying to make itself heard for a long time rang out in the silence.
Supposing there was somewhere where reality was a little thinner than usual? And supposing you did something there that weakened reality even more. Books wouldn't do it. Even ordinary theatre wouldn't do it, because in your heart you knew it was just people in funny clothes on a stage. But Holy Wood went straight from the eye into the brain. In your heart you thought it was real. The clicks would do it.
That was what was under Holy Wood Hill. The people of the old city had used the hole in reality for entertainment. And then the Things had found them.
And now people were doing it again. It was like learning to juggle lighted torches in a firework factory. And the Things had been waiting . . .
But why was it still happening? He'd stopped Ginger.
The film clicked on. There seemed to be a fog around the picture throwing box, blurring its outline.
He snatched at the spinning handle. It resisted for a moment, and then broke. He gently pushed Bezam off his chair, picked it up and hit the throwing box with it. The chair exploded into splinters. He opened the cage at the back and took out the salamanders, and still the film danced on the distant screen.
The building shook again.
You only get one chance, he thought, and then you die.
He pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around his hand. Then he reached out for the flashing line of the film itself, and gripped it.
It snapped. The box jerked backwards. Film went on unreeling in glittering coils which lunged at him briefly and then slithered down to the floor.
Clickaclick . . . a . . . click.
The reels spun to a halt.
Victor cautiously stirred the heap of film with his foot. He'd been half expecting it to attack him like a snake.
'Have we saved the day?' prompted Gaspode. 'I'd appreciate knowing.'
Victor looked at the screen.
'No,' he said.
There were still images there. They weren't very clear, but he could still make out the vague shapes of himself and Ginger, hanging on to existence. And the screen itself was moving. It bulged here and there, like ripples of a pool of dull mercury. It looked unpleasantly familiar.
'They've found us,' he said.
'Who have?' said Gaspode.
'You know those ghastly creatures you were talking about?'
Gaspode's brow furrowed. 'The ones from before the dawnatime?'
'Where they come from, there is no time,' said Victor. The audience was stirring.
'We must get everyone out of here,' he said. 'But without panicking-'
There was a chorus of screams. The audience was waking up.
The screen Ginger was climbing out. She was three times normal size and flickered visibly. She was also vaguely transparent, but she had weight, because the floor buckled and splintered under her feet.
The audience was climbing over itself to get away. Victor fought his way down the aisle just as Poons' wheelchair went past backwards in the flow of people, its occupant flailing desperately and shouting, 'Hey! Hey! It's just getting good!'
The Chair grabbed Victor's arm urgently.
'Is it meant to do this?' he demanded.
'It's not some sort of special kinematographic effect, then?' said the Chair hopefully.
'Not unless they've got really good in the last twenty-four hours,' said Victor. 'I think it's the Dungeon Dimensions.'
The Chair stared intently at him.
'You are young Victor, aren't you,' he said.
'Yes. Excuse me,' said Victor. He pushed past the astonished wizard and climbed over the seats to where Ginger was still sitting, staring at her own image. The monster Ginger was looking around and blinking very slowly, like a lizard.
'No!' said Victor. 'That is, yes. Maybe. Not really. Sort of. Come on.'
'But it looks just like me!' said Ginger, her voice modulated with hysteria.
'That's because they're having to use Holy Wood! It . . . it defines how they can appear, I think,' said Victor hurriedly. He tugged her out of the seat and into the air, his feet kicking up mist and scattering banged grains. She stumbled along after him, looking over her shoulder.
'There's another one trying to come out of the screen,' she said.
'I'm me! It's . . . something else! It's just having to use my shape!'
'What shape does it normally use?'
'You don't want to know!'
'Yes I do! Why do you think I asked?' she yelled, as they stumbled through the broken seats.
'It looks worse than you can imagine!'
'I can imagine some pretty bad things!'
'That's why I said worse!'
The giant spectral Ginger passed them, flickering like a strobe light, and smashed its way out through the wall. There were screams from the outside.
'It looks like it's getting bigger,' whispered Ginger.
'Go outside,' said Victor. 'Get the wizards to stop it.'
'What're you going to do?'
Victor drew himself up to his full height. 'There are some Things', he said, 'that a man has to do by himself.'
She gave him a look of irritated incomprehension.
'What? What? Do you want to go to the lavatory or something?'
'Just get out!'
He shoved her towards the doors, then turned and saw the two dogs looking at him expectantly.
'And you two, too,' he said.
'Dog's gotta stay by 'is master, style of fing,' said Gaspode, shame-facedly.
Victor looked around in desperation, picked up a fragment of seat, opened the door, threw the wood as far as possible and shouted 'Fetch!'
Both dogs bounded away after it, propelled by instinct. On his way past, though, Gaspode had just enough selfcontrol to say, 'You bastard!'
Victor pulled open the door of the picture-throwing room and came out with handfuls of Blown Away.
