Soul music, p.10
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       Soul Music, p.10

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 10


  Right. We had to get a plumber from Ankh-Morpork, hah, he said he might be able to make it a week next Thursday, and you dont say that kind of thing to the Master, said Albert. Ive never seen a bugger work so fast. Then the Master just made him forget. He can make everyone forget, except- Albert stopped, and frowned. Seems Ive got to put up with it, he said. Seems youve a right. I expect youre tired. You can stay here. Theres plenty of rooms.

  No, Ive got to get back! Therell be terrible trouble if Im not at school in the morning.

  Theres no Time here except what people brings with em. Things just happen one after the other. Binkyll take you right back to the time you left, if you like. But you ought to stop here a while.

  You said theres a hole and Im being sucked in. I dont know what that means.

  Youll feel better after a sleep, said Albert.

  There was no real day or night here. That had given Albert trouble at first. There was just the bright landscape and, above, a black sky with stars. Death had never got the hang of day and night. When the house had human inhabitants it tended to keep a 26-hour day. Humans, left to themselves, adopt a longer diurnal rhythm than the 24-hour day, so they can be reset like a lot of little clocks at sunset. Humans have to put up with Time, but days are a sort of personal option. Albert went to bed whenever he remembered. Now he sat up, with one candle alight, staring into space. She remembered about the bathroom, he muttered. And she knows about things she couldnt have seen. She couldnt have been told. Shes got his memory. She inherited. SQUEAK, said the Death of Rats. He tended to sit by the fire at nights. Last time he went off, people stopped dyin, said Albert. But they aint stopped dyin this time. And the horse went to her. Shes fillin the hole. Albert glared at the darkness. When he was agitated it showed by a sort of relentless chewing and sucking activity, as if he was trying to extract some forgotten morsel of teatime from the recesses of a tooth. Now he was making a noise like a hairdressers U-bend. He couldnt remember ever having been young. It must have happened thousands of years ago. He was seventy-nine, but Time in Deaths house was a reusable resource. He was vaguely aware that childhood was a tricky business, especially towards the end. There was all the business with pimples and bits of your body having a mind of their own. Running the executive arm of mortality was certainly an extra problem. But the point was, the horrible, inescapable point was, that someone had to do it. For, as has been said before, Death operated in general rather than particular terms, just like a monarchy. If you are a subject in a monarchy, you are ruled by the monarch. All the time. Waking or sleeping. Whatever you - or they - happen to be doing. Its part of the general conditions of the situation. The Queen doesnt actually have to come around to your actual house, hog the chair and the TV remote control, and issue actual commands about how one is parched and would enjoy a cup of tea. It all takes place automatically, like gravity. Except that, unlike gravity, it needs someone at the top. They dont necessarily have to do a great deal. They just have to be there. They just have to be. Her? said Albert. SQUEAK. Shell crack soon enough, said Albert. Oh, yes. You cant be an immortal and a mortal at the same time, itll tear you in half. I almost feels sorry for her. SQUEAK, agreed the Death of Rats. And that aint the worst bit, said Albert. You wait till her memory really starts working . . . SQUEAK. You listen to me, said Albert. Youd better start looking for him right away. Susan awoke, and had no idea what time it was. There was a clock by the bedside, because Death knew there should be things like bedside clocks. It had skulls and bones and the omega sign on it, and it didnt work. There were no working clocks in the house, except the special one in the hall. Any others got depressed and stopped, or unwound themselves all in one go. Her room looked as though someone had moved out yesterday. There were hairbrushes on the dressing table, and a few odds and ends of make-up. There was even a dressing-gown on the back of the door. It had a rabbit on the pocket. The cosy effect would have been improved if it hadnt been a skeletal one. She had a rummage through the drawers. This must have been her mothers room. There was a lot of pink. Susan had nothing against pink in moderation, but this wasnt it; she put on her

  old school dress. The important thing, she decided, was to stay calm. There was always a logical explanation for everything, even if you had to make it up. SQEAUFF. The Death of Rats landed on the dressing table, claws scrabbling for a purchase. He removed the tiny scythe from his jaws. I think, said Susan carefully, that I would like to go home now, thank you. The little rat nodded, and leapt. It landed on the edge of the pink carpet and scurried away across the dark floor beyond. When Susan stepped off the carpet the rat stopped and looked around in approval. Once again, she felt shed passed some sort of test. She followed it out into the hall and then into the smoky cavern of the kitchen. Albert was bent over the stove. Morning, he said, out of habit rather than any acknowledgement of the time of day. You want fried bread with your sausages? Theres porridge to follow. Susan looked at the mess sizzling in the huge fryingpan. It wasnt a sight to be seen on an empty stomach, although it could probably cause one. Albert could make an egg wish it had never been laid. Havent you got any muesli? she said. Is that some kind of sausage? said Albert suspiciously. Its nuts and grains.

  Any fat in it?

  I dont think so.

  Howre you supposed to fry it, then?

  You dont fry it.

  You call that breakfast?

  It doesnt have to be fried to be breakfast, said Susan. I mean, you mentioned porridge, and you dont fry porridge-

  Who says?

  A boiled egg, then?

  Hah, boilings no good, it dont kill off all the germs.

