About the Book

Imagine that all around you, hidden from sight, there are thousands of tiny people.
They are four inches tall, brave, stubborn and resourceful.
They are the nomes.

The nomes in this story live under the floorboards of a large Department Store and have never been Outside. In fact, they don’t even believe in Outside. But new nomes arrive, from – where else? – and they bring with them terrifying news: the Store is closing down and Everything Must Go . . .

The fantastically funny first book of the nomes, from the author of the bestselling Discworld series.




About the Book

Title Page


Concerning Nomes and Time

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Read On

About the Author

Also by Terry Pratchett


AN RHCP DIGITAL EBOOK 978 1 407 04258 9
Published in Great Britain by RHCP Digital,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Publishers UK
A Penguin Random House Company
This ebook edition published 2014
Copyright © 1989 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett
Illustrations by Mark Beech © Random House Children’s Publishers UK, 2015
Extract from DIGGERS copyright © Terry and Lyn Pratchett, 1990
First Published in Great Britain
Doubleday 1989
The right of Terry Pratchett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Another one for Rhianna

Also by Terry Pratchett, for children:

The Carpet People

The Bromeliad Trilogy:




The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy:

Only You Can Save Mankind

Johnny and the Dead

Johnny and the Bomb

For young adults and above:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
(A Discworld® novel)

The Tiffany Aching Sequence (Discworld® novels):

The Wee Free Men

A Hat Full of Sky


I Shall Wear Midnight



Dodger’s Guide to London

A full list of Terry Pratchett’s books can be found on

Concerning Nomes and Time

Nomes are small. On the whole, small creatures don’t live for a long time. But perhaps they do live fast.

Let me explain.

One of the shortest-lived creatures on the planet Earth is the adult common mayfly. It lasts for one day. The longest-living things are bristlecone pine trees, at 4,700 years and still counting.

This may seem tough on mayflies. But the important thing is not how long your life is, but how long it seems.

To a mayfly, a single hour may last as long as a century. Perhaps old mayflies sit around complaining about how life this minute isn’t a patch on the good old minutes of long ago, when the world was young and the sun seemed so much brighter and larvae showed you a bit of respect. Whereas the trees, which are not famous for their quick reactions, may just have time to notice the way the sky keeps flickering before the dry rot and woodworm set in.

It’s all a sort of relativity. The faster you live, the more time stretches out. To a nome, a year lasts as long as ten years does to a human. Remember it. Don’t let it concern you. They don’t. They don’t even know.

In the beginning …

I. There was the Site.

II. And Arnold Bros (est. 1905) Moved upon the face of the Site, and Saw that it had Potential.

III. For it was In the High Street.

IV. Yea, it was also Handy for the Buses.

V. And Arnold Bros (est. 1905) said, Let there be a Store, And Let it be a Store such as the World has not Seen hitherto;

VI. Let the length of it be from Palmer Street even unto the Fish Market, and the Width of It, from the High Street right back to Disraeli Road;

VII. Let it be High even Unto Five Storeys plus Basement, And bright with Lifts; let there be the Eternal Fires of the Boiler-Room in the sub-basement and, above all other floors, let there be Customer Accounts to Order All Things;

VIII. For this must be what all shall Know of Arnold Bros (est. 1905): All Things Under One Roof. And it shall be called: the Store of Arnold Bros (est. 1905).

IX. And Thus it Was.

X. And Arnold Bros (est. 1905) divided the Store into Departments, of lronmongery, Corsetry, Modes and others After their Kind, and Created Humans to fill them with All Things saying, Yea, All Things Are Here. And Arnold Bros (est. 1905) said, Let there be Lorries, and Let their Colours be Red and Gold, and Let them Go Forth so that All May Know Arnold Bros (est. 1905), By Appointment, delivers All Things;

XI. Let there be Santa’s Grottoes and Winter Sales and Summer Bargains and Back to School Week and All Commodities in their Season;

XII. And into the Store came the Nomes, that it would be their Place, for Ever and Ever.

From The Book of Nome, Basements v.I–XII

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Chapter One

This is the story of the Going Home.

