Chapter 7 


Buddha gets home from work and he's far more energetic than usual. Rather than slobbing in front of the TV he quickly tidies up the house and when he's finished he rubs his hands together and stands in front of me. 

"Are you coming, then?" 


"Back to heaven. It's Friday, and I'm a weekend commuter. It's quite common here." 

Before I get chance to apply intellect to the question, a certain part of my body points out that we haven't seen a woodnymph for five days, let alone chased one. 

"Let's go." 




John drives us to the Axis Mundi in his best white van. He has three comfortable cars parked in his driveway, another in Buddha's and a second van behind it, but this vehicle, he says, is the only one with road tax and insurance. It's also ideal for three people sitting side by side. 

This is my fifth time on the crowded highways and I'm beginning to get an idea how the system works. From the outside, vehicles seem loud and intimidating, even in small numbers, but the solution is clearly to be inside one. From inside this large vehicle we are in control of the universe, with the exception of larger vehicles. We dodge and dive through traffic, pipping our horn and moving on at a pace, while all the time John steers and changes gear with one hand. Apparently this is an ex builder's van, and the engine will cut out if John brings in his right arm, which he's obliged to dangle uselessly out of the window. The tabloid newspaper on the dashboard is also essential and I've been warned not to touch it. 

I'm fascinated by the world outside the windscreen: the mish-mash of old and new buildings, the strange materialistic artistry of shopfronts, and more than anything else the glorious mix of people – from babes in arms to weathered deadbeats, proud businessmen, strutting secretaries, couples hand in hand, families in easy-care fabrics, sullen youths in oversize jeans. 

"What are those?" I point. "The buildings with the spiked roofs? We don't get them in heaven. We've passed a few and they've all been beautiful."

"Churches," says Buddha. "For the worship of Christ. The spires are supposed to connect them to heaven." 

Foolishly I lean forward and look up to view the connection, then I recall that Buddha said 'supposed to'. Still, it's nice to hear that Christ is revered. He's a thoroughly nice god, even if he does have a thing about my hoofs and horns. 

"In other countries there are thousands of temples for Buddha," says John. 

Buddha, of course, is too modest to have mentioned this. 

"Why don't you live where you're worshipped?" I ask him. 

"Can you imagine what that would be like, living where I'm famous? There'd be…" He thinks of something that amuses him, then discards it. "Imagine how hard it would be to practice humility?" 

"Maybe you could try for president yourself," I suggest. "Or Christ could try. He looks popular enough." 

Buddha shakes his head. "We do fine, but ours are old faiths. It's the new gods who get the votes these days, gods like Mammon and Progress, gods who appeal across all religions. You see those spires? When those were built, they were the tallest structures on the skyline. Now look what's tallest." 

I look around. "I see a giant dildo." 

"A dildo or a gherkin, depending on your point of view. Either way, it's owned by a bank. And that tall square item next to it is owned by another bank, same for that tall one there, at least three of those in the distance, all dedicated to the great god Mammon, and each one separated from its neighbours by avenues dedicated to Mercedes, the god of Private Motor Transport. It's the same everywhere." 

"What about Doctor Longlife?" I ask. "Where are his tall buildings?" 

Buddha gives me a condescending look. "Don't be silly. You can only take a building analogy so far." 

"The Doc's got buildings too," says John. "Plenty of hospitals, and they're big, but kind of tucked away, not so obvious." 

John pulls up next to the British Atheist Society on Regent Street, where Buddha and I outrage the motorists behind by taking the time to open the door and step out on to the pavement. We wave goodbye to John, who isn't tempted to return even for a day, and enter through the familiar outside door. 

"Will the Axis take both of us together?" I ask.

"Yes, easily." 

I feel like an excited child.  

"Wherever it is," adds Buddha. 

He's looking at a blank wall. So am I. There were steel doors here a few days ago. Now they've gone. We check the wall thoroughly, and perhaps pointlessly, for any sign that the Axis Mundi ever existed. The wall is perfect and looks like it's always been there. 

"Oh dear," says Buddha. 

"Oh dear? What do you mean – oh dear? What do we do now?" 

"Can I help you?" asks a young woman, watching us from the stairs at the end of the corridor. 

"Er, we were looking for the lift," explains Buddha. 

"Really? I don't think we've ever had a lift. I've been working here for three years. If we had a lift, I think I would have noticed it. Reception is on the first floor. You're atheists, are you?" 

"Not exactly," replies Buddha. 

But she's far more interested in me than in Buddha. She doesn't take her eyes off me as she approaches. "You're… are you the goat man from the newspapers?" 

"I am." 

"Can I get your autograph? It's not for me, you understand. It's for my sister. She thinks you're… sexy. I mean, not that I don't think you're sexy, but she's mad about you. Here…" 

She scrabbles nervously in her handbag and produces a pen and paper. 

"For Becky," she says. 

I look at Buddha for guidance. 

"Write 'For Becky' and then your name," says Buddha, quietly. 

I'm about to write Pan when he adds, "Peter Alan Nesmith." 

"It's not his real name," he tells the woman. 

"Oh." She sounds disappointed. 

I can't remember whether I'm supposed to be Alan or Allen, but I get the feeling it probably doesn't matter. 

The woman thanks me, snatches her trophy and rushes back up the stairs, clearly excited. 

"We'd better go, before she gathers a posse," says Buddha.

"Go where?" 

"Back to Cricklewood." 

"You're joking! We've got to find the Axis Mundi." 

As we reach the outside door, Buddha calmly explains. "This is no accident, Pan. The Axis Mundi has been here for decades, and the week you arrive, it moves. This has been done to stop you going back. We won't be able to undo it in five minutes."  

"We can try."  

"Let's wander around London checking every lift door we can find. Then we can start on Paris and New York, maybe finish with Ulaanbaatar and the more developed towns of Mongolia. Shouldn't take more than a few thousand years." 

I'm about to come out with an equally caustic response, possibly, though I haven't thought of it yet, when we step out on to the pavement and are immediately distracted by the sound of screeching tyres, followed by a dull thud, like a sack of flour landing in a wheelbarrow. 

Twenty yards away, one of our fellow pedestrians lies in the road, a pool or rich red blood growing beneath his ear. A handful of other-worlders rush to help, some are on their mobile phones, most stand still on the pavement and watch. 

"Hmmm. A sacrifice to the god of Private Motor Transport," observes Buddha, without emotion. 

"Are you saying Mercedes moved the Axis Mundi?" 

He shrugs. "Maybe. Or it could be coincidence. She gets a sacrifice every thirty seconds somewhere in this world." 

"They must really like her." 

"They do. And Mammon gets even more."  

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