  BOIL ME AN EGG, ALBERT. As the echoes bounced across and died away, Susan wondered where the voice had come from. Alberts ladle tinkled on the tiles. Please? said Susan. You did the voice, said Albert. Dont bother about the egg, said Susan. The voice had made her jaw ache. It worried her even more than it worried Albert. After all, it was her mouth. I want to go home!

  You are home, said Albert. This place? This isnt my home!

  Yeah? Whats the inscription on the big clock? “Too Late”, said Susan promptly. Where are the beehives?

  In the orchard.

  How many platesve we got?

  Seven- Susan shut her mouth firmly. See? Its home to part of you, said Albert. Look . . . Albert, said Susan, trying sweet reason in case it worked any better this time round, maybe there is . . . someone. . . sort of . . . in charge of things, but Im really no-one

  special . . . I mean . . .

  Yeah? How come the horse knows you?

  Yes, but I really am just a normal girl-

  Normal girls didnt get a My Little Binky set on their third birthday! snapped Albert. Your dad took it away. The Master was very upset about that. He was trying.

  I mean Im an ordinary kid!

  Listen, ordinary kids get a xylophone. They dont just ask their grandad to take his shirt off!

  I mean I cant help it! Thats not my fault! Its not fair!

  Really? Oh, why didnt you say? said Albert sourly. That cuts a lot of thin ice, that does. I should just go out now, if I was you, and tell the universe that its not fair. I bet itll say, oh, all right then, sorry youve been troubled, youre let off.

  Thats sarcasm! You cant talk to me like that! Youre just a servant!

  Thats right. And so are you. So I should get started, if I was you. The ratll help. He mainly does rats, but the principles the same. Susan sat with her mouth open. Im going outside, she snapped. I aint stopping you. Susan stormed out through the back door, across the enormous expanses of the outer room, past the grindstone in the yard, and into the garden. Huh, she said. If someone had told Susan that Death had a house, she would have called them mad or, even worse, stupid. But if shed had to imagine one, shed have drawn, in sensible black crayon, some towering, battlemented, Gothic mansion. It would loom, and involve other words ending in oom, like gloom and doom. There would have been thousands of windows. Shed
fill odd corners of the sky with bats. It would be impressive. It wouldnt be a cottage. It wouldnt have a rather tasteless garden. It wouldnt have a mat in front of the door with Welcome on it. Susan had invincible walls of common sense. They were beginning to melt like salt in a wet wind, and that made her angry. There was Grandfather Lezek, of course, on his little farm so poor that even the sparrows had to kneel down to eat. Hed been a nice old chap, so far as she could recall; a bit sheepish, now she came to think about it, especially when her father was around. Her mother had told Susan that her own father had been. . . Now she came to think about that, she wasnt sure what her mother had told her. Parents were quite clever at not telling people things, even when they used a lot of words. Shed just been left with the impression that he wasnt around. Now it was being suggested that he was renowned for being around all the time. It was like having a relative in trade. A god, now . . . a god would be something. Lady Odile Flume, in the fifth form, was always boasting that her great-great-grandmother had once been seduced by the god Blind to in the form of a vase of daisies, which apparently made her a demi-hemi-semi-goddess. She said her mother found it useful to get a table in restaurants. Saying you were a close relative of Death probably would not have the same effect. You probably wouldnt even manage a seat near the kitchen. If it was all some kind of dream, she didnt seem at any risk of waking up. Anyway, she didnt believe that kind of thing. Dreams werent like this. A path led from the stable-yard past a vegetable garden and, descending slightly, into an orchard of black-leaved trees. Glossy black apples hung from them. Off to one side were some white beehives. And she knew shed seen it all before.

  There was an apple tree that was quite, quite different from the others. She stood and stared at it as memory flooded back. She remembered being just old enough to see how logically stupid the whole idea was, and hed been standing there, anxiously waiting to see what shed do. . . Old certainties drained away, to be replaced by new certainties. Now she understood whose granddaughter she was. The Mended Drum had traditionally gone in for, well, traditional pub games, such as dominoes, darts and Stabbing People In The Back And Taking All Their Money. The new owner had decided to go up-market. This was the only available direction. There had been the Quizzing Device, a three-ton water-driven monstrosity based on a recently discovered design by Leonard of Quirm. It had been a bad idea. Captain Carrot of the Watch, who had a mind like a needle under his open smiling face, had surreptitiously substituted a new roll of questions like: Were you nere Vortins Diamond Warehouse on the Nite of the 15th? and: Who was the Third Man Who did the Blagging At Bearhuggers Distillery Larst wee-k? and had arrested three customers before they caught on. The owner had promised another machine any day now. The Librarian, one of the taverns regulars, had been collecting pennies in readiness. There was a small stage at one end of the bar. The owner had tried a lunch-time stripper, but only once. At the sight of a large orang-utan in the front row with a big innocent grin, a big bag of penny pieces and a big banana the poor girl had fled. Yet another entertainment Guild had blacklisted the Drum. The new owners name was Hibiscus Dunelm. It wasnt his fault. He really wanted to make the Drum, he said, a fun place. For two pins hed have put stripy umbrellas outside. He looked down at Glod. Just three of you? he said. Yes.

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