This is the story of the Critical Path.

This is the story of the lorry roaring through the sleeping city and out into the country lanes, smashing through street lamps and swinging from side to side and shattering shop windows and rolling to a halt when the police chased it. And when the baffled men went back to their car to report Listen, will you, listen? There isn’t anyone driving it!, it became the story of the lorry that started up again, rolled away from the astonished men, and vanished into the night.

But the story didn’t end there.

It didn’t start there, either.


The sky rained dismal. It rained humdrum. It rained the kind of rain that is so much wetter than normal rain, the kind of rain that comes down in big drops and splats, the kind of rain that is merely an upright sea with slots in it.

It rained a tattoo on the old hamburger boxes and chip papers in the wire basket that was giving Masklin a temporary hiding place.

Look at him. Wet. Cold. Extremely worried. And four inches high.

The waste-bin was usually a good hunting ground, even in winter. There were often a few cold chips in their wrapping, sometimes even a chicken bone. Once or twice there had been a rat, too. It had been a really good day when there had last been a rat – it had kept them going for a week. The trouble was that you could get pretty fed up with rat by the third day. By the third mouthful, come to that.

Masklin scanned the lorry park.

And here it came, right on time, crashing through the puddles and pulling up with a hiss of brakes.

He’d watched this lorry arrive every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the last four weeks. He timed the driver’s stop carefully.

They had exactly three minutes. To someone the size of a nome, that’s more than half an hour.

He scrambled down through the greasy paper, dropped out of the bottom of the bin, and ran for the bushes at the edge of the park where Grimma and the old folk were waiting.

‘It’s here!’ he said. ‘Come on!’

They got to their feet, groaning and grumbling. He’d taken them through this dozens of times. He knew it wasn’t any good shouting. They just got upset and confused, and then they’d grumble some more. They grumbled about cold chips, even when Grimma warmed them up. They moaned about rat. He’d seriously thought about leaving alone, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. They needed him. They needed someone to grumble at.

But they were too slow. He felt like bursting into tears.

He turned to Grimma instead.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Give them a prod, or something. They’ll never get moving!’

She patted his hand.

‘They’re frightened,’ she said. ‘You go on. I’ll bring them out.’

There wasn’t time to argue. Masklin ran back across the soaking mud of the park, unslinging the rope and grapnel. It had taken him a week to make the hook, out of a bit of wire teased off a fence, and he’d spent days practising; he was already swinging it around his head as he reached the lorry’s wheel.

The hook caught the tarpaulin high above him at the second try. He tested it once or twice and then, his feet scrabbling for a grip on the tyre, pulled himself up.

He’d done it before. Oh, he’d done it three or four times. He scrambled under the heavy tarpaulin and into the darkness beyond, pulling out more line and tying it as tightly as possible around one of the ropes that were as thick as his arm.

Then he slid back to the edge and, thank goodness, Grimma was herding the old people across the gravel. He could hear them complaining about the puddles.

Masklin jumped up and down with impatience.

It seemed to take hours. He explained it to them millions of times, but people hadn’t been pulled up onto the backs of lorries when they were children and they didn’t see why they should start now. Old Granny Morkie insisted that all the men look the other way so that they wouldn’t see up her skirts, for example, and old Torrit whimpered so much that Masklin had to lower him again so that Grimma could blindfold him. It wasn’t so bad after he’d hauled the first few up, because they were able to help on the rope, but time still stretched out.

He pulled Grimma up last. She was light. They were all light, if it came to that. You didn’t get rat every day.

It was amazing. They were all on board. He’d worked with an ear cocked for the sound of footsteps on gravel and the slamming of the driver’s door, and it hadn’t happened.

‘Right,’ he said, shaking with the effort. ‘That’s it, then. Now if we just go—’

‘I dropped the Thing,’ said old Torrit. ‘The Thing. I dropped it, d’you see? I dropped it down by the wheel when she was blindfoldin’ me. You go and get it, boy.’

Masklin looked at him in horror. Then he poked his head out from under the tarpaulin and, yes, there it was, far below. A tiny black cube on the ground.

The Thing.

