Monday, January 17, 2011

This is Most Irregular

GOOD EVENING.

Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE, sprawled in his armchair, squinted up at the fuligin figure who stood, resting a bony elbow on his mantelpiece. His eyes gradually focused.

"Oh. Yes." He managed a wry grin. "How appropriate."

YES, ISN'T IT. HYDROGEN AND IRONY, YOU KNOW. AHEM. YOU'VE TAKEN A LETHAL DOSE OF MEDICATION.

"Yes." His voice, though quiet, did not waver. "I'm ready to go."

UM. WELL.

Death unshouldered his scythe.

IT'S AN ODD THING, YOU KNOW, TO MEET ONE'S MAKER.

"So I imagine. You're an anthromorphic personi... personi..."

YES.

"But you're also a character I wrote."

YES.

Sir Pratchett shook his head slowly, chuckling to himself. "And now my own creation is here to..."

YES. IT IS FUNNY, IS IT NOT? I SLAY THEM.

Sir Pratchett waited. He glanced at his watch.

HA. HA. THAT IS A PUNE OR PLAY ON...

"Yes. Get on with it, please."

Death hesitated, his eye sockets swinging left and right slowly.

YOU'RE REALLY READY?

"Yes." Again, the voice did not waver. "I want to leave while I can still make my own decisions."

YOUR ILLNESS.

"Yes. An... embuggerance. Bloody inconvenient. I always imagined going without so much... advance notice. Through the windshield, perhaps. Or down the steps, cracked skull sort of thing. But on balance I've had a wonderful time."

INDEED.

Death raised his scythe.

There was a soundless pop, and a lightless flash. Three auditors hovered, twittering silently and having a an animated argument while remaining completely unmoving. Death turned his skull towards them quizzically.

THIS IS MOST IRREGULAR.

A bony finger scratched his lack of nose.

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Two more auditors silently had always been there. Death tilted his skull first left, then right, then shook his head slowly, then squeezed the bridge of his lack of nose. He waved a bony finger. He turned back to Pratchett.

IF I HAD NERVES, I WOULD NOW HAVE A MIGRAINE.

His distal phalanx rasped against his bony skull as he scratched in futility at his skull-ache.

I'LL ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN.

Death turned towards Sir Pratchett. He reached into nowhere and pulled out a black hourglass, peering at it. The top part of the glass was empty. Two or three grains of sand glittered, frozen, as they hung over the heap of sand in the bottom.

YOU'VE BEEN GIVEN A GIFT.

"A gift? What do you mean?"

YOU ARE AWARE THAT AS AN... ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONALIZATION... I AM NOT LITERALLY AS I APPEAR BEFORE YOU?

"Yes, I imagine that it's a bit like Santa Claus. I mean, logistics, reindeer attempting to exceed the speed of sound, width of a typical chimney, all that."

SANTA WHO?

"The Hogfather."

AH. YES. A SINGLE ME WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO ATTEND EVERY DEATH, EITHER IN MY WORLD OR YOURS. SO I EXIST IN RATHER MORE DIMENSIONS. I'M TOLD IT HAS TO DO WITH QUANTUM...

The voice trailed off. Death spread his bony fingers.

FANS. YOU HAVE SOLD RATHER A LOT OF BOOKS, YOU KNOW.

"Yes, of course."

YOU HAVE MANY FANS.

"So I've been told." A wry grin.

FANS WHO, INEVITABLY, DIE. AND, OCCASIONALLY, NEARLY DIE.

"Go on."

THE FORM IN WHICH DEATH APPEARS TO A DYING PERSON HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE DYING PERSON'S VIEW OF THE WORLD WHILE ALIVE. IN OTHER WORDS, I'VE BEEN MEETING MANY OF YOUR FANS. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE WHEN A FAN WHO, IT TURNS OUT, IS NOT YET ACTUALLY READY TO DIE, MEETS ME, HE OR SHE, INEVITABLY, AFTER A FEW MINUTES OF HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE LAUGHTER, BRING YOUR CONDITION TO MY ATTENTION.

"My goodness!"