The giant Victor was having trouble leaving the screen. The head and one arm had pulled free and were threedimensional. The arm flailed vaguely -at Victor as he methodically threw coils of octo-cellulose over it. He ran back to the booth and pulled out the stacks of clicks that Bezam, in defiance of common sense, had stored under the bench.
Working with the methodical calmness of bowel-twisting terror, he carried the cans by the armload to the screen and heaped them there. The Thing managed to wrench another arm free of two-dimensionality and tried to scrabble at them, but whatever was controlling it was having trouble controlling this new shape. It was probably unused to having only two arms, Victor told himself.
He threw the last can on to the heap.
'In our world you have to obey our rules,' he said. 'And I bet you burn just as well as anything else, hey?'
The Thing struggled to pull a leg free.
Victor patted his pockets. He ran back to the booth and scrabbled around madly.
Matches. There weren't any matches!
He pushed open the doors to the, foyer and dashed out into the street, where the crowds were milling around in horrified fascination and watching a fifty-foot Ginger disentangling Itself from the wreckage of a building.
Victor heard a clicking beside him. Gaffer the handleman was intently capturing the scene on film.
The Chair was shouting at Dibbler.
'Of course we can't use magic against it! They need magic! Magic only makes them stronger.'
'You must be able to do something!' screamed Dibbler.
'My dear sir, we didn't start meddling with things best left -' the Chair hesitated in mid-snarl, 'unmeddled-with with,' he finished lamely.
'Matches!' Victor shouted. 'Matches! Hurry!'
They all stared at him.
Then the Chair nodded. 'Ordinary fire,' he said. 'You're right. That should do it. Good thinking, boy.' He fumbled in a pocket and produced the bundle of matches that chainsmoking wizards always carried.
'You can't burn the Odium,' snapped Dibbler. 'There's heaps of film in there!'
Victor ripped a poster off the wall, wrapped it in a crude torch, and lit one end.
'That's what I'm going to burn,' he said.
' 'Scuse me-'
'Stupid! Stupid!' shouted Dibbler. 'That stuff burns really fast!'
' 'Scuse me-'
'So what? I wasn't intending to hang around in there,' said Victor.
'I mean really fast!'
' 'Scuse me,' said Gaspode patiently. They looked down at him.
'Me an' Laddie could do it,' he said. 'Four legs're better 'n two and so forth, y'know? When it comes to savin' the day.'
Victor looked at Dibbler and raised his eyebrows.
'I suppose they might be able to,' Dibbler conceded. Victor nodded. Laddie leaped gracefully, snatched the torch out of his hand and ran back into the building with Gaspode lurching after him.
'Did I hear things, or can that little dog speak?' said Dibbler.
'He says he can't,' said Victor.
Dibbler hesitated. The excitement was unhinging him a little. 'Well,' he said, 'I suppose he should know.'
The dogs bounded towards the screen. The Victor-Thing was nearly through, half-sprawled among the cans.
'Can I light the fire?' said Gaspode. ' 'Smy job, really.'
Laddie barked obediently and dropped the blazing paper. Gaspode snapped it up and advanced cautiously towards the Thing.
'Savin' the day,' he said, indistinctly, and dropped the torch on a coil of film. It flared instantly and burned with a sticky white fire, like slow magnesium.
'OK,' he said. 'Now, let's get the hell out of-'
The Thing screamed. What semblance there still was of Victor left it, and something like an explosion in an aquarium twisted among the flames. A tentacle whipped out and grabbed Gaspode by the leg.
He turned and tried to bite it.
Laddie ricocheted back down the stricken hall and launched himself at the flailing arm. It recoiled, knocking him over and spinning Gaspode across the floor.
The little dog sat up, took a few wobbling steps, and fell over.
'Bloody leg's been and gone,' he muttered. Laddie gave him a sorrowful look. Flames crackled around the film cans. .
'Go on, get out of here, you stupid mutt,' said Gaspode. 'The whole thing's goin' to go up in a minute. No! Don't pick me up! Put me down! You haven't got time-'
The walls of the Odium expanded with apparent slowness, every plank and stone maintaining its position relative to all the others but floating out by itself.
Then Time caught up with events.
Victor threw himself flat on his face.
An orange fireball lifted the roof and billowed up into the foggy sky. Wreckage smashed against the walls of other houses. A red-hot film can scythed over the heads of the recumbent wizards, making a menacing wipwipwip noise, and exploded against a distant wall.
There was a high, thin keening that stopped abruptly.
The Ginger-Thing rocked in the heat. The gust of hot air lifted its huge skirts in billows around its waist and it stood, flickering and uncertain, as debris rained down around it.
Then it turned awkwardly and lurched onward.
Victor looked at Ginger, who was staring at the thinning clouds of smoke over the pile of rubble that had been the Odium.
'That's wrong,' she was muttering. 'It doesn't happen like that. It never happens like that. Just when you think it's too late, they come galloping out of the smoke.' She turned dull eyes upon him. 'Don't they?' she pleaded.
'That's in the clicks,' said Victor. 'This is reality.,
'What's the difference?'
The Chair grabbed Victor's shoulder and spun him around.