It was lying in a puddle, although that wouldn’t affect it. Nothing touched the Thing. It wouldn’t even burn.

And then he heard the sound of slow footsteps on the gravel.

‘There’s no time,’ he whispered. ‘There really is no time.’

‘We can’t go without it,’ said Grimma.

‘Of course we can. It’s just a, a thing. We won’t need the wretched object where we’re going.’

He felt guilty as soon as he’d said it, amazed at his own lips for uttering such words. Grimma looked horrified. Granny Morkie drew herself up to her full, quivering height.

‘May you be forgiven!’ she barked. ‘What a terrible thing to say! You tell him, Torrit.’ She nudged Torrit in the ribs.

‘If we ain’t taking the Thing, I ain’t going,’ said Torrit sulkily. ‘It’s not—’

‘That’s your leader talkin’ to you,’ interrupted Granny Morkie. ‘So you do what you’re told. Leave it behind, indeed! It wouldn’t be decent. It wouldn’t be right. So you go and get it, this minute.’

Masklin stared wordlessly down at the soaking mud and then, with a desperate motion, threw the line over the edge and slid down it.

It was raining harder now, with a touch of sleet. The wind whipped at him as he dropped past the great arc of the wheel and landed heavily in the puddle. He reached out and scooped up the Thing—

And the lorry started to move.

First there was a roar, so loud that it went beyond sound and became a solid wall of noise. Then there was a blast of stinking air and a vibration that shook the ground.

He pulled sharply on the line and yelled at them to pull him up, and realized that even he couldn’t hear his own voice. But Grimma or someone must have got the idea because, just as the big wheel began to turn, the rope tightened and he felt his feet lifted off the mud.

He bounced and spun back and forth as, with painful slowness, they pulled him past the wheel. It turned only a few inches away from him, a black, chilly blur, and all the time the hammering sound battered at his head.

I’m not scared, he told himself. This is much worse than anything I’ve ever faced, and it’s not frightening. It’s too terrible to be frightening.

He felt as though he was in a tiny, warm cocoon, away from all the noise and the wind. I’m going to die, he thought, just because of this Thing which has never helped us at all, something that’s just a lump of stuff, and now I’m going to die and go to the Heavens. I wonder if old Torrit is right about what happens when you die? It seems a bit severe to have to die to find out. I’ve looked at the sky every night for years and I’ve never seen any nomes up there …

But it didn’t really matter, it was all outside him, it wasn’t real—

Hands reached down and caught him under the arms and dragged him into the booming space under the tarpaulin and, with some difficulty, prised the Thing out of his grip.

Behind the speeding lorry fresh curtains of grey rain dragged across the empty fields.

And, across the whole country, there were no more nomes.

There had been plenty of them, in the days when it didn’t seem to rain so much. Masklin could remember at least forty. But then the motorway had come; the stream was put in pipes underground, and the nearest hedges were grubbed up. Nomes had always lived in the corners of the world, and suddenly there weren’t too many corners any more.

The numbers started going down. A lot of this was due to natural causes, and when you’re four inches high natural causes can be anything with teeth and speed and hunger. Then Pyrrince, who was by way of being the most adventurous, led a desperate expedition across the carriageway one night, to investigate the woods on the other side. They never came back. Some said it was hawks, some said it was a lorry. Some even said they’d made it halfway and were marooned on the central reservation between endless swishing lines of cars.

Then the cafe had been built, a little further along the road. It had been a sort of improvement. It depended how you looked at it. If cold leftover chips and scraps of grey chicken were food, then there was suddenly enough for everyone.

And then it was spring, and Masklin looked around and found that there were just ten of them left, and eight of those were too old to get about much. Old Torrit was nearly ten.

It had been a dreadful summer. Grimma organized those who could still get about into midnight raids on the litter-bins, and Masklin tried to hunt.

Hunting by yourself was like dying a bit at a time. Most of the things you were hunting were also hunting you. And even if you were lucky and made a kill, how did you get it home? It had taken two days with the rat, including sitting out at night to fight off other creatures. Ten strong hunters could do anything – rob bees’ nests, trap mice, catch moles, anything – but one hunter by himself, with no one to watch his back in the long grass, was simply the next meal for everything with talons and claws.