YES. TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT, PERHAPS YOU COULD SEE IT AS I SEE IT FOR A MOMENT.

Death waved his skeletal hand. In a direction you can't look, in a place you can't see, a nonexistent curtain in reality parted and Sir Pratchett found himself looking in several impossible directions at once. A multiplicity of Death, dimensions of Death. Deaths standing in front of racks and racks of row upon row of hourglasses. Auditors were swarming in and around the figures of Death. Cliboards were examined. Mechanical pencil leads were extended. Tally marks were made. In each hourglass, a mark on a clipboard, a "plink" as one extra grain of sand percolated downwards. A helpful gold-ish label tacked to a shelf read "TERRY PR TCHETT F NS."

MY APOLOGIES. I WAS UNABLE TO FIND THE STENCIL FOR THE A.

"That's quite all right."

The view faded. Death stared at the single hourglass in his hand. There was an audible "plink." Auditors were and weren't there in an electron cloud around the hourglass. Equations were balanced, sums completed. A grain of sand went rocketing back up the spout and ricocheted off the top of the glass. "Plink. Plink. Plinkplink. Plinkplinkplink" gradually became "hiss."

YOUR FANS HAVE DECIDED, AND THERE ARE RATHER A LOT OF THEM, THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN THEM A GREAT DEAL OF ENJOYMENT. THEY DO NOT BEGRUDGE YOU THE HOURS SPENT READING YOUR BOOKS. IN FACT, MANY OF THEM REGARD THEM AS TIME...

He tapped a bony finger on the glass.

WELL SPENT.

Death paused.

THAT'S QUITE A LOT OF BOOKS AND QUITE A LOT OF HOURS.

Death cocked his skull, apparently listening.

FROM A FEW FANS WHO MET ME BUT RETURNED TO LIVE FOR A WHILE LONGER, WORD HAS SPREAD. WISHES ARE INFLUENTIAL THINGS. THE UNIVERSE IS OCCASIONALLY WILLING TO NEGOTIATE.

"They want to trade -- time?"

THERE ARE A FEW COMPLAINTS ABOUT PYRAMIDS AND HOGFATHER, I TAKE IT, BUT YOU CAN'T PLEASE ALL THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME. I SHOULD KNOW.

Pratchett was grinning broadly  now.

MANY OF YOUR FANS HAVE OFFERED TO GIVE YOU ONE OF THEIR HOURS IN EXCHANGE FOR THE MANY HOURS OF ENJOYMENT YOU HAVE GIVEN EACH OF THEM. AND THERE ARE RATHER A LOT OF THEM, AS I MENTIONED.

The neck of the hourglass was spraying sand in a continuous stream. Several inches of sand were piling up. Indeed, it soon appeared that the top and bottom contained equal measures of sand.

With a popless sound the auditors suddenly had never been there. The sand in the hourglass hung unmoving.

Pratchett's brow furrowed.

"But won't I be -- you know -- just going to back get sicker and sicker? It's extremely generous, but it's no kind of life."

NO. YOUR... UMMM... FANS ARE RELATIVELY INTELLIGENT PEOPLE. THEY THOUGHT OF THAT. THEY CANNOT HEAL YOU, THEY CANNOT GIVE YOU BACK WHAT YOU HAVE LOST, BUT THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER DECLINE, AND THE DETERIORATION MAY HEAL TO SOME EXTENT. I HAD TO CALL IN A FEW... FAVORS.

Pratchett was beaming. "I can live with that!"

INDEED.

"Will you send me back now?"

YES.

Death paused.

UMMM.

"Yes?"

THERE'S JUST ONE THING.

Death paused again.

"I'm eager to get back to work, you know."

I'M SURE YOU ARE. WOULD YOU MIND... UMMM... WELL, I ALSO AM A FAN.

Death extended a quill which appeared in his fingers. The tip glittered. He lowered his scythe, laying the blade across the fuzzy blanket on Pratchett's lap.

DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT AUTOGRAPH THIS FOR ME, PLEASE, SIR PRATCHETT?

1 comment:

Hendrik Morkel said...

Love it, great work!