To get enough to eat, you needed lots of healthy hunters. But to get lots of healthy hunters, you needed enough to eat.

‘It’ll be all right in the autumn,’ said Grimma, bandaging his arm where a stoat had caught it. ‘There’ll be mushrooms and berries and nuts and everything.’

Well, there hadn’t been any mushrooms and it rained so much that most of the berries rotted before they ripened. There were plenty of nuts, though. The nearest hazel tree was half a day’s journey away. Masklin could carry a dozen nuts if he smashed them out of their shells and dragged them back in a paper bag from the bin. It took a whole day to do it, risking hawks all the way, and it was just enough food for a day as well.

And then the back of the burrow fell in, because of all the rain. It was almost pleasant to get out, then. It was better than listening to the grumbling about him not doing essential repairs. Oh, and there was the fire. You needed a fire at the burrow mouth; both for cooking and for keeping away night prowlers. Granny Morkie went to sleep one day and let it go out. Even she had the decency to be embarrassed.

When Masklin came back that night he looked at the heap of dead ashes for a long time and then stuck his spear in the ground and burst out laughing, and went on laughing until he started to cry. He couldn’t face the rest of them. He had to go and sit outside where, presently, Grimma brought him a shellful of nettle tea. Cold nettle tea.

‘They’re all very upset about it,’ she volunteered.

Masklin gave a hollow laugh. ‘Oh, yes, I can tell,’ he said, ‘I’ve heard them. “You ought to bring back another fag-end, boy, I’m right out of tobacco,” and “We never have fish these days, you might find the time to go down to the river,” and “Self, self, self, that’s all you young people think about, in my day—”’

Grimma sighed. ‘They do their best,’ she said. ‘It’s just that they don’t realize. There were hundreds of us when they were young.’

‘It’s going to take days to get that fire lit,’ said Masklin. They had a spectacle lens; it needed a very sunny day to work.

He poked aimlessly in the mud by his feet.

‘I’ve had enough,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m going to leave.’

‘But we need you!’

I need me, too. I mean, what kind of life is this?’

‘But they’ll die if you go away!’

‘They’ll die anyway,’ said Masklin.

‘That’s a wicked thing to say!’

‘Well, it’s true. Everyone dies anyway. We’ll die anyway. Look at you. You spend your whole time washing and tidying up and cooking and chasing after them. You’re nearly three! It’s about time you had a life of your own.’

‘Granny Morkie was very kind to me when I was small,’ said Grimma defensively. ‘You’ll be old one day.’

‘You think? And who will be working their fingers to the bone to look after me?’

Masklin found himself getting angrier and angrier. He was certain he was in the right. But it felt as if he was in the wrong, which made it worse.

He’d thought about this for a long time, and it had always left him feeling angry and awkward. All the clever ones and the bold ones and the brave ones had gone long ago, one way or the other. Good old Masklin, they’d said, stout chap, you look after the old folk and we’ll be back before you know it, just as soon as we’ve found a better place. Every time good old Masklin thought about this he got indignant with them for going and with himself for staying. He always gave in, that was his trouble. He knew it. Whatever he promised himself at the start, he always took the way of least resistance.

Grimma was glaring at him.

He shrugged.

‘All right, all right, so they can come with us,’ he said.

‘You know they won’t go,’ she said. ‘They’re too old. They all grew up round here. They like it here.’

‘They like it here when there’s us around to wait on them,’ muttered Masklin.

They left it at that. There were nuts for dinner. Masklin’s had a maggot in it.

He went out afterwards and sat at the top of the bank with his chin in his hands, watching the motorway again.

It was a stream of red and white lights. There were humans inside those boxes, going about whatever mysterious business humans spent their time on. They were always in a hurry to get to it, whatever it was.

He was prepared to bet they didn’t eat rat. Humans had it really easy. They were big and slow, but they didn’t have to live in damp burrows waiting for daft old women to let the fire go out. They never had maggots in their tea. They went wherever they wanted and they did whatever they liked. The whole world belonged to them.

And all night long they drove up and down in these little lorries with lights on. Didn’t they ever go to sleep? There must be hundreds of them.

He’d dreamt of leaving on a lorry. They often stopped at the cafe. It would be easy – well, fairly easy – to find a way on to one. They were clean and shiny, they had to go somewhere better than this. And after all, what was the alternative? They’d never see winter through, here, and setting out across the fields with the bad weather coming on didn’t bear thinking about.

Of course, he’d never do it. You never actually did it, in the end. You just dreamed about following those swishing lights.

And above the rushing lights, the stars. Torrit said the stars were very important. Right at the moment, Masklin didn’t agree. You couldn’t eat them. They weren’t even much good for seeing by. The stars were pretty useless, when you thought about it …

Somebody screamed.

Masklin’s body got to his feet almost before his mind had even thought about it, and sped silently through the scrubby bushes towards the burrow.

Where, its head entirely underground and its brush waving excitedly at the stars, was a dog fox. He recognized it. He’d had a couple of close shaves with it in the past.

Somewhere inside Masklin’s head, the bit of him that was really him – old Torrit had a lot to say about this bit – was horrified to see him snatch up his spear, which was still in the ground where he had plunged it, and stab the fox as hard as he could in a hind leg.

There was a muffled yelp and the animal struggled backwards, turning an evil, foaming mask to its tormentor. Two bright yellow eyes focused on Masklin, who leaned panting on his spear. This was one of those times when time itself slowed down and everything was suddenly more real. Perhaps, if you knew you were going to die, your senses crammed in as much detail as they could while they still had the chance …

There were flecks of blood around the creature’s muzzle.

Masklin felt himself become angry. It welled up inside him, like a huge bubble. He didn’t have much, and this grinning thing was taking even that away from him.

As the red tongue lolled out, he knew that he had two choices. He could run, or he could die.

So he attacked instead. The spear soared from his hand like a bird, catching the fox in the lip. It screamed and pawed at the wound, and Masklin was running, running across the dirt, propelled by the engine of his anger, and then jumping and grabbing handfuls of rank red fur and hauling himself up the fox’s flank to land astride its neck and drawing his stone knife and stabbing, stabbing, at everything that was wrong with the world …

The fox screamed again and leapt away. If he was capable of thinking then Masklin would have known that his knife wasn’t doing much more than annoying the creature, but it wasn’t used to meals fighting back with such fury and its only thought now was to get away. It breasted the embankment and rushed headlong down it, towards the lights of the motorway.

Masklin started to think again. The rushing of the traffic filled his ears. He let go and threw himself into the long grass as the creature galloped out on to the asphalt.

He landed heavily and rolled over, all the breath knocked out of him.

But he remembered what happened next. It stayed in his memory for a long time, long after he’d seen so many strange things that there really should have been no room for it.

The fox, as still as a statue in a headlight’s beam, snarled its defiance as it tried to outstare ten tons of metal hurtling towards it at seventy miles an hour.

There was a bump, a swish, and darkness.

Masklin lay face down in the cool moss for a long time. Then, dreading what he was about to see, trying not to imagine it, he pulled himself to his feet and plodded back towards whatever was left of his home.

Grimma was waiting at the burrow’s mouth, holding a twig like a club. She spun round and nearly brained Masklin as he staggered out of the darkness and leaned against the bank. He stuck out a weary hand and pushed the stick aside.

‘We didn’t know where you’d gone,’ she said, her voice on the edge of hysteria. ‘We just heard the noise and there it was you should have been here and it got Mr Mert and Mrs Coom and it was digging at the—’

She stopped, and seemed to sag.

‘Yes, thank you,’ said Masklin coldly, ‘I’m all right, thank you very much.’

‘What – what happened?’

He ignored her, and trooped into the darkness of the burrow and lay down. He could hear the old ones whispering as he sank into a deep, chilly sleep.

I should have been here, he thought.

They depend on me.

We’re going. All of us.

It had seemed a good idea, then.

It looked a bit different, now.

Now the nomes clustered at one end of the great dark space inside the lorry. They were silent. There wasn’t any room to be noisy. The roar of the engine filled the air from edge to edge. Sometimes it would falter, and start again. Occasionally the whole lorry lurched.

Grimma crawled across the trembling floor.

‘How long is it going to take to get there?’ she said.

‘Where?’ said Masklin.

‘Wherever we’re going.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘They’re hungry, you see.’

They always were. Masklin looked hopelessly at the huddle of old ones. One or two of them were watching him expectantly.

‘There isn’t anything I can do,’ he said. ‘I’m hungry too, but there’s nothing here. It’s empty.’

‘Granny Morkie gets very upset when she’s missed a meal,’ said Grimma.

Masklin gave her a long, blank stare. Then he crawled his way to the group and sat down between Torrit and the old woman.

He’d never really talked to them, he realized. When he was small they were giants who were no concern of his, and then he’d been a hunter among hunters, and this year he’d either been out looking for food or deep in an exhausted sleep. But he knew why Torrit was the leader of the tribe. It stood to reason, he was the oldest nome. The oldest was always leader, that way there couldn’t be any arguments. Not the oldest woman, of course, because everyone knew this was unthinkable; even Granny Morkie was quite firm about that. Which was a bit odd, because she treated him like an idiot and Torrit never made a decision without looking at her out of the corner of his eye. Masklin sighed. He stared at his knees.

‘Look, I don’t know how long—’ he began.

‘Don’t you worry about me, boy,’ said Granny Morkie, who seemed to have quite recovered. ‘This is all rather excitin’, ain’t it?’

‘But it might take ages,’ said Masklin. ‘I didn’t know it was going to take this long. It was just a mad idea …’

She poked him with a bony finger. ‘Young man,’ she said, ‘I was alive in the Great Winter of 1986. Terrible, that was. You can’t tell me anything about going hungry. Grimma’s a good girl, but she worries.’

‘But I don’t even know where we’re going!’ Masklin burst out. ‘I’m sorry!’

Torrit, who was sitting with the Thing on his skinny knees, peered shortsightedly at him.

‘We have the Thing,’ he said. ‘It will show us the Way, it will.’

Masklin nodded gloomily. Funny how Torrit always knew what the Thing wanted. It was just a black square thing, but it had some very definite ideas about the importance of regular meals and how you should always listen to what the old folk said. It seemed to have an answer for everything.

‘And where does this Way take us?’ said Masklin.

‘You knows that well enough. To the Heavens.’

‘Oh. Yes,’ said Masklin. He glared at the Thing. He was pretty certain that it didn’t tell old Torrit anything at all; he knew he had pretty good hearing, and he never heard it say anything. It never did anything, it never moved. The only thing it ever did was look black and square. It was good at that.

‘Only by followin’ the Thing closely in all particulars can we be sure of going to the Heavens,’ said Torrit, uncertainly, as if he’d been told this a long time ago and hadn’t understood it even then.

‘Yes, well,’ said Masklin. He stood up on the swaying floor and made his way to the tarpaulin. Then he paused to screw up his courage and poked his head under the gap.

There was nothing but blurs and lights, and strange smells.

It was all going wrong. It had seemed so sensible that night, a week ago. Anything was better than here. That seemed so obvious then. But it was odd. The old ones moaned like anything when things weren’t exactly to their liking but now, when everything was looking bad, they were almost cheerful.

People were a lot more complicated than they looked. Perhaps the Thing could tell you that, too, if you knew how to ask.

The lorry turned a corner and rumbled down into blackness and then, without warning, stopped. He found himself looking into a huge lighted space, full of lorries, full of humans

He pulled his head back quickly and scuttled across the floor to Torrit.

‘Er,’ he said.

‘Yes, lad?’

‘Heaven. Do humans go there?’

The old nome shook his head. ‘The Heavens,’ he said. ‘More than one of ’em see? Only nomes go there.’

‘You’re absolutely certain?’

‘Oh, yes.’ Torrit beamed. ‘O’course, they may have heavens of their own,’ he said, ‘I don’t know about that. But they ain’t ours, you may depend upon it.’


Torrit stared at the Thing again.